Relief and joy were etched on the faces of ultramarathon runners Yong Yuen Cheng and Lim Nghee Huat as they crossed the finish line on their 50th and final 50km run yesterday.
"Mission completed," declared Mr Lim, a 62-year-old TV editor, after their challenge to mark Singapore's 50th anniversary ended at 10.32am at the Marina Bay Promontory. "It has been tougher than expected but we made it!"
Said Mr Yong, his 43-year-old running buddy: "The first thing that came to my mind was relief. For 50 days, I focused on nothing but the run and how to recover. Now all that mental stress is over. The second thing was really appreciation for those who have supported us in one way or another."
Mr Yong, a physical education teacher, had struggled through the final days of the challenge after gastric flu killed his appetite and left him nauseated.
Earlier, he overcame a strained Achilles tendon. "Sometimes you just have to push through the run with sheer willpower. I believe ordinary people achieve extraordinary things."
The pair displayed grim determination at the start of their final 50km, but were lifted by about 50 runners who ran the home stretch with them to show support.
Among them was Mr Chen Joo Soon, 56, who ran alongside them for the entire final leg, which started from Ion Orchard mall at 2am.
The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) lecturer hardly had any sleep the night before, having completed the previous day's 50km leg with the duo at 4pm.
"The runners have been through so much, I wanted to give them the last boost and be there to celebrate their feat with them."
In the run, co-organised by youth charity Heartware Network and ITE, the runners paid tribute to the resilience and fortitude of Singapore's pioneers.
Mr Lim, tanned from running under the sun for 50 days straight, overcame a bout of diarrhoea earlier in the challenge and ended it with just minor aches and pains.
"The first few days of our run, I felt pain everywhere in my legs," he said. "But after 10-plus days, our feet felt lighter. Our bodies were conditioned to running 50km every day."
Pacer Gerrard Lin had mixed feelings about the challenge ending. "There is a certain sense of loss," said the 31-year-old, who would challenge the two men to "mini races" and give certain stretches nicknames like "Tour de Sembawang" to keep their spirits up. "Somehow it feels like the past 50 days have gone by so quickly."
After they crossed the finish line yesterday, the two men, along with Mr Lin, hardly had any time to spare as they hugged and took pictures with supporters. All three were awarded certificates from co-chair of the SG50 Steering Committee, Dr Tan Lai Yong.
They then ignited the SEA Games flame, which was used to light the SEA Games torch for a community parade last night.
Having forgone spicy and sweet foods for the last 50 days, all Mr Yong wanted was a bowl of laksa and ice kacang.
Meanwhile, Mr Lim was looking forward to a holiday in Beijing next week with his wife Deborah, 56, who joked: "Maybe he'll run the Great Wall."
Experts advise rest and thorough check-up
Ultramarathoners Yong Yuen Cheng, 43, and Lim Nghee Huat, 61, completed the incredible feat of running 50km for 50 consecutive days yesterday.
Now that the greatest running challenge of their lives is over, their first step, according to Mr Anand Sivayogam, a 31-year-old senior physiotherapist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, should be to do a thorough medical check-up.
"The most common injuries of distance running are stress fractures of the tibia or fibula or medial tibial stress syndrome," he said.
Tibia and fibula are the bones that make up the shin, and medial tibial stress syndrome, or shin splints, can occur from overuse, resulting in pain.
"Other injuries include muscle tears at the calves and Achilles tendonitis," said Mr Sivayogam.
The challenge for the runners, according to Changi General Hospital sports medicine chief Benedict Tan, will be to differentiate between muscle soreness and injury. Dr Tan, 47, said pain accompanied by swelling, or pain that lasts longer than two weeks, most likely signals an injury.
As for what they should eat, Mr Derrick Ong, director of Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy and nutrition adviser to the Football Association of Singapore's medical committee, said carbohydrates will be essential in the days to come.
"Their glycogen stores are probably heavily depleted, so they need to load up on carbohydrates to replenish them," said the 42-year-old dietitian.
"Their bodies have been put under a tremendous amount of stress, so they need to consume more protein as well to recover their muscles. Other things like cherry juice or blackcurrant extract can help alleviate muscle soreness and aid recovery."
Experts agreed that rest was essential - Mr Ong thought they should rest for at least a week, while Mr Sivayogam felt two weeks would be safer.
Dr Tan said two weeks was the usual break before starting strenuous training again, but advised "recovery training" during the break.
"Doing an easy swim or cycling every day will accelerate recovery, and is better than lying down and doing nothing," he said.
This article was first published on June 5, 2015.
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