As a self-proclaimed traveller, it still haunts me that I am still yet to visit a foreign country. In our society, especially for a 26 year-old bachelor with a CPA license, “money” reasons seems to be no longer applicable no matter how low my paygrade really is, haha. Thanks to running I finally found something to fix that problem: to run an international marathon in 2014! The list of Asian cities was longer than expected but, ultimately, I decided for Singapore’s Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS 2014) because, well, I dream of visiting the Lion City for over a decade!
The timing of the trip couldn’t be even more timely as my big sister, Gretchen, who is working in the Middle-East, will be spending the Holidays at home. So a 5–day trip to Singapore with her is perfect. SCMS is only meant a leisure run for me w/o representing a group or any company I’m connected with since I wanted to make the trip a family adventure, until we almost did not make it to travel. During the days leading up to the SCMS the Philippines faces once again a terrifying treat of a Super Typhoon named Hagupit, a year after our country suffered unspeakable devastation from Haiyan. Our home was only a 100km away from the eye of the storm and we were lucky to survive the storm last year. This time we were given the uncomfortable options to either stay at home or pursue the trip and the marathon away from everyone. We choose the latter. “Dad, it’s SCMS and we will regret it if we back out.”
By Saturday all Philippine races were cancelled, including the biggest one in the calendar, the 38th National Milo Marathon Finals. All runners have to brace for the typhoon Hagupit.
We arrived in Singapore the day before the marathon. What greeted us out of the airport is a beautiful city that seems to glow in the moonlight above, as down below on a taxi cab I knew I fell in love with Singapore. Expectations were sky-high for the race and the way the organizer handled all the pre-race activities from social media, email updates, to community training camps and to the collection of race kits, everything looks fine and well organized. I was amazed by the sheer amount of volunteers in the race kit collection at the Singapore Expo that I got mine in less than 15 minutes amidst thousands of runners turning out that same time. And the Expo is terrific, everything was there from running gears, sponsors, pacers, freebies and some walls to vandalize (literally) haha.
The race proper started at 5 AM, by Philippine standards it’s a very late time for a marathon gun-start. But I can’t complain, since the sunrise is also way too late to show up. I think it was at 8:30 AM when it got hot. The heat is not an issue, it was a challenge. By 9AM, it was scorching hot. Coming into the race, I knew I set myself up for a suffering of a lifetime. First, I’m out of shape and, nope, I won make my workloads an excuse. I have to save for months just to make this trip possible, it’s a necessary compromise. Which led to the Second reason, I lack training. So for my third marathon this year, I have to bank on my youthful strength to cross the finish line. I will be super slow but it has to be Fun!
And Fun I did have at the marathon! There were thousands of runners at the finish line. It’s the biggest crowd of runners I’ve seen. The starting line was festive at the Orchard Road highlighted by the Christmas lights all over the place. I positioned myself at the very tip of the first wave to take the pressure off. The first few kilometers were situated at the urban jungle, a large departure from the rice fields and shorelines I’m running at home. But somehow it felt home, I was relaxed and running my own race.
SCMS is a picturesque marathon especially at the earlier parts as we saw the familiar landmarks like the Singapore Flyer, the floating football field, Marina Bay Sands, the Merlion and the places I only got to see on postcards and internet. That day I was running through those places and that, my friends, is already worth the registration fee! And volunteers were everywhere, my God we don’t have that number even in our marquee running events. They were friendly, cheerful and always smiling. One thing I really found cute is the way I heard the volunteers offering Active “muscle rub” as “masarap” it’s a Filipino word for sweet. I smiled and appreciated those tiny moments.
The hard part really came when we entered the East Coast Park at KM15. The road out there is just too tight and narrow to handle a big crowd of runners. It took lots of effort to navigate through thousands of runners who were running and walking. It was too crowded out there that I just can’t catch up on the 5-hour pacers no matter how I tried to increase my speed.
The Decision at KM29
By the time I reached the rear end of ECP at KM29, I was tired already and I needed more than the gels I brought, I have to eat bananas. Based on the map it should be the Banana station. But to my dismay there were NO Bananas around, not even seen a single gel. I only brought three gels for Kms 10, 20 & 32 but with the sun punishing us deadly I knew I was in trouble. Then I overheard an Italian runner begging to the volunteers for gels or bananas at the same station. He was pale and really looked exhausted and without thinking I gave my last gel to him. You can call me stupid for giving it up that gel (my last nutrition for the remaining 14 kilometers of intense heat), but I don’t think I can run with a clear conscience if I leave a brother guy behind when I have the means to help him. It’s really no big deal. Singapore was one of the first nations to respond to my country after Haiyan’s devastation and donated P250 Million pesos for the rehabilitation.
You can call me crazy, but I wanted to suffer as much as I can bare. Look, I’m already running in Singapore, it’s already a dream come true but I left my home country that is facing a dangerous threat of a typhoon. A heat wave is nothing compared to the frustration of my fellow Filipino runners who were forced to cancel their SCMS or the chance to compete at the Milo Marathon, or how about the fear of possibly losing their homes, livelihood and loved ones just like in Haiyan last year. Finishing the SCMS is The only thing I can do for them.
And suffer I did at the “Death Valley” from the disappointment at KM29 came a really long stretch of construction valley that stretches for kilometers with no hydration and under the scorching heat of the Singaporean sun. I tried as much as I could to keep up with the 5:15 pacers but by the time we finally reached the next water station I WAS DONE. It’s just too hot, too hungry and too tired. I counted my mistakes and lapses on my training (or the lack thereof) and the marathon so far. The list was long haha. But hey I’m an accountant, and I figured it’s only 9 kilometers to go. The worst case scenario other than a heatstroke is a 6-hour finish. Not bad. Cge push mo yan! Puso! Puso! So I run my heart out and chose to celebrate this beautiful life on those last kilometers.
SCMS have this meaningful tagline “Run For a Reason”. I have so many reasons to run in SCMS. I run for my running buddies and family’s safety, for my country’s pride and most especially I run to thank Singapore. Failure was never an option. And my big sister, my biggest supporter, is waiting for me at the finish line, she’ll kill me if I gave up. 🙂 haha
I crossed the Finish Line at 5:59 on my watch! Big sister happily flagged me to pose for pictures 100 meters before the finish line. Click click! That’s my happiest moment of the marathon! I got my hard-earned medal and I felt massive relief that it’s over. Then I proceeded to take some victory pictures with my sister and checking up stuffs. Luckily (or shamelessly) I was able to take a picture with a cute 4-hour pacer, thanks Clarissa!
The SCMS has been a memorable international marathon debut for me. It got all the drama, the surprises and the promised suffering. I had a lot of fun running the race, perhaps even more from touring the City (it comes with the package). I gained positive experiences, new friends and a lifetime worth of memories. Sure it’s not a perfect marathon and has encountered some controversies after the race, but no matter what others may say I still love #SCMS2014! I promise to come back on the near future to race again, hopefully stronger and faster! Thank you Singapore, Daghang Salamat #SCMS2014!
Hopefully, next time the organizers will address these following issues to make a better race:
1. Advance the gunstart an hour earlier (or at least make it clear in the ad that it can be a scorching hot marathon)
2. Provide lots of Bananas and Gel. These stuffs could be lifelines to some runners.
3. Shorten the ECP part. The road there is too narrow.
4. No more Death Valley. We’re just mortals. 🙂
5. Install a courier option for runners especially those coming abroad. A few of my fellow Filipino runners, who stayed to face the typhoon, did not get their race kits.