For marathoner Serena Teoh, reaching the start line of the SEA Games this year was a stretch despite clocking a season’s best at the Tokyo Marathon.

Diagnosed with a severe stress injury in July while preparing for a marathon in Finland, forced time off was not something Teoh needed, especially with the Games looming.

Teoh’s initial reaction was one of disbelief since she had a good build-up toward the marathon in August. “Then grief and sadness followed,” she said.

“The doctor told me if I didn’t stop running, the next step would be crutches.”

Teoh struggled to cope with her injury in the beginning, and constantly questioned herself if she could have done anything else. “There are situations you cannot control,” said Teoh. “But you’ll always ask yourself if you could have done something else better.”

Adding to the stress, Teoh also had to cope with a new job, as well as settling back in Singapore after being based in Switzerland for the past few years.

“I tried my best. I had to control my emotions to get over it,” she said. Teoh was ready to accept at that time that she might not qualify for the Games if someone else ran faster than her. “If that happened, I was ready to try again for the next Games.”

Hence, Teoh felt relieved and excited after she was notified that she was on the national team. Then reality struck.

“I thought, ‘How am I going to recover and prepare well for the Games?’” she said.

Marathoner Serena Teoh running with Coach Jing Zhi, who has played an important role in her recovery. (Alvin Ho)

Teoh swapped running for low-impact alternatives such as aqua jogging, strength work and running on the anti-gravity treadmill. Commenting on her first training block in Singapore since starting competitive running, Teoh said that it was unique and interesting.

“But it’s never the same as running,” she said.

Her recovery process was not without struggle. There were a lot of testing days, Teoh said. “Some days I wonder if I can even reach the start line.”

One month out from the Games, and Teoh has already felt that she has made some improvement and has returned to running normally. Despite this, she wants to continue to improve after the Games.

“I’m not where I want to be yet,” she continued.

For now, she plans to do her best – and run a good race.

“I want to finish the race strong,” Teoh said.