Monday, December 7, 2009

Bittersweet Singapore Marathon.

"Targetted 4:30. Attempted sub-4. Big mistake. Majorly cramped at km35 and finished with a 4:46. Shouldn't have been so ambitious"

That's what my facebook status and twitter said. And that pretty much sums up my Singapore Marathon.

At 5am Sunday morning, Senn and I found ourselves among the throng of runners out on Esplanade Drive. I was feeling nervous and my breakfast hadn't quite settled in yet. So here I was among the thousands of marathon runners and all I could think about where I was going to puke and will I get fined if I do it here in public.

I was also worried about hydration, as I felt I hadn't quite drank enough water in the week leading up to race day. Will I have hydrated enough to last me the 42.195km? No time to think about that now, the race is about to start.

And off we go. I started well enough, running at just below 6min/km easily. As usual, I started towards the back, so was weaving myself through the traffic. At this point, I still had my 4:30 target in mind.

By the first km, I had caught up with the 5:15 pacer. So I was looking good. 3km later, I caught the 5:00 pacer. I kept on running, trying to look for the 4:30 pacer. I started thinking there was no way I was going to catch him because if he was running towards a 4:30 finish and so was I, we'd be running at the same speed. I must have been about 5 minutes behind him (that's how long it took me to get to the start line) and at the same pace, he'd be impossible to catch. So I eased up, just a bit.

At about the 9km mark, I saw him: the 4:30 pacer. I eased up and ran with them for a while. 4:30 was the target and if I stick with them, I'll surely get it.

Then I got restless. I started thinking, "If I caught up with them this easily, surely, if I put in more effort, I'd be able to reel in the 4:15 guy and even the 4:00 guy."

Marathon tip: this kind of thinking is delusional and dangerous!

So off I went, hunting down the 4:15 guy. I picked up the speed a bit and finished the first 10k in 57 minutes. Hit the East Coast Park. Kept on running. And running. And running. Still no sign of the 4:15 guy.

Got to the turnaround. Still couldn't see him. Downed a PowerGel and kept on going. Hit 20k in about 1:55.

The return trip through the East Coast Park was a bit mind numbing. By this time, I can star feeling the lactic acid build-up in my legs. By km25, I was beginning to think whether the sub-4 was possible. I said to myself, keep going till 30km then decide. At km28, I started feeling the onslaught of cramps. Downed a salt tablet and it went away.

I hit 30k and the time on my Garmin said 2:57. If I put in a bit more effort, the sub-4 was possible. But my legs were already shot. At this point, I gave up on that and just wanted to get back to the finish line, hopefully in under 4:30.

35km. Bang. The cramps hit. It was everywhere. Both calves, the thighs,even the inner thigh on my right leg. I seriously thought my balls were cramping! Had to start walking and downed yet another salt tablet. By now I was stopping at every medic asking for the ointment or spray. 4:30 was gone.

Km36 was the longest kilometre ever. Every time I looked at my watch, it said 36.something km. And I looked at my watch at least 10 times! I also noticed the distance on my watch, and the distance markers were off by about 600m. My watch would read 36km, then 600m later I'd see the distance marker. That was mental torture. At this rate, going under 5 hours seemed impossible.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I hit 37km on my watch. By now the legs were feeling better. So I started running again. But every time I get into some kind of rhythm, the cramp would come back. So that's what it was like for the next five kilometres. Run a bit, cramp, walk. Run a bit, cramp, walk.

At 38km, the 4:45 pacer passed me. Now it was just a matter of survival. The 5:00 pacer couldn't have been that far behind.

At 4 hours 30 minutes, my target time, I had just passed the F1 pit buildings and still had 2km to go. Maybe, just maybe, if i suck it up and start running I might just be able to go under my PB of 4:52.

I started running again. It was like a second wind. It was a pedestrian pace but at least I wasn't walking. Crossed the Esplanade bridge. Turned right on to Anderson bridge. Now feeling in awe that I'm running on part of the F1 circuit. Turned the corner and there it was: the long straight leading to the finish line. No way was I stopping now.

The clock at the line read 4:50. My watch said 4:46. A new PB either way. Happy about that but disappointed that I missed my target and that I hadn't managed to run all the way. A bittersweet race.

Lesson to learn here is to not be greedy. I think I could have gotten the 4:30 had I not spent a whole lot of effort between km9 and 30 chasing the sub-4. But then it was one of those things that you have to try or you'll never know. In the end, I didn't get anything: no sub-4, no 4:30.

I guess I can console myself with the PB.

And the fact that I had run in one of the best organised races ever. Really well organised. From the race pack pick-up, to the expo, to the route markers, the excellent volunteers and marshals, the enthusiastic supporters all around the course, the adequate aid (drinks and medic) stations, the beautiful medal and finisher t-shirt, etc. It was a wonderful experience. Kudos to the organisers and everyone involved. Just to be able to experience such a well organised event was worth all the pain and suffering.