Saturday, November 30th 2019.
I woke up today, excited. As I got up and started getting ready, I pulled the blinds open and looked outside, realizing that today was the culmination of months of practice and a long training season throughout the fall. The weather looked to be amazing despite forecasts earlier in the week predicting thunderstorms. My legs felt good from the extensive stretching and rolling the night before and I couldn’t wait to get started. The night-time race time was going to be different however, as you don’t have the luxury of waking up refreshed and energized. Instead, the race would be starting at 6:00PM in the evening after a day being out.
We shortened up the day and minimized the walking just to make sure that I would have plenty of time to get back to the hotel to get ready for the race. I made the decision to not bring my belt for this race as the route included more frequent water stations than normal. Coupled with the hindrance of carrying water, I felt that doing without one would allow me to be a little faster. With about 3-4 hours until race time, we got back to the hotel and I meticulously started getting ready. Intermittently laying out my race socks, unfolding my shirt and getting my shoes out, I rolled and stretched a little more and started playing through some scenarios in my head. In my previous marathon, I encountered walls that I did not anticipate. After being encumbered with multiple near-cramps, almost breaking into tears and having to dig deeper and persevering more than I had ever done, I readied myself for more of the same. I did however, feel more confident knowing that I had been diligent with my training and I knew that I had to trust that the hard work had already been done; this is supposed to be the fun part.
With about an hour until closing of the corral, I requested a Grab (Singapore version of an Uber). Having scouted the race start location earlier in the week, I knew that it was only about 10-15 minutes away. Little did I know that it was soon to be the start of a nightmare. The Grab driver asked me if I was heading downtown for the race because he knew a route which would get me there faster. Not one to argue with a local driver who knows the area better than I do, I nodded along. After numerous turns and realizing that we had gone 4-5KM farther from the stadium, we got stuck in traffic. As my eyes continuously darted back and forth between the traffic ahead and the clock, it became evident to me that I was dangerously close to missing the closing of my corral. As we rolled through a light, I did some mental math and made the decision that I was going to have to run to the start line if I had any hope of even participating in the race I had trained so long for. Without even waiting for the car to pull over, I waited for a gap in oncoming traffic and I hopped out. A few blocks down the street, I recognized a light blue jersey similar to the one that I was wearing. As I came to a stop at the intersection, the gentleman looked over and we both realized that we were in exactly the same predicament. While maintaining lighthearted conversation despite both being nervous at the possibility of missing the race, we both sped through the downtown core to our destination.
As I hop over the fence to get into the race area, I slip into the line labelled Corral C with about 45 seconds before they closed the gate. I pause and breathe a deep sigh of relief. As I stop and take check of how I was feeling, I realize that I am already drenched. The run to the start, mixed with the heat and humidity was significantly more warm-up than I needed. What’s done is done however, and instead of letting the negative affect me, I had to try my best to focus on the task at hand. As I close my eyes for my typical pre-race moment routine, I slow down my breathing and calm my heartrate. It’s time.
1-3KM: As we cross the starting line, it seems busier and more crowded than I expected. Brushing it off as perhaps running culture on a different continent, I didn't think anything of it. It soon dawned on me however, that many people likely registered for an earlier corral due the late start-time and a desire to avoid finishing late into the evening. The air was heavy and as we make the initial hairpin turn after KM 2, the ramp takes a steep incline. It felt like a difficult start to the course and the crowd made every breath of air warm and heavy as though you were breathing while blowdrying your hair. I did my best to keep my pace and worked my way to the front of the pack in the safest way possible as numerous runners were stepping on ankles and tripping over eachother.
4-6KM: Whether it was the heat, the masses of runners or the acrobatic bursts, I felt more tired than I typically would be only a few KM's into a race. I kept reminding myself that it was a marathon and not a sprint (because it is actually a marathon, har har) and that I had plenty of time to adjust and make up differences. I found it tough to be patient and I attributed that to the fact that I had been racing a lot of 10KM's and half-marathons as of late. As we run down Nicoll Highway and towards the 4KM mark, the view is spectacular. As we slowly trudge uphill and away from the water, the only redemption is the steadily setting sun casting long elegant silhouettes across our paths. As we move into the more densly populated part of town, I feel more energized by the increase in spectators and their roars of encouragement. I settle more and more into a rhythm with every tap on the flat concrete stretch through the downtown core.
7-9KM: Typically, as I close in on the 10KM mark of a race, I feel quite strong. Everything is usually warmed up, blood is flowing and your breathing and pacing is honed in. You're clear of the crowds and you're locked in the zone and for a fleeting moment, you feel like you're coasting down the highway with the top down. I notice as I pass the 8KM mark however that my quads and calves feel abnormally tense.
9-12KM: A little bit of anxiety runs through my mind as I look forward and see that there is no turn or end in sight and that I was on the long there-and-back stretch along W Coast Highway that I had scoped out on the map earlier. Knowing that I would need to be at my best for the mental hurdle of seeing faster runners passing by on the back portion of the length, I opted to pause for 20 seconds to pre-emptively stretch.
13-19KM: As I turn the bend and start to pass by all the runners still working on the first leg of the long and narrow stretch, I hit my stride and feel the push from every drive of my heel striking the pavement. For the first time in the race, I feel good. As my view changes from seeing runners further along in the race than me to runners behind me, I settle into my zone and the long route back from where I came, became a blur to me. Only stopping for water, I ignore all the aid tents and the runners that were beginning to stop. Realizing that I was starting to pass numerous runners solely by virtue of keeping my pace, I feel re-invigorated.
20-22KM: As I unofficially clock the close of the half-marathon mark with my own watch, I ironically have to stop for the first time in the race. Recognizing the dangers of pushing past the point of no return, I stop to walk and take note of my progress. Having finished the first 21.1KM in approxmately 2 hours, I was on pace for close to a 4-hour marathon finish.
23-25KM: We make our way deeper into the Gardens by the Bay park, and I notice that the path gets darker and darker. The sun is almost entirely below the horizon. While ambient lighting from further off-path is present, I felt it would be a better decision to utilize my time jogging/walking and attempting to recover than wasted on high-stepping to avoid tripping in the shadows.
26-31KM: On this particular there-and-back stretch, I remember feeling particularly disappointed in myself. As I continued my half-run, half-walk, I sense my goal of a sub-3:45 marathon fade away. As I ran slower and slower and the minutes went by, I found myself adjusting my goals. From shifting my goal to be sub-4:15 to simply bettering my time from last race. But even as I inch along, my eyes continuously darted towards my watch, recognizing the reality that I may very likely finish significantly later than my previous marathon. Every part of me was now starting to cramp. Bursting into tears as I reach the end of the long stretch and turn around, I am met with an immense spasm with every attempt at an actual running stride. Sensing what was systemic dehydration, I muster up every ounce of fortitude I have in order to keep moving my feet despite the sharp ache of every heel strike.
32-35KM: As I get back into the Gardens by the Bay, I look out over the water and see the faint outline and lights of the Marina Bay Sands. Closing in on the last 10KM before the finish, the only thought in my mind is to keep my feet moving. But as the sound of my feet striking the pavement blends with the rhythmic stepping of the crowd around me, a sense of haziness comes over me. My feet continue to move, seemingly of their own accord but I don't feel as focused or sharp. The few KM's during this part of the race become a blur up until we break out into the open after KM 35. In hindsight, I think that I was dangerously close to heat exhaustion.
36-39KM: We start to exit the grounds of Gardens by the Bay and for the first time, there was a glimmer of hope. Despite the disheartening grade as I steadily climb the incline on the overpass, we break out from the greenery, turn the corner and hear what sounds like the rumble of spectators at the finish line. At this point in the race, I was considering myself lucky just to finish as my legs were relegated to intermittent spurts of 2:00 minute jogs between walking breaks.
40-42.2KM: As we near the last couple of KM's, the route becomes surrounded by colorful banners and waves of spectators. A surge of energy fills me as I hear the deafening cheers flood the night air. I take a heaving breath as I give everything I have left in the last few hundred metres before the finish. Charging down the path, I think to myself: "what an unforgettable view." The sky is illuminated by the numerous booths, lights and stalls of the post-run celebrations and I am overcome with a sense of relief and appreciation. Despite my body's desire to rush to a desperation finish, I recognize that this marathon is a once in a life-time opportunity. From the view of the Singapore cityscape at night and the thunderous chants of the crowd, crossing the finish line will be a moment I remember for a long time to come.
With a wave of relief coming over me as I make my way over the finish line and trod to a stop, I feel accomplished but slightly sad. Perhaps my disappointment was rooted in the fact that I never once considered clocking an even longer time as a possibility. Or maybe it was that it felt as though the months of training were slowly being poured down the drain if I didn’t have a faster time to show for it. Whatever the case may be, I felt pangs of anger and frustration turn into wells of sadness mid-stride. But then it dawned on me. As I trudged along slowly into the fnisher's area, I looked back and saw the vast ocean of people that were making their way to the finish, urging their legs to continue. In that moment, I was reminded of why I run. I run in order to be outdoors. I run for the exhilaration of the race and the challenge of chasing myself. I run for both my physical and mental health. I run for the simple joy of putting one foot in front of the other and so long as I was willing to do just that, that is enough.
I made small goals for myself in the desperate moments of the last 10KM’s that seemed almost insurmountable. I continuously tested myself in 3-4 minute increments and on occasion still failed. Those 10 kilometres were arduous because every part of my body seemed to intermittently change their minds like a child throwing a tantrum while in line for a ride at Disneyworld while their siblings stood nearby uncertain of what to do next. But whether it was pushing through mentally or pausing for a quick stretch, I continuously coaxed my body to get moving again. Despite times where even my mental acuity seemed to fade and my focus started to wane, the auto-pilot kicked in and my feet continued to plod forward seemingly with minds of their own.
It is okay that I did not beat my previous time. Because the lessons learned and the base miles completed in the months leading up to this race are not forgotten. I was having a discussion with a friend just days prior and came to the realization that I don’t just run. I am a runner. And for a runner, there is always a next time. Whether it is a brisk and early morning tempo run where you grab an old pair of retired running shoes to race the sun on the horizon or a dreadful late-night run to make up miles lost earlier in the week due to procrastination. The runner is made in training. In the numerous miles that far exceed any race you can register or qualify for. In the struggles and aches of injury that remain invisible to the spectators watching. And no matter what the the chip time is, the runner is the individual that strives each time just to be their best selves.
I am a runner. And for a runner, there is always a next time. Whether it is a brisk and early morning tempo run where you grab an old pair of retired running shoes to race the sun on the horizon or a dreadful late-night run to make up miles lost earlier in the week due to procrastination. The runner is made in training.