It was about midway into the 10km race and I positioned myself to pass the hydration station with its tables of cups to my left, approximating my distance to the cups, careful not to be too close to have them accidentally spill their contents (whether water or isotonic drink I am never too sure until the fleeting moments they spend on my tongue before being gulped down) onto my attire or shoes and not too far for my hands to reach them. I need not have gone to that trouble. Nicking a cup, I threw back its expected contents down my waiting throat and … wait, my throat continued to do. No water or isotonic drink was forthcoming. Did I accidentally spill all the cup’s contents while I snatched the cup from its perch on the table while running past the hydration station at race pace? I decided, after the second or third empty cup (over the course of a few hydration stations), that it was not from spillage that the cups were empty; they were empty to begin with. A cup represents a drink and, when it is empty, it is false hope — of a quenched thirst and renewed or sustained strength. It was a hope that found itself bemoan: “Why is the cup empty?” Not long after, a hand to my right (belonging to fellow runner, Gen Lin, who presumably heard me) stretched out with an offer of a cup. I lifted and tilted it towards my lips. This time, the cup had water. The drink was uplifting, not least because a fellow runner offered it in the midst of a race.
The 10km race at the Sundown Marathon on Saturday night was over a course that would more accurately reflect my fitness compared to the Green Corridor Run two weeks ago, which, over trail and gravel that was uneven and slippery due to rain, did not lend itself to efficient running and personal best times. With fast guys, namely Gen Lin, my New Balance teammates Marcus, Jianyong, and Feroz, and a contingent of Gurkhas spread over two teams of four, I felt there was good competition to spur me on to a personal best time (which stood at 35 minutes 17 seconds on the roads).
The race started from the F1 Pit Building with Gen bolting out of the pack from the get-go. Within the first couple of kilometres, Kenyan Samson Kiplagat Tenai — a regular on the race circuit here, he had placed third at the Green Corridor Run — had established a lead with two Gurkhas and Marcus in pursuit, and Gen slightly adrift. I had started the race initially behind these five runners and what seemed like the rest of the Gurkha contingent and had to reassure myself not to get antsy even before the first kilometre was passed, which it did in 3:18 — 12 seconds faster than what was needed for a 35:00 finish. The adrenaline of the first kilometre allowed for such a start but I knew that I had to settle into a pace more sustainable.
As the course turned towards the Nicoll Highway (in the direction of Kallang) after the second kilometre, Jianyong and I found ourselves running together. We caught up with some of the Gurkhas, eventually settling behind a pair of them as we climbed Nicoll Highway, the four of us occupying sixth to ninth positions at the point. I was quite satisfied to follow the pair of Gurkhas until a glance at my watch showed that our pace was drifting to about 3:45 per kilometre (from about 3:30). While it would have been easy to continue at the pace and let the Gurkhas do the work, I decided to take the initiative and push the pace because I was in the race looking for a fast time and not merely racing for positions. An approximately 3:30 per kilometre pace felt sustainable and I went for it, soon pulling us on par with Gen.
Our pack of five stuck together until about 5km into the race when I found myself starting to pull a gap on them. I was running on my own in fifth position for most of the second half of the race within sight of the Gurkha ahead of me. Working to keep the pace up so I might perhaps have an opportunity to take fourth position, I was also cautious not to be caught by anyone behind. Shooting a glance behind with about two kilometres left to go, I saw a figure that was about 100-150m behind me.
As I ran within earshot of the announcer at the finish line, with about 500m left to run (and a U-turn to maneouvre), I saw that I had no chance of catching the fourth runner. Thinking that fifth position overall (and second Singaporean, behind Marcus) was still a good result, I was suddenly bumped (literally) to my senses. I looked behind to see who it was that just knocked into my back and realised Jeevaneesh Soundararajah, former National Schools cross-country and 5000m champion, had caught up with me. It was the first time in the race I saw him at all. Being so close to the finish, I was determined to defend my position and sought to establish a gap on him. Making the U-turn, still ahead and with less than a hundred metres to go, I shot one more glance back before making a final sprint. Jeevaneesh, however, caught me at the peak of my sprint for fifth position. As he ran ahead of me with no more gears for me to shift through, I could finally turn my attention to the time on the digital clock above the finish line, which read, “34:44”, a new 10km personal best on the roads by 33 seconds.