Friday 5 June 2015

2,500km in 50 days: Relief and joy as duo complete epic run to mark SG50

They overcame injuries and illness, while being lifted by strong support
By Kash Cheong And Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2015

RELIEF and joy were etched on the faces of ultramarathon runners Yong Yuen Cheng and Lim Nghee Huat as they crossed the finish line on their 50th and final 50km run yesterday.

"Mission completed," declared Mr Lim, a 62-year-old TV editor, after their challenge to mark Singapore's 50th anniversary ended at 10.32am at the Marina Bay Promontory. "It has been tougher than expected but we made it!"

Said Mr Yong, his 43-year-old running buddy: "The first thing that came to my mind was relief. For 50 days, I focused on nothing but the run and how to recover. Now all that mental stress is over. The second thing was really appreciation for those who have supported us in one way or another."

Mr Yong, a physical education teacher, had struggled through the final days of the challenge after gastric flu killed his appetite and left him nauseated.

Earlier, he overcame a strained Achilles tendon. "Sometimes you just have to push through the run with sheer willpower. I believe ordinary people achieve extraordinary things."

The pair displayed grim determination at the start of their final 50km, but were lifted by about 50 runners who ran the home stretch with them to show support.

Among them was Mr Chen Joo Soon, 56, who ran alongside them for the entire final leg, which started from Ion Orchard mall at 2am.

The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) lecturer hardly had any sleep the night before, having completed the previous day's 50km leg with the duo at 4pm.

"The runners have been through so much, I wanted to give them the last boost and be there to celebrate their feat with them."

In the run, co-organised by youth charity Heartware Network and ITE, the runners paid tribute to the resilience and fortitude of Singapore's pioneers.

Mr Lim, tanned from running under the sun for 50 days straight, overcame a bout of diarrhoea earlier in the challenge and ended it with just minor aches and pains.

"The first few days of our run, I felt pain everywhere in my legs," he said. "But after 10-plus days, our feet felt lighter. Our bodies were conditioned to running 50km every day."

Pacer Gerrard Lin had mixed feelings about the challenge ending. "There is a certain sense of loss," said the 31-year-old, who would challenge the two men to "mini races" and give certain stretches nicknames like "Tour de Sembawang" to keep their spirits up. "Somehow it feels like the past 50 days have gone by so quickly."

After they crossed the finish line yesterday, the two men, along with Mr Lin, hardly had any time to spare as they hugged and took pictures with supporters. All three were awarded certificates from co-chair of the SG50 Steering Committee, Dr Tan Lai Yong.

They then ignited the SEA Games flame, which was used to light the SEA Games torch for a community parade last night.

Having forgone spicy and sweet foods for the last 50 days, all Mr Yong wanted was a bowl of laksa and ice kacang.

Meanwhile, Mr Lim was looking forward to a holiday in Beijing next week with his wife Deborah, 56, who joked: "Maybe he'll run the Great Wall."

The moment we have all been waiting for these past 50 days. 2500 km and 100% completed. Thank you for the community support!
Posted by Go50 - A Nation in Motion on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Go50 lead runners had the honour of lighting up the pure flame from the sun's rays under the witnessing of Mr Lim...
Posted by Go50 - A Nation in Motion on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Good morning, supporters. It has been an incredible 50 days! The Go50 runners would not have completed this journey...
Posted by Go50 - A Nation in Motion on Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ultramarathoners savour life on Day 51
By Ong Kai Xuan, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2015

AS IF teaming up to run 50km a day for 50 days in a row was not enough, ultramarathoners Yong Yuen Cheng and Lim Nghee Huat got together again yesterday.

Mr Yong, 43, had lunch with Mr Lim, 61, and Malaysian ultramarathon runner Ng Seow Kong, 53, at Ang Mo Kio yesterday.

At night, they met again to take part in the SEA Games opening ceremony, accompanying the torch from Marina Bay to Kallang Basin on a boat.

Day 51 was different from the preceding 50.

Mr Yong woke up at 7am, had breakfast and went back to sleep before getting up again after 11am. Mr Lim slept in until past 11am. Once their day started in earnest, they both had fully packed schedules.

Mr Lim planned to visit his mother-in-law, as he had not seen her for almost two months, before heading to the opening ceremony. He also wanted to respond to all the congratulatory e-mails and messages.

For Mr Yong, it was a rare "rest day" despite the tight schedule.

"For months before the run, I trained every day for up to five hours a day," said the teacher.

The change was liberating for Mr Lim, who said: "Each day, I woke up and did the same thing. Today, I can finally do something different."

"I had to cut off any social life because I had to sleep early to get up early. Life can now go back to normal. I can finally eat the food I love, like laksa, mee siam and rojak," he added, laughing.

At the weekend, he has weddings and dinners to attend. On Monday, he will fly to Beijing for a short holiday with his wife.

Even after running 2,500km, he said he was perfectly fine and will swim a bit in Beijing.

Mr Yong was also fine, apart from a weak left knee, which was the result of an old injury.

"Mostly, I feel less mental stress now because I don't have to follow a schedule," he said.

In fact, after one day of rest, he plans to jump back into exercising today: "My body is not used to rest. This is my first rest in many, many months."

Proving ordinary people can do the extraordinary
By Kash Cheong, The Sunday Times, 7 Jun 2015

I am not a runner. I am a couch potato.

So when I first received a press invitation in April to cover two Singaporeans who were going to run 50km for 50 days, my eyes popped.

Was it 50km spread across 50 days, meaning 1km a day? Was it 50km on 50 days of different months?

I had to call the organisers three times before I was convinced they were not kidding: Ultramarathoners Lim Nghee Huat and Yong Yuen Cheng were going to run 50km a day on 50 consecutive days, as a tribute to the resilience of Singapore's pioneers. Each day was also meant to symbolise a year of growth for Singapore as an independent nation.

Sweaty and red-faced just from interviewing the runners under the sun at the first day's flag-off, I could only wonder what gluttons for punishment they were.

Granted, they looked lean and fit in their skintight marathoning suits, but would they get past even their first 10 days in this heat?

In the days ahead, as the men ran, I followed in their supply vehicle, and watched as they put one foot before the other, gritting their teeth on some days and smiling on others.

What struck me most was the dedication of those who played a back-end role. They would get no glory for their efforts. All they wanted was for the runners to succeed in this daunting quest.

Pregnant Tan See Leng came, rain or shine, to help marshall the runners and answer media queries. While many mums-to-be would be resting, the executive director of Heartware Network, which co-organised the run, bustled about every day, checking arrangements, cheering the runners on and ensuring that everything went smoothly. Her friends Fiona Loi and Raymond Huang also helped out.

And then there was the jovial Maureen Setyadi, 36, who volunteered to be part of the supply crew.

Providing sustenance meant far more than staying in one spot and handing over drinks. While the runners were pounding the roads, Ms Setyadi and Mr Lim's wife, Deborah, would be figuring out if it was time for them to have their endurance drinks or cramp-preventing salt tablets. The two women shook energy drinks with one hand, held a map in the other, all while communicating hands-free on the phone with other members of the crew.

Sometimes, the runners ran in park connectors, where the supply car could not enter. Bicycles were deployed to chase after them.

Along the way, Ms Setyadi took the opportunity to get fit too. She cycled so much that she lost 12kg over the 50 days, with the help of a special diet plan. I was excited when she told me it was the first time in two decades that she could fit into her favourite pair of Mickey Mouse shorts. The runners might have scored a national victory, but Ms Setyadi claimed her own personal triumph.

Then there was Mrs Deborah Lim. The 56-year-old took every opportunity to sun her husband's shoes. They might be a sweaty pair, or another pair that had been washed the night before. During hectic five-minute stops when the supply vehicle stopped to pass drinks to the runners, she quickly put the shoes on the ground near the car's front seat.

As the days went by, I was surprised that both men persevered. Their extreme feat drew criticism too - some said the run was a waste of time and the pair were "gloryhunters".

But they said they were just doing what they do best to celebrate the nation's birthday and inspire others to surpass their limits.

They did just that. Several amateur runners, including 44-year-old Cheryl Ng and 24-year-old Debbie Lee, decided to join in and attempt a 50km run as well, setting a new personal best for themselves. Members of the Gei Gei runners group were among others who turned up to accompany Mr Lim and Mr Yong and keep their spirits up.

Last Thursday, on the final day of the run, the crew and the runners came to the starting line at Ion Orchard, exhausted yet excited.

Their surreal experience - of waking up at 4am to get supplies, flagging off at around 7am daily, avoiding spicy food for 50 days - would end the following day.

After seven weeks of covering these two men on their amazing SG50 quest, I found myself fishing out my dusty running shoes and putting them on.

And as I joined them for part of the last stretch, I felt like I was running with superheroes.

Brisk walking with them was easy. But once they decided to power forth during stretches of their last 50km, the banter in the flock of supporters quietened as some huffed and puffed to keep up.

A stoic Mr Yong fought off gastric pains and nausea to run from his heart. The physical education teacher just wanted to prove his personal motto to his students: that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.

"If I didn't complete the run, the teaching opportunity would be lost," the 43-year-old said. He credited pacer Gerrard Lin, 31, who accompanied them on all but one of the 50 days, for providing invaluable motivation.

Not once did 62-year-old Mr Lim let his age slow him down. Seasoned Malaysian ultramarathoner Ng Seow Kong said that, as one gets older, one's muscles recover more slowly from running, which makes Mr Lim's achievement all the more significant.

Of course, both the runners have decades of experience and took precautions.

I was surprised by their detailed log books, where they documented their physical condition and made notes reminding themselves to slow down in the following day's run if they felt unwell.

"I would not do anything to permanently damage my body," Mr Yong said.

In the end, the two men achieved what they set out to do. Although they won no SEA Games medals, their achievement is truly a feather in Singapore's cap.

Their feat also inspired me to lace up and start running again after a break of two years.

Maybe it will also move others to imagine the unimaginable and give it a try.

Now, what shall we do for SG100?

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