SINGAPORE – Running his first marathon for over two years took such a toll on Soh Rui Yong that he suffered from blurry vision which meant he could not even identify his bottle at water stations for half the race.

But the Republic’s top distance runner pushed through at the Valencia Marathon in Spain on Sunday (Dec 5) and was rewarded with a new national record of 2hr 22min 59sec, which lowered his own previous mark by 45 seconds.

The time also meant Soh cleared the Singapore National Olympic Council’s (SNOC) qualification benchmark for next September’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, pegged at the sixth-place performance at the previous edition of the Asiad which was 2:23:42.

If selected, Soh, 30, will be the first Singaporean marathoner at the Asiad.

A week earlier, he had also met the Asian Games qualifying mark for the 10,000m event.

He told The Straits Times over the phone that his time in Valencia was “quite surprising” as he only decided to train for the marathon six weeks ago, having focused most of this year on shorter distances, setting national records in the 2,400m, 5,000m and 10,000m events.

This, however, meant that he had not gotten the mileage he needed to be in his best shape for the 42.195km marathon, with his last competitive race being the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon in November 2019.

“I felt it at about the 25km mark, when I started feeling pain in my foot, and getting white spotty vision,” said Soh, whose previous fastest was at the Seoul Marathon in March 2019 when he ran 2:23:44.

“This was because my training was not as voluminous or intensive… So I was in a lot of pain. It got worse and worse and at the 30km mark, I was trying to look for my personal bottle (at the water station), but my vision was so bad I could not differentiate mine among the five on the table.

“I was struggling to even finish the race but at that point, it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and finding the motivation to get to the end.”

So what spurred him on?

“The last couple of years, we haven’t had a lot of chances to race the marathon so firstly I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity,” he explained.

“And secondly, I wanted to be the first Singaporean to qualify for the Asian Games, and to make Singapore sports history.”

Having qualified for the 10,000m and marathon events at both the SEA Games in Hanoi in May, and Asian Games in September throws up a dilemma for Soh.

“I don’t think I can do both (events),” he said.

“It’s going to be the 10k or the marathon for the SEA Games, if it happens, and the other event for the Asian Games.

“I’ll have to assess my situation again later, and make a decision. But it’s good I have options.”

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For now, Soh, who also holds the national record in the half-marathon, will take a break from running until the new year, when he will race in the Pocari Sweat 2.4km Challenge on Jan 8.

He will then leave for London where he will begin reading law at the University College London for three years. There, he aims to lower his national record in the 10,000m, currently 31min 44.14secs, to under 31 minutes.

Soh is the first Singaporean marathoner to win back-to-back SEA Games gold medals, in 2015 and 2017, but was surprisingly omitted from the 2019 edition despite meeting the qualifying time.

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The SNOC – whose selection committee decides on which athletes to send to major Games – said then that they arrived at the decision as Soh had displayed “conduct that falls short of the standards of attitude and behaviour that the SNOC expects of and holds its athletes to”.

Prior to the snub, the runner and the SNOC had clashed on a number of occasions, including before the 2017 SEA Games when he was issued a formal warning by the council over a breach of regulations regarding the promotion of his personal sponsors on social media during the Games.

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