Impulse and marathons don’t usually belong in the same sentence. Marathons can become quite the devil after 30km because of that impulse you felt within the first 10km. “I feel great, let’s step up the pace!”
But if you ask Alvin Loh Yuting how he stumbled into the marathon, it was impulse – and his desire to lose weight – that drove him to sign up for his first one in 2011. Like many virgin marathoners, Loh swore he would never do another marathon.
Yet, Loh would find himself toeing the line again, another 42.195km of road beckoning to him again and again. The appeal of running in the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest marathon and one of the World Marathon Majors, lured Loh back to the event year after year as he attempted to hit the prestigious Boston Qualifier (sub-3 hours).
“Marathon to me is like having a love-hate relationship, and it’s kind of addictive too,” said Loh, 30. “After completing one, it’s a kind of achievement in life that I will never forget even after doing 10 marathons.”
Four years later, Loh competed in the 2017 Boston Marathon. He’s conquered half of the Majors so far – Berlin in 2018 and last month’s Chicago Marathon.
But first, a surprise pit stop at the SEA Games after posting an unexpected PB of 2 hours 37 minutes 8 seconds a few months ago.
Training for the marathon around an extensive work schedule
Long work hours as a senior electrical engineer at LTA, along with the long hours that marathon training demands – how do you fit all that into 24 hours?
“Usually I run after work on weekdays, then in the early morning on weekends. We start as early as 5 am to avoid the heat and humidity,” said Loh, who does most of his runs with TheConeyRunners.
In case you were wondering – yes, Loh was involved in the heavy cleanup process during the frequent train breakdowns in 2018. The irregular hours, which sometimes include overnight duty, have more often than not disrupted Loh’s training schedule. His weekly mileage typically ranges from 70-100km on a buffet of mostly easy runs, a hard weekday session and a longer run on the weekend.
It’s always that much easier to head home after a tiring day of work. But the accountability of having to meet people for runs, as well as having a good friend who has shown that it’s not impossible to be an athlete while working a full-time job, drives Loh to switch his boots for running shoes at sunset.
Loh’s half marathon PB of 1:16:06 in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Half Marathon last February was an encouraging factor in his quest to hit the SEA Games nomination mark of 2:34:54 by mid-August.
However, work piled up, and Loh subsequently took sabbatical leave from June to minimise disruptions leading up to his goal race, the Sunshine Coast Marathon near Brisbane, Australia. With more time on his hands, his mileage increased to 120-140km per week, but Loh kept his expectations low. Running 2:40 would be a reasonable result by his own standards.
But in the marathon, anything can happen. Loh surprised his coach and himself with a PB of 2:37:08. Regardless, the athletics association nominated him and Gordon Lim, who finished eight seconds behind him, to be considered for the SEA Games. Both of them were accepted.
Meeting his coach for the first time
At his friend Derek Li’s suggestion, Loh went under the tutelage of US-based coach Dave Ross. For the past two years, the duo communicated through email about how workouts were going, but never met face-to-face.
After Loh took sabbatical leave, he spent three weeks with Ross in Portland, Oregon. It was high time to meet his coach in person; Portland had endless trails and the perfect weather for his Chicago Marathon buildup, and he could discuss with Ross how to build towards his SEA Games debut.
“I was worried about (having trouble communicating) in the beginning, but I guess I was over-worried,” said Loh.
While in Portland, Loh did his track sessions on the famed Michael Johnson track at the Nike headquarters, which has a grove of trees in place of a flat field and has just six lanes. He also took a day trip to Sauvie Island, where he did two loops of the island’s 20km perimeter.
At the end of the Portland trip, Ross went to Vienna to cover Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 marathon effort, and Loh headed to the windy city to check another major off his bucket list. Not only was Chicago a nice fitness check-in (2:40:29), he also proposed to his long-time girlfriend of seven years.
Revisiting a World Marathon Major
Listen to your body.
That’s the most valuable advice Loh has received and strictly adhered to since he started his marathon pursuits. So far, only minor strains have thrown a wrench into his running, but nothing a few days of rest, religious icing and the occasional massage can’t fix.
That advice came from national runner Melvin Wong, who Loh draws inspiration from. Wong, 36, juggles a full-time job, is a father of two, and recently ran a PB of 2:37:28 at the Gold Coast Marathon, Singapore’s fourth-fastest time this year.
“Given his busy schedule at work and family commitment, he is still able to train and perform at his best. This really inspired me to continue to work hard no matter how busy in life we are,” said Loh. “My success till date owes a lot to him.”
Even though Loh has conquered Boston before in 2017, he wants another go at it. The course is notorious for its undulating hills – think Heartbreak Hill, 800m of incline at the 32km mark – and for its unpredictable weather. Having done much more endurance training since then, Loh is ready to improve on his previous result of 3:30:09 on that course.
Said Loh, “Boston is a beast. The result wasn’t ideal, so I will definitely be back to conquer this beast as I am a person who loves challenges.”
Singapore Men’s Marathon 2019 Rankings:
1. Soh Rui Yong – 2:23:42, NR
2. Alvin Loh Yuting – 2:37:10
3. Gordon Lim – 2:37:18
4. Melvin Wong – 2:37:28
5. Caleb Hia – 2:38:26
6. Evan Chee – 2:38:58