A friend of mine, Judy Liew, ran the Sundown Ultra Marathon in Singapore last year. It was a 100km race—seemingly an impossible distance for a footrace with a cutoff time of 18 hours. But when Judy finished it in over 16 hours, my running buddy, Dr Peter, was inspired to try running that distance too this year. Initially, I thought it was a ridiculous distance to attempt; I dreaded the kind of commitment required for the training to conquer the feat. But because Peter wanted to do it, I somehow convinced myself to give it a shot too!
We waited for the launch of the race since last year. But unfortunately, as the months passed, there was no news on the status of the Sundown Ultra Marathon. By early this year, there were rumours flying around, that the Sundown Ultra Marathon has been cancelled; and only the usual marathon (42km) and the other shorter distances would be organised for 2012. I did not lose hope though; I think it must have been around March when I was searching for the Sundown Ultra Marathon online when I stumbled upon the Sundown Marathon instead. Well, it was fast approaching the closing date for registration, so I thought I'd just register first to keep my options open for the time being. And if I should decide to withdraw at the last minute, then at least I would arrange for someone to collect my running vest.
But then after I had registered for the marathon, I felt it would be a waste not to actually run it!
And so, last Friday I arrived in Singapore to run the Sundown Marathon shortly after midnight on Sunday morning. I had of course run quite a number of marathons by now. But I've never been any good at running night marathons. I have run 2 other night races before this, i.e. the Energizer Night Race in March 2010, and the Penang Bridge International Marathon in November 2010. The former (of which I only ran the half marathon) started shortly after sundown, whereas the latter started at 2am. And in both cases, I struggled to finish, let alone achieving personal best (PB) times. Therefore, I approached the Sundown Marathon expecting not to do very well. I have achieved a PB of 4:07:30 for the full marathon in Hong Kong last year. Then in December I did a 4:11 in Macau. Yet I had only targeted a 4:20 for the Sundown Marathon, thinking that that was a modest expectation.
Actually, the Sundown Marathon can be quite misleading—I think it should have been named the Sunrise Marathon as opposed to Sundown. The race was flagged off at 12:30am. I tried to catch some sleep in the afternoon, but my body clock wasn't cooperating. So I spent my time walking to the race venue from my hotel. It turned out that a leisurely walk took up to 20 minutes one way. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon watching reruns on tv in the hotel room.
At about 11:30pm I started out from the hotel to the race venue. As I was approaching the starting line, I was surprised to see the size of the crowd from the overhead bridge above—a sea of people! It reminded me why I don't enjoy the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.
After the flag off, I took a few minutes before I finally crossed the starting line. It was so difficult to run in such a crowd. And it took a long time to disperse too. But eventually, at about Km5, the crowd began to thin out a bit, and I was able to run more comfortably. So I started to build up some speed to make up for lost time. But still it wasn't very fast—I did the first 10km in an hour or so; and then the 21km mark in 2:05, which was quite slow considering that I just did a 1:55 half marathon (21km) in Brunei a few weeks ago. I thought I was on target for a 4:20 full marathon. But it wasn't meant to be.
Singapore is warm and humid at night, much the same as in Malaysia. It's strange that I started feeling tired shortly after the halfway mark. In my mind, I knew that it would be a struggle from then on. I kept my pace steady, however, up to about 25km when suddenly it started to drizzle. I was still in the East Coast Park then. I thought the drizzle was quite a relief as I could at least cool down my body. Unfortunately, it developed into a torrential rain with strong winds. All the runners were totally wet. My shoes were filled with water and they felt like they weighed a ton!
As I continued running, my legs grew increasingly exhausted, and by about 35km I could already feel the cramps in my left quads. I compensated my weight with my right leg, but eventually both my quads cramped up. And then the rest of the race was mainly a test of mental strength. I walked for a bit when the cramps were too unbearable; and started to run again when I felt better.
I fought on for what seemed to be an eternity (when one is in pain, time seems to pass extremely slowly), between the rains, and braving some uneven running surfaces and dark sectors of the route, I finally turned into the last stretch of Nicoll Highway again. By then I realised that I had failed to achieve my target of 4:20; not even 4:30. In fact, I eventually finished the race in 4:32:58, way adrift of my target!
One of these days, I want to try to run another night marathon. But I doubt that I would attempt the Sundown Marathon again. The crowd was just too ridiculous. I think perhaps the organiser should seriously consider flagging off the half marathon and full marathon categories at different times; say at least 30 minutes apart; perhaps even up to 60 minutes apart. Maybe that can reduce the size of the crowd at the starting line somehow.
But other than that, it was a well-organised race. Sufficient drink stations, and the distribution of finisher medals and finisher T-shirts at the end very efficiently done. For those who have not experienced a night marathon before, the Sundown Marathon is one which they should try.
Well, back to the drawing board! I need to fine tune my training and running strategy for the Standard Chartered KL Marathon in a few weeks from now. Let's see if I can achieve 4:20 for that race!