By Mok Ying Ren
Padang, Sunday, December 2, 2012 — Mok Ying Ren finished as the third-fastest Singaporean at the 2012 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. Mok, who won the local crown in 2011, came home in a time of 2 hours 54 minutes 57.54 seconds.
He shares with us a first-hand account of his race.
It was a challenging build up to the Singapore Marathon. My build up started in May after a six-month lay off to allow a complete recovery of my plantar fasciitis injury. It also coincided with the start of my medical housemanship. I took part in three races during the build up — the Army Half Marathon, a half marathon in Malaysia, and the Newton 30km Challenge.
I fell sick quite a few times in the final few months. The first minor setback came the week before the Newton Run when I had a severe bout of sore throat and flu symptoms for three days, forcing me to withdraw from the Nike We Run SG 10K. I was fortunately still able to continue light training without interruption but had to forgo certain key workouts.
I ran the Newton 30km at a decent pace of 3min 40sec (3:40) per kilometer and it indicated that my level of fitness was pretty good one month from the Singapore Marathon.
However, disaster struck one week later when I came down with fever with absolutely no other symptoms. No sore throat, no running nose, no nothing. It struck me as odd. As the days without running flew past, I was getting worried. Five days went by and the fever showed no signs of backing off with paracetamol and rest.
Dinah Chan, my girlfriend, finally convinced me to see a doctor to get some blood tests done which showed mild thrombocytopenia (low platelets) and low white cell counts. A clinical history like this suggests dengue and I was promptly referred to the Communicable Disease Centre the following day. A serology test later proved to be negative and I was spared daily blood tests to monitor my platelet count. My fever mysteriously disappeared 10 days later but the residual effects lingered on.
For the next two weeks, I was unable to complete key workouts. Three days before the marathon, I again developed an itch in the throat and had a severe bout of headache for the entire day at the hospital. I was in such discomfort and of course upset about falling sick so many times over the past month. But at last, lots of water and plenty of sleep got me up to speed on Friday. I did a few easy jogs with my buddies Sia Chuan Han and Ramesh Palaniandy over the few days before the marathon and I remained positive about my chances.
Sia, Ramesh and I decided to car pool in Ramesh’s car to Fort Canning Park from where we did an easy warm-up jog towards the start line at Orchard Road. The warm-up jog was uneventful and we included a few dynamic stretches and stridings. At about 4:50am, I proceeded to the race start line.
This year’s edition had the same energy and zest as the previous two years and if I am not wrong, Orchard Central had its lights on this year for the first time, adding to the vibrancy and excitement to the largest running event on the Singapore calendar.
At 5am sharp, the race started without the standard counting down from 10 to 1 — is that a new rule? — causing quite a bit of chaos at the start.
The first part of the race was crucial. This year, the top female runners started off at a modest pace of about 3:50 to 4min per kilometer. I was in a dilemma. I had initially planned to start the race at a safe effort by running 4 minutes per kilometer, after taking into the account the string of unfortunate events over the past month. But here we had this bunch of 15 ladies running at a nice pace of 3:50/km.
Running with this bunch would conserve my energy both psychologically and physically. I tried to convince myself that I still had some of that fitness at the Newton 30km and decided to have a go at following the ladies. It was a mental struggle as each kilometer went by.
At the 6th kilometer, I made up my mind to go through the marathon by myself at a more comfortable pace and let the ladies go. I was unsure if I made the right move but what’s done was done. I tried to run at a modest pace towards Fort Road.
East Coast Park
Upon entering East Coast Park, I was running by myself but the pace was more tolerable. I felt my breathing was slightly more labored than usual at the pace I was going at and attributed it to residual fatigue from my illness, but I assured myself that I have already adjusted for that and was running at a slower pace.
After running with several other participants from the other categories like the Ekiden, I reached the turning point uneventfully. I managed to catch a glimpse of the elite women running and saw Ashley Liew, the eventual winner, running among them. I could see my chances of defending my title slip away but I decided to continue to run within my safe limits.
Along the way back I caught up with two Kenyans who have dropped back from the group but they were themselves too tired to offer any help in running together to catch up with the rest. I continued to maintain my pace. I kept a look out for the runners running in the opposite direction and saw Ramesh, Devathas Satianathan and several other familiar faces. It was a joy to see fellow runners on the same mission to complete a marathon.
Nearing the end of East Coast Park, I started to feel the fatigue that struck my legs. Suriya Prakaash, a medical colleague of mine in the Singapore Armed Forces who was running the Ekiden, tried to get me going again but after tailing him for 100 meters, I couldn’t keep up with his pace.
The next few kilometers were a pain. The stretch towards Marina Bay was the most quiet, gloomy and unexciting section that one can have in a marathon. If you have run it, you will understand. At that point, my morale was low as I could see my fourth title slip away from my fingers. I tried to stay positive, using some of Ben Pulham’s wise words which he shared at the final Run clinic two weeks ago. But the thought of quitting came across my mind several times.
Several runners passed me, including Mr Junichiro Adachi, or Jay for short, from Japan, whom I overtook at the 18km mark earlier. Being passed by runners did not help the situation. The “devil” in my mind told me it’s ok to quit — I did pass several Kenyans who had given up and were walking. Ryan Hall did not finish the Olympic marathon, neither did Paula Radcliffe. Heck, even Haile Grebreselassie, the previous world record holder for the marathon, has been DNF-ing (DNF = did not finish) his races recently. (Interestingly, he did DNF the Fukuoka Marathon on the same day.)
On the other hand, I did not want to quit because quitting once gives you permission to quit again. I thought of all my supporters, colleagues and friends – would they want me to quit? I thought not.
After all these thoughts, I ran past the line of BMWs parked at the water point. I joked to myself that I could hitch a ride to the finish if I quit now. Ahead was also an ambulance with its back doors opened invitingly. Thoughts of quitting flashed by again but I resisted the temptation and trudged on.
One step at a time, with the beautiful scenery around me, my motivation picked up a little as there was only 8km or so to go.
Focusing on taking one step at a time, Heartbreak Hill (Benjamin Sheares Bridge) loomed up ahead. It did look longer and taller than the previous years. I primed my mind and legs to be prepared for the pain and cramps that may come on on the way to the summit. I consciously shortened my strides and focused on the ground before me. Each step was painful on my quads.
Upon reaching the apex, I descended slowly as coming down a hill is a major exercise to your quads and can trigger off a deadly cramp. After the descent, there was 2km more to go. I was determined to finish it.
As I ran past the Esplanade, I looked forward to the sign that said 1km left! Upon turning up the Esplanade Bridge, my parents were there cheering me on and I gave them a weak smile. It had been a tough day at work.
Just as I was about to turn right onto Anderson Bridge, my fellow compatriot Ang Chee Yong overtook me. He turned back and said, “Sorry, Mok”. He is such a gentleman. I wanted to laugh but doing so would risk having my abs cramp up. I think his 3am runs really gave him the determination and pain tolerance to push through to the finish. On my part, my legs were severely impaired by the acidosis in them and I could not react. I was just relieved to know the finish line was just a few hundred meters ahead.
Towards the end, I could hear Ross Sarpani, my favorite race emcee mentioning my name and I tried my best to acknowledge the crowd. I crossed the finish line spent and on the verge of having my entire body contracted in cramps.
It was a tough race but I am grateful that my old injury did not flare up. It’s cured! (Like what my senior colleague, Dr Andy Wee, a sports surgeon from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital would say.)