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Singapore Marathon 2019: In the Heat of the Night

The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), usually held every first Sunday morning of December, had its first ever night run this year. So was it better? Read to find out.

Considered as one of the most prestigious races in Asia, it has a Gold Race certification by the World Athletics (formerly IAAF) and is also bidding to become part of the World Marathon Majors by 2021.

Aside from the marathon last Saturday, November 30, other categories that transpired during the weekend included the kids’ dash, the half marathon, Toyota Ekiden, wheelchair elite marathon, and the 10k category.

REGISTRATION:

I wanted to make a comeback after a two-year hiatus in running marathons. So, I registered for the marathon category as an early bird back in May for SG$115. After that, I underwent an intense five-month marathon training under coach Don Velasco. I received a lot of discouragement from my running buddies because of the heat and other factors but I ignored those because I love Singapore, its culture, and I have many relatives and friends living there.

ARRIVAL AND RACE EXPO:

I arrived in Singapore on the 28th of November and went to the race expo at the Marina Bay Sands to claim my race kit the day after. Claiming the race kit on a stormy Friday afternoon was easy since the assembly line for different categories was neatly organized. I also learned that I belonged to Pen E with an expected finish time between 4:30 to 5:00 hours.

After claiming the race kit, I went to the Partner Zone which resembled a maze similar to many marathon expos in Japan where sponsors and partnering merchants sold their products and services with exclusive discounts.  I hope that the Chicago Marathon will adopt this concept as well. I spent a few hours there talking to a few people and meet-up with my running buddies Arlene who ran the half marathon, Jay who also ran the marathon, and his wife Pam. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner at the famous Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant on Jalan Besar.

L-R: Me, Arlene, Pam, & Jay (courtesy of Arlene Cao)

RACE DAY: 

I am glad I got 9-hours of sleep during my first two nights in Singapore. I was well prepared and traveled via MRT to the starting point at the F1 Pit Building near the Bayfront Station of Downtown line. I arrived at the venue at 5:00 pm and had a toilet stop before going to the race pen at 5:30 pm to warm-up and do dynamic stretching. The weather was cloudy but hot at 30 degrees centigrade. Unfortunately, it didn’t rain a few hours prior as predicted by the weather forecast.

The gun started for the marathon category at exactly 6:05 pm and our Pen E crossed the starting line at 6:25 pm. The spectators outside the arena were cheering for us but it’s too bad that my girlfriend didn’t find me while filming our start.

The first seven kilometers were scenic. We crossed modern Singapore icons such as the St. Andrew’s Cathedral, National Gallery, Merlion Park, Fullerton Hotel, and other skyscrapers. The course was flat during the first few kilometers. There were cultural dancers, a Michael Jackson and an Elvis impersonator dancing on different stages in one of the spectator areas. I had a chance to meet and had a quick talk with fellow Filipino and Filipino-American runners at the race.

Then, the nightmare started on the 7th kilometer underneath the Keppel Road bridge. That stretch was as hot as an oven and there was a build-up because of the tight route. Many runners started slowing down because of these. Since I trained in the heat of the streets on Manila on a few weekends, I tried to take advantage by overtaking runners. I was running pretty fast with an average of 6 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer.

I walked for the first time after running for an hour for a toilet stop, intake of my first pack of GU, and get hydrated. Then, I resumed running consistently with an average pace of 6:45 per kilometer.

Loneliness started to creep in when we ran the West Coast Highway back to the notorious Keppel Road where I barely saw any spectator cheering for us. I guess they were either watching U2 live at the National Stadium or attending the C3 Anime Asia Con which happened on the same night. I even heard U2 playing live while running along the Marina Golf Course. Even worse, we went to that “killer tunnel” again. But I kept my focus on maintaining a solid pace and a stable heart rate. As usual, I took GU on time between hours two and three.

However, I started to slow down on the 26th kilometer and tried to conserve energy by executing Jeff Galloway’s run-walk strategy for one hour. My intake of GU energy gels drastically increased from every one hour to every 45 minutes because there were no salt capsules available at the Aid Stations.

I started to get mild cramps on both of my calves on kilometer 35. My heart rate was not slowing down either. I was starting to get hungry as well. Instead of pushing myself further, I walked for nearly 10 minutes until I regained momentum. At least, pretzels and watermelon were available at the Food Stations. Those helped us to minimize hunger and get some salt intake.

I gained second wind along the VivoCity route. Momentum started when I started seeing spectators including a bunch of cosplayers giving us high fives along and random Australian spectators giving fresh grapes within Gardens by the Bay. The weather started to cool down as I breathe the cool breeze of Marina Bay.

The final four kilometers were considerably tough for many runners including me. I completely slowed down by running with my worst pace of 8:15 per kilometer. We ran uphill at the stretch of Sheares Avenue and Republic Avenue. But honestly, I kinda enjoy running uphill.

Finally, I heard the roar of the crowd near the Helix Bridge and Singapore Flyer. I also saw my girlfriend cheering for me right before the final kilometer. I became really fast again running my regular pace of 6:00 per kilometer before seeing the finish line at The Float at Marina Bay. When I heard the male DJ mentioning “Three Stars and a Sun”, it further sparked me to finish the race strong. If I wasn’t that exhausted, I would have danced to the tune of “Footloose” played at the PA system.

I completed this year’s Singapore Marathon with an official chip time and NEW personal best of 5:08:42, seven minutes better than my previous best at Chicago Marathon 2017.

I went to medic right after claiming my medal, finisher’s shirt, and goodies to get my cramps treated.

FEEDBACK

PROS:

  • Beautiful medals — I’m not a fan of huge medals except if they have intricate designs. The medal ribbons are well-designed too!
  • Race kits — The official race kits were designed and made by one of their new sponsors Compressport. They are comfortable and great for the Singapore weather. The race kit design may look bland for other people. But, I prefer simplicity.
  • Well-organized — I couldn’t ask for more on how organized they are from the pre-race expo all the way to the finish line.
  • Scenic racecourse — Singapore landmarks along with its clean atmosphere can be been seen at the entire racecourse. If you are into joining a race with a hot tropical climate and interested to see all the landmarks of Singapore, this one is for you!
  • Photo & video coverage — The photographers of Finisherpix are top-notch! They made a great job of capturing the best shot of all participants. Forgot to mention that they have more affordable photo and video packages than many international marathons.

CONS:

  • That notorious Keppel Rd bridge — Running underneath the bridge is a pain in the butt.
    Tropical heat + Running under the bridge = Running with too much effort!
  • Lonely racecourse — Most of its course is lonely and lacking spectators, except for the designated areas such as the F1 Pit Building and near the Helix Bridge. It also caused traffic jams for those going on a holiday or watching the U2 concert.
  • Underprepared medics — They did not provide enough medical attention to the runners. I don’t know why they don’t have supplies of Tiger Balm spray during the later part of the race. They had bags of ice but no salt capsules.
  • Lay’s chips instead of healthier recovery food options were provided after crossing the finish line — I understand that Lay’s was one of the partners of SCSM but, we’d rather have healthier options like apples or high-protein granola bars with dried fruits.
  • Ice cold water supply is limited – This is important as the weather was very hot and we would appreciate a slight relief from the heat by drinking some cold weather instead of the room temp ones.

CONCLUSION:

Singapore Marathon is the most difficult race I have finished to date. The course is predominantly flat but the hot and humid weather and running under a busy road made it further difficult. Hoping for SCSM to learn from the runners’ experience and needs so they can improve drastically for 2020, particularly in the racecourse, post-race meal, and medical attention since they are bidding to be one of the next World Major Marathons. Otherwise, I truly enjoyed running in Singapore.

I will definitely join their half marathon by 2020.

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