Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!
Name: Melvin Wong (@melvinwongyh)
Occupation: Senior Account Manager
Food: Toast, eggs and coffee in the morning, mix of carbs/vegetables/fish/chicken for the rest of the day. Yong Tau Foo for dinner on workout days.
Exercise: Six days of running with Sundays off.
Q: Did you grow up doing sports?
A: No actually. I spent 10 years playing the French horn in my school concert band. I spent most of my time in school at band practice during my formative years (secondary school to junior college) and rarely had anything to do with sports.
I guess the only exercise I was exposed to was running around the school field and doing push-ups as punishment. We also had to do a series of diaphragm exercises before each band practice and get a taste of water treatment every six months where we had to blow our guts out to have a bubble coming out of a water-filled tuba.
When did you become more serious about sports?
Upon enlisting for national service, I had to run and do a variety of exercises to pass our IPPT. I picked up swimming and cycling towards the end of my army days and start of university so that was probably the time when I ventured into sports.
Despite being very new to sports, I picked up the courage to learn how to swim and run and eventually, earned a spot on the university’s aquathlon team within a relatively short time frame, perhaps three months. That was the start of my foray into endurance sports (triathlon specifically) and I went on to enjoy the sport for a few years before retiring in 2012 when I got married.
When did you start running more competitively?
I started running competitively from 2014 when I joined a running group upon recommendation from a running friend and mentor. I was exposed to a really good group of training mates and more importantly, a structured training regime monitored by a renowned distance coach locally.
Did you ever expect to be representing Singapore in the SEA Games?
Everyone talks about representing Singapore and that was the same for me, but it was just a dream as it was very challenging to meet the qualifying mark. Back when I was competing in triathlon, I had the desire to compete in triathlon after watching Cheng Jing Hean and Mok Ying Ren clinched consecutive gold medals in the SEA Games (2005, 2007). But I was realistic and knew that I don’t have that calibre to compete at that level so I closed the triathlon chapter when I got married in 2012.
Fast forward to 2015, I had already spent three months training with my running group and they have all the middle distance runners who were contenders to qualify for 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. The funny thing was, I asked my coach back then whether he saw the potential in me to qualify for the Games. He was rather straight-faced and said “not a chance”.
Thus, I ended up becoming a training buddy for my other training mates. They were certainly quicker and stronger than me so I just tagged along for their sessions for a few months, happy to play a part in their build-up.
Then I raced two 5,000m races in early 2015 but in both races, I fell short of the 16:00 minutes target that my coach and I set for ourselves. It was only when I travelled to Malaysia for my first overseas athletic meet at Malaysia Open in March that gave me a glimmer of hope that the SEA Games could possibly on the cards.
I was only registered for the 10,000m race as there was no 5,000m race available for registration before that. However, with an administrative hiccup and a stroke of luck, I was entered for both the 5,000m and 10,000m races that weekend – 24 hours apart. I clocked my personal best (PB) in both events that weekend and broke the 16:00 minutes barrier for the first time. The SEA Games fire got switched on then and I eventually qualified for both the 5,000m and 10,000m.
You've been to the SEA Games twice now.
2015 was clearly the better of my two SEA Games outings. I was a newbie with little expectations in the largest athletics contingent of 72 athletes and on our home turf. There was absolutely everything to look forward to, be excited about and fight for in front of all our screaming fans!
When your parents, family, colleagues, friends and every running fan in Singapore are screaming your name at the newly built Sports Hub, the atmosphere is electrifying and no other Games can be compared to that home edition. That is also when we won three golds as an athletics contingent and the best showing as a nation at a SEA Games.
Personally, I was disappointed with my first race in the 5,000m but came roaring back to clock a PB in the 10,000m (32 min 59s) which still stands as my PB till date. Again, I competed in both events within 24 hours and was so proud of this moment as it remained one of the fastest 10,000m times set by a Singaporean on home ground.
The 2022 SEA Games at Hanoi was clearly muted in terms of excitement as everyone was cautious about containing COVID-19 while staging the first SEA Games post-pandemic. On a personal level, I had the best build-up and spent six weeks in Australia which gave me a huge confidence on my ability. For this edition, I went up the distance to tackle the full marathon and came in 8th overall.
What are the highs and lows of your running journey?
The high will be the 2015 SEA Games finishing the 10,000m race with a strong finish. The time clocked remains my best for the distance till this date.
The low will be 2017 Berlin Marathon where I clocked a 2 hours 41 minutes performance. I wanted to improve on that time but was not able to make progress. I actually stopped running at the 26km mark as I was not making time on my target. After a few minutes of self-talk, I decided to jog back to the finish as my wife and newborn were waiting for me.
How do you balance work, training, family and life?
It is hard to give an equation or an explicit answer for this. At every stage of my life, there are things which I prioritised more and that is where I find myself gravitating towards and spending more effort on. But one thing where I cannot drop the ball is my family.
When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?
When I was trying to make the university aquathlon team, I could not swim well. I was often singled out by the coach back then that I swam like a roti prata (flat and no rotation) and needed to swim next to the wall so I can grab if I panicked.
When we headed out for Saturday practice at Sentosa (for a swim and run), I was often the last one out of the water so I would go into transition with little worry because there would only be one pair of shoes left – mine. My self-esteem took a hit during those times though.
To help me, I actually borrowed a book called “Total Immersion” from the library and read it and then practised it at a public pool just so that I did not get such remarks from my coach again.
Did you ever struggle with your body?
I tried to lose some weight in Primary 5 as I seemed to put on some weight back then. I often ate Char Kway Teow at my school canteen and maybe that’s why the weight gain occurred. Eventually, I developed gastric and that affected my gut health.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
Yes I am truly at peace with my body now – no matter what shape and size it may be. I would not want to change anything now as I am well and truly content with what I have.