Athletics

Reaching new heights

SEA Games marathon champ Soh undergoes altitude training to prepare for title defence

I'm back! Welcome to my first column of the year.

Thanks to this collaboration between The New Paper and H-TWO-O, I look forward to sharing my journey to the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur in three months' time.

I qualified for the Games after clocking 2hr 24min 55sec at the Chicago Marathon last October.

The goal now is straightforward, yet far from easy - to retain the title I won in a dramatic finishing sprint on home soil two years ago.

The first six months of my build-up consisted of juggling training and a full-time job as an executive at Sport Singapore.

Though I was getting in some good training, and performed above my expectations - clocking 1:07:53 in a half marathon in Marugame, Japan, in February - I knew that it was not good enough.

I expect to face the strongest field in SEA Games marathon history.

Turning up at KL would be most of the runners who competed in 2015, including nine-time SEA Games distance running champion Eduardo Buenavista (personal best of 2:18:53) of the Philippines and five-time SEA Games champion Boonthung Srisung (PB 2:24:01) of Thailand.

I expect to face the strongest field in SEA Games marathon history.Singapore’s Soh Rui Yong

STRONG FIELD

Mok Ying Ren (PB 2:26:06), Singapore's 2013 SEA Games champion, will also be joining the field after missing the 2015 Games through injury.

And then there is the athlete I see as the strongest contender in Kuala Lumpur, four-time SEA Games champion Agus Prayogo of Indonesia, who clocked a season's best of 2:21:35 at the Seoul Marathon in March, just 28 seconds off his personal best.

I know I have to reach another level to have a realistic shot of retaining my title. So I applied for four months' no-pay leave and left for the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona, on April 20.

    • Hydrate with a sports drink — my choice is H-TWO-O.
    • Plan ahead and start training for your goal race in advance.
    • Don’t force yourself to hit race pace at the start of training — let it come to you.
  • Weigh yourself before and after exercise — For every 1kg weight lost, replenish with 1 litre of fluid consumption. Inadequate fluid replenishment will affect your muscle recovery and hinder your performance. 

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Here, I will focus full-time on running, gym work and good nutrition in preparation for the Aug 19 showdown.

Altitude training is tough, but the reduced oxygen level in the air forces the body to produce more red blood cells, which carry oxygen.

The toughest part of training at altitude is always the first few weeks.

With less oxygen in the air at Flagstaff - which has an elevation of more than 2,000m - and the 15-hour time difference combine to make for a difficult first few weeks.

Sea-level dwellers (such as us Singaporeans) will often wake up at night in the first few weeks at altitude, as the body adapts to the new atmospheric condition.

The air is a lot drier, resulting in a dry nose and throat during daily activities, and even more so during training runs.

Easy runs and workouts both get tougher due to the lack of oxygen in the air, and it is not uncommon to see each kilometre split in a workout be about 10 seconds slower at this altitude, compared to at sea level.

That's not all.

Athletes training at altitude often get fatigued much more quickly than they do at sea level because electrolytes and other energy sources burn at a higher rate, given the increased demands on the body.

Also, the dry mountain air dehydrates athletes unknowingly, as lots of fluids are lost through the skin. The result is dry skin, but one does not necessarily feel thirsty.

It is hence important to stay hydrated, not just with water but with relevant nutrients such as electrolytes and sugars.

My drink of choice to stay hydrated at altitude is H-TWO-O, as the drink replenishes both water and the nutrients lost through dehydration.

This has allowed me to get through gruelling training sessions and have a fast recovery.

I'm still settling in, but I've already got in some good weeks of training. I'm looking forward to a couple of test races next month to tune my racing instincts before the August showdown.

Soh Rui YongMarathonSEA Games