LIV3LY: Firstly, congrats on coming in 1st position in the annual MR25 Ultramarathon! I understand that to qualify for a finisher tee and medal, a participant has to complete at least 5 loops of 10.5km. How many did you do, and what made you decide to do it?
Soo Eng: I love participating in MR25 ultra every year, as a runner or a supporter. The good people at MR25 do it so right - it is well organised and replete with history. I always think of it as a big runners' year end party - a grand finale to end the season. I ran MR25 ultra in 2012 and 2013, finishing 5 loops and 6 loops in those years. I never had the gumption to run 12 hours, preferring to retire early to cheer others on.
In 2014-2015, I was chasing marathon PBs, training for cool-weather races in Feb/Mar. This meant that a December ultramarathon, which required a protracted recovery period would not fit into my training. This year, I was training as a SCMS pacer with RD (Running Department), and doing plenty of LSD (long, slow distance) running. Instead of a marathon, I signed up for Lantau 50km in Mar 2017. Hence, MR25 ultra fits perfectly into the schedule.
I did 8 loops in slightly under 11 hours. I knew it was within reach as I trained in MR on Sundays after my long runs with RD on Saturday. I was running about 1 hour 20 minutes per loop on fatigued legs. I am really pleased that I am right on target - coming in as the champion is a surprise!
LIV3LY: Following the ultramarathon, how long have you been running, and what made you decide to pick up running?
Soo Eng: I have always been sporty in school, playing basketball and actively participating on Sports Day. I ran my first 10km at Shape run in 2007 and decided to train for it. It started as a social thing - a weekly affair to enjoy some outdoor activities and ‘makan’.
David Chung is one of my first running buddies who started training for marathons, which I thought was pretty cool. It took me two years to progress to my first marathon, and I never looked back.
LIV3LY: Running a marathon/ultra-marathon is no easy feat, considering the amount of time and hard work one has to put in. What is it about running that keeps you coming back for more, especially when you could have spent the spare time 'chilling' or relaxing during the weekends instead?
Soo Eng: I am naturally curious. There is just so much to learn about running that I am never done! Can I run a 10km without stopping? Can I run a half-marathon? I got a cramp at 15km, how do I prevent that? Am I strong enough to run a marathon without hitting the wall? Can I qualify for Boston? I wonder what it feels like to run 100km. How do you train as a pacer?
Then there is the social aspect to it. We have so much fun hanging out after the runs at RD. We chat incessantly about food, shoes, training, hydration, runcation and running idols. After a while, these friends become people you can say anything to, like, "if you really need to pee in the middle of the race, do you ever just go in your pants?"
LIV3LY: You sure are practicing the saying that 'Education never stops'! How do you manage to find time to train, study and work at the same time?
Soo Eng: I am working on a part-time contract basis, so that helps. I always try to do my runs in the morning. In case of rain, a late night or just feeling that I need extra sleep, I may shift the running around to the evening. If I get to school early for my night classes, I try to sneak in some time on the track before lessons. That is usually a mad rush, but sometimes that is all I can manage that day.
I think it is important to have a realistic schedule, and ensure enough recovery while training. More is not always better. Most importantly, I keep the perspective that running is supposed to be fun. I work my training around my other priorities to stay healthy and sane. I believe in looking after people first. Then health. Then fitness.
LIV3LY: What advice would you give to aspiring runners looking to start running marathons, or even pick up the sport in the first place?
Soo Eng: Be patient. Take time to conquer the distance in small increments, building small goals along the way. Start with 5ks, then progress through to 10k, half-marathon and full marathon. Stay injury-free to enjoy it for years. Get a coach to guide your journey if you want help with a program. Consistency is key and having company helps. Join a running club. Or join us at Running Department!
LIV3LY: Ending this interview, what are your goals for 2017?
Soo Eng: I want to run under 3:20 at Gold Coast Marathon, and run my first sub-4 at SCMS in 2017. Lantau 50km is a secondary race, but I hope to finish it within 7-8 hours.
LIV3LY: Wow, indeed we would say that natural curiosity you have about running is part of what drives your passion for the sport. Great advice for the LIV3LY community, and all the best for your running goals in 2017!