As a National Marathoner, Ashley Liew Wei Yan has represented Singapore twice at South East Asian Games (SEA Games), won Singapore Marathon 2012 Local category and is the 2nd-fastest all-time Singaporean for the Ironman triathlon distance (10h3m29s at Ironman Texas 2012).
Ashley shares with RunSociety 30 truths that most people don’t know.
Interesting Facts About Ashley Liew That Most People Don’t Know
- When the overweight Ashley was in JC1 (2003), he wanted to lose weight and gain self-esteem. However, the only sports in his school that would accept someone without a background were Canoeing and Dragonboat. He survived the gruelling training and competition, but he realised that he actually enjoyed the running session during warm-up and cool-down more. That’s when he picked up running. He gradually gained more endurance, but still lagged behind many others in the 2.4km run.
- At the end of JC2 in 2004, just before he turned 18, Ashley and his teammates took the National Heart Foundation’s charity runner offer to run their first marathon. For Ashley, it was a painful and difficult marathon. He stopped countless of time due to cramps and shuffling after “hitting the wall” early on. He finished in 4h29m34s amidst struggling with plenty of abrasions and muscle soreness. “It was a below-average finishing time, but little did I know it was the start of something. I would have never imagined standing on the podium 5 years later as local marathon runner-up (2009) and hitting a personal best of 2h32m12s (2015) almost twice as fast as my first one,” Ashley added.
- In NS (National Service), Ashley continued to put on weight. Towards the end of NS, he weighed his highest at 80kg. Ashley recalled, “I made the mistake of consuming more calories than I burned through exercise. Just because I was running four times weekly, I thought I had the right to eat whatever I wanted. The quality of my diet was not healthy, for example, I ate char kway teow at least twice weekly during NS canteen breaks.
The quantity of my diet was also too much, for example taking two servings of rice during lunch and dinner. Although I knew the guideline of “eat everything in moderation,” I had a warped understanding of what “moderation” meant because no one defined it. I did not understand why I was gaining weight despite exercising. I saw a doctor hoping he would fault irritable bowel syndrome as the reason for my weight gain, took herbal slimming pills, and even bought a vibrating heat-emitting slimming belt. None of the approaches worked.”
- Out of desperation to lose weight especially after seeing his 80kg overweight photograph at the Singapore Marathon 2006, Ashley experimented with cutting down carbohydrate intake. He had then realised that excess carbohydrates convert to fat. In addition, he also gave up cravings like char kway teow. With simple reductions in quantity and improvements in quality, he finally started shedding weight. By December 2008, he had lost most of his belly. Starting a structured run training plan (adding speed work for his first time) under his first coach Mr. Rameshon further accelerated the process. By early 2011, he was weighing 56kg. But more importantly, he became healthier, able to think more clearly and was full of self-esteem.
- Today, Ashley’s diet follows simple rules without counting calories. After avoiding deep fried and oily foods for so long, his body would reject previous cravings like char kway teow if he were to consume it again. He avoids heavily-processed foods at all costs; he would not touch fast foods (despite being based in the USA for 4 years) and deli meats. Reading labels is very important when he goes to the supermarket. He screens out red flags like a high fructose corn syrup component, and when possible, chooses organic food. Last but not least, he knew carbohydrates are important for the endurance athlete, but he avoids overeating it especially at night, and he chooses brown or basmati rice over white rice.
- When Ashley is peaking near a marathon, he would be running more than 160 kilometres weekly. Ideally, he would clock even more mileage and hold that high mileage for more than a couple weeks, but it is an uphill task especially when his full-time job requires him to serve his chiropractic patients 6 days a week. Typically, in the morning before going to the clinic, he would run with Tiger the #RunnerDog about 3 kilometres. After returning home from the clinic, he might run 15 kilometres depending on the training plan and available time. He would do at least one speed workout during the midweek, typically on the track. Friday early mornings are typically when he does his solo long run, ranging from 20 to 38 kilometres. He does not take rest days but on Sundays, he has more free play with regards to the run training, prioritizing catching up on sleep at least until mid-morning.
- Ashley mostly runs alone, apart from his daily runs with Tiger, or the occasional run together with his fiancée Sandra Lee. However, one big takeaway from his Kenya training experience is the importance of teamwork, so he ensures the speed workout is done with like-minded runners. His key training partner has been Evan Chee, who is his fellow ONEathlete and one of the top local distance runners. They both push each other when it matters (and hurts) the most; this way, he runs much faster than if he were to run alone. He also gives credit to Team Flexifitness and Coach Rameshon, who he used to train under, for his transformation from an average runner to a national marathoner.
- For race day preparation, Ashley sticks to his tried and tested routine. His pre-race dinner is typically spaghetti in normal quantity with minimal sauce, meat, and leafy vegetables. Breakfast on the race morning consists of three slices of wholemeal bread with organic peanut butter, along with a sports drink.
His race ritual involves being still, breathing deep to stay calm, saying a prayer and making a sign of the cross. Then, he gets down to business. During the race, he would just consume sports drinks. Post-race, he would consume a light healthy meal within 30 minutes. After that, he eats anything!
- Ashley’s favourite food is Cho Kee beetroot wanton mee at Old Airport Road (soup version).
- Ashley’s guilty pleasure food is salmon sashimi during the occasional opportunity, although he wouldn’t exactly feel too guilty for doing so.
- Ashley’s favourite place to run in Singapore is East Coast Park. He loves its proximity from home, long stretches of running paths, and how safe it is to run alone even at unearthly hours.
- Talking about his favourite race, Ashley loves the energy of the Gold Coast Marathon and Tokyo Marathon, but his favourite race remains the 2015 New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon because of the special touch of the organisers. When they knew a Singaporean was going to finish as the overall runner-up, they somehow managed to get hold of a Singapore flag and present it to Ashley during the prize presentation, alongside the other two American flags. It was a proud moment for tiny Singapore on the international stage, yet a humbling emotional experience to honour his mother with a 2h32m12s personal best. It was Ashley’s proudest moment in running.
- Outside work and running, whenever Ashley has residual time, he spends it on church commitments, relaxing with Sandra and Tiger, and occasionally playing the piano or guitar with his dad.
- Ashley’s message to the running community: “Dream big and dream now, regardless of the naysayers or conventional wisdom. You have it within yourself to transcend perceived limits.”
- Ashley’s favourite quote: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”- Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
- What Ashley loves most about running is the fact that running is such an inclusive sport. “You can just lace up your shoes and then stand on the start line together with some of the world’s best. You may be placed further back in the starting pen, but you still get to be motivated up-close by these humble runners, alongside thousands of other like-minded souls,” he said.
- Ashley got engaged to Sandra Lee on Mount Fuji after he completed Tokyo Marathon. Ashley said, “The delivery and line memorisation went smoothly. I visualised the process many times beforehand (a familiar pre-race ritual), so I was not nervous at all! The only variable was which stranger among the tour group I could activate on the spot to snap the proposal on video and camera. Thankfully, Dawn Lee (fellow Singaporean who had run the Tokyo Marathon the day before as well) was the perfect candidate for that important role, and she excitedly took up “front row seat” position alongside her family before the moment itself.
- Ashley and Sandra’s first date was on 12 February 2017. They have seen each other every day since, except when either of them was overseas. Ashley met Sandra through a mutual friend called Bex Ng. Bex is Ashley’s undergraduate faculty mate in SMU and also Sandra’s former dance student. When Bex tried to set them up on a blind date, Ashley laughed off her idea at first because he thought it was lame, only to change his tune shortly after realizing he had nothing to lose. He picked Sandra up at her place and drove to Mount Faber for their first date over lunch. The hours-long conversation felt like they had both known each other for a long time.
- Dating a dance teacher, Ashley worries he would embarrass Sandra, especially when dancing Zouk’s “Mambo Jumbo” moves. However, he is game for learning. His dancing experience includes that time during his ACJC prom when he was roped in to join a choreographed dance (N’Sync’s “Dirty Pop” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). More recently in August 2017, Sandra and Ashley had the time of their lives rehearsing and executing a surprise “flash mob” style couple dance at the wedding of Joyce and Tom. “As long as you have a professional and patient teacher like Sandra, I believe anyone willing can do it,” added Ashley.
- Before being in a relationship, Sandra had a mental scar from a 13km long-distance “charity run” that she was pressured into finishing while in JC without any prior conditioning. “In our running journey together, we’ve had to undo some of that trauma, as well as reduce the bouncing in her step for the sake of run efficiency. We achieved one huge running streak when she ran three days in a row with me this February. Since then she has been very busy fulfilling customised dance costume orders as part of her entrepreneurship. Once this load settles down, she will be back into more regular running for sure!” said Ashley.
- Sandra has been very supportive towards Ashley’s pursuit of his running dreams. According to Ashley, “It is paramount for couples to empathise with each other, as well as buy-in on the partner’s “why” in life. As a dancer, she understands the sacrifices I need for run training, like the 3 hour runs and the avoidance of alcohol. She physically supports all my races, even those starting at 4:30 a.m. In fact, she was the sole supporter on the Esplanade Bridge at the start of the 2017 Army Half Marathon! She has also been an avid advocate for chiropractic care especially among the dance community, having benefited tremendously from chiropractic care herself. All in all, I am very blessed that we are on the same page in the pursuit of excellence in our respective fields.”
- Besides the support from his family and Sandra, Ashley is glad to have an incredible support from ONEathlete to help him balance work and running. He added, “ONEathlete does an amazing job at supporting my endeavours and fulfilling my running aspirations, so I can solely focus on training and serving patients.”
- Ashley is a Doctor of Chiropractic at Family Health Chiropractic Clinic. He checks spines and adjusts when necessary, correcting vertebral subluxations (spinal misalignments that cause nervous system interference). Ashley explained, “If we understand the nervous system to be responsible for coordinating all body systems, then it is no surprise that dramatic health transformations can occur. Examples include improved athletic performance, bouncing back from injuries, boosted immunity, mental clarity, improved digestion, resolved chronic headaches, and resolved numbness. Each day when I witness little “health miracles” from something seemingly so gentle and natural yet so powerful, it makes my life very fulfilling (more fulfilling than if I were just a marathoner). I found my “why” in life which is to fulfil the health potential in others.”
- In fact, Ashley wouldn’t be an athlete today without chiropractic care. Before the athlete symposium in 2010, he had never heard of the word chiropractic! It was Dr. Kelvin Ng (Ashley’s mentor and current colleague) that conveyed a simple message that made sense about what chiropractic could potentially do for the athlete. Ashley said, “It was only when I started getting my spine checked regularly that I began to understand the meaning of true health: health is not just the absence of diseases but about optimum functioning. I began to experience the profound changes since 2010 until now: I have been free of any training injuries (never side-lined for more than a day for anything), been able to think more clearly (in studies and while running), am running faster (2h32m12s PB vs 2h51m22s pre-care) and have only fallen sick once (rebounded back after that 3-day episode without any drugs).”
- The pivotal turning point in Ashley’s career path (primarily in banking like my parents, secondarily in public policy due to my undergraduate degree) happened when he started interning at the chiropractic clinic. He witnessed patients with a lot more health issues than him get their lives transformed for the better. He knew this would be way he could directly help people and make them smile.
- Ashley’s clinic has been supportive towards his running. He said, “What I appreciate first and foremost is the clinic’s commitment to health and wellness. I also appreciate that this is not a sit-down office job; I work 6 days weekly but 3 of them are half days so I can still balance run training. Last but not least, I appreciate Dr. Kelvin’s continued care of my spine (I get checked weekly) and his support at races (he flew to the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar to adjust and support me). It is rare to find an employer like that!”
- Ashley’s running bucket list include the London Marathon and eventually the Olympic Marathon.
- When asked whether he has any plan to pursue triathlon again, Ashley answered, “I told myself that after I’ve fulfilled my competitive days in marathons, I would make another attempt to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman Championships, having come so close to qualification in 2010 and 2012. However, I foresee that only happening after 40-years-old as I still have much more to give in running. It would be nice to take my triathlon bicycle out for a spin again!”
- At the moment, Ashley doesn’t have any plan to pursue ultramarathons. He added, “I do have tremendous respect for ultramarathoners though; I think it is tougher than an Ironman!”
- Ashley is the first Singaporean to be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy in the “Act of Fair Play” category. In 2015 SEA Games, during the marathon competition, the lead pack of runners missed a U-turn in the dark about 5.5km into the race and Liew found himself in the lead. But instead of taking advantage, he decided to slow down and wait for the other runners to catch up. With his act of sportsmanship, Ashley reduced his own chances of obtaining a medal position, which was within grasp.
Ashley Liew is a Pierre de Coubertin World Trophy Recipient, National Marathoner, and Managed by ONEathlete.