Evan “Old Man” Chee and me at the finish line after the race

The venue was Punggol, just outside the MRT station. I was there for the first time as far as I recall. Situated in the north-east of Singapore, and being a southern boy (where Vivocity, Mt. Faber, Labrador Park, and Hort Park are more familiar sights to me than err…what is there in Punggol?), Punggol took something to have me there. That something was the Punggol Waterway PAssion Active Run. 

Unlike other runs that target the general populace and organise their routes within the city area, Punggol Waterway Run was targeted at those in the neighbourhood. But it would be wrong to think of it as a small (read: low quality) race.

Before the 7.30am start, I started warming up near the start area. And one by one, some of the best runners on the local circuit appeared on the scene. Kien Mau, Chee Yong, Gen Lin, and Gurkha Dev Kumar Rai amongst them.

Though that meant chances of finishing amongst the money (cash prizes only for top three with the rest of the top 10 to settle for other prizes) were diminished, I was still excited about racing a good field of competitors and improving on my 10km personal best set earlier this year at the 2XU Compression Run.

As usual, getting off to a brisk start and reminding myself not to get carried away by adrenaline, I snug myself in the back of a pack of about seven runners. A few of them were already trying to race each other even before we reached the first kilometre mark. Focusing on staying relaxed, I let myself settle into a rhythm.

Avoiding a little accident between two runners in the pack (one of them almost falling in front of me), the race very quickly whittled down those initially at the front in the first few hundreds of metres.

By the two-kilometre mark, Gen Lin and Dev Kumar Rai were off up ahead leading the race. Kien Mau, to my surprise, was biding his time about 30 metres ahead of me with Chee Yong and I giving chase. Pressuring from the back was Ivan Low.

The positions stayed that way for most of the race as we loped away on the winding paths of Punggol Waterway. Having read and heard about how beautiful the place was, and with the race around midway mark, I took a moment to register the scenery. But noting nothing remarkable (like the view of Sentosa and the sea off Keppel Bay or Labrador Park), I focused again on the back of Chee Yong, now with a slight 10-20m gap on me.

If Kien Mau had been within striking distance in the first 5km, I was nowhere near him in the second half. I was later to learn he had run a second half so strong he managed to overhaul both Gen Lin and Dev Kumar Rai to win the race.

Entering the last three kilometres, not only was I not yet closing on Chee Yong but Ivan was still ominously close on my back. Drawing strength from the way I closed out the Run 350 race, I worked hard to keep up the tempo.

A marshal on bicycle was riding alongside me at this time. And exiting out of the park onto a road, the finish line was in sight. But I had thought maybe there were a few turns before the finish line, not realising it was just a straight finish to the line.

Shooting a quick question to the marshal and then realising so, I put in one last kick to try reel in Chee Yong. The gap was closing quickly. And there was still good ground before the finish, or so I thought. But, just as our finish at the 2011 adidas King of the Road race (where Chee Yong finished third and I finished fourth), Chee Yong shot a quick glance over his shoulder and realised I was closing. He summoned a push and then I found myself with too little ground to overhaul him again. This time, I lost to him by two seconds to place fifth.

But looking at my watch after the finish, I realised I stopped it at 33 minutes 59 seconds. I never imagined seeing the number “3” as the first two digits on my watch so soon after only achieving a personal best of 35:17 in March and being stuck in the 36-es for a few years.

Though I was later to find out from those who wore GPS watches that the route was approximately 250m shorter (an approximate 50sec difference?) and my effort was more realistically a high 34 or low 35, there was still good reason to believe I am at least in a condition to go sub-35 now for the 10km.

Even in the midst of juggling training with a 9.30-6.00 job during these supposed holidays, this effort has given good encouragement.