42.195km – that’s the distance of the entire Pan-Island Expressway or twice the distance of the North-East MRT line. It’s also the distance that 40,000 runners clock on the first Sunday of every December. Why pay to torture yourself? Why put yourself through 5 hours of misery? What do you really gain from it? You’ve done it once, why are you doing it again? These questions form the perfect recipe to seriously annoy any marathon participant. Ironically, these are also the very questions that run through most of their minds as they enter the starting pen to await the flag-off. We were no different.
This year, both of us decided to enter the marathon scene once again. Here’s a quick review of our experience.
Race Entry Pack Collection: This was held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre over a period of three days.
While the collection process was seamless and efficient, we found the merchandise to be seriously wanting. The sizing was so large that I needed a shirt nearly 2 sizes smaller than usual (though the quality and design were good) and the drawstring bag was so fragile that it tore within 2 hours of light use. The same can be said of the mobile phone armband, which did not survive a day of actual use. Seriously tragic. Ironman Asia Singapore should consider taking a leaf from the student-organized National Vertical Marathon.
Thankfully, the exhibition area was well-executed. There was a board filled with the names of all 40,000+ runners as well as a huge cube for participants to decorate and sign their names on. There was also a VR technology demonstrator that was essentially a running “simulator” that allowed users to immerse themselves in virtual routes around the world while crushing miles on the treadmill. That could certainly make treadmill training a lot less dreary.
While we wandered our way through the maze of merchants, Bert was enticed by the Creative Outlier Sports wireless headphones that were sold at a 50% discount. After testing it and getting blown away by the sound quality and efficient form factor, he decided to buy it. We also purchased energy gels for the race.
Transportation: For several years, SMRT and SBS Transit operated special train services to transport runners to the race venue. That was no doubt the most efficient way to get runners to the start point. Sadly, this arrangement ceased in SCSM 2016 and did not return in SCSM 2017. Instead, shuttle buses were deployed to almost every corner in Singapore to ferry the runners, at $6 per seat, to the start line. While we arrived without a hitch, some runners complained that their shuttle buses were hugely delayed by congestion near the race venue. Please bring back the overnight train services!!!
Baggage Deposit: None of us made use of the baggage deposit service. This was a good decision given the huge backlash the organizers received as a result of the snaking queues that resembled the iPhone X and Gongcha queues. A two-hour waiting time to deposit one’s baggage is seriously otherworldly.
Mobile App: This year, participants and spectators could track the runners’ progress throughout the race using the “SCMS 2017” app, or at least they thought they could. Basically, the app crashed as soon as the race started and it was pretty much unusable for most of the day. Come on organizers!!! Don’t promise something you cannot deliver! Thousands of friends and family members of the runners woke up at 4am that morning to stare at your loading screen for hours…
While most of the review thus far has been spent bashing the organiser, credit should be given where it’s due – the race itself was actually really good!
We stepped into the start pen slightly after 4 a.m. and made our way to a corner to find some breathing space to do some warm-up exercises.
*Fun Fact: There are so many participants in SCSM that the Start Pen is longer than the distance between Orchard and Somerset MRT stations!*
The air around was still and really hot – largely due to the extreme human density. As mentioned before, our minds were swirling with a mixture of trepidation, regret, and excitement – feelings that most second or third-time participants can relate to. Thankfully, most of that faded when we hit the road; the lightness in my steps was confidence inspiring and we had to constantly reduce our pace to prevent ourselves from pushing too hard way too early. By the 5km mark, we had settled into a comfortable 5.45min/km – 6.00min/km cruising pace. Comfortable enough to chat and appreciate the sights of our beautiful country. This year, the East Coast Park segment was shortened and replaced by a longer city segment. There were signboards describing the landmarks that we passed along the way as if we were on a city tour on foot!
The overall route was definitely better – no weird underground tunnel segment, off-road trails or dusty construction sites. Shears Bridge (also known as the heartbreak bridge) was still there but hey, what’s SCSM without the good old Shears Bridge? Drink and food stations were plentiful, and unlike previous years, I never found myself wanting more bananas or isotonic drinks.
We met the usual crazy participants along the way:
- Man dragging truck tyre – checked;
- Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Power Rangers – checked;
- Barefoot runner – checked;
- Runner carrying massive Canon DSLR – checked.
As we weaved through the maze-like route, we finally hit East Coast Park at the 17km mark, where we were greeted by the warm rays from the rising sun. Our pace was creeping slightly above 6 minutes/km by then, which eventually got even harder to maintain.
Bert decided to take a time-out at 27km – the fatigue was kicking in and his knee injury was acting up. He mentioned later that he was also approaching his peak of exertion and was losing his focus (aka “hitting the wall”). He recharged by brisk-walking and gulping down an energy gel.
As usual, life after the 30km mark felt like an eternity. The numbers on my GPS watch seemed to have frozen in time and the 1km distance markers felt like 10km markers. No surprise there – we knew it was coming. As usual, the gears changed again once the 40km distance marker appeared – the excitement of finishing the race was overwhelming and the adrenaline kicked in to give me a final, powerful surge.
And, with that, the race was over.
Final thoughts: Whatever the reason is for taking part, one thing remains constant – a marathon should never be taken lightly; it should not be done simply because “YOLO”. Going in completely untrained is like making a death wish. 42.195km is a distance that will push the limits of anyone, regardless of age, experience or ability. That aside, the experience of finishing one is most certainly well worth the pain and effort.