Better than Yesterday

Aaron Lee continues to seek out the edges of his physical performance limits with his love for triathlon.


Words Lionel Kong
Photos Lionel Kong & Aaron Lee’s archives

Currently a student at the Singapore Management University, Aaron Lee’s sporting story began in 2014 when he borrowed a friend’s road bike out of curiosity. He found it so much fun that he immediately formed the opinion that he would train to become a competitive cyclist.

He says, “I didn’t even think about triathlons. I hated swimming, running was really painful, but there wasn't a cycling club my Junior College. As a consolation of sorts, I thought that trying out for the school’s cross-country running team would be a good idea. At least it would keep fit, and help my get good results for my annual 2.4km IPPT. It turns out that after the initial lack of interest, I found out that I was not too bad at running too. In fact, I made my way to the A Division National Cross-Country Race and was a 5km and 1.5km runner. To this date, I have yet to better my 1.5km Personal Best of 04:31s, set back then.” 

The 22-year-old’s initiation into triathlon was helped by a senior schoolmate, who encouraged him to try out a mini sprint triathlon since he was already proficient in cycling and running. With a short swim length of just 300m followed by a 10km bike ride and 2.4km run, it felt achievable and to Aaron’s surprise, he actually won his first triathlon on the back of a strong bike and swim leg.

“Even without a strong swimming technique, I pulled off a win and that really boosted my morale,” he says. “I thought maybe this is it, triathlon could be something I’m good at. While I disliked swimming and was really slow in the water, I hated losing even more, so that drove me to learn to swim faster. I think I’m slightly crazy in that I feel the need to excel in everything I do.”

As for his sporting goals, he hopes to qualify for the Ironman World Championship sometime in the future. He remarks that finding balance between his studies and sport is easy as he enjoys both aspects of his life. “I don’t think I’m at a point where I need to compromise school or training for each other right now,” he says. “No one should spend all their waking hours studying, and fitness training only takes at most, two hours of my day. I consider training to be a good a break from studying so there is no real difficulty in balancing training and school work now.

On the more practical side, I think it has helped me become more focused in school, as I listen to lectures with complete attention even if the lesson is boring, so I don’t have to take time to re-learn again after the class.”

Currently, Aaron specialises in sprint distance triathlons, and his best finish was at this year’s Metasprint Triathlon when he clocked a time of 01:05:31.75, winning his age group category by more than 10 minutes over the second-placed finisher. He is working towards a credible time in the Olympic distance, and eventually hopes to complete an actual Ironman distance. He credits his supportive family and friends in providing a positive atmosphere in which he can practice his chosen sport. He explains, “I count myself fortunate to have supportive parents. Even though they are not triathletes, they always encourage me to pursue what I love. They also taught me that I don’t need to have the most expensive gear to have the same enjoyment in triathlon, as it is the physical experience that matters and counts. My friends and coaches also play a huge role. I don’t think I would have stayed in the sport for so long if not for the community around me.”

Aaron Lee’s hardest race experience:  The 2018 Ironman 70.3 Danang

“The shorter the race, the more intense it is. The longer the race, the more painful it is. There is no getting around the ‘torture’, but one race that sticks out to me is my first Ironman 70.3 in Danang 2018. It was not a fast time but I could say it was the most challenging race that I have done to date. It was a large step out of my comfort zone as it was my first time racing in another country, with different road directions, and the weather was hot even by Singaporean standards.

I remember doubting myself at the start line and thinking about how long the race is. I stood for a moment in the stand wondering what I had gotten myself into. I could never forget that feeling. 

By the time I crawled past the finish line, my legs were as stiff as bricks. It was the hardest I ever dug to complete a race. But it gave me the most “I can’t believe I did it” feeling of my whole life. It’s hard to not mention that race now when I’m having a conversation about triathlon because it’s a really memorable and fulfilling experience.”

Aaron’s Gear

“I use a Garmin 920xt to record all my training activities. I ride a Specialized Sworks Tarmac SL3 and a Cervelo P3, they are both old bikes, but do the job perfectly fine. I also have a treadmill and trainer at home so I’m able to run and bike even when it’s raining outside.

I only run in Saucony shoes because I feel that they are the most value for money and they actually last a long time. My current pair of shoes has done 1300km and it’s still comfortable.”


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