Interview: Why marathoner Yvonne Chee believes age is just a number

This month starting Mar 8, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we talk to women entrepreneurs and go-getters about what drives them to be successful in their lives.

Even though Yvonne Elizabeth Chee has been involved in sports since young (she was an artistic gymnast and represented her schools in netball and bowling), it was only later in life that she started proper training for marathons.

At age 34, she was the youngest and third Singaporean to accomplish the feat of running seven marathons on all seven continents in 2013. 

Since then, she has represented the country as a Team Singapore marathoner, gave birth to her second daughter in 2017, and went on to clinched third in the local woman’s category in the 2018 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. She is also a New Balance ambassador. 

Did we also mention she has a full time job as a civil servant?

, Interview: Why marathoner Yvonne Chee believes age is just a number
Yvonne Elizabeth Chee wearing New Balance apparel and footwear (Fuelcell Rebel v2)

SG Magazine asks Yvonne about her motivations, why she runs, and how she finds the time to accomplish so much despite a hectic schedule.

Why did you take up running? When did you start to run competitively?
I started running as a form of stress relief. I started clocking mileage and decided to train for my first marathon. I was hooked after crossing the finish line of my first marathon in 2007 and have since gone on to run more than 25 marathons. 

As for competitive running, I took part in a race in 2016 after giving birth to my first daughter. I came in top 10 for that 10km race without serious training and I got curious as to how far I could go if I put in quality training. Thereafter, I started proper training in September 2016 and took part in more races.

, Interview: Why marathoner Yvonne Chee believes age is just a number
New Balance Fuelcell Rebel v2

You only started training for marathons after becoming a mom. What motivated you to do so?
I was already running marathons prior to becoming a mother but only started proper training in September 2016 after the birth of my first child the previous year. I was 36 years old then.

My brother, Evan, who’s also a national marathoner, has always encouraged me to run outdoors and take up proper training. I finally listened to his advice and joined the same running club as him.

You achieved your dream of running seven marathons on seven continents. Tell us about the experience.
Crossing the finish line of the Antarctic Ice Marathon, the last marathon on the seventh continent, has to be one of the most surreal and life-changing experiences of my life. 

Realising my bid to run seven marathons on seven continents while raising funds for the elderly in honour of my late grand-mother was a dream come true.

From what seemed to be a hare-brained idea in 2008 after I finished the marathon in New York City to ticking off one marathon per continent in the years to come, I learnt first-hand that we must dream big and not be limited by convention or what is unknown to us. It made me fall in love with running and made me a better person in general. 

When did you become part of the National Team? How did you feel to represent Singapore? 
I was asked to represent Singapore in the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon in March 2017. This happened barely six months after I had commenced serious training. It was a childhood dream come true.

While I was very proud to don national colours, I was a nervous wreck and worried that I would be a disappointment. I barely slept the night before the marathon.

Following this race, I found out I was actually six weeks pregnant while running the marathon! I gave birth in November 2017 and resumed training about 5 weeks postpartum. I was subsequently called up to join the National Team in early 2019.

What are some of the challenges you face as a competitive runner?
Finding time to do everything well—train, good nutrition, recover, sleep while juggling a full-time job and being a mother of two. That’s my biggest challenge. 

Lack of self-confidence and injuries are two of the other challenges I face. With regards to the lack of time, I try to prioritise. I always start the day with my run before I spend time with my kids and start work. Getting up early before everyone else does means that I “steal” some time for myself to pursue my passion which is running.

What were some of your highlights as a marathoner?
Suffering through the Rio de Janeiro Marathon (the thought of not finishing the run seemed so real). 

Running the Antarctic Ice Marathon and realising my dream of running seven marathons on seven  continents when I crossed the finish line.

Representing Singapore for the face time in March 2017 at the New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon.

Coming in 3rd female Singaporean one year postpartum at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2018.

Running my Personal Best of 3h03s at the London Marathon in April 2019.

Many working moms will say they’d love to be as fit as you, but just don’t have time to exercise or they are tired all the time. What do you say to them?
I know it is hard. I deal with that every day. It will take that extra ounce of energy to start exercising as the body is not used to it. 

Don’t let inertia get the better of you. It doesn’t have to be a huge effort. Start with five minutes; make it brisk walk. Then 10 minutes. Slowly build up. I’m confident we can always find 10 minutes. Even if it is tiring, try to focus on the good it would do for your health and body.

Can you provide some quick tips on staying healthy?
Eat well, exercise frequently, sleep more and hydrate. Unfortunately, I know what it takes but don’t have enough time to sleep more. Surrounding ourselves with loved ones and friends will surely contribute to the overall well-being too.

What is your goal for the next five years?
My goal in terms of running would be to stay healthy, continue to love running and stay fast.

Finally, is age really just a number? 
Age is what you make of it. I’m faster now at 41 than ever before.  

Watch the New Balance International Women’s Day video below, featuring Yvonne and up-and-coming African-Singaporean singer Keyana.