RDRC Interview with John Chua
Masters track and field athlete John Chua has represented Singapore internationally many times in age group sprints, as well as the long jump. In June he and three other Singapore athletes traveled to Tampere, Finland to compete in the World Masters Athletics Championships, where John made his international debut in both the 80-metres and 300-metres hurdles. This World Championships marked the first time that four Singaporeans reached the finals of their respective events, and John reached the finals in both his races in the 75+ age group. We caught up with him after his return to Singapore.
RDRC: You came (relatively) late in life to athletics, correct? When did you start competing on the track, and what was the spark?
JOHN: I stopped competitive running after I retired from Singapore Airlines, in 2003, although I still maintained my fitness. In 2015, I saw in The Straits Times that the Asian Masters competition would be held in Singapore in 2016. I thought, since I could still run, why not go for the competition? At the Singapore Asian Masters, I signed up for the 100 metres and 200 metres (in the 70+ age group) and although I had less than five months preparation, I was happy to manage to squeeze into the finals of the 100 metres, coming 7th because one of my competitors tripped and fell. At that point, I realized that I still have the fast-twitch muscles for speed running. I decided to join the Singapore Masters Track & Field Association (SMTFA) in late 2016 to train for the sprints, and was coached by the late Philip Lee. He was my mentor and motivator, who brought me to where I am today.
RDRC: How did you find your event(s)?
JOHN: It's challenging to compete in the sprints at this age, when we are prone to injuries if we overtrain. So, we have to learn from experience to listen to our bodies and do strengthening exercises to avoid injuries.
RDRC: How old are you now, and what does a training week look like for you when you're preparing for a competition?
JOHN: Presently I am 78 and I normally train four times per week, inclusive of one day for strengthening exercises. Nearer the competition period, I concentrate more on speed workouts and light strengthening exercises.
RDRC: How about nutrition? Do you eat/drink anything special in support of your training and competition? Or do you just eat "normally", as you did before you started competing in athletics?
JOHN: At my age, protein supplements are very important, as our protein intake from eggs, meats and seafood is hardly sufficient. My supplemental nutrition comes from Red Dot Running Company and the two types of supplements, which I take regularly before and after training, are Unived or Tailwind vegan protein supplements, and Tailwind Rebuild for after-training fast recovery. For endurance training, I occasionally use Crampfix.
RDRC: You were competing in the hurdles for the first time in a major meet, isn't that right? What prompted your shift from the sprints and long jump?
JOHN: From my experience at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga in 2019, most of the sprinters were ex-national runners who were very fast. I could not even reach the semi-finals. I discussed with my coach Jason Wong a switch to hurdles, in which I felt I had a better chance at my age of reaching the finals. He agreed, and besides, he is the Asian hurdling champion for his age group, and would be the best person to coach me in hurdling. With my foundation in sprints, it was not a difficult transition, except that now I had to work on pace and timing when meeting the hurdles.
RDRC: In Tampere, you competed in the 80-metres hurdles and 300-metres hurdles, correct? I'm guessing you were probably the only competitor who took up the hurdles – an extremely technical event – after age 75! Would you talk us through your races?
JOHN: Yes, I competed in the 300-metres hurdles and 80-metres hurdles. Before I left for Finland, there were, I think, nine and 10 sign-ups in my age group for both events respectively. When we were in Tampere for competition, I was told that I would be running in the finals of both the 300-metres hurdles and 80-metres hurdles since only five competitors reported for the 300 metres and six for the 80 metres. In the call room waiting for the start of our competition, I asked my competitors about their experience, and most of them told me that they had been hurdling for at least 20 years. I dared not mentioned my own hurdling experience to them!
In the 300-metres hurdles, I ran at an even pace, as – with tired legs – the last 80 metres would be the toughest, and I managed to run a personal best. In the 80 metres, I started off too fast from the blocks as I momentarily forgot I was hurdling and not sprinting. I ended up too near the first hurdle, struck it and fell, but managed to continue and finished the race.
RDRC: Do you worry about injury? Either from a fall, for example like the one you had in the 80-metres hurdles at the World Championships, or from overload during training? And what do you do to try to prevent injuries?
JOHN: If I worried about falling or injury, I would not have taken up hurdling. I have confidence in my abilities as well as a good hurdling coach for guidance. That was the third time I had fallen while hurdling and luckily I had only bruises. As you mentioned, hurdling is very technical, so I have continued to train on mobility and plyometrics with hurdles. I practise pacing to meet each hurdle, the number of steps to take between each hurdle and learning to meet each hurdle with alternate legs. It requires consistent practice to be proficient to avoid injuries.
RDRC: What's your next race, and do you have any thoughts about adding new events to your portfolio?
JOHN: Most of the Southeast Asian countries are not hosting master's events this year due to Covid. So it's a good time to train and polish up my hurdling skills. I would also resume my once-a-week long jump training.
Thanks very much to John for taking the time to talk to us, and for providing the photos! We’ll be following his future masters events!