The road to the national record was anything but smooth for Soh Rui Yong.
He first flirted with the previous record of 2 hours 24 minutes 22 seconds at the 2016 Chicago Marathon with his then PR of 2:24:55. At the 2018 Berlin Marathon, Soh slowed in the closing kilometres to finish seconds away from his PB.
On a frigid Sunday morning that registered 0 degree Celsius at the 8 am start time, he finally added the marathon record to his collection.
Though it was freezing point at the start, Soh’s coach, Ben Rosario, said the weather was “awesome.” The race plan: take the first 30km out at 3:25min/km, which would put him on track for a 2:24:00 finish. Then up the pace, and again at 35km, just like executing a fast finish.
Soh shattered the 2:24 barrier to finish in 2:23:42 at the Seoul Marathon, eclipsing his first coach’s, M. Rameshon, 24-year-old record. The monkey was finally off his back.
“Shiok. We finally have a record on a certified course,” said Soh.
The 27-year-old made a case after his Chicago race that his result should be recognised as the record since Rameshon’s 1995 record of 2:24:22 was set on a course that was not certified by the international athletics federation. Singapore Athletics eventually kept the record unchanged.
Soh appeared on the marathon live stream as the female champion, Desi Mokonin, passed him in the final 500m. Not wanting to “get chicked on camera,” Soh picked up the pace, overtook her in the final 200m, then finished at the extreme end of the track so as not to steal Mokonin’s finishing sash camera moment.
(Skip to the 2:05:43 timestamp to watch the 500m duel between Soh and Mokonin.)
Soh started 2019 strong as he set the half marathon record of 1:06:46 in Houston in January. That was two national records under his belt, inclusive of the 10,000m.
After spending five weeks at altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona, in January, Soh was ready to go for the record at the Tokyo Marathon. However, he withdrew after an administration gaffe placed him in the mass start pen instead of the elite pen.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Tokyo experienced cold and wet conditions, the “worst conditions in the 13-year history of the marathon.” Many elites such as Suguru Osako recorded a DNF.
Even though Soh clocked lesser mileage than before due to an Achilles injury, quality triumphed over quantity. Key workouts for him were either a 16-mile tempo, a 10 x 1 mile, or a 15 x 1km. Shorter, but faster.
This emphasis should translate nicely to Soh’s next goal of obtaining the 5,000m national record (14:51.09), which his PB of 14:55.91 is, again, within striking distance of.
Said Soh, “If you told me when I started running 15 years ago that I’d retired with 3 national records and 2 SEA Games golds, I’d have taken it. Now that I’ve gotten this far, I’d like to keep improving and not get complacent.”
The only Singaporean who owns national records from the 5,000m through the marathon is Yvonne Danson Tan. Tan’s 1996 half marathon result of 1:16:29 was just recognised as the record a few days ago by Singapore Athletics. Serena Teoh was initially hailed as the half marathon record holder when her 1:22:07 at the Gran Canaria Half Marathon surpassed Mok Ying Rong’s result of 1:23:14 in 2016.
Meanwhile, Soh and his regional competitors are creating a tantalising showdown for the SEA Games. Thais Tony Payne (2:16:56, 2018 Frankfurt Marathon) and Sanchai Namkhet (2:22:51, 2019 Amazing Thailand Marathon Bangkok) own faster PRs than him. 2017 SEA Games fourth placer Leo Tan has worked his PB down to 2:24:04 (2018 Fukuoka Marathon) since taking time off work to train for the Olympics.
Come December, Payne and Soh could be fierce competitors in the Philippines. Right now, the duo are friendly as can be as they regularly exchange encouraging notes on social media.
Soh’s immediate plan after getting his third national record shouldn’t come as a surprise to those know him well: “beer!”
Other national marathoners at Seoul included Evan Chee, who ran an 18s PB of 2:41:01, and 2015 SEA Games contestant Ashley Liew crossed the line in 3:08:57.