Running the Macau Marathon was perhaps my most realistic experience in this dreamy city of colossal architectures that truly come alive when the neon lights fill the night. Realistic because there's a 5-hour time limit to adhere to and a target of breaking my personal record. So, I had to be more focused in this race. As there were no pacers, I'd relied heavily on my watch to check my pace. Running in this foreign land added to the many unknowns in the race. What are the elevations like? Will it be too cold? How long and high is the Ponte de Sai Van? But I was excited and looked forward to this race, my 10th full marathon to date.
A light drizzle welcomed the runners, like an opening ceremony, as the pen opened. By 5 am, when the race started, it got heavier. Shoes were drenched, but the temperature was low. As crazy as it may sound, I rather enjoyed this unexpected running condition. There were 2 loops to be completed in this race, covering the Cotai Strip and central Macau Peninsula via Ponte de Sai Van. The first loop was mostly run in the rain, which meant lesser stops at the water points for me. Crossing the ponte for the first time, the view of the famous casinos and hotels shinning brightly in the dark was amazing. My pace was still within the sub-4 hour limit as I climbed to the highest point of the race - the top of Ponte de Sai Van. That was encouraging.
When I strategized for this race, despite the unknowns, I asked myself what contributed to my first sub-4 hour finish at this year's Standard Chartered KL Marathon, besides a controlled diet and sufficient sleep. The list included a few packs of power gel, MP3s during the second half of the race, and taking advantage of every descend by speeding down as fast as I could. I tried to reapply that so-called SCKLM formula in Macau.
The first loop ended with a sub 2-hour finish, so my confidence grew. By now, the city began to brighten up, but the clouds kept the sun in hide. Temperature was in the comfortable sub-tropical wintry range and it was still drizzling. To not lose my pace, I trailed behind a fellow runner of the similar speed until he sped towards the ponte. During the second loop, I was more aware of my surroundings. By now, I was able to identify some of the nearby Macau landmarks - Wynn, Mandarin Oriental, MGM and the stunning Grand Lisboa, as I ran along Avenidas Dr. Sun Yat Sen and Dr. Stanley Ho. Reaching Avenida Panoramica do Lago Sai Van signfied the completion of 35 kms. There were only 7 kms to go. Or so I thought. The fact is, the course was over-distanced by 2 kms. I mentally recalculated the time required to finish the now 44 km race within 4 hours and realised that it was still achievable if I maintained my current speed.
A marathon race with a completion time of below 5 hours is, in general, demanding. To me, Macau Marathon was more competitive than other races that I've participated in. I observed a higher average speed among runners here. It was inspiring but intimidating at the same time. But this was a race against my own personal record. Even I were the last to cross the finish line, I'd still be satisfied if my previous personal record was broken.
When I ran along the Avenida dos Jardins do Oceano again, I knew that I was approaching the finish line. The road from here to the Olympic Sport Centre Stadium was mostly flat, so that's a relief. Still clocking an average of 5 minutes per km, I just needed to maintain this pace and run steadily towards the finish line for my second sub-4 hour finish. But could I bet my personal best time at SCKLM?
At the last few hundred meters, I was greeting again by the large poster of Eason Chan's DUO concert, taking place a few weeks from now. Oh, I did mention that I'd run with MP3s again for this race? Yes, music did provide me with some distractions, and that's especially true when the playlist has been updated and randomized (for some suspense).
Runners had to make an almost complete loop on the stadium track before crossing the finish line. From far, I was able to see the electronic timer. Unless I collapse halfway along the track, I should be able to hit my second sub-4 hour marathon. And I did. I'd also broken my previous personal best by a good 6 minutes. Technically, it could have been better since the run was over-distanced. But that's okay. There's always another time for that.
I spent the next two days celebrating the end of another marathon in Macau with my family, visiting some of the most popular Macanese eateries in town. At Taipa Village, we tried O Santos and the limited pork chop burger (which we found later at the Venetian as well, despite the more expensive price tag). By the way, Lord Stow's Portuguese egg tarts can also be found at the Venetian! At central Macau Peninsula, we went to Tou Tou Koi at Travessa do Mastro for some old-school dim sum, savoured a few Portuguese egg tarts at Margaret's Cafe e Nata and my favourite, shrimp roe noodles, braised pork knuckle and poached carp skin from the legendary Cheong Kei along Rua da Felicidade. These eateries were conveniently located within walking distance from Senado Square, which also leads to the ruins of the church of St. Paul, the main tourist attaction in Macau. And what better way to cap the trip with, well, besides investing in a few rounds of Sic Bo, a spectacular show from The House of Dancing Water in the City of Dreams.
Finishing the Macau Marathon with a new personal record was sweet. But more significantly, the race marked the completion of my 10th full marathon, a goal I'd set for myself in 2012. Throughout the year, I'd tried to train as consistently as I could (even if it involved sacrificing my social life) and read a few books on running to keep myself psyched up. In the process, besides improving my runs, I'd learned quite a bit about life. Running has made me more patient, tolerant and respectful of others. Physically, I'm fitter and although mortality is still out of my control, keeping up with a healthier lifestyle by eating well and working out regularly has led to less flu and common cold. What a good run, 2012!
I hope 2012 has been kind to you too. Here's wishing you a very happy and blessed 2013, my friend.