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Never Stop Pushing The Limit: An Interview with Kor Hong Fatt

Interviews

Kor Hong Fatt started running at the age of 70. Today, at 80, Hong Fatt completed a total of 16 marathons and counting. With races like the Shanghai Marathon, Beijing Marathon and Boston Marathon under his belt, Hong Fatt proved that running is definitely not limited to the young and virile.

Background

Kor Hong Fatt was born on 1 February 1932 and lived a life of fear after the Japanese Air Force dropped its first wave of bombs on the morning of 8 Dec 1941. He stopped schooling because the schools closed for safety reasons. The Japanese Army invaded Singapore on 7 Feb 1942 and lived in poverty conditions for 3 years and 7 months under their rule. Finally, when the British reoccupied Singapore on 5 September 1945, Hong Fatt could return to Catholic High School in 1946 to continue his studies, and graduated from Junior Middle III in 1951.

Kor posing at the Boston Marathon race site

Kor posing at the Boston Marathon race site

Hong Fatt first started working as an apprentice in the construction industry in 1952, and later obtained his diploma in building from Singapore Polytechnic in 1963. He went out to work for other companies, including the Singapore Economic Development Board of Singapore and the Public Works Department of the Brunei government. He retired in 2007 at the age of 75.

Life’s experiences: Coming Upon Something Entirely New & Unsuspected

Hong Fatt has been looking after his wife ever since she suffered a stroke while on holiday in Shanghai in 1994. The episode left her paralyzed on her entire right side.

On March 2002, Hong Fatt suffered a heart attack at the age of 70 and was hospitalized for 8 days.

I was devastated and demoralised for several months after the episode. I could not accept the fact that this could have happened to me, since I was physically fit for a man of my age, and was not suffering from any chronic disease. I had always eaten healthily and moderately, and exercised occasionally to keep healthy, taking no medication or supplements. Upon my discharge, I was issued a list of 6 prescriptions consuming 10 tablets daily. Following the incident, I went through 3 months of cardiac rehabilitation.

Hong Fatt was determined to change his entire lifestyle, as he did not want to be a burden to his children. With tremendous amount of willpower, he decided to stay independent and fit to take care of himself and his wife, and also to lower the possibilities of future heart problems.

I decided to challenge myself to train for marathons. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Throughout my primary and secondary school, I was in no sport activities. Instead, I was an infrequent exerciser, doing just enough to keep healthy.

The Interview

When did you start running?
I started running at the age of 71 after suffering a heart attack in March 2002 at the age of 70.

Why did you start running at such a late age? Was there any specific inspiration?
As a heart patient, I feel that I must take care of my health, as I do not want to be a burden to my family. I want to take care of my wife and thus realized the need to stay independent and fit.

2nd oldest male finisher of the Boston Marathon 2011 with the time of 5:13:03 on 18 April at age 79

2nd oldest male finisher of the Boston Marathon 2011 with the time of 5:13:03 on 18 April at age 79

You mentioned that you completed your first 42KM at the Standard Chartered Marathon in 2003. Share with us how did you train for your first marathon?
Upon completion of my 3 months of cardiac rehabilitation, I continued my treadmill exercises at a private club. i first started with a speed of 5 for half an hour, six days a week. I gradually increased the speed and distance as I progressed, and constantly monitored my heart rate to ensure that it is within reasonable parameters. My lungs and cardiovascular system responded well after 6 months of exercise. I was therefore confident enough to run on the road.

In Jan 2003, I started to run for 30 consecutive minutes every alternate day, and spent the other days at the gym, giving myself 1 day rest. I focused on running slowly enough to be comfortable, yet at a pace that could gain fitness. 5 months prior to the marathon, I switched to devoting 4 days to road runs varying 1-2.5 hours per session and 2 days for workouts in the gym. I run for time and not for mileage. My hard work, dedication, discipline and positive mindset paid off, and I successfully completed my first marathon at age 71.

How do you get yourself out of the door when you don't want to run?
Never. As an elderly at an advancing age, keeping fit is more vital than ever. Once you reach a certain level of fitness, you don't want to lose it.

Kor going strong and steady

Kor going strong and steady

What's your best pre-run food?
Despite my regular running throughout the year, I still try to eat healthily and moderately, consuming a bit more complex carbohydrates and reducing my intake of saturated fats and trans fats. I started carbohydrate loading and a balanced nutritious diet, increasing a bit of salt intake 10 days prior to the race day. For my pre-run meal, I have oatmeal with 2 soft-boiled eggs and a cup of hot black coffee.

How has running impacted you or your family members in any way?
Sometimes, my grandchildren run with me. They will eventually take up long-distance running.

What's your best running advice?

  1. Never fight an injury
  2. Do not risk permanent and more serious injuries. There's always next year.
  3. Serious injuries can be avoided by restraint and by not challenging your body to extremes.
  4. Listen to your body always.

In case you start late with your running, whatever your age, it takes about 6 years from getting started to reaching lifetime bests. By far, the biggest improvements are made in the first couple of years, if you get your training right, performance for the late starter can go on improving into your later 70s, as with my case.

Running is definitely not limited to the young and virile. On the contrary, all it takes is enough discipline and determination to achieve one's ultimate goal. The benefits of running, as well as the principles behind obtaining said benefits apply to aspirants across all ages.

Running has shown astounding benefits in improving my heart's functions, strengthening my physical fitness and improving my stamina and postural stability. This can lead to extraordinary well being in one's later years of life. Suffice to say, I have never looked back after I took up running. In fact, I have never felt this fit.

Marathons Participated

Standard Chartered Marathon 2003
Age: 71 years old
Time: 6:23:59

Standard Chartered Marathon 2005
Age: 74 years old
Time: 4:49:25

Kuala Lumpur Marathon 2006
Age: 74 years old
Time: 4:49:56

Pattaya Marathon 2006
Age: 74 years old
Time: 5:05:56

Shanghai Marathon 2006
Age: 74 years old
Time: 4:52:09

Standard Chartered Marathon 2009
Age: 77 years old
Time: 4:39:59

OSIM Singapore International Triathlon 2009
Awarded a gold medal award for being Singapore's oldest triathlete by the Triathlon Association of Singapore.

Boston Marathon 2011 (Category: 75-79 years category)
Age: 79 years old
Time: 5:13:03 (2nd oldest male finisher)

Beijing Marathon 2011 (Category: 80 years and above)
Age: 79 years old
Time: 5:0:22

Sundown Marathon 2012 (Category: 80-90 years)
Only entrant and finisher of the Sundown Marathon 2012.
Age: 80 years old
Time: 5:28:28

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