Thursday, December 08, 2011

Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2011

This is my 7th Singapore Marathon since my maiden marathon in 2005 where I completed in 4:08h in hot and humid conditions. Ever since, I have been faithfully supporting this homegrown marathon as a runner, marathon pacer, running for charity, or as marathon trainer to the Ops Sunbird Program which is in its third year, and growing in healthy number of trainees.

On race morning, I gathered with the Full Marathon Sunbirds and friends at Scotts Road 3:30am for photo taking and baggage. For the first time this year, all night MRT train services were kept open to facilitate the participants, and I too, like many regular drivers, decided to leave the car at home to take advantage of the baggage services which promised to be nearer to the finish line post-race for easy retrieval. It was a big mistake, as many had the same thinking, leading to massive queues at the small number of baggage lines. I made it to the start line barely 5min to the gun going off, while a number of my friends got stuck for more than 1-2hrs.

This year, Team FatBird were not the official pacers, so we had the luxury of following the BMW Pacers and letting them keep pace and show the way. The gun went off at 5:00am sharp. The first few km was rather congested as I tried to keep the 3:45h pace group in sight as a gauge. As we turned into Nicholl Highway, Johhny, Benjamin, Kwee Teck, Han Chee ran up to say hello, and together we went along for the next few km. We were running 5:10min/km pace earlier, but good that the Pacers moderated to about 5:20min/km subsequently. It was rather dark when we entered the F1 Pit area and then onto the ECP portion.

I could not see any distance markers for at least 10km, and was happy to just follow the rather large group of 3:45h. Han Chee later pointed to me the 12km distance marker which was so small and flushed in, that it would be hard to make out in that darkness. We settled into a 5:20min/km pace by 15km, and just went into cruise mode the ECP service road. There were only two 3:45h Pacers, and by 17km, one dropped pace probably due to the humid conditions, leaving Pacer Aaron to show the way. Han Chee, Johnny, Ben and I were happy to keep a distance of about 200m from the Pace Group. We were all going strong as we U-turn somewhere after the F2 service road.

Han Chee mentioned he would be happy to just do sub-4hr as that would mean a PB for him in local marathon terms. I told him to take it easy, and just maintain pace but not to work too hard. I moved up in search of the 3:45h Pacers which had gone slightly ahead...waved and acknowledged many Sunbirds and familiar faces as I passed them on the other side of the ECP segment. I took a pack of Hammer gel at the 13km mark, and then an endurolyte at 20km. That seemed to keep me going on quite well, and with hydration stops most of the way, I was able to sustain the pace in rather cooling weather. By 28km, I could see Fort Road and braced myself for the boring Marina Barrage stretch. It was then that I had the company of Michael Bolt who had kept pace strongly till that stage, and then we met up with Melvyn as well.

I ran with Michael and Melvyn most of the way along the Marina Barrage segment, just maintaining enough momentum not to get cramps and getting out of that place soon enough. At the end of that demoralizing stretch, I was happy to just catch Joey who was stationed at the Shotz gel point, where he was taking nice shots of friends and runners. I had earlier taken another Hammer gel at the 25km mark, so kept the Shotz gel for later use. I popped another endurolyte at the 32km mark just to make sure the cramps stay away...body sensed - all systems still ok. I didn’t apply any of the Tiger Balm ACTIVE cream on offer as there weren’t any tremors nor niggles felt. I was happy to see the SAFRA MF support point along Marina Boulevard area, where I was offered Sng Bao again (although I did not take it) and had my pic taken…thanks.

With about 5km to go, Heartbreak Bridge (which saw a massive crowd walking last year) was in sight. Fortunately, it was clearer this year, and I had some access to jog up the whole length of the bridge. There were many walkers and even crawlers at that stage, and 2-3 were seen puking over the sides of the bridge. A number were sitting or lying down to get medical attention or just taking a breather. A cramp nearly erupted as I neared the top, and I was lucky it eased off on the downslope as I slowed down.

In the horizon, I could see a massive crowd merging from another direction, which started the final 3km of ‘human wall’ bashing through for us full marathoners. Although I could see water points on the sides, and even some familiar faces, I did not venture to go near as the crowd was so thick I worried I could not get moving should I go for the water. After some weaving around and squeezing through small openings in the human wall, I almost gave up. It was only the thought of not wanting to get stuck in a claustrophobic situation that kept me moving.

As my speed slowed, the threatening cramps stayed at bay. The final 1.5km was most challenging as the crowd got even thicker from the mergers of the 10km and even 5km runners. By doing a mixture of jumping up the pavements, and then skirting to the sides of railings, and shouting for walkers to move to the side, I eventually made it to Esplanade Bridge for that final 1km. Even then, the coast was not clear as I had to lose more time squeezing through to get to the full marathon finish pathway.

I was a little surprised that the Full Marathon path was in the middle section, where normally it is on the side closest to the VIP/Spectator stands. I took a look at the clock and it showed 3:49h+…so I made sure the front man was out of the way before posing for a ‘flight-landing’ finish. After I crossed the line, Michael tapped me from behind. He was so happy he broke the Sub-4hr mark (last year he did 4:04h), and by a good 10min at that. He mentioned he kept a distance of 20m behind me all the way from Marina Barrage….wow, he is one great pacee :)

After collecting the finisher tee and medal, I rushed to retrieve my baggage (worried of a jam again after the morning’s experience). Fortunately, there was a separate queue for the Full Marathoners by timings. Being in the sub-4hr, we were still early and there was almost no one in the queue at that time..haha. After collection, I went to the NB-Sunbird Hospitality tent to marry-up with all the Sunbirds, FatBirds and friends for our massages and refreshments.

The Sunbirds did well, and there were lots of juicy stories about the challenges in overcoming the humid conditions and crowd. Beverly did well to record a 2:25h for her comeback Half Marathon, without any aches nor pains at all - her mid-year injury have healed well. The next 1-2 hours were spent catching up, photo-taking and meeting the many pacers, trainees, runners and friends. In spite of the many complaints against the event, most of our Sunbirds and FatBirds
were fortunate to have overcome them, and we did have an eventful and fruitful Singapore Marathon 2011.

I had one of my easier marathons without the stress of pacing, and the 3:49h was also one of the better marathon times I have recorded for the Singapore Marathon. More importantly, my hydration, nutrition and race plans went well to allow me to complete the race feeling good, and that is the kind of marathon race experience I hope to have more of in future. With that, I am happy to declare a successful marathon training journey and race at the SCMS 2011.

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