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So everyone seems to be talking about 2.4 nowadays.

Just google “2.4 Singapore” and you’ll be hit by an avalanche of articles talking about Singaporean veteran marathoner Soh Rui Yong and his sub-7 minute (6:53 minutes, to be exact) lung-bursting 2.4km run.

That comes to about 69 seconds for every 400m lap — it’s practically a sprinting pace!

As a comparison, to score full marks (50) on the 2.4km run on the IPPT (individual physical proficiency test), all the 30-year-old Soh needed to do was to run below 9 minutes and 10 seconds.

He used the news to issue an open challenge to any Singaporean who can repeat his feat — to run the 2.4 under 7 minutes. Doing that will net the person a cash prize and a reward from a sports drink manufacturer. Since then, other sponsors have come forward to add their goodies to the prize pool.

As a person who works in marketing and communications, I have to give props to Pocari Sweat and Soh for (literally!) running a viral campaign. If nothing else, they have made Singaporeans curious over how fast we can run again.

Responding to negativity

But with viral campaigns come the inevitable brickbats. Perhaps it was also a response to the combative tone in which Soh posted his challenge. There were some netizens who tried to downplay the achievement, notably Ricky Wee, whose Facebook profile states he is a former Special Forces officer with the Singapore Commandos, calling Soh out for “showing off”.

During my National Service, I was very lucky to train with some of our commandos. They train in a wide range of skills and need to be highly fit to perform their duties. That said, ultra fit soldiers like our commandos have very different job requirements than athletes and undergo training for different skill sets.

Soh is a veteran runner who has represented Singapore several times and is no stranger to the limelight and making waves on social media.

He has put in time, effort and dedication to his achievement. In sports (and life in general!), there is a phrase — no pain, no gain. He may have some reasons for issuing the challenge, but personally I think it is not fair to flame him for his outspokenness.

Kudos though, to another commando who posted a well-written response to all the online negativity.

In his post, Ng Junwei said: “Soh’s 2.4km achievement took many, many years of dedication, blood, and sweat to accomplish. Most of us don’t even stay in a job for that long… Let’s be fair and celebrate each others’ achievements.”

From his post, it’s clear to me that Ng recognises that sporting achievement isn’t always a zero sum game. Someone winning doesn’t always mean that someone else has to lose.

Faster, stronger, but kinder too

I’m all for challenging ourselves to be faster, stronger and more resilient, but I also believe that sports is not just about the battle to be the best, it is also about inclusivity and encouragement, lifting each other up instead of trying to tear others down.

Respect is about having a regard for other people and their lives. It is showing those around us compassion and empathy.

The sports environment is a great place to grow and establish respect. When we get involved in sports, we learn the importance of respecting their teammates, coaches, opponents and spectators.

There are many examples of famous sportsmen and women that prove that it’s not always just about winning and losing — it’s about showing respect that can inspire others.

Christiano Ronaldo
Image source: YouTube / ThingsHappeningFootball

In 2014, Cristiano Ronaldo spoke up for a Japanese boy who tried to ask the football superstar a question in his native Portuguese language. The boy, 12-year-old Ryota Iwaokawho, was laughed at by the journalists and Ronaldo chided them and praised Ryota for doing a good job. Fast forward to earlier this year, Ryota, now 18, led his football team to winning the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament.

Respect doesn’t even need to be in words. During the 2012 Olympics, “fastest man alive” Usain Bolt was being interviewed when “Star-Spangled Banner” started playing. The Jamaican stopped the interview, stood at attention and resumed his interview once the US national anthem was over.

At the more recent Tokyo 2020 Games, the world watched the emotional moment as the Olympic high jump gold medal was shared between Mutaz Barshim from Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi from Italy. The two longtime friends decided to share the gold medal after more than two hours of gruelling competition — and the world celebrated the act of sportsmanship like the Olympic spirit it reflects.

Similarly, at the recent Paralympic games, there were other reports of athletes celebrating the nature of sports more than just going for gold.

These are just the publicised incidents where we see how sportsmen and women raise each other up.

In truth, we don’t need to be sporting superstars to be an inspiration to others. I’m sure we all have little moments of encouragement that we share with others at our local gyms, running tracks or even neighbourhood parks.

Greatness isn’t all about just being the best

Start of my 2.4km route Soh Rui Yong Runner
Start of my 2.4km route. Image source: Karun S’Baram

Last Sunday, inspired by all the news, I decided to have a go at my 2.4 again. Armed with my Apple watch distance calculator, I planned a route that included a few laps around my local park. I had a light lunch, drank loads of water and had a banana 30 minutes before the run for that extra energy boost.

Even running on uneven ground, I managed to clock under a respectable under-12 minute timing — 11:59 is still under 12 right?

For a guy in his forties, I think that is a pretty decent timing. I was delighted with myself (my kids weren’t too impressed, though) and exhausted after the run. And as reality kicked in, my back ached for the next two days.

I am sure that all this hullabaloo over the 2.4 challenge got many of us pulling on our running shoes after the past two weeks. I hope, like me, we all did enough to feel good about ourselves.

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Even if we didn’t, it can still be an inspiration to aim to be fitter and also kinder to those who have committed to be at their best.

Like Qatari Olympic gold medalist Mutaz Barshim said in one of his post-event interviews: “We (are) athletes, we are competitive, that is in our nature… But for me, it’s also very important not to forget the real reason of sport, the real message. This is still sport. It’s still a tool for us to come together and build this kind of relationship.”

Now Soh is still keeping his challenge in the news with hyped-up updates. The prize pool has grown, even including F&B vouchers, sports apparel and $700 worth of chicken rice!

But I hope that we won’t focus only on these monetary rewards and remember that sports should bring people together. So this weekend, challenge some buddies to get active, get sweaty and get excited about encouraging each other to rise to greater heights!

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