Story by Leslie Tan.
It was a drizzly Wednesday on January 2 when I finally got to sit down to talk to Daniel Ling at Hwa Chong Institution. If you didn’t already know, Daniel Ling was Singapore’s fastest marathoner at the 2007 Singapore Marathon, coming home in a personal best time of 2 hours, 46 minutes and 29 seconds.
It was a lunch meeting to find out more about the man who started running cross-country, the 3000m steeplechase and the 5000m in 1995 when he was in Nanyang Junior College. After National Service, he entered the National University of Singapore to pursue a Civil Engineering degree and was captain of the running team.
We order our food and you notice he orders mostly vegetables for his meal. “My aim is to represent Singapore at the 2009 SEA Games and get a medal,” said the Queenstown Secondary Technical School alumni. “And I want to do a sub 2:30 (2 hours, 30 minutes),” he added. “I still got two more years of running in me. It should be achievable.” The 30-year-old Ling states his goal in a quietly confident tone and you don’t doubt him at all after his steady improvement over the last two years.
Ling ran his first marathon in Kuala Lumpur in 2004. “”I started marathons late in life when I was 25 years old (2004). I never trained for marathons when I was younger. In ’06 I trained for it. I did 3:26 without high mileage.” I clarified what he meant by “high mileage”. “I did 60-70 km per week only. That’s low mileage. But I didn’t improve until I met Mr Rameshon in 2006,” he continued. “In 2006, I came in third in the Singapore Marathon after Rameshon.”
M. Rameshon is the current holder of the marathon national record with a time of 2:24:22 set in Chiangmai, Thailand on December 13th, 1995. Ling’s deep respect for Rameshon comes through in our conversation. “I draw my inspiration from Mr Rameshon and Halle.” Haile Gebrselassie is the current marathon world record holder with a time of 2:04:26. “We generally work as a team. Doesn’t matter who comes in first.” Ling is an assistant coach to Rameshon at Hwa Chong Institution and they coached the A Division cross-country team to podium finishes in the 2007 Cross-Country Championships – the boys finished first while the girls were third.
At the Singapore Marathon, the defending Singaporean champion was Elangovan Ganesan who had won it for three years straight since 2004. “Elangovan was our only opponent,” said Ling. “He is a very determined and worthy opponent. The three of us were in a pack until the 27 km mark when he had to retire because of an injury.”
“In Singapore, I run for position. I run for PB (personal best) in London and Berlin because I can’t compete with the elites.” Ling went to the 2007 London Marathon (2:57) and the Berlin Marathon (2:49) as part of his training regime for the year. With the average runner running at a faster pace at these events, he found it helped to push him along to achieve his training goals. As it turned out, he was also on hand to be part of a historic event. “During the Berlin Marathon, they announced Gebrselassie crossing the finishing line in a new world record time. I was at the 30 plus km mark at the time. I was so honoured to be running in the same race as him.”
Why run overseas? “I have to go overseas to get my timings. Singapore’s weather is not favourable for marathons. It helps that my school is supportive. They scheduled our teaching time-table to accommodate our overseas competition.”
“You need mileage to be a marathon runner,” said Ling when asked about his training regime. “120-130 km a week. 6 sessions a week, 1 day of rest.,” which explains why he goes through a pair of adidas running shoes every three months.
“The marathon is the king of long distance. You’re subjecting your body to high levels of stress. Every marathon is a challenge to yourself. To train for a marathon, you have to be a person of patience. You cannot rush, you have to be consistent. You have to train over months. Slow and steady wins the race. You don’t run at a fast pace – you run at a constant pace.”
You realise after awhile the constant pace he speaks of also applies to his speech. He is measured, unhurried as we talk. The only time he got agitated was when he talked about the Mizuno Wave Run. “That was the worst-organised race I have ever experienced,” referring to the 10 km run held at Bedok Reservoir. “On the second lap around Bedok Reservoir, you run straight into the rest of the pack and you have to weave in and out. One of my students also said he waited two hours in line for the goodie bag.”
The running calendar in 2008 will see new events. Are there too many? “It’s too close to each other,” said Ling, referring to the Sundown Ultramarathon (May 31st, 2008) and the Lion City Marathon (June 29th, 2008). “Good marathoners have to choose the races carefully and specifically. For sportsmen you go for specific races.”
What does he think about the rising number of participants at running events? “I’m glad many people are running marathons. The nation will be fitter, medical costs will go down. Picking up running is a good hobby. You can train any time you like. You can fix your own schedule. It’s a total body workout.”
I asked if anyone came up to him after he got his face plastered all over the island in the black and white adidas running campaign. “No, lah. Only my students,” he said modestly.
Any training since the 2007 Singapore Marathon? He said no. “After a marathon, your body is damaged because you have emptied your glycogen tank. After every marathon, you take complete breaks. You have to let your body rest and recover.”
Ling ran right past me at the marathon while I was taking pictures. I didn’t recognise him partly because he had shaved his head for the race. The man is dedicated. You have to be, if you want to be the king.