Sunday, May 27, 2012


The Sundown Marathon is a bit of a misnomer, because it starts at just after midnight, by which point it's been dark for ages. Perhaps if they'd started the race at 5 in the morning and called it the Sunup Marathon thay would have been more accurate, but they'd also have suffered more runners keeling over from heatstroke, the blood in their veins turning to the consistency of marmalade as they steadily dehydrated. Still, having previously competed in the Midnight Sun Marathon in Norway (it's a marathon, you finish after midnight, and the sun is still out) I do hanker after events with more appropriate names.

You should never do things in a race that you haven't tried out beforehand. So I was aghast to realise I'd accidentally brought a load of carbohydrate chews to eat that were laced with caffeine. Running places enough of a load on my intestines as it is, without coffee's fabled power to accelerate things, and I really didn't fancy hiding in a bush doing something that's probably illegal in public in Singapore, so the chews went back in the bag.

I've also not drunk 100 Plus in anger before. 100 Plus is the Malaysian / Singaporean answer to Pocari Sweat, which is the Japanese grapefruit-flavoured riposte to Lucozade, which is too sugary to drink during a race. Maybe I should have got accustomed to it, because at the water stations it seemed quite random whether you'd get given water (nice, cools you down) or 100 Plus (tastes revolting, makes your stomach churn and doesn't seem to assist your body's thermoregulation). Ah well. I learned quite early on that at every drinks station (and they were very generous - probably one every 3 kilometres) to throw two cups over my shirt to cool myself, and chance drinking one more.

That was because despite the race occurring at night, at least five hours after sunset, Singapore is still incredibly hot and humid. At the start of the race, crowded in with thousands of runners, the heat generated from all those bodies set my heart rate running ever higher. I was running an easy five-minute pace and still going at over 160 bpm. Even as the pack split up and there was space to breathe, I had to be careful not to run in anyone's slipstream, polluted as it was by all that hot sweat flowing off the person in front of me.

There's not much you can do to train for that, though, apart from run in a big crowd, and practise shoving to the front before the start. That's what rush-hour commutes are for, and that's an aspect that's been missing from my training while I've been able to walk to the office. For my next race, perhaps I can train by taking the MRT three stops north and then shoving on and off the train at each station.

Lots and lots of people had ipods or iphones. After Osaka last year, I had sworn off isolating myself from the crowd by wearing headphones, but there's no crowd at the Sundown Marathon to cheer you on, because all the sensible people of Singapore are tucked up in bed asleep, dreaming of future productivity enhancements. Well, there are a few drunks at the bars on the periphery of the Marina Bay Sands, and two drunken Hoorays ran in front of the runners trying to surprise them, because (apparently) drunken twats travel the world, looking for new ways to be twats, but apart from them there was hardly a person to be seen who wasn't a racer or a race volunteer.

That meant there was no crowd to urge you on, and I realise I miss that encouragement. At around 13km came the split between the half and full marathon courses, and this was heralded by a recorded announcement that kept telling us, in increasingly manly tones, that the 21k route was on the left, and the 42k route was on the right. Running into this mantra on a darkened road, with the voice almost drowned out by the aggressive croaking of the frogs, was spooky, although as this was just after the sewage processing plant at the end of the Marina Bay Barrage, I had motivation to run into it. (In actuality there may be no sewage processing plant there; I've never visited in the daylight to check. There's certainly an almost solid stink of shit there though.)

For the second half of the race, it felt like I was on my own; this was a relief after the starting phase when I felt I was never going to get out of the crowd, but also a little lonely. Because the race kit included a singlet, and because that meant three quarters of the runners were wearing their official singlet, it was hard to pick anyone out from the crowd and determine they were getting further away from you or closer. There was a chap running in a blue polo shirt and no race number, who appeared to have just turned up and started running, and didn't notice there was a race going on, and he appeared and then vanished in front of me several times. Or perhaps the hallucinations from the 100 Plus were really kicking in.

It's good to have some markers though. At 18k, long after the temptation to jack the whole race in and retire had dissipated, I saw a group of three runners about three hundred yards away. If they hadn't been there to reel in, I probably wouldn't have been able to lift my pace, but I caught them up with at least a k and a half to go, and got past them and some more runners before the final kilometre. There, my growling sprint to the line alerted the man in front of me, and he accelerated, beating me by a hundred yards or more. So much for my dream of being silently competent, picking off my competitors one by one.

Finished, my legs began to cramp like crazy, my quads refusing to let me walk. Luckily, a free massage was available so I got to discover quite how tight my legs were (bad enough for the masseur to tell me I really should do something about it) and then home. Well, not quite home; 45 minutes on the bus waiting for bus uncle to get ready to depart, and then an enormous rainstorm that made me feel quite sorry for everyone still running. At least the frogs probably liked it.


Post a Comment