Name: Colin Tung Zhi Shing
Date of Birth: 19 November 1988 (27yrs)
Personal Best(s): 10:00.29min (Men 3000m steeplechase, 2015 Taiwan Open)
2014 Incheon Songdo International Half Marathon – 1 hour 14 minutes 52 seconds, 12th
2014 Straits Times Run at the Hub (Half Marathon) – 1 hour 15 minutes 42 seconds, 4th (Men’s Open)
2014 Army Half Marathon – 1 hour 17 minutes 7 seconds, 1st (Singapore Men’s category)
2014 National Under-23 and Open Track and Field Championships, 3,000m steeplechase, Men’s Open – 1st
2014 Singapore National Games Stadium Run (4.25km) – 3rd
2013 Community Games (4.3km) – 2nd (Men’s Open)
2012 Singapore Open Track and Field Championships, 3,000m steeplechase – 10 minutes 3.40 seconds, 1st
2012 Singapore National Games Road Run – 1st (Men’s Open)
2012 Singapore University Games Road Run – 3rd (men’s individual)
2012 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore – 4th (Singapore Men’s)
2012 ASEAN University Games, 3,000m steeplechase – 9th
2012 ASEAN University Games, 10,000m – 8th
2011 Singapore University Games Cross Country Championships – 2nd (men’s individual)
2011 ASEAN Army International Run (22km), Men’s Invitational – 9th
2009 Army Half Marathon (men’s closed category) – 4th
2006 National Junior Track and Field Championships, Under-20 boys’ 3,000m steeplechase – 10 minutes 35.64 seconds, 3rd
2006 National Junior Track and Field Championships, Under-20 boys’ 1,500m – 4 minutes 25.66 seconds, 3rd
2006 National Inter-School Track and Field Championships, ‘A’ Division boys’ 800m – 2 minutes 2.08 seconds, 3rd
Q) What are your hopes, dream and target this SEA Games?
I’m targeting to finally go sub-10 minutes in the 3,000m steeplechase. With a 10 minutes 0.29 seconds personal best (PB) set at the recent Taiwan Open, I know I’m close and I want to break it convincingly. I also dream of a full stadium to achieve my target in, and to give friends and family a performance to remember. Also, if younger athletes out there feel inspired to do the 3,000m steeplechase themselves from watching me run, that’ll be a huge honour.
Q) How’s your preparation for the SEA Games?
I guess I could say my preparations have been going well since I just clocked a PB in my event last week. But, as an athlete, it’s hard to be satisfied and I’m targeting a bigger PB knowing that getting that sub-10 is a matter of increasing my speed endurance and sharpening my focus for the couple of laps after the halfway mark in the 3,000m steeplechase when the going gets tough and I am still some way away from the finish. I am training alone during my interval sessions in this last month to hone my ability to run alone when the effort gets hard because it is likely I will have to do that in the race. Intensity of my track intervals are also at a high now before I taper in the last week or two.
Q) What are some of the biggest challenges in your sports career so far leading to SEA Games and your athletics career?
Early in my athletics journey, as a 15-year-old, I was left to fend for myself in track and field after the contract PE teacher who headed and coached the track and field team ended his tenure and left the school. With track and field not an official co-curricular activity, I had to find my own way to continue in the sport. I talked to the various PE teachers and one of them put me in contact with a coach she knew. I started training with that coach and, fortunately for me, she was a coach who was genuinely interested in my development as an athlete and a person. I would meet her once a week for training sessions watched by her. The rest of the week, however, I would train on my own, and that was a period of time that taught me how to be comfortable training on my own and pushing myself without external stimulus. It was a good foundation for the runner that I am today because, after all, running is very much a solitary activity and developing intrinsic motivation is essential to success as a runner.
Q) How did you specialise in your particular event? Why this event, what’s the attraction?
I started running the 3,000m steeplechase when I was in Anglo-Chinese Junior College. I found it a novel event, different from the flat running I usually did as a distance runner (I was doing mainly cross country, and the 800m and 1,500m on the track then). I remember signing up for the event at the National Juniors Track and Field Championships because it was scheduled for after the National Schools Cross Country Championships. My pet events then, the 800m and 1,500m, were scheduled for before National Schools Cross Country, which I was focussing on. I found jumping over barriers and the water jump refreshingly fun and it helped that I finished third in the ‘A’ Division at National Juniors so I had good memories of it.
In university, I still saw myself as a 800m and 1,500m runner so I didn’t focus on it though I competed in the event at the Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic (IVP) Championships. I started focusing on it when I realised I had a good chance of qualifying for the 2012 ASEAN University Games (AUG) in the event. I managed to do so with a 10:03 timing that year and it was a timing that wasn’t usually seen in Singapore in the several years before that. So I thought why not pursue this event since it is something I am one of the best in. That period was also a renaissance of sorts for the 3,000m steeplechase with a trio — T Haarishankar, Karthic Harish Ragupathy, and Feroz — of other guys clocking times in the region of what I was doing.
The attraction of the event is the barriers. It is what sets apart the 3,000m steeplechase from the other distance events. It is also what makes the event intimidating and scary simultaneously. Just as British mountaineer, the late George Mallory, when asked in 1923 why he kept up his repeated attempts to summit Mount Everest, said, “Because it is there.” The barriers, like Everest in some way, are there to be challenged, and can similarly humble the individual if approached complacently.
Q) Who is your coach, tell us more about him/her. Also a mention of your previous coaches.
For most of the last year training for the SEA Games, I have been self-coached. For several years before too. For the last few months, I have also been seeking the advice of coach Elangovan. I would join his training group for sessions sometimes, especially for the steeplechase workouts where I can get an opportunity to practise my barrier jumps while running intervals. It is difficult to train for the 3,000m steeplechase entirely on one’s own, especially when one needs to practise barrier jumps while running intervals. I cannot move the heavy barriers singlehandedly. When the barriers are of the wrong height, I also cannot adjust the height of the barriers on my own. Even if I do those intervals with hurdles instead of barriers, it takes quite a bit of effort to move the hurdles on my own. So I’m thankful that coach Elangovan has allowed me to join his group for those sessions. Coach Elangovan was Singapore top distance runner for some years and had even represented Singapore in the 3,000m steeplechase at the SEA Games. Having had experience in the same event I do, he has, as the proverbial saying goes, been there and done that and I can trust his advice.
In the last month, Ms Tan Chew Peng, one of my earliest coaches, who oversaw my development in secondary school, offered to help with my preparations in this last stretch of training knowing that I have been coaching myself most of the time. So, she’s devising workouts for me and giving me feedback with regard to my training. I trust her because, when I was still in secondary school with no achievements to my name, she agreed to coach me at the recommendation of a friend who was a physical education (PE) teacher in my school, which did not have a formal track and field team then. I had approached the various PE teachers in school asking if there was any way they could help me as I had made up my mind to develop myself as a distance runner. Ms Tan is a coach who is passionate about track and field and in the development of the individual as a person, not merely an athlete.
I also trained under Mr Steven Quek for a period in university. I learnt the importance of discipline as an athlete under him: how to manage time as a student and an athlete, diet, recovery, and so on. In junior college, I trained under Mr Lawrence Ang. My first coach, whom I have unfortunately lost touch with, was Mr Kelvin Quek, a contract PE teacher at my secondary school. He was a teacher who was passionate about track and field and decided to start a group of runners who would train under him. I had no concept of training at the time and he was the one who introduced track and field to me. He showed us clips of Steve Prefontaine, a legendary American distance runner who was inspirational to my then 14-year-old self. Without Mr Kelvin Quek, I might not have found my way into the sport.
Q) Do you take care of your nutrition and diet? Your opinion on supplements and food.
I keep general guidelines to my diet. I think about my food in terms of the groups they come in: carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, etc. So I make sure to have a good intake of carbohydrates, especially before training sessions, so I have sufficient fuel stores to perform well in training. After training sessions, protein is important for muscle repair so I try to get good protein into my body too whether it is from red meats or from protein shakes. I try to cut out oil and fried foods as much as possible because, as a distance runner, it is important to stay lean. I like drinking beetroot juice a few times a week too because, according to academic studies, it acts as a vasodilator thus allowing for increased blood flow and oxygenation of muscles for increased athletic performance.
Q) Aside from athletics, what else interest you? You could say the other part of your life beyond athletics.
I enjoy reading, whether current affairs, fiction, or non-fiction. Telling stories interest me too and I do that through writing. I like sports and being active in general.
Q) How do you fit in your training/competing with your family and studies/work?
Q) Share with the readers, some aspects of your training regime.
I train six to seven days a week, between nine and 12 sessions. Per week, I do two or three track interval sessions. Of these interval sessions, I try to have one of them done with hurdles or barriers. One long run at 20km or more. The other runs are easy or tempo runs up to 15km. One gym session a week.
Q) What are your long term athletics goals?
I see my athletic future on the roads, in the half marathon and the marathon. I enjoy the half marathon a lot and it is probably my favourite event. Having clocked a 1 hour 14 minutes 52 seconds personal best last year in Incheon, South Korea, my aim would be to work towards a sub-1:10 in the future. Hopefully, that would set a platform for me to run a marathon in the 2:40s and 2:30s. I feel I haven’t fully tapped my potential in the marathon yet with a 2:56 in 2012 the best I have run so far.
Q) What advice do you have for young aspiring athletes?
Always find a reason to enjoy the sport. The reason(s) will differ for different people and won’t always be the same even for oneself but, if you always have one, it will form the cornerstone for you to find some measure of success in the sport. When you enjoy it, then you will want to run more and/or harder, which will then help you to improve as a runner. Distance running is about consistency of effort. It’s easy to lose motivation over such long stretches of time. But it’s no use training hard just for a week or a month. You have to do it over a sustained period of months and years and, so, it is important to keep in perspective what you enjoy about the sport and never lose sight of it. Also, and importantly, distance running is a sport that generally rewards what you put into it. So, while it’s nice to read about the sport and the latest shoes and gadgets, the most important thing is still to get out there and put in the hardwork. There is no replacement and shortcut for that.