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The previous 2009 SEA Games, we had zilch distance running participants bearing Singapore colors, but come end of the year, the games which is to be held at Palembang, Indonesia, we’ll have two representatives.

They are Mok Yin Reng who is a medal prospect in the 5,000 meters and marathon men event, and Renuka Satianathan, who will compete in the women 10,000 meters event.

In particular this article spotlights Renuka Satianathan. Not since 2003 edition of the games, where Pamela Chia & Vivian Tang represented the Republic, did we have any SEA Games women distance runner.

Once a Trim and Fit (TAF – A weight loss program that targeted obesity in Singapore schools) child in her teens, Renuka is now one of the nation’s top women cross country and distance runner.

The future educator who is now on a MOE scholarship studying at the University of Queensland for a Masters in Applied Linguistics, attributed running to giving structure and opportunities in her life.

The 23-year-old was recently approved by SNOC games selection committee for inclusion in the SEA Games squad, prior to SAA nominated her with 30 other athletes.

She earned her merit by running a sublime 37:15.87 for the women 10,000m event at the Queensland Open back in March.

To complete a 10KM race below 40 minute is an achievement itself for the very few, and to put it simply in perspective, her overall timing if split at the 2.4KM marker, it would be around 8 minute and 56 seconds.

Such a feat would put any of our National Servicemen to shame, as our recruit gold timing standard is 9:45 minute for the IPPT 2.4KM station. Put Renuka in such a field, you would find her lapping our boys.

The post-grad student who prefers training to racing, and racing to studying, and running to mugging, shares insight of her workout routine, and her holistic approach to sports in this interview.

Name: Renuka Satianathan

Height: 1.66m

Weight: 46kg

Date of Birth: 19th November 1987

Coach: Roy Rankin and Ed Salmon

Personal Best(s):

  • Half-marathon – 1:23:24 hour (2011, Gold Coast marathon)
  • 10k road – 38:05 minute (2011)
  • 10k track – 37:15 minute (2011)
  • 3000m – 10:36 minute (2011)
  • 1500m – 5.02 minute (2009)

Q) You ran in March, 37:15.87 at the Queensland Open for the women’s 10,000m event. The mark was close to the SEA Games qualifying mark of 36:57.86. Tell us about the race.

Renuka: It was a massive PB, the quickest before that was a 39:24 minute on road. And I haven’t run a quicker one since. It was a very unexpected time, I think I was lucky to get the perfect race on the day.

The run was part of the State championships, and it was a combined men’s and women’s field (12 runners, 6 men and 6 women). It started quite late from memory, about 8pm and good weather. March in Brisbane is not far off Singapore temperatures during the day but it cools off a lot at night.

I was quite daunted by the prospect of 10k on track – it seems so much easier on the road! My coaches had suggested aiming for 90s/lap to get close to 38 minutes and I was quietly skeptical about my ability to do that since I hadn’t come close to that time before.

But the race started and after a quick first couple of laps, I settled in quite nicely to 89-90s laps. I had to move away from Glenda (who finished 2nd) after about 2k because I was getting tripped up trying to run behind her and she didn’t like following, so then it was a matter of taking responsibility for my own pace.

My coaches were great, yelling out lap splits so I just focused on trying to come through each lap in 90s. It was good to start lapping some of the other girls and have the guys lap me so that was something to keep you going.

I got ridiculously excited when the lap counter got down to the single digits until I realized that 3.6k is quite a long way still! And I was in a world of hurt by the time the last 1k rolled around, but I tried to think of the training we did on that track where we alternate laps at 3k/10k pace and managed to get a 85s last lap to finish.

Oh and the excitement only started there because the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) then notified us that the place-getters were being drug tested. The procedure involves the officials “watch the sample leave your body”, so it wasn’t the best possible news when we were dehydrated and it was close to my bedtime.

It took me 2 hours to produce said sample under said conditions, and a lot of signing of papers/seals etc. My faith in these tests was certainly reinforced after that night!


Q) What were your thoughts and feeling, knowing you came close to the SEA Games qualifying mark. Did you expect such a fast timing?

Renuka: I didn’t actually know what the qualifying mark was and it wasn’t really an aim going into the race. I just run because I like training with my squad and it’s a bit of a bonus to get faster, so it was a surprise. I think it was on Facebook (that magical invention) that someone pointed out it wasn’t far off.


Q) The last women distance runner sent for SEA Games was Pamela Chia seven-years back in 2003. What do you think of your SEA Games chances after being nominated by SAA to SNOC?

(This question was posed in June, before SNOC end of July announcement of SEA Games participants)

Renuka: Well, my principle aim is to make sure I’m in decent shape and can run a good time/be competitive there. At the moment, I’m in a bit of a hole with an iron deficiency that’s been an ongoing-issue, so I’m working on fixing that and getting back into things.

Also, whether I actually do get to run there depends on not only the SNOC approval but if the Games schedule fits around my exam schedule at uni. It’s in the middle of the exam block, but depending on the athletics schedule, it might fit in.


Q) If the nomination goes well & SNOC decide to send you to Palembang, Indonesia for the SEA Games, do you have any more future races to help you maintain your form, or go even faster. Would it be difficult, considering you’re still studying.

(This question was posed in June, before SNOC end of July announcement of SEA Games participants)

Renuka: I actually think training while studying is the easiest option for me! I suppose I don’t do as much training and have fewer contact hours than a lot of people, so that makes it easy to juggle.

But regarding races, there are lots of options here, and I could go inter-state to race as a bit of an excuse to travel as well.

My squad’s got monthly time trials if we’re not racing as well, so that’s another thing that’ll help. The main thing now though, is to get healthy again so I can take advantage of these races!


Q) Can I get your comments/reaction on being selected for SEA Games?

This question was posed after Renuka nomination by SAA was successfully approved by SNOC for the SEA Games squad.

Renuka: I think credit has to go to the SAA team for their efforts in organising and putting forth the nominations – for the SNOC to approve a significantly bigger squad than the previous games lends support to the changes they’ve worked hard.

I think the way they have engaged athletes from all over – different clubs, coaches even countries! – helped a lot with this.

Personally, I think I’ll have to try to use this as a way to focus on training without placing undue pressure on myself. Obviously, I’d like to put in a good run, and as my coaches always advise, focusing on the process to achieve this (rather than worrying about the outcome) is the best approach.


Q) Will there be a change in training plan now? Or how about your studies and exams. Any clashes?

This question was posed after Renuka nomination by SAA was successfully approved by SNOC for the SEA Games squad.

Renuka: After a rather disastrous lead-up to the Gold Coast Half marathon (3 July), I’d been thinking about doing another one later in the year to try and get a better PB, but my coaches suggested perhaps sticking to 10ks.

That sounds like a better idea now, and the lower mileage involved with the shorter distances might be better for me as well. At the moment, I’m trying to work out what my options are regarding getting to the Games and how long I’d have to stay there.

Classes start this week again, so I’ll have a better idea of when all the assessment is due. The track sessions are early in the Games, so it might be possible to get back to uni in time to finish up the semester.


Q) Tell us some info and background regarding yourself.

Renuka: I had a rather inauspicious start to running – it started in the TAF club in Methodist Girls’ Secondary (Clearly, MGS had a good program, because I graduated from that into cross country, they were quite desperate for runners).

I wasn’t very good at all, I remember being lapped by Pamela Chia’s younger sister, Penny, in the heats of the 3000m the first year I ran Nationals. This was despite her tripping and falling at the start! But it was still a PB for me, so I was happy.

I think it was just the consistency of running that helped me improve gradually. I wasn’t doing very much or very structured training, but just kept running through exams – I never understood (and still don’t understand) why schools, parents and students saw the need to suspend all non-academic activity in the run-up to exams. Surely you can’t study all day and if you really have that much left to do, it’s probably worth re-examining how the rest of the year was spent. I enjoyed turning up to my O level exams slightly sweaty and thoroughly invigorated from a morning run.

It was my coaches in MGS and RJC who made such a difference not just for running but in school as well. I remember in Secondary 4 making the decision that I wanted to go to RJ because of the cross country team and coach. I wanted to make it in on merit so I knew I had to get at least 6 A1s.

I worked out that A-Maths might be more reliable than some other subjects, so spent most of the school holidays going through that, and went from a B4-C5 average over the last 1.5 years to an A1 in the prelims (this was back when we had two intakes for JC and prelim results counted).

How’s that for running improving your grades?

Getting into RJ was great, because Mr Steven Quek had a brilliant approach to coaching where he made sure we looked after our grades and made the best use of training time. And it was because of my time in RJ and the excellent teachers there that somehow got us all through the A levels that I ended up here in Australia! I signed on to an MOE scholarship and got that extended last year to cover a Masters’ degree which I’ll finish at the end of this year.


Q) Do you think the Aussie local sporting culture has helped in your running endeavours. Would you say there’s difference in mindset, and training perhaps if compared the running circles in Australia versus Singapore?

Renuka: Being here definitely helped running – I had to step up just so I wouldn’t get left behind. It’s crazy, the number of young kids who run so quick. I get beaten by little school girls whenever I run 1500m especially, but even in the 3k, there are so many of them running close to or under 10minutes. And Queensland doesn’t even have the depth that Victoria or NSW does, so it must be another level up in Sydney or Melbourne.

One big difference is that running here tends to revolve more around clubs than schools, which means you get a much better range of ages participating. There still is the issue of runners dropping out after school, though many do take it up again later in life, but because so many of them train with clubs while still in school, there is no a clear path of continuity after school. There are school meets as well, of course, but these are parallel to the state athletic meets. The number of meets is just crazy, you couldn’t do them all if you tried! At the moment it’s winter so it’s cross-country and there’s pretty much a race every weekend – and that doesn’t include the road races.

The other thing that’s a culture here is paying for training – coaching fees, club fees, track fees. I think the coaching fees are quite a good way of ensuring commitment from both parties, something more official, and a recognition of the time and effort of the coach. And track fees – A$3.50 per entry, increasing to $4 from July – was at first quite horrifying to me, but I’ve realised it’s a brilliant way of rationing use of the track. I’ve never had to dodge people walking or jogging in lane 1.

The people on the track generally have track etiquette, even the little kids, so despite the number of people using it, it’s fairly smooth going. This despite the fact that after the January floods here destroyed the oval at my uni, there is only one public track facility in the city. The next one’s 65ks away on the Gold Coast.

The thing I’ll miss most of all is the great (non-track) running spots. We do most of our training on grass fields – touch footy ovals, parks, trails – and you don’t have to worry about crowds, just mud. It’s probably a lot better for your legs as well.


Q) A recent interview with Mok Ying Ren revealed that the weather, pacers, and good quality races are essential in breaking PBs and records. What is your opinion on such.

Renuka: I suppose I’m not at the level Mok is at with regard to my training – I run because I enjoy it (and it keeps me out of trouble) and the PBs are a bonus. Plus, being a girl, it’s always easy to use men in fields to help push you along.

But those factors do make a huge difference in training as well as races. During my holidays in Singapore, I always struggle to do the same volume and quality of training because of the humidity and pushing the pace on your own.


Q) What’s a weekly training routine for you like.

Renuka: Monday: Easy run (anywhere between 25-60minutes, depending on how I feel)

Tuesday: At the moment, hills and some track work. So for e.g. next week’s session is 3x7min hills (repeated runs of a 200-250m slope) and then 3x1600m fartlek on the track with 400s alternating between 3k/10k pace. Sessions depend on the time of year as well, in track season, it’s more specific to your race distance. One of my favourites earlier this year was a 1600m fartlek, 4x400m @ 1500m pace and 1600m solid (we pretty much went all-out!).

Wed: Another easy run.

Thursday: Often threshold runs on lovely grass ovals, sometimes hills too. The one I like best is 30minutes with a change of pace every 5minutes. HR targets are 165/170/175 and repeat. I don’t use a HRM so we sort of go by feel. 3x9minutes fartleks are an easier one – 4min hard, 1min cruise, 2min hard, 1min cruise, 1min hard.

Friday: Rest day

Saturday: Usually 800m/1k reps, between 8-10 of them, 1min-2min rest depending on the session. Sometimes a 20min threshold and some fartlek, and once a month a time trial on a 3k/6k course on the roads around Roy’s house (Roy is one of Renuka’s coach).

Sunday: Long run, usually 90-110 minutes, sometimes less if I think I’ve had enough!


Q) What are your long-term goals and expectations. I’ve seen so many athletes with potential quitting before their time. One can’t really say what’s their future will be like, but will you be involved in running for the long-run? Be it on and off the track.

Renuka: I hope I’ll be running for a long time! I doubt I’ll keep training the way I am now, it’ll depend on getting a routine going in Singapore next year, I suppose, and about getting into a group.

I actually don’t like racing very much at all and much prefer training, so I’m interested to see what will happen too! As for off the track, because I’ll be teaching, it’d be nice to be involved in the cross-country/track teams in the school and try to do for someone what my teachers/coaches did for me.


Q) What more can be done to improve Singapore athletics, and the distance running locally.

Renuka: This is a big question!

I think there has already been some positive changes – the new website, the facebook page, how results have been put up a lot quicker – they are signs I think that the association is trying to engage athletes more. And while the association and the people involved have the ability to influence big change, I think as athletes, we need to bear responsibility for the state of athletics as well.

Perhaps instead of blaming the “pressure” in the “system” (school/work), we need to think about how we can work around that to make the best of the opportunities we have. For instance, I was often asked what sacrifices I had to make to train during exams – I never thought of what I was doing as sacrificing anything else.

Running was important to me, and so was doing well in school. So both had to fit. If a goal is set, then whatever work required to achieve it has to be accepted as well – they aren’t sacrifices, they’re opportunities to achieve that goal.

Obviously, priorities shift over time (as it will when I graduate), and I suppose a vibrant running scene will be one that can accommodate people with different priorities and goals and allow them to achieve their aims. In some ways, that is already happening, with the dramatic increase in number of races on offer and the growth in running groups and clubs. I guess growth in coaching and a more structured approach to training will be a useful next step.

Mok’s response to this question in your interview with him raised some great points with which I largely agree. However, I don’t think any amount of support or incentives alone will change very much. There is already a rather incredible amount of prize money on offer in races in Singapore, a stark contrast to races here where they might run much quicker and get much less. That’s a sign though that there must be more to it than monetary reward. Money will not buy a vibrant running scene and running clubs (though it might help). It’s a culture, and that cannot be a top-down change.

30th Jul 2011
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singapore athletic association

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