He runs, swims and cycles... and he's 70

With 300,000 people in Singapore aged 65 and above now – and the number set to triple by 2030 – some MPs have suggested ways to keep older people active. But some seniors need no such encouragement. The New Paper reporter Rennie Whang speaks to Mr Chan Chan Seng, a distance-event enthusiast.

Intimidated by runners in expensive-looking gear, he wanted to turn back from his first race some 20 years ago.

But Mr Chan Chan Seng, who was dressed in an ordinary T-shirt and shorts, decided to stick with the race as planned.

Today, he is an avid distance runner.

And every year, he takes part in Singapore's main distance events: the 42km Standard Chartered Marathon, the Osim Triathlon, the Safra Singapore Bay Run, the Singapore Biathlon and the Sheares Bridge Run.

Said the 70-year-old retiree: "I came to realise (that) just because you dress well doesn't mean you can run."

The former shipping executive and grandfather of three took up running when he retired in his 50s.

A doctor friend had asked him to join in for a run.

Said Mr Chan: "That's when I realised I like to run. I run for the joy of it and also maybe (for) a little satisfaction from my performance."

Despite his age, he said he has been consistently placed in the top 10th percentile of all runners at the Standard Chartered Marathon - a steady three hours for the past few years.

His wife, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Chan, supports him at all his events.

The 60-year-old takes a taxi to meet her husband at different points along the route, plying him with supplies like bananas to help him sustain his run.

Mr Chan has been in the game long enough to remember days of $10 registration fees and running without water points.

Races today

Races today

This is in stark contrast to races today, where there are first-aid and water points aplenty along the route and where registration fees can easily go above $50.

For example, it will cost $55 to take part in the Singapore Aquathlon National Championships and Inter-School Challenge in May.

In addition, Mr Chan revealed, race organisers would not even take every participant's timing, caring only about the podium finishers.

He said: "Now, there are timing chips, it's commercialised."

But he added happily that the standard of running has gone up.

Mr Chan, or "Uncle Chan" as he's known in the distance-running community, is like a distance-running evangelist.

In his sports shop at Queensway Shopping Centre, shelves display the accolades he has won and on the wall behind the cash register are photos of him with friends from many races.

Novice and elite runners stop by the shop to stock up on running gear and advice.

Said Mr Chan: "A lot of customers go on to higher achievements, maybe (taking part in the) Ironman (race).

" I'm very encouraged when I talk to them about racing and they're inspired to take part.

"Anyone can run, it's a matter of training. If I can run, anyone can."

One of his favourite routes, which spans about 30km, takes him from his shop to Old Upper Thomson Road and back.

He runs every three days, often around noon and alone.

When asked about his unusual choice of training time, he explained that running in the afternoon requires more energy for the same distance.

And he prefers running outdoors to running in the gym.

While Mr Chan has been only to Malacca and Penang for races, he knows customers who have been for elite overseas events like the Boston Marathon.

His times qualify him for these events, but cost is a factor, he said.

So he's happy to just enjoy the races here.

He said: "These days, many people treat races like school results. They're under stress when they run, they over-train and injure themselves.


This article was first published in The New Paper .