The starting pistol has sounded and Mok Ying Ren is on his long journey of reaching the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics finish line.
A timing of 2hr 28min 35sec won him a gold at last December's Myanmar SEA Games, the first Singapore man to achieve that feat.
It also won him sponsors who are willing to back him in six-figure deals - the latest of which is a partnership with AirAsia covering flights for the next three years.
But even with the sponsorship - which is worth $100,000 and will cover his flights for overseas training and races - the 26-year-old still falls short of the most crucial figure that lies between him and his dream of becoming the first Singapore man to run the 42.195km race at the Olympics: 2:18, the Olympic "B" qualification standard.
What he is not short on, however, is confidence. He remains positive he will be able to shave his current personal best of 2:26:30 down to meet that mark.
"There is still a lot of work to do," he told The Straits Times yesterday. "I need uninterrupted training from now till (the 2016 Olympics)."
Currently serving his national service, Mok is a staff medical officer on duty till 5.30pm every day.
He also has to run a 24-hour medical centre twice a month.
While training is not ideal, it is "uninterrupted" enough for him.
That means devoting about three hours daily to training, running twice a day and clocking about 120km every week.
Said Mok: "I have quite consistent working hours and I've been given a room to stay in camp so that I can train and work, which saves me a lot of time on travelling.
"I don't foresee any interruptions any more... (I have) quite a good chance."
His plans for the rest of the year are simple: Run in the Gold Coast Marathon in early July, then become the first Singapore man to compete in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later in the same month.
Upon turning operationally-ready next April, Mok will go on overseas stints to prepare for his defence of the SEA Games title in June.
He said: "For me, it's quite good timing (to have the SEA Games in June). I'm doing a lot of consistent training now until next April, and it also leaves me with more time to ramp up preparations to qualify for the Olympics.
"Everything is good, it's falling into place."
By that, he is also referring to the funds he needs to support his full-time training until 2016.
Even without taking the latest AirAsia deal into consideration, Mok is already at the halfway mark in raising about $100,000.
Another sponsorship deal likely to be announced in the coming weeks will bring him close to the target. He said: "This is the start to something. If it can spill over, the next step is to help other athletes."
AirAsia, for one thing, is ready to help. Said the airline's Singapore chief executive officer Logan Velaitham: "There is a lot of potential, a lot of talent out there (in South-east Asia).
"The sad part is that help is not reaching them. We want to be one of the big players bringing the region together, be it in aviation or any other thing."
This article was published on April 18 in The Straits Times.
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