At the agreed time of 9am a day before the race, the group of us (Choi, Frank, Shine, Cheang, Guna, Runwitme and I) were there. I believe, including Uncle Sonny’s party, there were at least 14 of us in the same bus. It almost felt like we were on the Pacesetters bus heading to the Singapore Marathon. Shine and Tey were penned down to run the ridiculously insane 84K ultra marathon, while the rest of us “just” the usual 42K.
This marathon was to be my 9th marathon, the 2nd for 2008. By year end, I’d hopefully knocked off 3 marathons. The last time I completed a trio of marathons were way back in 2004, I think. Even after completing 9, I can attest that it never gets any easier. Having trained for the 2008 KLIM in November last year, Sundown was to be my winding down race before my 1 month break from any structured running. I’m just tired and despite the 5 PRs set for the races done this year – GE30K (2:56), KLIM (4:16), Orange Run (sub 49 minutes), NB15K (1:18) and RMAF (1:48) – I’ve not felt comfortable nor relaxed doing the last 2. It was time for a break before the periodization-base phase in July for my November marathon.
Back to the race report. The journey down was very smooth with a 20-minute stopover at Pagoh. I channel surfed – watching Bruce Willis’ 16 Blocks, Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma 2 and a bit of Armageddon. With little running the last 3 weeks of the race, my race strategy was just to hack it. Get it done and over with while trying to enjoy the experience. I didn’t anticipate sleepiness to be a factor having gone through the much worse Penang 12-hour Walk and the Putrajaya Midnight 30K simulation run. With no regular runs, however, anything and everything WILL go wrong.
We reached Singapore on schedule and while the rest separated to collect their race kits from Hi-Velocity’s office, I caught a cab to my friend’s apartment nearby. After rested for a bit, I took the MRT to City Hall area to check out some stuff for the family back home. It was, after all, the Great Singapore Sales. Even so, our purchasing power were somewhat diminished with the disadvantaged exchange rate, so it was just some knick-knacks for the folks back home. I settled for a couple of rare CDs at Grammophone and a few items at the Running Lab, including a pair of Injinji toe-sock. Singapore runners like to accessorize to the hilt, so it’s a good place to check out stuff that you read about in Runners World but never see in Malaysia. I had pasta while waiting for my friend to get off work and later a bowl of Korean noodles with him a few hours later. I retired that night stuffed.
The next early afternoon was spent covering the Nike, Mizuno and Asics running boutiques in The Paragon followed by another hefty serving of pasta. Then it was back to the apartment for some feet up. I napped for all of 10 minutes. Pre-race dinner was a really tasty Subway Turkey Breast on Honey Oat sandwich. After which I caught a cab with Justin and headed for the Changi Village starting area. The crowd and cars leading up to the area confirmed that we’ve arrived to the correct place. Not long after we hooked up with my travel mates and then all of us deposited our bags.
There wasn’t much to do after that except to survey the area. The crowd was big – a reported 6,000 for the marathon and another 300 for the ultra but not too big to the point of congestion. The crazy ultra marathoners were already in their first loop having started at 8pm. Music and atmosphere were tame compared to the Singapore Marathon. There’s bound to be comparison, but to be fair, this is a debut event.
All of us walked to the starting line with 30 minutes to go and before long, after the “good lucks” and “all the bests”, we were let off promptly at midnight. Because we were only allowed a narrow lane to run, I covered the first 400m by power walking. Many overtook in the inner and outer lanes. The organizers ought to have had the entire width of the road for the runners. There was really nothing noteworthy except the highlight of experiencing the sight and sound of the airliners taking off into the still night. Despite an unusually wet weather from the day we arrived, the rain did nothing to lift the humidity.
Second grouse, after the forced-herding, was the unpreparedness of the first 3 water stations. The 2 or 3 volunteers simply couldn’t cope. The stations were small and within seconds, all filled cups were snatched up. Some runners even grabbed the full 1.5L bottles. I was lucky as I was able to bypass these stops as I was carrying my usual disposable bottle filled with my personal concoction. Frank had raced ahead while Choi wasn’t far away. The objective of the event is to showcase Singapore’s new Park Connectors, a comprehensive network of links between the established parks. After the Changi String Of Lights stretch that never seemed to end, we finally reached the East Coast Park (ECP). People were out in force there, with many campers, picnickers and boozers providing some appreciated vocal support. I was running OK, averaging a 6-minute pace but was definitely tiring for some reason. Even with insufficient training, tiredness seemed to come too early. Perhaps it was the humidity.
I kept the effort until after the 22K mark just after we cleared the ECP and had to climb over a pedestrian bridge. Now the 5 pedestrian bridges were unlike those we see here – you go up a flight of stairs, hit the short straight and come down the other side. No siree. The ones we had to clear were like monster bridges complete with multiple switchbacks. That was to be my 3rd grouse, even though in hindsight, it was something the organizers needed to do since this was a feature of the park connectors. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that everyone was cursing.
At the 23rd K, I told Choi to go ahead as I was starting my walk breaks. It was going to be a long night/early morning. I had long ceased to note my timing and was just focused on clearing the remaining miles which never seemed to come any earlier. We were led through apartment backlanes, car parks, dark meandering and undulating paths, twists and turns and here comes my 4th grouse. Concrete. 80% of the distance were on concrete surface. We were asked to run on the concrete pedestrians paths and not the roads and my lower legs were being thrashed. That was why I was so happy to reach the packed sand Bedok Reservoir loop where I was able to cover the 27 to 29K in 15K speed. There wasn’t any pain in that stretch and I was able to gain some ground. Alas, it was back to concrete before I knew it. Both my archilles tendons were hurting and my left plantar was twinging away too. Although I’ve no history of injuries to these critical spots, I decided that I would not risk them and just walk the rest of the way to the finish.
I remembered at the 30K mark that there was only 10 more Ks to go and surely I could sustain a 10K race pace here to quickly wrap up the proceedings? I was wrong as with how most things went that night. So it was back to repeating the run-walk routine till the 38K when I somehow got my wind back and managed a decent running stretch right until the finish. We ran and ran but the finish line didn’t seem to appear. It was getting quite demoralizing that the last K was uphill and twisting over the concrete walkways again. We could hear no music nor see any crowd. Then suddenly there it was in the distant. But wait, we had to clear another pedestrian bridge, though this one pales in comparison with all the others that came before it. Finally the finishing chute and that was it – I completed my 9th. In 4:49 – I somehow managed to come in under 5 hours.
My Garmin read 42.89K and another even read 43K. It was certainly an overdistanced race. The consolation was the nice finisher T-Shirt and the beautiful medal. After catching up with the rest and wolfing down the drinks and bananas, we collected our bags and waited for the rest to come back. Then it suddenly rained and heaped more misery on us. It was getting quite chilly too. I then decided to go back first, while the rest continued to wait for Cheang, Shine and Runwitme. After failing to spot a cab, I hopped on the feeder shuttle and then the Pasir Ris MRT back to the City Hall interchange. Before I reached back to the apartment, I made an error in getting off the wrong station. Oh well.
All I can say was that the event met its objectives to highlight the parks and the connectors, even if the runners suffered for it. The men’s winner was a Kenyan with a timing of 2:40 and that’s the testament of how tough the race was.
I can’t describe my respect for the ultra runners who had to go through the course twice and in the later stages in wet conditions. I’m equally intrigued and inspired by their mental and physical strength. The distance they’ve to cover is madness and for all my admiration, the thought of even doing one right now simply eludes me. At this moment I can’t think of anything else except to recover, rejuvenate and rediscover the hunger and be ready to come back to training.
I’m indebted to Justin and Jeanne for their time and hospitality, and my travel mates for their company and Choi for arranging the bus tickets. Malakoff 26K in Penang guys?