Mok Ying Ren has been synonymous with Singapore distance running since winning a gold medal in the triathlon at the 2007 Southeast Asian Games. The 25 year-old then then went from strength to strength to win the local men’s category of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon from 2009 to ’11. And he is currently Singapore’s quickest runner over the distance, with a personal best time of two hours 26 minutes and 30 seconds achieved at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia just last weekend.
Though his time beats the 2011 SEA Games gold medal time and qualifies Ying Ren for this year’s Games, it is still some two minutes off the national record of two hours 24 minutes and 22 seconds set by Rameshon Murugiah in 1997. But Mok has has his eyes on the prize—and it isn’t to break the 16 year-old record—it’s to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and represent Singapore there.
It is no different from your typical elite athlete with times or scores close to or better the qualifying mark, except that Ying Ren is looking to do it all on his own.
He’s named his journey as “Road to Rio 2016” and he’s got 3 years to do it. But the qualifying mark? Two hours and 15 minutes. That means Mok needs to cut 12 minutes off his time, which works out to be just 17 seconds faster per kilometre than his current timing.
Not quite so, when you consider he’s got to do it for each of the 42 kilometres in the race.
And it is a fact that isn’t lost upon the athlete.
Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore, Ying Ren was cautious of getting too carried away. “I know it seems like just 12 minutes, but when you break it down to how much faster I’ve got to run per kilometre, it’s not that easy.”
Add to that having to juggle his training time around his job as a medical doctor, the need for funding that will go towards his training expenses and his upcoming National Service stint in December, and the dream of going to Rio 2016 seems like just that—a dream.
The thing is, Mok has got a plan. And no, it isn’t just about what races he will be running this year or how much airfare to Brazil will cost.
Sure, those things are part of the broader picture, but Ying Ren says he meticulous breaking down the cost of everything he needs to the most minute detail.
“Food, travel, equipment—we’ve itemized everything I need for the next 3 years. I have a slideshow deck prepared and I bring it to companies in order to show them my plan to raise funds for my goal,” he said. “Potential sponsors do like to see these that you’ve though of everything in your plans.”
Ying Ren has also set up a “Run to Walk” project that encourages people to start running from a young age. It is his way of giving back to the community.
“The idea is to run while you’re young, so that when you’re old, you’re still fit enough to walk,” he explained. “80-90% of people who end up in hospital don’t have an exercise background and are often there because they are poorer at fighting off disease. Usually, it’s because they don’t exercise regularly from young. This project is to get people of all ages exercising.”
It is through charity work such as this, and through running clinics and workshops in schools that Mok looks to make a good name for himself. He hopes companies sit up and take notice and want to be associated with his Road to 2016 journey.
Sa far, the likes of Sakae Sushi, Far East Flora and Pet Lover’s Centre, among others, have joined his cause and helped him raise half of the S$100,000 he needs.
Yingren admits that he still has some work to do to raise more funds, but if he does surpass his intended target, he plans to put it all back into the community via his existing project or a brand new one. And of course, a new project would also involve exercise.
As a doctor at the Accident and Emergency department of Tan Tock Seng hospital, Yingren has to balance irregular working hours with training in order to stay in competitive shape.
He says it will be tough to improve his marathon timing on his current work schedule, “The world class marathon runners do between 160 to 200 km a week in training. I run about 120km right now. It’s tough but I integrate the sport into my life. I run twice a day, so for one of those runs, I will run to or from work.”
Mok adds that he will sometimes take the scenic route from Tan Tock Seng though East Cast Park to get home to Tampines just so he can clock more kilometres. But that is just for now.
“This is my last month serving as a medical officer in hospital. I’ll then be joining a polyclinic of a friend of a friend in Ang Mo Kio, so my hours will be more regular and I can concentrate better on training.”
Mok’s map to the Rio Olympics doesn’t end there. Far from it. But he has still got potentially the biggest bump in the road for any Singaporean-born athlete: National Service. A full 15 months beginning in December. Furthermore, the Southeast Asian Games marathon would start just weeks after he is due to enlist. End of the road? Not for Mok. Instead of letting it torpedo his dream, Yingren found a way around it with—you might have guessed it—his plan.
This time he wrote to the general email of the Singapore Armed Forces Medical Corp with his detailed slideshow deck to apply for the SAF Sportsman Scheme—something that he admitted being unaware of—and he was given leave to compete.
As for how often he’ll actually be allowed to train, he was optimistic about mainlining his fitness levels: “I’ll probably have to stay in camp almost the whole time but I think (my training) won’t be interrupted. I’ll still be able to put in long runs once or twice a week, but moving to a new level will be more difficult since I’m not sure I’ll be allowed to do more than that.”
The rest of 2013
Yingren’s next two major events this year are the SEA Games in November and a shorter 10km race at the Nippon Sports Science University in Japan in October.
He will also take a month off work in November to stay in Japan to run and train.
“Training for a marathon is not just about running on your own. You’ve got to get people who run the same time as you. Ten minutes faster or slower makes a huge difference. In Singapore, I can find perhaps a handful of people who can run times similar to mine. In Japan, there’s probably a thousand people who can do that. You can really push yourself in that atmosphere with so many people running together.”
During the next three months, Mok plans to run in three to four “checkpoint” races locally, such as the Army Half-Marathon. He would also like to run in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon but that event takes place just a day after his enlistment, so he can only “Wait and see.”
With all of 2014 taken up by his National Service, Yingren still plans to run “two to three” marathons a year to be ready for Rio. Whether or not he qualifies, he’s got his future all sorted out.
“I plan to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery—or turn pro,” Mok said when it was pointed out that he’ll only be 28 years old when 2016 rolls along. Distance runners usually hit their peak in their 30s. “But that is some ways ahead. I have to focus of qualifying for Rio first.”
Of the journey so far, Mok says it’s been about learning how to be independent. “Why wait for anyone to do anything for you? Sometimes, the National Sports Associations or even the government can only do so much. It’s far better to go out and chase your dream and get people to believe in you and your cause to help you along the way.”