Friday, June 22, 2012

Sundown Marathon 2012

What long-distance running is truly about is measuring ourselves against a challenge that exceeds simple arithmetic....It is about knowing how to cope when the world turns against you. Robin Harvie, Why We Run - A Story Of Obsession.

For the longest time, I’d imagined running in the rain being an exhilarating, more liberating experience. And it’s true, as I’d found out during my last pre-race run. A light shower turned torrential rain had me completing the last few km in thoroughly soaked shoes, accompanied by a concert of roaring thunder. I admit that it was, to a certain extent, an irresponsible and dangerous decision to proceed with my run but it was also undeniably fun; reminiscence of a carefree primary school kid playing in the rain.

The next few days were spent resting, in preparation for my first midnight marathon. Resting, to me, was also an opportunity to stuff myself silly with food, in the name of carbo-loading. I’d been looking forward to this. From indulging in a seminar’s buffet (with free flow of cod fish!) to munching large bags of chips (I needed sodium, I really did!) to carelessly choosing fried noodles for lunch to having mee rebus for supper, it was as if I’d forgotten how dreadful it was to have runner’s diarrhoea.

This was my fifth marathon. By now, I’d learnt to pack my race bag systematically and managed to fully utilise the few hours prior to the race; by taking a short nap and stretching. When I left my house for the race site that night, I felt good. I wasn’t aiming for a sub 4-hour finish given the humidity and odd running hours, but I thought I’d trained enough to complete a 42.195 km run, injury-free. I could have been more excited had the organizer kept its promise to include the west coast highway route.

There were, of course, advantages to the changed route. Looping at the convenient East Coast Park meant that the elevations were minimal, which offers runners an opportunity to achieve a new personal record. Running along the ECP was also undoubtedly safer than on the highway.

I was expecting chaos at the start line as both full and half marathoners were scheduled to begin their respective races on the same road AND at the same time. I’d positioned myself nearest to the start line, to avoid the hassle of untangling myself from the massive middle pack.

And so, my run started off just fine. For the first 10 km, I clocked a sub 1-hour spilt. The supportive bar-goers and cooling air at the Marina Bay Sands made this an absolutely enjoyable stretch. By the 16th km, when the full marathoners headed for the ECP via the newly opened Gardens By The Bay, I still felt fresh although it was already 2 am.

By the 20th km, I was tailing the 4-hour pacers comfortably, hoping to overtake them in the end. That would have been ideal. But sadly, it did not materialise. Before reaching the Bedok Jetty, I was hit by bouts of gastrointestinal discomfort. It was disturbing and frightening at the same time. I had to fix this before it, literally, blows out of proportion. I was also disappointed with myself, for being so gluttonous in the past few days. That must have, somehow, contributed to this disaster. I entered the nearest toilet across the road to unload while watching the pacers sped off.

By the second toilet break (which, like the first one, failed to unload anything), I’d lost sight of the 4-hour pacers completely. Frustration and the continuous discomfort made the run even harder now. The turning point came when I’d reached the 25th km mark, where power gels were distributed. Interestingly, after consuming just one pack, the bowels reacted violently and I knew this time, I would be able to flush it out. And I did.

Exiting the toilet and returning to the marathon course, I felt lighter (obviously) and somehow reenergized. I’d regained the enthusiasm to run this race. I turned on my MP3 player and quickened my pace. There was no room for remorse right now. I should enjoy this - the second half of my first Sundown marathon.

As I ran, strong winds blew from all directions. Branches shook. Leaves started to fall. It didn’t take long before the ECP was hit by a deluge of rain. For me, it started when I reached the 30th km mark. This will not stop me, I’d decided, and assured myself that it’d be more fun than my last pre-race run. Some had resorted to seeking shelter in the nearby tents while volunteers and traffic marshals braved the rain to provide support for the runners. It was inspiring. Thank you!

Exiting ECP and into a few construction sites, the water level was, at the lower points, ankle-deep. There were much fewer runners on the road now. I wasn’t worried about the downpour or fatigued by the additional weight on my shoes and clothes. Rather, I was enjoying the cool it brought, and that I didn’t have to stop at water stations to rehydrate anymore. Water from the sky was aplenty that morning. Titanium by David Guetta (featuring Sia) was playing repetitively on my MP3 player. Even now, when I hear that song, I am reminded of the rainy Sundown 2012. You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium.....

The finish line was near when runners returned to the Nicoll Highway from the new Sports Hub. The rain had reduced now. Crossing the finish line a few minutes later, this time, I’d remembered to flash a smile for the camera.

Many finishers, still wet, stayed in the large tent to avoid the incessant rain. The food stalls inside the tent were doing brisk business. I overheard some stalls ran out of stock! There was also a free massage session for all full marathoners, which was great. I took this opportunity to relieve my recovering ITBs.

The rain finally stopped around 6 am. I didn’t head home right away. Instead, I dropped by the neighbourhood wet market for a hearty bowl of mee siam and some fried beehoon. A few hours ago, the people around me were runners, huffing and puffing their way to the finish line in the rain. Here, families were enjoying their Sunday breakfast at a more relaxed pace. Strangely, I’d found peace amidst the clatters.

At home, I managed to sleep for a good few hours. Later, waking up to a cool, grey late afternoon, I went grocery shopping for the new week ahead, wearing my new Sundown 2012 finisher's tee shirt. As much vanity there was in wearing the smart-looking tee shirt, I was, honestly, also celebrating the joy of having endured what some runners claimed as one of the toughest Sundown marathons ever, given the heavy rain. For me, toughest includes dealing with irritable bowels. Lesson learnt (yet again) - carbo-load, not overeat.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Orbit and Supermoon

The Orbit

It was one of those days when I wanted to lunch alone, in my cubicle. That lasted 15 minutes, at most. With ample time to spare, and that the flu virus was spreading like wildfire in the office, I decided to catch some fresh air outside the building. As the sky cleared that afternoon, I took the opportunity to walk around the compound and later, circled the outer perimeter of the industrial cluster. I must say that I enjoyed this healthier way of spending my lunch hour. It was a good change from the usual routine of waiting for the bus to reach the food court, queuing to order my usual ban mian and spending extra money on coffee or tea that comes with conversations that do not interest me much.

As I walked on, patches of sweat appearing fast on my shirt, I realized how similar my life is with this circling, repetitive motion. It is dictated by commitments that keep us orbiting the same surrounding, day after day. I grinned when I thought of how this pattern also revealed itself in my usual physical activites - running loops and swimming laps! This is not meant to be a grouse but rather, a gentle reminder of how rewarding will all these commitments be in the end.


Did you manage to catch the supermoon yesterday?, asked a colleague. I didn’t know what it was until I did a quick search on the internet. Wikipedia explained this phenomenon as the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the moon's disk as seen from Earth. Oh, it seems like I’d missed the fun.

Approximately twenty four hours after the moon moved its closest to Singapore, I met an old friend for dinner. The timing was quite unfortunate, really, as I was required to attend a few late night meetings that week. But that particular night, I’d somehow managed to, tactfully, avoid the meeting. Besides enjoying a serious amount of ramen (3 whole bowls on the last count), I had a good time catching up with her. It’s been a long while since we sat down together for a meal. That few hours spent was my supermoon.


Towards the end of my walk that afternoon, I still couldn’t answer the question about rewards that I’d reminded myself earlier. But recalling the supermoon, I guess despite life orbiting the constant surrounding, it is a time like this, when the extraordinary appears, that makes the journey more worthwhile.