Mohamed Iskandar may not have been on top of the podium at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, but he certainly felt on top of the world that Sunday morning.
After completing his third marathon in 2 hours 49 minutes 46 seconds, smashing his previous best by over 7 minutes, Iskandar dropped to the floor, closed his eyes and kissed the ground.
“It was like a dream come true,” said Iskandar, 30. “Until now, even after the race, I still feel like the old me who didn’t know I would go this far.”
Late start in competitive running
If you’d asked Iskandar seven years ago, he would have told you that a 10km was more painful than the marathon he completed just a few weeks ago.
In 2011, at the behest of his friend, Iskandar joined the Jurong Lake Run 10km. He had not run more than 3km in one go before.
Two years later, Iskandar shaved 7 minutes off his 10k personal best, achieved a top-10 finish and won $50 in prize money. It was the first time he had gotten money from racing.
“Wah, how come so much?” Iskandar’s family asked when he returned. He still keeps that envelope from that race as a memento.
As Iskandar joined more races, clocking 36 minutes on the track for the 10,000m and making podiums in the team categories at road races, he became intrigued by what he could do in the sport. For two years, Iskandar had hopped into others’ workouts, but nothing tailored specifically for him.
“I wanted to give myself a chance to see how far I can go,” he said.
When Iskandar started receiving workouts from G Elangovan in late 2016, the former was shocked by the daily workouts. His job as a policeman revolves around shift work, which constantly affects his training as he struggles to rest adequately. 1200m repeats were replaced by 20-30 minute easy runs before he hit the sack.
Even before the Standard Chartered Marathon, Iskandar was struggling in his final key tempo sessions and missed a few long runs. It affected his confidence going into the race as he had struggled in his track races earlier in the season.
Debut in the elite category
It was Iskandar’s first time competing in the elite category. He had a brand new national jersey, a personalized bib, and his own bottles along the route. Most importantly, he didn’t have to squeeze his way to the front of the start line an hour before the race flagged off.
With so much of his race logistics taken care of – he’d also rented a room near the start line – Iskandar felt the most relaxed he’d been pre-race. All he had to do was maintain his target pace of 4min/km, which he had tasked SEA Games long-distance runner Melvin Wong to set.
While the race route had a novelty feel to it because it brought runners to both the West and East Coast parks, it didn’t come without hiccups. Iskandar missed three bottles in the first 25km, usually regarded as the more important stops before the cramps set in during the second half. He stepped into a pothole along the way and narrowly avoided an ankle sprain.
Many a time, Iskandar’s adrenaline would get the better of him and he would push the pace.
“Iskandar, what are you doing?” chastised Wong, and Iskandar would drop back.
Little did he know that heeding his pacer’s advice would reward him so handsomely.
Reliving the race of a lifetime
At 25km, Iskandar was passing others who were starting to hit the dreaded “wall.” He passed Giebert Foo, who he trained with a few years ago. Then Tan Wei Jie, who had gone out with Soh’s pace in a bid to clock a good sub-3 time.
By 30km, Iskandar still had the pop in his legs and had a good lead on his key rivals.
“(Melvin) said that if I still feel so fresh at this point, I have a good chance to podium,” said Iskandar.
Then, disaster struck in the final 4km. Iskandar likened it to someone jamming a sharp object through both his big toenails with every step he took. At first, he tried to avoid the pain by supinating, but quickly realized it would be unsustainable by the time he approached the Sheares Bridge.
“Just land midfoot and endure the pain, I don’t want to get injured,” thought Iskandar, and regulated his footstrike.
As he made the final turn into the floating platform, he could see the clock approaching 2:50:00. Iskandar was already well ahead of his PB, but he wasn’t about to pass up another achievement of sub-2:50. Ignoring the shooting pain in his toes and his calves, which had been complaining since descending Sheares bridge, Iskandar burst into a sprint. It was the first time he had sprinted in a marathon.
He made it with 13 seconds to spare.
Still in a haze of euphoria, Iskandar met Soh, the eventual local champion, in the elite athlete’s lounge.
“Hi, you got second?” asked Soh.
Iskandar couldn’t contain his excitement. “I got second bro! I can’t believe it!”
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I hope my win today delivers motivation to all athletes or anyone out there, you can achieve your goal if you keep believing. Running taught me so many things. You have to be patient in whatever stuff you do, there are no shortcuts to success than hard work. So, keep striving, and drive yourself to do better the next time. Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have. I know it's not easy, even I lamented I couldn't run much due to work commitment, but I take this positively. Inadvertently, I've mentally equipped the mind that whatever obstacles that I have encountered, I can deal with it. I am appreciative to my coach Elangovan for the understanding and altered my training program to accommodate me. My Trackstar teammates Melvin- thanks bro for all these years and helping me to achieve my dreams! Burton-Thanks for all the video you sent to me, it inspire me more to race! Haha Thank you, friends, work colleagues, thank you all for all your well wishes! #alhamdulillah #syukur #amin #scms2018 📸 : @vroomaine
Wants to inspire more Malays to pick up running
In the aftermath of the race, Iskandar’s social media were flooded with congratulatory texts, friend requests and questions asking how he’d achieved his feat.
A glance at the top 10 reveals Iskandar as the only Malay. While there are a couple other Malays in competitive running, the majority of his race is better represented in the national football team.
Outside of competitive sport, the Malays can more often than not be spotted at the street soccer court and the skateboard park. Iskandar wants to prove that Malays can be good at running too, as well as share the benefits that running has taught him.
“Running teaches you a lot of things. You spend so much time with yourself that you start to understand yourself better, which improves your mental health,” he said.
His dream marathon? The Berlin Marathon, where Eliud Kipchoge, his marathon idol, set the world record of 2:01:39 in 2018.
For now, the Gold Coast Marathon beckons, where Iskandar will attempt to finish the course for the first time after succumbing to cramps and the cold weather in 2016.
And he is definitely keeping the envelope from his Standard Chartered Marathon prize check.