North Pole marathon: Trio with that top of the world feeling

For the three Singaporeans who finished the North Pole Marathon, the event was more than just a race.

It was an adventure with extreme weather conditions, sudden changes in flight plans and injuries.

Last week, they gave The Sunday Times more details of the eventful lead-up to the race, which they completed on April 17.

Ms Gloria Lau, 64, who covered only 28km in last year's race, ran the full 42.2km distance this year and finished in 11hr 30min.

She was the oldest of the 11 female runners and became the first Singaporean woman to finish the full North Pole Marathon.

Mr Ong Tze Boon, 47, group executive chairman at environmental design solutions firm Ong & Ong and son of late president Ong Teng Cheong, finished the race in 6hr 40min.

His cousin Ong Yu-Phing, 47, an IT director, finished in 9hr 4min .

The race was scheduled to start on April 9, but there were cracks on the runway - an ice sheet in the Arctic Ocean - so the Singapore runners' flight from Svalbard in Norway was delayed until April 14.

A second plane carrying the rest of the marathon runners was also forced to turn back just 15 minutes before it was due to land when another crack appeared .

"The greatest thing plaguing my mind in this whole event was the stress over the second group not being able to arrive," said Ms Lau.

"With all those runway cracks and repairs, we thought we would be stranded (in the Arctic Ocean) indefinitely, not even being able to do an official run."

Mr Ong Yu-Phing added: "The delays, the crack that appeared less than 5m from our tent within five hours of arriving in the North Pole camp - and that crack delayed our race by another 24 hours and extended our stay there - all these really made it an adventure and not just a marathon."

The race finally began after all 47 runners arrived, in temperatures of around minus 35 deg C.

Photos on the event's Facebook page show runners with snow on their eyebrows, eyelashes and beards. Many of them had goggles but some of these fogged up in the cold and could not be used.

Mr Ong suffered mild hypothermia about five hours into the run, and spent about half an hour warming up in a tent before continuing.

He also injured his right knee when he slipped after running for about 20km, and had to walk for most of the second half of the race.

The terrain was also challenging. While the first 32km had mainly hard packed ice, making it an easier surface to run on, the last 10km required runners to run on soft ice.

Ms Lau said: "I had severe calf muscle cramps. It is quite difficult to distinguish the depths of snow, even when trudging through slowly. I could hardly walk for a couple of days after that."

All the Singaporean participants ran for charity. Ms Lau, who runs a property development business, had said people can tell her which charity they want to donate to, and she will match the amount dollar for dollar. She declined to say how much she raised.

The Ong cousins hope to raise funds for five mental health charities, including the Singapore Association for Mental Health. They have raised about $200,000.

This includes $25,000 from their firm's philanthropic arm, Ong Foundation, and $8,000 from personal donations from the cousins and Ong & Ong staff.

Ms Lau added: "Everything culminating to finishing this race is just a massive, euphoric wave of pride and relief that I did it."

South Pole trek: 1,100km journey in aid of kids' charity

Photo: Eirliani Abdul Rahman

For five days a week, Singaporean Eirliani Abdul Rahman pulls car tyres around a park and runs up stairs at a metro station in New Delhi while carrying a 25kg backpack.

The 39-year-old is not a professional athlete or training for any ordinary sport.

Instead, the fitness drill is to prepare her for a 1,100km trek to the South Pole, which she hopes to start in January next year, to raise awareness on the issue of child abuse.

Ms Eirliani, who is based in India as director for campaigns at the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation, will pull sleds weighing more than 60kg, over 60 days, in temperatures which can drop to minus 30 deg C.

The training, which she described as "hardcore and intense", started about a month ago.

She said: "Why not trek to the South Pole, get media attention and use that opportunity to raise issues that are close to my heart?"

Formerly a political counsellor at the Singapore High Commission in Delhi, Ms Eirliani left a 10-year stint with the Singapore Foreign Service to fulfil what she said was "her dream".

"I had a brilliant time at the foreign service. But I've always harboured this dream to do something about child rights and child protection.

"You read about it, you know about it. But I feel it's the right time now, especially with the people I've met over the years who are willing to help."

Shortly after leaving her job in December last year, she founded Yakin - Youths, Adult Survivors and Kin In Need - together with Professor Daniel Fung, chairman of the Institute of Mental Health's medical board.

The organisation, which is based in Singapore and provides support and protection to victims of child abuse, holds creative writing workshops here, as well as rock climbing camps for abused children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While Ms Eirliani, who is single, admits the trek will be the "most difficult thing I've done physically", she has been keeping fit through rock climbing and CrossFit, a strength and conditioning programme that focuses on constantly varied movements such as squatting, pushing and pulling executed at high intensity.

"Growing up, I was not much of an athlete. I was in fact more of a geek. But I fell in love with fitness and the outdoors about two years ago."

She has completed mountaineering trips to the Himalayas, and recently returned from the Zanskar valley in Ladakh, India, where she walked on a frozen river and camped under Arctic conditions.

In 2009, Madam Sophia Pang, a mother of three, IT consultant and freelance fitness trainer, became the first Singaporean woman to ski from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole.

If successful, Ms Eirliani will be the first Singaporean woman to make the trek on foot.

She will be joined by two other women - her rock climbing partner from Lithuania, as well as a polar guide.

Ms Eirliani, who has two brothers, said: "I've told my mum about it. She's okay. My family has always been very supportive of what I do.

"As much as it is an individual endeavour, I really hope it will bring attention what I do to help children that have been abused. I want people to start talking about it."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

xueqiang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 1, 2016.
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