Mud, sweat and gears
As an executive director of a large corporation, Ho Ren-hua, 30, has the sort of buttoned up job that is common in a teeming metropolis. But even in the urban jungle, the Shanghai-based Singaporean finds the time and energy to hit the road.
'I was in high school track and field from the age of 12, and then I entered the army at 19, so there was always some form of exercise in my life from early on,' he says. 'I didn't stop once I was working, as keeping fit and healthy sort of becomes part of your life.'
From working out in a gym, playing basketball, to running regularly, he became serious about fitness some years ago while living in New York. He decided to try running a marathon. 'The New York City Marathon is one of the best organised and most popular events in the world. I signed up and ran through the city,' he says. 'By the end of it, I was crushed. You need to train properly.'
At 26, he added swimming and cycling to his repertoire and started triathlons. He moved to Hong Kong, where he joined a triathlon club, and his passion for the sport really grew. 'Some are better bikers, some swim better, and others run well. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but the aim is to beat yourself,' he says. 'We all have hurdles and crossing the finish line is the goal. What position you finish in is up to you.'
What's been the biggest challenge as a triathlete?
I did very leisurely swimming and biking, but never seriously trained for those disciplines. I wouldn't say I was particularly weak or strong at either - I think I'm balanced in all three disciplines, which I think is the best way to be. I started training hard for all three at the same time and, more importantly, I really enjoy each of them. The mindset should be to enjoy all aspects so you don't bemoan one part.
Is this the best shape you've been in?
I'm lighter than I was 10 years ago. When I was 19, I was 73kg. I feel fitter than ever - though it's not so much about weight but overall endurance.
With age and experience what's been a big lesson?
The importance of rest. Most triathletes learn to manage their body better. It's a really good thing to learn with time - you know how your body feels and you listen to it. When you're tired or injured, you process it better. When you're young, you spring right back, but as I get older, I'm more mindful.
How is your diet now? Anything particular you do before a race?
To be honest, I don't watch what I eat, normally. I think it's one of the benefits of training so hard. The only thing I do before a race, perhaps a week before, is to cut down on junk food and heavy meals. People do tend to carbo-load before the race, as it's fuel for the body when you race. For me, it's the day after the race that I go all out. Pizza is my great indulgence.
What's the best part of being a triathlete?
It's such a motivational sport. Unlike other sports, you're not in it to win it. We don't all run to come in first; taking part is key. It's a sense of improving yourself. It's the training process. The goal in mind is not to give up. And it's the sport with the greatest camaraderie. People of all ages come together and inspire each other. We talk about the challenges and goals. And living in Asia, we get to meet others and plan events to meet up at, and take part in the great races in places like Phuket, Bali, Hong Kong, Bhutan and Japan. It's a touristic sport.
Why does it seem like such an intimidating sport?
There may be three fields to master at once but it's such an inspirational sport, rather than intimidating. Most of my friends who take part are older than me and they aren't competing with each other but against themselves. I find them so inspirational. The time they're trying to beat is their own, not anyone else's. And everyone has their moments of highs and lows. You're always looking to improve your personal best. I could do this for the next 10 or 20 years.
Do you do any other sport?
I have been doing yoga at least once a week for the past two to three years. My girlfriend also does it. After the intensity of a triathlon, I find it very restorative.