Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Race Report: Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2012

I started my race-day at 2.15am. I had my quota of sleep on Friday, as my experience taught me that I tend to sleep, interruptedly, due to mild pre-race anxiety. After my pre-race ritual and a simple breakfast (mug of black coffee, and a generous mug of Hammer Nutrition ‘Perpeteum’), I took a cab to Raffles City to meet Charles Teng, and loaded my fresh change of clothes in his car. Both us opted for tri-suits as we believed in racing as if we were in a triathlon. I had a new set of sports tri-gear, thanks to Swim, Bike, Run SG.
We took the MRT/subway, and alighted two stations away. At the entrance, we bumped into a bare-bodied, Caucasian runner (dressed in runner’s shorts and his bib/race-belt. He would post a good timing later that morning, as a leading amateur marathoner. After a bathroom break at a nice shopping mall, we made our way into the runners-pen. I edged as close as I could to the band of official race-pacers (BMW Pacers); some of whom were in full festive make-up, and their obvious helium-filled balloons. My plan was to stay slightly ahead of the 3:45 pacer.

I shook hands with Adam 'One-Armed Runner', and saw Singapore Blade Runner (Shariff) near me. These are two of the most inspirational, physically-challenged, endurance athletes around. After 30 minutes of prolonged preamble, and a noticeably inflated bladder, I was glad for the opening dance item (four dancers prancing to a choreographed rendition of ‘Gangnam Style’) to end, and the Minister of State to flag the race off. I was only about 10 seconds from the Start-Line. It was a scenic route from start-to-end, littered with major tourist and historical landmarks.
With massive amounts of adrenaline drenched in my muscles, I took off briskly, and set my Garmin watch just before the line. The pacesetters were fast, and I followed suit. After a fast, first, 2K I decided to make my mark at the infamous Speaker’s Corner. It was the best 90 seconds I lost, and which I was relieved to recover several kilometres later. I met many familiar faces, which gave me an intuitive indication of how fast I was going. I referred to my watch, deliberately dropping my pace, if I went more than 13kph. I took a cup or two of water at every aid-station, whilst running, opting to funnel the contents in my mouth, while in flight: The coolest thing I have ever done, next to giving spectators the 'High-5'.

After hitting the 21K-mark at about 1:41, I was pleased I was on-track for a possible BQ (3:24). That was the plan, and it was reinforced by the fact that I was ahead of a few, usually, stronger runners. To earn a negative split was a pure bonus, yet staying to the same pace could yield me a surprisingly good time. Along the way, I said hello (or bade goodbye) to runner-friends. Some encouraged me on, for which I am thankful for. Every psychological tool or edge I used or found, was necessary for my 'quest-to-be-my-best'.

I assure you, I did experience the ‘suck’ as Macca put it. It sucked, I sucked, and I embraced the suck. The discomfort in a marathon is a blend of poignant pain, determined discomfort, and evil boredom. I envied the runners with their iPods and musical accompaniment. I was operating on my mental algorithms of ‘pain control’ and ‘internal self-dialogue’, and I assure you, my head was a little noisy with the mental arithmetic and, unnecessary, self-pity.

Interestingly, my split times were reasonably faster, as I kept to a sub-5:00 pace for the first 30K. It went south from there. Most of the runners I spoke to, shared that their performance dipped after the 30-34K mark. It could be a psychological factor at play; ‘Hitting the Wall’ is a belief shared by runners, where our energy reserves (within our muscles) are spent.
Professional photographer, Richard Leong caught me in a ‘com-posed’ moment; it sucked being me.
Photo-credit: LIm Yanglyn
At this point on the Marina Barrage, I was activating ‘damage control’. My race-pace nosed over the 5:00-mark. Intuitively, and sensibly, I knew I was going down. In my mind, I committed fiercely to my 'All or Nothing' mantra. If I go down, I'm going down in flames - like the pilot episode of 'LOST'. Simply put, I decided to 'go as fast as I could for as long'. Bugger of a plan, as far as I deeply knew. No retreat, no surrender.

If you can’t beat them, join them! I succumbed to the ‘dark side’ and walked up the slope (37K mark), deciding that I would do a quicker descent. However, I did not realize that I would merge with a humungous crowd of 10K and 21K runners. True to last year, the prophecy of a congested last 3K came true. I jogged through the mass, without regard for dodging through the human traffic. At this point, I knew I would just improve on last year’s time, and call it a day!

I called it, albeit with an uneventful jog to through the finishing chute. There was no drama, no pomp and pageantry – just me wanting to rest my weary bones. I raised my arms high up, with each index-finger pointed to the heavens as a sign of personal achievement. I loved this pose, having learnt it from Macca. I hope that this will be my posture/gesture one day when I cross the finisher’s chute in Kona, Hawaii. You can’t fault an amateur athlete from dreaming, can you?

I headed straight for the pens, and received my finisher’s medal, t-shirt, isotonic drinks and water. With the shoal of runners congregated on The Padang (field), I was unsure about my potential ranking. To still be one of the top-1 percent of the nation’s marathoner would have been nice. After two months recovering from a stress fracture on one of my left toes, a 4:00 finish at Berlin Marathon (with no run training), I was grateful I was injury-free (hopefully, this was ascertained after all the adrenaline and endorphins wore off). I learnt, later, I was ahead of my friends who beat me by minutes in Berlin.

Charles returned shortly; we looked for his wife and located her. Before that, I queued and surrender to my attempt for free PayPal slippers and wet-towels. No privileges were accorded to marathon-finishers. It was a ‘free for all’ with the runners of the shorter-distance persuasion. We took several photographs with friends of AniMiles, and the headed back. We heard that Ashley Liew beat Dr Mok Ying Ren into third, and Anne Hui retained her throne as queen of the local marathon scene. Congratulations to all the podium winners!
One of the middle-two AniMiles runners did a 3:06!
The unofficial results were posted within a day, so that was a massive plus-point for fatigued runners. There was mention of a delay in the Women’s Open (Singapore) results; that was a bit of suspense. As it turned out, one of the runner-up runners used somebody else’s bib, so was penalized for this error. The true winner was reinstated, so all ended well. Lesson learnt: Never win a podium placing, if you are not who you say you are. This is a violation of the rules, and an unspoken rule.
My official timing: 2 minutes better than 2011, and 8 minutes off my PB/BQ. No PBs on this course on this day. Most runners had truncated run timings, so we surmised that it was the combination of heavy humidity, faster pacing, and final congestion that compromised their timings. Yet, this is merely speculative and I am reviewing my running performance for Ironman New Zealand in March. I believe that my ‘running legs’ have returned and I am assured and pleased. Thanks to my sports-doctor, Roger Tien and his colleagues (including Baoying, one of our leading national women runners) for guiding me through my first major injury. I enjoyed holding my own with the faster runners for once, and am determined to score better next year at the local races.
Due to her honeymoon, under-trained, uber-runner Baoying encouraged me on ahead of her. I am in contention for top-10 Women (Local) again. Hoo-Ah!
I had NO marathon photographs as I displaced my race-bib during my run. I preferred my bib to wrap around the side of my hips. Nevertheless, I have my memories to incubate for a while. Congratulations to all first-time marathoners, those who earned PBs, and to all who completed/attempted the race despite the inherent challenges!
My only Finisher photograph, thanks to Sasha Farina!

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