So the morning started with some drama-cum-comedy. After arriving at a carpark near the Singapore Management University (SMU), my running buddy Devathas was about to change into his running shoes when he realised…that he brought two left shoes!
Thankfully, Dev’s sister Renuka was with us (together with his girlfriend Stephanie) as support crew for the day and Dev was able to fit into her shoes.
And so we trudged along Orchard Road towards the starting line, which is flanked by The Heeren and Mandarin Orchard. Arriving there, we realised many participants were already gathering at the head of the pen (many of whom did not look like finishing anywhere close to three hours). Dev and I, thus, aborted our plans for a longer warm up to get a good starting position near the front.
I had planned to start the first few kilometres in approximately 4:10-4:20 pace, looking to settle into a rhythm somewhere in that region before adjusting the pace up or down depending on how I felt as I progressed. Dev and I ran for the first five kilometres together and, going past The Fullerton Hotel, we could see Chee Yong and Alex not far up ahead.
Dev and me soon separated as I decided to slowly move up to Chee Yong and Alex, which I did just after exiting out of the F1 Pit Lane area. [I felt apologetic there for breaking away from Dev because he had told me he had reversed his decision not to run the race in part so he could help pace me. But, after a cheery “Go, Colin!” from him near the 21km U-turn and my wave back, I knew there were no hard feelings.] The three of us ran together until Fort Road, where Alex dropped off a little.
The East Coast Park area covers the 10-30km stretch of the marathon and, thus, I knew my chances of getting a good finish in the race would depend a lot on this section of the race. Last year, I had cramped up near the 24km mark, on the return stretch of East Coast Park. So, this time, I knew if I could get out of East Coast Park without cramping, it would give me so much more confidence to finish the race well.
Chee Yong and me were averaging approximately 4:00 pace as we ran along towards the U-turn point at East Coast Park (21km mark) and, as we approached 20km, I realised he was beginning to drop off. As I made the U-turn and saw the gap I had put on him, I realised I had a one-man breakaway on.
Trying not to get too carried away with the knowledge that I was sitting in the position as third Singaporean at the point, I reminded myself to listen to my body and not push the pace too early in an effort to pull away from those behind me. Still, on occasional glances at my watch, I was clocking slightly under 4:00 kilometre splits.
Why couldn’t Pheidippides have died here?
— The 1972 Olympic marathon gold medallist, Frank Shorter, apparently made this comment to Kenny Moore at the 26km mark in one of Shorter’s first marathons
Last year’s cramping up and subsequent walk of shame wasn’t as much ‘hitting the wall’ as a capitulation. Taking on board as much fluids as I could at each drinks station (both water and 100 Plus), this time, I was indubitably headed for the dreaded proverbial ‘wall’ one is said to hit during the marathon. From the 21st to 29th kilometre, I was clocking 4:00 or under per kilometre but those splits were starting to go over 4:00 from the 30th kilometre.
I began checking behind me to see how much of a gap I had on Chee Yong (or the next Singaporean runner) and couldn’t see anyone I recognised in the distance so I told myself to slow down a bit more to not precipitate the cramping up or breaking down of my legs.
The 30th kilometre onwards was quite lonely. The route for those parts was pretty much deserted. By the time I hit Gardens by the Bay, going towards the Marina Barrage, I could see that Chee Yong was now closing in behind me. I thought slowing down might help my legs recover a little so I could mount something of a kick in the last few kilometres but they were still feeling leaden and threatening to cramp up any moment. I was beginning to rue the fact that my longest run in the lead up to the marathon was only 30km. The lack of endurance was showing.
At this time, I felt third place was slipping out of my grasp as the race wound down to its final few kilometres. On the Marina Barrage, it was refreshing to see the familiar face of Suriya (who had just finished his leg of the ekiden) who passed me a bottle of water to drink from.
Entering the 38th kilometre, as I exited out of the Gardens by the Bay area onto Sheares Bridge, Chee Yong finally caught up with me. I had been postponing the inevitable for the last few kilometres as my legs started to break down and my pace was slowing. As he passed me, I could not give chase. I had talked about (in my previous blog post) listening to my body more in this year’s race and I knew that if I increased my pace to give chase to Chee Yong, my legs would probably cramp up and I might not even be able to hold fourth place till the finish.
So, the last few kilometres were an exercise in damage limitation. I don’t see it as something negative. It would be foolish to ignore my body’s messages once more and go down the path of the previous year’s marathon experience. Yes, running and racing do take some craziness in my opinion sometimes i.e. the ignorance of what your body is telling you. But not when your legs are so close to cramping and wasting your earlier efforts.
Going up Sheares Bridge was tough and coming down too, though for different reasons. While on the way down Sheares Bridge, I could see the faster marathoners (and the faster half marathoners) on the return side towards Esplanade and the Padang and wished I could just take a shorter route back than having to go further down towards the U-turn.
Reach the Esplanade Bridge I certainly did after more shuffling and, at that point, finishing as the fourth Singaporean and under three hours in my second marathon was starting to become palpable to me. And entering into the home straightaway, I managed to spot our support crew for the day, Renuka and Steph, at the side after they shouted out to me. And a good morning’s run was wrapped up as I found out later Dev finished the race just one position behind me in fifth!
In the opening kilometres, as we ran alongside each other just like our weekly runs at MacRitchie or elsewhere, he had remarked that this race was going to be a good run after not being able to run together for a few months (with his injury woes and our differences in schedules). And I had quipped that it was only going to be a good run if we both see it to the finish (and there were doubts for both of us after his injury problems recently and his original intention not to race the marathon this year as well as my own muscle cramps last year in the same race). And finish we did!