One of the best cross-country races that I have ever ran In Singapore was in the National Schools Cross Country Race of the 1970/1980s.
Many races that have been held in Singapore have their strengths. I have ran races for the past 30 years or so. Of the race, the best races I can remember was the School Cross Country races organized in the 1970s.
As a student, training under Mr Joseph Vargese (1977 to 1978), Coleman Baptist (1979 to 1980) and finally under Mr Lui (1980 to 1981), I finally managed to come in 6th in the Nationals Schools Cross Country race. It was the result of Mr Lui’s training. I was in Saint Joseph’s Institution at that time. At that time, there were heats and finals in the National Schools Cross-Country Races. It was a joy for us to run these races.
In the heats of the national schools’ cross-country race in 1981, I came in 1st and did a time of 16min 02sec for the 4.8km running route in Mac Ritchie Reservoir. In the finals, about 5 days to a week later, I ran the finals in 15min 56sec, one second away from by best time for the route of 15min 55sec. I was having a bruise which dashed my hopes of coming in top 3 for the race.
Anyway, having run the national schools’ cross-country race in the past has made me not just happy but at the same time it made me satisfied also because of the fact that the races were organized very well. I really enjoyed the races of the 1970s and 1980s during my schools days.
The race was very memorable and I have no regrets for losing to my competitors at that time as my potential was tested at the time and it created the developmental stage for becoming an avid runner over time.
What made the races in 1970s/1980s to be remembered.
It made an impact on me as I was able to see whether I was top ten for my age group race. All I wanted to do was to run a race where I could test myself with those of my age group athletes. I trained very hard for the races, especially when I was learning to take up running.
In the past, from one a week’s training, I moved up to three times per week training at sec 3, and consequently trained 6 times per week at least in sec 4.
The reason for me to train hard was to move up from 50 over individual position in the National Schools’ Cross-Country race to top 3 position.
The races as I could see in the past, was done in such a way that there were three to four heats. After running the race, a number of schools were eliminated with 18 schools left to compete in the finals.
The organization of the race was such that even though the school did not enter in the finals, the top 10 athlete runners of the heats were allowed to enter the race by moving forward of all the teams that are about to run in the race.
I got excited when my name was called to come to the front, in front of all the school teams lining up to run the race.
In a race, in actual fact, there were 30 runners in front of the 18 teams to run in the race. Usually 6 teams per heats usually qualify to the finals. Even though, my school was out of the finals in some races, I was very happy that I was called to come to the finals to run on that day of the race, which was usually 5 to 7 days apart.
With this performance, I also was asked to run in the 5000m time trial when I was a sec 4 student. I did 17min 31sec at that time.
I also remember my brother, a year older than me, running in year 1976, where SJI was out of the finals. However, when he was found to be the top 10 individual in his heats, out of the rest of them in the three heats, he finally came in 7th overall in the individual section of the National Schools’ Cross-Country race. My brother was at that time a secondary one boy, while I was in primary six then.
Hence, luckily we were able to come in top 10 in our heats as even when we are out, we could still enter the finals to win the races. I also remember my team-mates who did not come down during holidays to train. My friend Tan Eng Howe, my training partner at that time, and I were the only ones training hard. It was only after the holidays that my friends start to train for the National Schools Cross-Country race. Hence, running in the finals as the top 30 runners right in front of all the teams was a thing which had contributed for my development as a marathon runner and eventually a national record holder, without which I may have faded as a runner. Thanks go to the great organizers at that time. The races were run with great charisma and enthusiasm.
Also, a good and favourable thing to do by the organizers to do is to make school teams that are not serious in training to be weeded out of the competition so that one could watch the schools that had really conditioned the athletes. It is good to watch the real challenging race.
Even my father, who came for my finals at that time was excited to watch the race. Nearly none were seen jogging and coming back. This was evidenced by me. The race was a competitive as we didn’t feel ourselves being blocked by anyone In the finals of the race. It was all good teams and no weak teams seen. It was nice to watch this.
This reminds me when I ran for Loughborough University, in 1992 and 1993, as the university cross-country runner, where I could remember all 90 people in the league one race of the cross-country having a time of sub 33min for a 9.6km race. None did slower that this time at that time. It was very impressive. I was literally running fast from start till the end.
During the Nationals Schools’ Cross-Country race, I also saw better physique of the runners running in the finals as compared to the heats. In the finals, it was overtly seen that runners at the time were very well conditioned as it showed that only the fitter ones ran the race rather than the school sending the team and in the end this ensues in them blocking the good runners from performing.