Coach Andrew Cheong: Enjoy the Process of Training Rather Than Focus on the Outcomes
What started out as an informal training group turned into a full-time affair.
Andrew Cheong started running in his teenage years. However, after graduation, his busy work schedules didn’t allow him to devote substantial time for running. By the time he was in his forties, he joined Furman’s F.I.R.S.T. program and managed to run his first BQ (Boston Qualifier) in 2011 despite having only three days a week to run. Since then, he has achieved BQ every year without fail. Andrew and his wife, Diana, is the first Singaporean couple to complete all World Marathon Major.
Andrew started helping his friends improve their performance by coaching them informally. Two years ago, Andrew decided to become a full-time running coach at SSTAR.fitness where he coaches runners with holistic training. Besides running, Andrew also has a passion for writing.
RS: How and when did you pick up running?
Andrew: I started running competitively more than 30 years ago at age 15 and represented my school at X-country and long-distance track events. I went on to run for my Junior College, Army unit, and University. After graduation, like many of us, work and life took priority and only I rekindled my love for running in my late 30s. I am now 52 and still doing PB after PB!
RS: Are you into other types of running, such as ultra, trail, vertical, obstacle?
Andrew: I prefer road races and triathlons. I also love the trail but prefer to hike it rather than to race it. That way I get more time to soak in the scenery.
RS: How has running changed your life?
Andrew: My wife and I have gotten closer through running and I have met many inspirational people and made good friends. Running has led me to live a super healthy lifestyle. Combined with the right diet, rest and exercise, my waistline has not increased since I was 18 years old and I thankfully have only caught the flu twice in the past 5 years. With better knowledge of the correct running gait and improved core strength, I have not been injured for the past 8 years.
RS: How do you cross train?
Andrew: My training program prescribes two cross-training days a week. I do a mix of cycling, swimming and sometimes I climb stairs when it rains. I also try to find the time to hit the gym weights once a week. Besides this, I am a firm believer that everyone should invest at least 15 mins a day to do basic core strength and stretching exercises.
RS: How did you become a coach?
Andrew: When I was in my teens, I was coached by my school’s ‘old boys’ who returned to mentor and train the younger athletes. I did the same after I graduated and realised giving back to other runners was very fulfilling. In 2009, I came across the book ‘Run Less Run Faster’ by Dr Bill Pierce and Dr Scott Murr, sports education professors from the Furman University.
At that time, I had tried almost every training program from Hanson’s and Daniel’s to Galloway, but it was until I did Furman’s F.I.R.S.T. program did I see myself progress. Despite being a busy travelling executive with only three days a week left to run and a low 45km weekly mileage, the F.I.R.S.T. program led me to my first BQ in 2011 and has helped me BQ every year since then.
I was so impressed that I travelled to Furman University and met the two gentlemen who had been voted the world’s top 10 ‘Supercoaches’ by Runners World. A week at Furman, working with them led me to hatch a plan to bring their program out here to Singapore.
I returned, obtained a Diploma in Sports Science, plus coaching certifications from the IAAF, Road Runners Clubs of America (RRCA) and FISAF before launching my coaching services.
Every workout should have a challenging ‘A’ goal and an achievable ‘B’ goal. — Andrew Cheong
RS: What did you do before becoming a coach?
Andrew: I was a regional sales director for various IT and software companies for 26 years and travelled 50% of the time.
RS: What motivates you to quit your good paying job in your 50s and decided to start SSTAR.fitness full time?
Andrew: At some time in one's life, it is always more fulfilling to give something back to the running community. Back when I was a teenager, representing my school, we had our alumni 'old boys' return to help coach us.
After graduating, I did the same and that continues to inspire me. I also noticed many adults today are motivated to start running, only to realise there is so much to discover in such a simple sport. They run, not knowing how to reduce injury risk through proper running biomechanics, they prepare for races without structured training, get misled by nutrition myths, etc.
Having a sports science background, I felt its an opportunity to coach, contribute and help others.
RS: What is your coaching style?
Andrew: I believe in collaboration between the athlete and the coach. Every runner is an individual and their training is customized to their fitness level and goals. I ensure every athlete understands why they are doing a particular workout or running drill. I create an encouraging atmosphere for everyone to work as hard as they wish.
RS: What philosophy do you impart to your clients?
Andrew: Be consistent and patient. You compete with yourself, so don’t compare with others. Enjoy the process of training rather than focus on the outcomes. That said, every workout should have a challenging ‘A’ goal and an achievable ‘B’ goal.
RS: What makes you unique as a coach?
Andrew: Everyone is unique in their own right. I prefer to think that I lead by example, I don’t rest on past achievements done decades ago, so I continue to train as hard as my athletes and continuously learn and upgrade my certifications.
I believe in applying sports science to coaching which led me to my Sports Science diploma and certifications. I continue to write and research into the Science of running.
I am ‘athlete-centric’ preferring to put the needs and aspirations of my athletes first. I don’t ‘use’ the athletes’ achievements for my own self-glory. I also understand my clients’ challenge of balancing training with a busy career, having once been a time-crunched executive myself.
RS: What can a runner get from SSTAR.fitness?
Andrew: SSTAR.fitness offers customised training programs tailored to each runners fitness level and race goals. We have a holistic approach and beyond running, we cover nutrition, core strength, flexibility and running gait.
Currently we are offering free training sessions, three times a week covering speed, tempo and long runs. These are on Tuesday 6:45 p.m. at Kallang Practice Track, Thursday 6:45 p.m. at Sports Hub and Saturday 6:30 a.m. morning run at East Coast Park.
We have training programs to prepare runners for popular races like the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, SAFRA Half Marathon, Shape run and more. Those who sign up will get up to 30% discount for shoes and products from New Balance, Skechers, On Cloud, Newton, etc.
RS: What is the most satisfying success story from your clients?
Andrew: Recently in the Tokyo Marathon 2018 one of my athletes did three PBs in one race. While it’s not the best way to race, it was indeed an amazing feat to do a 10k, 21k and marathon PB all in the same race.
Another athlete came in first in an Ultramarathon trail race in Malaysia in 2017 without knowing it until the last 1km. It was both unexpected and exciting to see the neck-to-neck finish unfold.
Others have lost as much as 6 kilograms of body weight after just a few months of training or cut as much as 30 min off their marathon times in one season. Ultimately success is not defined by PB’s or podium positions and I believe my most satisfying successes are from ordinary people who have overcome their own barriers and achieved amazing things. We have lots of these success stories on our team.
RS: What is the most difficult challenge you’ve had as a coach?
Andrew: Getting my name out there is the biggest challenge. I focus on coaching and find it hard to juggle the marketing, admin and other aspects of the business of coaching.
RS: What is the minimum commitment required to improve one’s running performance? Is running once a week enough?
Andrew: Running once a week is better than nothing but it will not bring you much improvement beyond a point. At the minimum, run three times a week with the right combination of speed, tempo and long runs to improve. More experienced runners and those doing ultra races should run four to six times a week once they have built up their fitness.
RS: Is running the best exercise to lose weight?
Andrew: Science points out that weight loss is mostly due to eating less and eating right, with some dietitians giving a weightage of as much as 75% while exercise comprises of the rest. It’s simple math - burn more calories than you consume and you lose weight. Many forms of exercise that does that and running is just one of them. There is no one ‘best’ exercise as long as one enjoys doing it, and does it consistently.
RS: Congratulations for being the first Singaporean couple to complete all World Marathon Majors! What motivated you to complete all WMM?
Andrew: My wife, Diana and I started by wanting to go for a ‘run-cation’ instead of the usual travel, sightsee, eat and repeat. After doing our first major together in 2013, the atmosphere and experience got us hooked, so I coached her, she did her BQ two years later and we kept on going from there.
RS: What is your most memorable experience from the WMM?
Andrew: Running the Boston marathon, seeing the crowd three rows deep, shoulder to shoulder, lining the entire route. I wrote my name on my arm and had hundreds of strangers yelling out my name in encouragement.
RS: What are your next running goals and professional goals?
Andrew: Running goals – to do a PB every year. Getting older but faster does not seem logical, but I will try my best! Professional goals – to grow the business, motivate others to run happy and injury free.
Andrew admitted that her wife Diana is a better runner than him. Although she didn't start off as a runner, she was curious to try a marathon. It was inevitable that Andrew would be her wife best coach when she adopt her training program. Now she is a Boston Marathon finisher, World Marathon Major award holder and often in the top 5 in her age group for many races. Although Diana is not a certified coach, she is familiar with SSTAR.fitness training methodology, she often helps out in their training sessions.
Are you driven by results? Or do you enjoy the process of training more than the outcome?