Sunday, 8 June 2014

Race Experience Rantings : Sundown Singapore 2014

There I was standing and waiting at the Singapore F1 pits near the Singapore Flyer with my buddies. It was hot and humid. I was already sweating buckets even before race started. In fact, I was already losing too much fluid the day before when we arrived for Sundown Singapore!

6 hours before the race started, I was already trying to keep my “cool”; both mentally and physically. My short nap in my air condition room wasn’t helping much and I flushed down on fluids regularly. I woke up to find Colin chilling at the lounge area of where we were staying; just in time for the others to join us for a small pre-race snacks and banter. Later, we bid good luck and send off our friends who were racing the 10K race.

Photo courtesy of Leen.
Standing at the start pits with thousands of other marathoners; conquering the night and roads of Singapore is astonishing and exciting. But that night we had the humid weather to accompany us. I was told much later it was about 35 degrees. That’s like standing under the hot afternoon sun! Trying my best to keep upbeat and calm while the live entertainment was going on. I slowly made my way closer to the start line; losing both Ying Hui and Thian Hui who were doing a faster pace. I lost the others way before we entered the paddocks! I saw the 4:30 pacers at a corner and made sure I passed them; telling myself that I wouldn’t want to see them throughout the race.

It has been 12 weeks of constant and dedicated training with ACAC (Athlete’s Circle Athletic Club). I was just fresh from my HM PB at 2XU SG back in late February and I almost immediately started the programme with fresh determination that I would surpass my FM PB. The target was to achieve my Sub 4:30. A few days before, Coach Edan briefed me through a race pace according to my current performance and well being. I thought he was completely nuts when he told me I could sustain at a much faster pace than I originally initiated. I told him I’ll do my best and if I couldn’t do it, at least I tried.

Random thoughts raced through my mind when I waited for the countdown. I quickly looked back at the pacers again, turned to front and said a prayer. I prayed that for whatever it may come, my feet will continue to bring me forward to the finishing.

The race started on time; 11:30PM sharp.

Deep breathes in and off I went. It was difficult to keep at my strategy pace as majority of the runners kept pushing forward fast. I removed the music from my ears to hear my surroundings. I haven’t put them back on since. My senses went on overdrive.

In less than a click, the 4:30 pacers passed me!

Bollocks! What the hell is happening?!

I kept thinking this is extremely bizarre for them to push out so soon into the race. I glanced at my watch and looked at my pace. “Stay calm. Don’t burst out so soon”, I told myself.

The first part of the race was at Nicoll Highway and has a very straight, flat road.  I slowly overtook and slipped through as many runners as possible. The plan was great until we were forced to stop a couple of times at junctions along Stadium Boulevard and Stadium Walk for traffic. Some of drivers cursed at us and some of the runners retaliated with words and “bodily gestures”. I was annoyed but I didn't want to let my emotions to get the best of me. I let off a huge loud huff as I went along.

10K – Jolene had advised me earlier on to at least sustain a strong first 10K and let the rest take over; which I managed to do. I managed to hit my timing right on the dot, My race strategy was followed according to plan despite a bumpy start. And then.....

The crazy mental part of ECP. Looks ridiculously long than anticipated.
12K – 33K something/whatever la -  The dreaded ECP stretch. The most feared route for any marathons or races held at Singapore. Infamous for its concrete paths, over smooth tar roads and occasional narrow paths. Couldn’t blame the organizers but there really isn’t much road in Singapore to race a marathon fully on road alone. For some strange reason, lights would go off randomly along the route and I tripped and stumbled a few times with other runners. It also happened along the dark, uneven roads before entering ECP. It was disheartening that I couldn’t regain my momentum but I was determined to soldier on.

Somewhere along the 15K, I knew I was behind time but determined to hold on to my strategy given by Coach Edan. Nutrition wise, at least. The humidity was no help and the sounds of waves from the beach couldn’t put a smile on face. There was just no wind and air was stiff. I started feeling dizzy and drenched myself in every water station possible.

Then the heavens opened as I passed just right after the half way point. I couldn’t be more grateful as the cool rain poured over me and I picked up the pace. However, I feared the same situation 2 years back when it rained continuously for almost 3 hours and I cramped up badly. But alas, the rain was short lived and it radiated heat from the ground.

“Great......Just great!” I whispered sarcastically to myself.

I felt like every inch of my pour soul has been sucked out of my body and I was forced to occasionally walk. I could feel my shoes heating up and pain started to inch through the soles of my feet.

My mind was playing tricks and I kept “threatening” myself not to hit the wall. I was extremely tempted to jump right in front of an ambulance that was coming towards me but the thought of looking like a suicidal lunatic retracted my decision.  I didn't know why I had thoughts of doing that. VERY unlikely of me.

“Hey dude. You've trained so hard. The countless hours, the early mornings and late night runs. Don’t give up. It’s a waste if you just give in now”. Thoughts started to pour out.

OR there was the occasional crude thoughts like. “Oi Bugger! Giving up so easily because of heat? You’ve been through this before. Run all you can, walk if you need, crawl if you must. Stopping and not finishing is not an option!”

At this point, I was somewhere close to 30K. I glanced at my watch and told myself a Sub-5 seemed achievable at this rate and point. Go for it!

And off I went.

33K – to the finishing (or so I thought) – I couldn’t be happier when I left ECP park and landed my feet on the more common roads of Singapore. I screamed out at the top of my lungs “Good Bye ECP and Good Riddance!” The others runners around me glared at me like a crazy man but I couldn’t had cared less. I’m just glad that I have another 9K to go.

Despite feeling tired, I still felt fine thought I was running much slower that I needed to. My shoes and socks were still wet and I suspected a few of my toe nails were about to come off. It made even harder to push on when I came across a few familiar faces on the road and they were struggling too. I couldn’t believe at the sight. These were the people who usually would have finished the race by now and here they; as we try to take over each other from time to time.

Happy can jump around after a FM.
Photo courtesy of Leen.
Back on the ECP Highway, things got interesting. I’ve been warned before about a certain stretch with an elevation “that seems to never end”. It’s probably about the only high elevation throughout the whole race but its one tough cookie to swallow. None of the runners around were running up that stretch including myself. Not a single one. And mentally calculated there were at less about a 100 of us. I tried to jog a bit but gravity seems to pull you back a bit more.  

The boys!
Photo courtesy of Leen.
 By the time I’m done, passed Marina Bay and in we went to finish off the remaining 3K. My mood was picking. The marker doesn’t seem to jive right with my watch and I’ve already overheard a few of the runners I’m running with saying the same. It didn’t matter as I pushed on. And then when my watch hit the 41K mark and I still felt that I was far away, I knew this was a race that was going to be over distanced. The question is how much more?

Then my watch clicked at 42K; just below 5 hours (barely at 4:56) but I told myself “Good Job, Andrew. No PB this time but its one heck of a run despite the tough conditions”. It’s true that I couldn’t be much more proud. I thought I wouldn't have survived the entire race well.

By the time I crossed the finishing line, it was 5:04 (nett). I didn’t cry like I used too but I stood in silence for a while near the barricades. I closed my eyes and absorbed the feeling that was coming to me. I said “Thank you” and walked myself to the welfare tent. And soon much later after that, I meet up with the rest of the guys who had earlier finished their respective races or awaiting the others who had yet to return.

The AC Team! Post-Race.
Photo courtesy of Leen.

Conclusion (Post race) - Many had asked me whether I was disappointed at the race? Whether I was sad that I didn’t achieve my PB? Was I angry at the conditions and etc. The answer is NO.

I have no regrets what so ever doing this race despite knowing my fears of ECP route or whatever that came in my way. There are days when you win some and you lose some and I’ve try to learn from the good and bad from both.

Photo courtesy of Leen.
 Achieving a personal best is a bonus and testament of your hard work. But that doesn’t mean not achieving it is any much less of a credit. I’ve learned a lot from this one race alone. We may come prepared in many ways physically but the will and determination plays a big role as well. I’ve just over shot my PB by just a mere 23 minutes and I can still proudly say that this is still my 2nd fastest Full Marathon. I take that as an achievement too! To add on, this is the first time I’ve never cramped for a Full Marathon! Looks like the nutrition plan worked.

I quote from one of my sports heroine, 4-time World Ironman Champion - Chrissie Wellington.
“Seize every opportunity you have, embrace every moment. Make a mark, for all the right reasons”

 A great big thank you to my buddies at ACTraining for being there for all of us in Sundown Singapore and Coach Edan and Jolene for guiding us through this crazy 12 weeks.

All in all, I would say that Sundown Singapore 2014 was awesome despite the humidity. Will I be back again you say? You bet I will. 

PS:/ By the way, another Sundown series to go. Sundown Johor, here I come!

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