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Running The Singapore Marathon

When deciding to do the Singapore Marathon there was a big question mark over it for a few weeks. I had just finished my first marathon at Auckland, but something told me I still had more to give. With all I’d learned at that race, plus a few more weeks of training, I was confident I’d be able to improve my time.

After a week of rest I decided to sign up. The biggest lesson from my first marathon was, if you never try, you’ll never know. And my months-long battle with TSW had taught me how important it was to do things while you have the chance. Life can change overnight.

What’s it like running Singapore Marathon?

Singapore was very different from my first marathon at Auckland.

It’s much bigger. 50,000 runners, around 15,000 for the full marathon. By comparison, Auckland had less than 2,000. Secondly, the weather played a big part. Singapore Marathon 2019 was also an evening race rather than a morning race. All these things combined for a very different and challenging experience. I’ll break this all down below, I’m sure you’ll see what I mean!

Signing up for the race

Singpapore Marathon is one of the biggest marathons in the world. The sign up is done through the Singapore Marathon website.

The registration will cost you anywhere from $90 SGD to $155 SGD, depending on whether you’re a local or foreigner, and how early you sign up.

It’s also worth hunting around for discount codes on various runner websites, as the marathon does give out quite a few. As an Auckland marathon finisher I received a discount code, but unfortunately it had expired by the time I signed up.

During the registration you will be asked your shirt size for both a running singlet to wear on the day and a finishers t-shirt that you receive at the finish line. They’re both pretty good items that will last a while, so make sure you get the size right!

You can also pre-order the photo package during registration. It will be more expensive to get it after the race, however, there weren’t actually that many photographers on the Singapore course. There’s a good chance they may only get 1 or 2 photos of you, especially since there are so many runners, and they may not be high quality since the race is at night. It’s bit of a gamble to pre-order them without knowing what you’ll get. You also get one free photo anyway with your entry.

Training

My biggest concern had nothing to do with weather or travel or anything external. I was mostly concerned with my body. I only had six weeks between the Auckland Marathon and the Singapore Marathon.

In Running To The Edge, the author talked about how professional marathoners can only compete twice a year because the toll on their body is so high. This caused me to be more cautious with my training and to actually tone down my training from the first marathon since I hadn’t had a chance to fully recover. Plus I hoped all the endurance I’d built up for Auckland would at least carry over.

I planned out my six weeks like this:

Week 1: Rest

Weeks 2 and 3: Mileage 25 km/week, gym twice a week

Weeks 4 and 5: Mileage 45 km/week, gym once a week

Week 6: A few short runs, race on Saturday.

As it turned out I was quite under-trained for the race, maybe an extra 10 fast kms per week would have helped a lot. But much advice also said it was better to be under-trained than over-trained. It’s hard to hit the perfect spot, especially for someone like me who has no running background and no coach. I’m kind of just guessing and figuring it out as I go along!

Diet

I was on the keto diet for all my Auckland training and was even 100% keto during the race. I also did all my workouts fasted except for maybe some ketones/electrolytes in my water. I actually felt great during all my Auckland training on this diet (I describe my keto diet in detail in my Auckland marathon post).

When training for Singapore I stuck with keto for most meals, but I changed this up a bit and started incorporating post-run carbs into my training. This meant I was eating ~100g of carbs after my workouts, mostly to try and beef up my glycogen stores. Some keto athletes also said post-workout glycogen helped a lot with muscle repair, so I decided to try it and see.

While it was nice to be able to eat carbs, I didn’t feel as strong. Normally after working out I would eat salmon, avocado, fish, lamb, eggs etc, and would wake up feeling brand new the following morning. Now I was replacing that with sweet potato, rice and fruit, then eating my proteins later at night and was feeling kind of flat. I felt this during the race too, which I’ll go into later.

So for me, pure keto is still a winner.

Athlete Check In

I actually love the Athlete Check-ins. This is where you go to pick up your racing bib, shirt and goodie bag a few days before the race. There’s a runners expo on as well and it’s just cool to have something like this to get you pumped up for the event.

The Singapore Athlete Check-In was at the Marina Bay Convention Centre. It’s easy enough to reach by MRT (Bayfront Station). It’s run over three days so you have plenty of time to go and check in.

They have all the usual things, like merchandise for sale, lots of running gear, info on other marathons and Singapore Marathon branded stuff. I actually ended up buying a running belt and some gels for the race. Anything you need for the run, you’ll find it there.

Race Day

Singapore Marathon 2019 was the first year they started the race at night. The official start time was 6pm. I had actually anticipated this being a good thing, as I hate waking up early in the morning.

The opposite turned out to be true and I’d say now I actually prefer to race in the morning. There’s a few reasons. First, when you wake up on race day you’re usually pumped and ready to go. You’ve left the schedule for the whole day empty and all you want to do is get on with the race. But with an evening race you wake up at 8am and have to wait until 6pm to race, that’s ten hours you’re just sitting around waiting to get started. Not only do you lose a lot of energy in that time, you also need to be mindful of everything you eat and do – you can’t eat anything too heavy, you need to stay off your feet and so on. By the time you line up at 6pm you can actually feel quite drained and all your adrenaline from the morning is gone.

This is somewhat how I was feeling when I got to the race venue. Being there got me a little pumped up, but nowhere near to what it feels like to be out starting a marathon at 5 or 6 in the morning.

The second reason I’d prefer a morning race is because the evening is super hot! At 3 or 4 in the morning, the air would have cooled a lot from the previous day, but at 6pm the air is still almost at peak temperature, even though the sun has gone down. The heat was actually one of the big killers for most people.

Singapore Marathon is a huge event so everything was much more controlled. Every checked bag went through security screening and every starting pen was heavily staffed and controlled at the entry point. I actually wanted to be in starting pen C (4 hours to 4:15 hours) but since I registered late the fastest pen I could get a place in was pen E (4:45 to 5 hours). I thought I might be able to sneak into C anyway, but there was no chance.

Another interesting thing was the half marathoners and the full marathoners started at the same time. I found this to be odd – surely 15,000 marathoners will make the course crowded enough, you really want to add in 15,000 half marathoners too? The pens felt very tight and everyone was already sweating before we even started, not just from the heat but from the crowd. Nights can be cool in Singapore sometimes, but on race night we weren’t so lucky. It was around 30-31 degrees when we got to the start line.

Because of the rolling start, the elites got the gun at 6:05 pm and my pen got the gun just before 6:30. We were off!

Kilometres 1-8

I had a goal to run 4:15 in this race. That meant my pace had to be around 6 minutes/km. Because I started in a slower pen than I had wanted, everyone was running around 7-7.5 minutes/km. That was actually fine as I had planned to start out slow anyway. However after the first aid station at 2km, I wanted to get on pace and I couldn’t. It was far too crowded to pass people or even weave through. The initial streets were narrow so everyone was just boxed in the crowd. I had no choice but to run 7 minute kms for the first 6-8 kms.

The aid stations were also sucking time. At Auckland, the aid stations literally had 200-300 cups at each table pre-poured, stacked four or five high and ready to go. Volunteers held them out for you and you could just run past and grab them without even stopping.

The aid stations at Singapore were nowhere near as organised – they had queues probably 5 or 10 deep, and the cups weren’t pre-poured (or they couldn’t pre-pour fast enough). If you wanted water, you had to stop and wait in line, wait for them to pour your cups and then get running again. They were super understaffed. At one station there was only one girl at the table I stopped at. When I got there she was fetching bottles of water from the boxes in the back, then she rushed over to us and dumped them on the table, opened one and started pouring furiously. There were about 7 or 8 of us holding cups out impatiently wanting to get moving again. My best guess is they had a lot of volunteers who didn’t show up for the day. Running an aid station table is at least a 3-4 person job, she was doing it alone! It was going to be a long night, I felt so sorry for her.

Since I was already running each km 1 to 1.5 minutes slower than I needed, and also losing probably 30 seconds at each aid station, any hope of finishing in 4:15 vanished by the 8km mark. I was already about 10 minutes behind pace and it would’ve required a miracle to catch up. I basically told myself to not worry about the time, just run my best, and have fun.

Kilometres 9-15

By now I was already soaked in sweat and the humidity wasn’t letting up. A few guys had already taken their shirts off, so I took mine off also and tied it around my head. This actually made a huge difference, I now had wind against my body to cool me down, and felt lighter too, and any water I poured on me actually hit my skin instead of just making my shirt stick to me even more.

This part of the race was pretty uneventful and just felt like a normal training run. The course was still crowded so trying to put on any speed would have still required some weaving through people, but nowhere near as bad as the first few kilometres.

Kilometres 16-21

This is where things started turning sour. I’d been dealing with some foot niggles all week, but it didn’t feel like anything serious. Then around the 15-16km mark sharp pains started in my foot. At first I thought it was just normal running pain. When you set out to run 42 km, it’s usually a given that your feet (and everything else) is going to get messed up at some point. If you zone in on the task the pain usually just goes away.

Unfortunately this time it didn’t “just go away”. Things got worse quickly and by 18 km my foot was in serious pain and buckling under weight. At this point I was convinced I had broken something, possibly a stress fracture or at the very least had a really f*cked up foot.

I actually remember saying out loud to myself “You’re in trouble”. 24km left, and no way out except to run every 24 of them on my own two feet. A horrible feeling came over me that I probably wouldn’t be finishing. On one good foot I knew I could beast-mode through 5km and maybe even 10km, but I knew 24 km was impossible even on my best day. My heart sunk as I thought about needing to pull out of the race.

It’s easy to talk a lot of shit before the race about how you’re a beast, how you’ll never give up, but when you’re staring it in the face like this, it’s not always the same words running through your head. Sometimes you’re forced to admit you’re not really as tough as you said you were.

What started going through my mind at that point was a Youtube running video I listen to during training. Near the end is a part that goes, pain is temporary, but quitting is forever. This starts playing through my head and I tell myself, no way you can stop here. If it turns out you can’t do it then you can’t do it, but the only way you’re going to stop before the finish line is if the ambulance comes and carry you off the course. As long as you can still take one more step, giving up now is quitting! I put my head down and went to work.

At this point, the goal was just to get to half way. In my mind, I saw that as the huge psychological victory I needed to win. After that I could chip away at the second half, and maybe we’ll make a miracle happen.

Because I couldn’t put much weight on my left foot, I had a new style of running, waddling a bit like a penguin and using my arms to push me through the air. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. Also motivating me was the fact that I was passing a lot of people! By this stage the heat was taking its toll, and half the course was already walking.

Eventually I saw the signs up ahead that split the course – half marathoners turn off to the left, full marathoners carry on down the right. I watched the half marathoners leave the course and a few minutes later, I hit the 21km marker. Half way! Time to turn on beast-mode and hope for some magic.

Kilometres 22 – 30

The name of the game here was mini goals. Every 2km there was an aid station, so I told myself to get to the aid station at 22km, then walk through it as you drink.

As I hit the aid station, it was pleasantly empty. With the half marathoners gone, the course was now far less crowded, there was no more waiting for water or trying to push through the crowd. I downed two cups of 100 Plus and sucked down an energy gel I had in my race belt. I told myself to get all the sugar I could get.

I walked through the aid station, gave my feet a rest, then slowly got running again. I used this strategy for all the aid stations up to 30km; run 2km, walk through the aid station. To be honest that whole stretch of the race is a total blur, I don’t really remember it. When I got to 28km, it felt like a miracle. I told myself if you make it to 30km, you can walk to 31.

I made it to 30.

Kilometres 31 – 36

Hitting the 30’s was a huge psychological win, but as I walked to 31km, things started to get a little depressing on the course. The mood was super glum and most people were walking by then. The heat was really f*cking people up in a bad way. It felt like nobody wanted to be there, including me.

I also noticed all the medical tents were full. There was a tent every ~2km, and it was always busy, at least 10-20 people at each one. I saw a few people on stretchers who looked semi-conscious, most likely heatstroke. And there was always a crowd of people spraying stuff on their legs. I’m not sure what it was, but it smelled like tiger balm and stung my eyes every time I ran past.

At this stage we’d been running for around 3.5-4 hours.

Running through the various parks, lots of people were sitting on the park benches. Some had taken off their shoes. I’m not sure if they were just resting and planned on continuing, or if they’d given up. One guy was laying against a railing, half conscious. He looked like he needed help. Then I saw the medic running towards him about 25m down the street.

A few kilometres on, a woman collapsed just a few metres away from me. She was probably the fourth or fifth collapsed person I’d seen in the last couple of kms. Luckily, the guy behind was close enough to catch her. He sat her up on the sidewalk. I continued running, and a few minutes later saw the medic running with the wheelchair and some ice. I pointed behind me and said, “She’s 30 seconds that way.” He nodded and kept on running.

Not long after that, a guy ten metres ahead of me suddenly turned off onto the grass and dropped to his knees. A bunch of us turned to see him vomiting loudly in the bushes. I didn’t sound pretty.

The last incident in this “death period” of the race was along a bridge towards the final loop of the race, around 36km. As I crossed, I saw a medic kneeling over a guy passed out against the railings. It was one of the pacers. As I ran past the medic was yelling into his radio, “I need some ice on the bridge please, right now, ice on the bridge.”

It was dismal. Nobody wanted to be out there anymore. I was thinking, I’m never doing this again. Just get me to the finish line.

Kilometres 37-42

Hitting the 37km mark was a huge victory. It was now 5km to the finish line. How many times have I run 5km in training? Sometimes I’d do that just for a warm up. There was no way I was going to be broken by 5km now, I was certain I’d be finishing this race.

But just as things started looking up, I got to a hill just before 38km. It wasn’t a small hill. It was a monster! When I think back on it, the hill was probably somewhere between 100m to 200m, but it felt like 2 kilometres at the time.

Some people say it’s best to walk up hills, because if you run up you use a lot of energy and don’t even move much faster than walking. But for me the hill is a more mental challenge. I like to run it as fast as I can and get it done as soon as possible.

I did my best to sprint up the hill, probably wasn’t moving very fast, but at least it felt fast. After conquering it I got to the 38km marker. 4km left.

Then somewhere around 39km, a bit of magic happened. While running into one of the final parks a guy suddenly stopped and hunched over, resting his hands on his knees. Just out of instinct, I gave him a tap on the shoulder and said “No no don’t stop we’re nearly there!”

Suddenly his head shot up and he started running beside me.

When we hit the 40km aid station, I stopped and slug two cups of water. As I finished I saw him a few metres away, waiting for me. He motioned me with his head to get moving. He had fire in his eyes and I could tell he was ready to smash these next 2 km with a sledgehammer.

I nodded and we took off.

By this stage, 90% of the course was walking. We weaved through the crowd, my splits say we were only running around 7:30/km but we were passing so many people it felt like we were flying. In Running To The Edge, he talks about how running as a group is always more powerful than running alone. Now I started to see what he meant. When someone is pacing you it’s far too hard to give up. When you’re alone, it’s far too easy.

I was even running normally now. At least, it felt normal. My foot had gone numb a long time ago, I couldn’t even feel it. We pushed and we pushed, but it felt like forever waiting for the 41km marker. At one point I was convinced the marker didn’t exist, that it had gotten blown down by the wind or something. There was no way hadn’t run at least a kilometre yet! But eventually I saw the 41km sign in the distance. 1km left.

There were a few spectators as we got to the final stretch into the F1 building. They cheered and it gave us a little boost to not give up. My foot buckled a little and I grunted, but he shouted “Cmon!” and we kept on moving. It wasn’t long before we hit 42km.

“200 metres left,” I said between puffs as we passed the sign. “Let’s do it,” he said back.

We followed the course through a little U-turn, then in the distance we could finally see the blue carpet and the finish line. It’s an indescribable feeling to see a marathon finish line. It’s an image you’ve been imagining not only for the entire race, but for all the months of training and hours of pounding pavement leading up to race day. When you see it in front of you, it’s a type of joy that could never be explained, it can only be experienced.

Obviously the first half of the course was empty by now, so all the photographers had gathered here at the finish line. There was nobody in front of us, just me and this guy, running side by side. All we could see was photographers click-click-clicking, it’s flash after flash, it felt like we were running for first and second at the Olympics. We picked our legs up and crossed the finish line side by side.

After taking a moment to catch our breath, we finally gave each other a hug and a fist bump. A few others finished just after us and we all enjoyed the moment with high fives and smiles and good jobs and well dones. All I can remember thinking is, what a motherfu*cker of a race. And how happy I was it was over.

Post race

To be honest, post-race at the Singapore marathon is kind of ridiculous. After you collect your medal, you’re then forced to walk around a kilometre to the finisher’s village. It’s literally the last thing you want to do after running 5 hours in the Singapore heat, but for some reason the organisers designed it this way.

To make things worse, to collect your finishers tee shirt they make you walk through one of those winding snake airport type queues, and not a short one either. I can vividly remember everyone’s sour faces as hundreds of us hobbled through this line for five minutes to collect our t-shirts.

One nice touch after the race is you do get a lot of freebies; a packet of Lays, a can of 100 Plus, a cold towel, a banana, a bottle of water, and a can of (zero-alcohol) Heineken.

The Finisher’s Area was also kind of disappointing. There were a few stalls, but nothing really happening, no food or drink for sale (or not much), it just felt a bit like an empty parking lot with lots of kids waiting to be picked up from school or something. Normally post-marathons should be quite celebratory, but at Singapore it was a bit dull.

By now it was also just after midnight. As the MRT was closed, getting home was a nightmare. Around 15,000 marathoners ran that night, so for about 1.5 hours we couldn’t get a cab or a Grab anywhere. I ended up wandering around with my parents trying to find a cab until we finally got home at 3am. Definitely not what you want to be doing after running 42 kilometres!

Final Thoughts on SCSM

For me, the event was just okay. Lots of the logistical planning was disappointing. In the lead-up they had talked it up as being a world class race but so many simple things they got wrong. For example; running out of energy gels at the aid stations, being understaffed at the aid stations, on-course entertainment consisted mostly of empty stages (didn’t bother me at all, but I did notice it), poor design of the post-race area. They all seem like pretty simple things (like, how do you run out of energy gels?) so I was surprised at many of them.

It also didn’t work out starting the half marathon and full marathon at the same time. Apparently this is the first time they did this, and it made the course super crowded at the start, we felt like sheep being herded in the paddock. Most races start the half-marathoners around an hour later, which doesn’t matter since the half marathon finishes about 2-3 hours earlier than the marathon anyway. Maybe there was a reason they did it that way, but it seemed odd to me and made the race a lot less enjoyable for both groups I’m sure.

As for the course itself, it’s not too hilly but still super challenging because of the weather. The humidity increases the difficulty by more levels than you’d expect. Racing at night is also quite special, even though it’s much hotter (at least at the start).

Overall, it was a good one to add to my running résumé, and I learned a lot. Probably not a course you’ll PR on, but if you’re up for a challenge, it’s a good one for the collection.

Good luck!

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