7 June 2015, Sunday
The day has finally arrived. It’s race day. And it’s not just any race day. It’s SEA Games marathon race day. It still seemed so surreal as I stepped onto the Kallang Practice Track and lined up behind the starting line, shoulder to shoulder with all other elite marathoners in the region on that cool, drizzling Sunday morning. When I first started running competitively four years ago, it was simply a pursuit to better my personal best. Never did I thought I would have a chance to represent Singapore for SEA Games. It was a wonderful opportunity and I really treasured it. Thank you SAA for the nomination and SNOC for the nod of approval.
The night before the marathon, I was in bed by about 9.45 pm. As I lay on the bed, I could feel and hear my heart still pumping wildly, much faster than any other normal day. It took me a while before I finally drifted off to sleep. Despite the few hours of sleep, I woke up easily when the alarm sounded at 3.15am. It felt as if I had not slept at all and if I did, I had slept lightly. Breakfast was three slices of bread with peanut butter, a small banana and a can of coffee. Rachel and I then went down to the hotel lobby at 420am to meet up with marathon guys, Ashley and Ruiyong, Coach Rameson, Physio Emily.
The group of us boarded the shuttle bus and arrived at Kallang Practice Track shortly later. As Rachel and I were still clad in Yonex Team Sg attire, we headed for the toilets to change into our race attire immediately. Then we walked towards the track where many other athletes were already jogging and warming up.
Rachel and I put our bags down and also started jogging on the track. A short while later, we were called to the call room and were given a time chip for our shoes. After securing the chip, we continued with our warm up along the track. Soon, it was time to report to the call room again. The officials called out our bib numbers and arranged us to stand in a line. I could feel the tension in the call room. It was all so serious as the officials sounded really strict. We then sat down in the same order and wait. We were not allowed to go anywhere (without an official) from this point onward. There was some waiting as apparently, there was a lightning risk. Thankfully, at close to 6 am, we were ushered out onto the track to start the race. I was getting more nervous by the minute. I think it was all shown on my face as I could hear Jackie shouting out to me when we started our first lap around the 400m track. ”放松“ (relax) he said, reminding me to relax .
The marathon started promptly at 6am sharp. The men naturally took the lead and set the pace. The female runners followed. I went with the flow and tucked myself right behind the pack, just behind Rachel. The first round went by so fast that I did not recall running the 400m at all.
There were many supporters standing just below the grandstand cheering for all of us. Adrenaline pumping, I continued to follow the female pack as we completed another lap around the track before heading out towards Tanjong Rhu. Saw a dear old friend, Emily cheering for me as I exited Kallang Practice Track. Many F1 runners were outside cheering for us too. I kept running, focusing on the pack ahead. They were gradually pulling away. I was hoping I could at least kept sight of them before we reached East Coast Park.
My Garmin registered 4:04″/km for my first km. “Gosh, this is too fast”. Still, I was already falling behind the female pack and the gap widen as we ran towards Tanjong Rhu Bridge. By the time I cleared the Tanjong Rhu bridge and ran towards Fort Road, I could no longer see the guys. The women have also broken up, with a pack of 6 leading the front and the rest scattered behind. I could see Rachel from a distance. She was in 8th position and slowly catching up with another female runner ahead. I was 10th and the last runner. My split for the 2nd km read 4:19″/km. “Still too fast. I’m going to kill myself later if I continue at this pace.” So even though I was reluctant to see myself dropping so far behind the other runners, I forced myself to slow down some more and ignored the gap that was widening between myself and the rest. I have planned to run my own race and I better stick to this plan. At the right-hand turn into ECP, I could see Jackie and many runners who were cheering for us at Kallang Practice Track running towards ECP from the adjacent side of the road. Jenny and Jasmine were there too, ever their bubbly selves, cheering loudly for me as I ran past. Lexus was encouraging and assured that I was running at a good pace. I pressed on, knowing the difficult and mental part of the race was approaching.
It was still dark as we entered ECP. We continued running on the service road before making a right turn onto the runners’ path. Here marked the start of the 5km x 5 loop inside ECP. Realising that 5km mark was approaching, I kept a lookout for the first water point where we would be retrieving our bottles (which we deposited a day earlier). Got a shock when I realised that neither one of the two bottles left standing on the table belongs to me. I continued running without picking any bottle. Thankfully, further down the road, there was a water point with cups of water available. I quickly grabbed two cups, one to quench my thirst and another to pour over my head to cool myself.
At 5km, my split reads 4:31″/km. I was finally settling comfortably into my target race pace. Though my average pace was still 4:22″/km (having started off faster than expected), I was feeling less flustered than before and was determined to stick to this pace for as long as I could. There was no rush to catch up with the rest anymore. Marathon is a long race. I was contented running at this pace and if I am going to finish last, so be it. Saw the pack of marathon men’s flying past on the other side of the road. The pack of 6 female runners was still sticking together, looking strong. As I approached the toilets at B1 carpark, I saw Rachel’s hubby, Zili with his 5 year-old daughter, Charlotte, holding onto the cute banner they did for Rachel. Both cheered for me as I ran past. Not too long later, I saw Rachel on the other side of the road, looking fresh and focused. We cheered for each other. Some distance behind her were two other petite female runners (both from Timor Leste), one was clad in a purple vest and another in a red Asics vest. They seemed to be slowing down and were just slightly ahead of me. As I approached the u-turn point ahead, Jasmine, who was running up and down the stretch cheered loudly for me. Spotted Jackie and many more supporters just before I u-turn. I was very touched to see some supporters and park-goers on the other side of ECP as well. Some whom I do not even know cheered loudly for me as I ran past.
Time check at 10km: 44:30min. I was 30 secs ahead of my target 45min for the first 10km. With the sky brightening up and the crew holding up a signage with Singapore flag as I approached the table, I identified my bottle easily. Straight up ahead, I could see still see the two athletes from Timor Leste and was slowly closing up on them.
Overtook the girl in red Asics vest, just before I did the u-turn for my 2nd loop. I then set my sight on the girl in purple vest ahead. I caught up with her soon and we ran alongside each other for a while. Feeling motivated that I was not the last anymore, I pressed on to keep up with the girl. Eventually, I managed to pull away from her and was once again running on my own. The day was gradually brightening up. As I ran towards carpark C, I kept a look out of my family and friends on the other side of the road. A really huge banner caught my eye first. Wow, I knew s29 is going to make a banner, but I have not expect this size! It’s really huge! I spotted my family and Jurong Safra Running Club together with them. I cheered up immensely and looked forward to meeting them as I did the u-turn.
However, I got a nasty shock after the u-turn when a strong head wind started blowing. More effort was required to run against the wind, and my pace began to drop. At 15km mark, my watch reads around 1:07:45, average pace is now 4:30″/km, which was my target race pace. But with the headwind along that particular stretch of ECP, I began to doubt if I could sustain the pace any longer.
Started on my third loop and I pressed on. I wasn’t feeling as good and confident as before. I could feel myself slipping away from my target pace as the first sign of fatigue set in. Not long after, the girls whom I overtook earlier on caught up with me one by one. I was once again the last runner. I wanted to try following the girl in red vest ahead but I just could not keep up with her and have to watch her fade into the distance. I saw one of the female runners, wearing shocking pink compression socks, who was initially with the front pack slowed to a walk. I came to know later she is Jane Vongvorachoti from Thailand, with the best personal best time of 2:40:40 for marathon among all female marathoners. She did not finish the marathon in the end but went on to compete in 10,000m track event a few days later and emerged 3rd place.
I could not remember when did the rain come. It just poured suddenly halfway through the run (I don’t even remember which loop I was doing then). I was feeling miserable as the rain slowed me down more so than ever. I was also worried for all the supporters who were standing under the rain cheering for us. Was relieved when I saw my family, s29 and Jurong Safra had a white tentage to seek shelter from. Many supporters have also brought along an umbrella or poncho. Spotted dear Huiwen who has moved from B1 area to C1 area to support me.
Time check at 21km: 1:37:10. My average pace has dropped to 4:37″/km. Not possible to go for a PB anymore, but perhaps I could at least try for a local PB. Only two more loops left inside ECP but I was already feeling mentally and physically drained having battled the rain and wind. The only thing that kept me going were my family, friends and many other supporters who cheered hard for me each time I ran past them. They have not left to seek for shelter. The least I could do is to do my best and finish the race. The rain was making me so miserable and it must have shown in my face. I could hear Jackie shouting out to me and telling me to smile as I u-turn. Charles and Cecilia were there too cheering for me each time I ran past.
At some point in 3rd or 4th loop, the first pack of the men overtook me. Ruiyong was still in good form and encouraged me as he ran past. Over the course, one by one, the marathon men overtook me. At 25km, the time reads 1:56:58. Average pace slipped further to 4:40″/km. By the time I started my 5th loop, not many supporters were around anymore as most of the marathon men had left ECP. I was very touched to see Mr Yana-san, Andy and a few runners from ASICS Running Club near the Big Splash cheering for me and the rest of the female marathoners. I saw the front pack of the female marathon, now left with 4 of them on the other side of the road, looking strong and focused. Not far behind the pack was a female runner from Myanmar, now in 5th position after dropping off from the pack. A distance away was Rachel, still looking strong too. I think she could sense that I was feeling very tired. She encouraged me to “跑完它“ as I ran past. Some distance away was the girl in red Asics vest from Timor Leste.
The last loop was pure mental. I was losing motivation and could hardly even maintain a decent 5min/km pace. Save for a few park-goers, ECP was empty and quiet. I was pleasantly surprised to see dear Ching Yee in a bright pink top and Qiwen as I approached the u-turn. The posters they had made with my name and photo had caught my eye earlier on, but because it was dark and rainy, I could not recognise them in the pool of supporters. Now that the supporters have dispersed and I was on my last loop, it was then I realised they are the ones who were cheering for me! Haha! I’m so blur! My heart lifted when I saw them. It has stopped raining by then. I was soaked from head to toe. My shoes were squishy. My vest and shorts weighed like a ton. I know my family, s29 and Jurong Safra Club were all still waiting for me over the other end to finish this last loop. I pressed on.
Saw the front pack of female marathon on their way out of ECP. The Myanmar girl seemed to be suffering from cramps and was running more slowly than usual. Rachel was slowly closing up the gap. No sign of the Timor Leste girl in purple vest and I guess she might have dropped out from the race. There was one last marathon man, clad in Asics yellow racing vest. He seemed to be in great pain and was running awkwardly. I saw the other Timor Leste girl, who was still going strong and steady overtook him.
As I u-turn for the last time, I found myself running closer to the supporters where they were standing, hoping to draw some strength from them. Jurong Safra, my family and s29 all cheered loudly for me as I ran past. I was glad to see them but the run has taken a toll on me that I could no longer smile at them. I was getting so tired of the loops and could not wait to get out of ECP.
At the 30km mark, I retrieved my bottle and ate the banana which I had attached to it. Time check at 30km: 2:23:30. Average pace: 4:46″/km. I was gradually catching up with the male marathoner who has slowed down significantly. I could see that he was struggling hard to maintain his form. I wasn’t feeling too good myself so I pressed on to run alongside with him, hoping that we could push each other along and finished the marathon together. However, that was not to be. Shortly later, he slipped behind and I could no longer hear him. I came to know later his name is Aye Thaung and was one of the medalists for the SEA Games marathon held in Myanmar in 2013.
I was relieved to finally reach the last hydration station before exiting ECP. The volunteers were giving out mineral bottles this time instead of cups of water. As I tried to reach out for a cup and missed it, I stopped abruptly and pulled my right calf. “Oh no! Not now!” Thankfully, it wasn’t too serious. But it was enough to scare me to take it easy to avoid triggering the cramps.
As I ran up and then down the green bridge and towards Garden By the Bay, thoughts of giving up came to my mind. I could feel the cramps settling in and had to slow down to manage the bouts of pain that were attacking my calves. I was now running at 6:15″/km pace. So slow but any pace was better than having to walk or stop like the SCMS 2013 marathon.
Maybe I should just give up and DNF. I am last anyway. The thought kept circling inside my head. But deep down I know I would be very disappointed at the end of the day if I did not finish the race. Prior to the marathon, Rachel and I have even talked about it. We came up with the worse case scenario of what if the race did not work out for us. Do we give up and DNF? We both agreed that no matter what, we are going to finish the marathon. This being home ground, I was all the more determined to finish it too. I thought of all the supporters who braved the rain; who were now waiting for me at the finishing line, and I knew I had to finish the marathon for them and for Singapore.
It took me a long time, but I was finally reaching Gardens By the Bay. Finally, I could see a marshal. As I ran past him, I could hear him speaking to his walkie-talkie that there’s still one runner out here. “Yeah, that right. I’m still running. Please wait for me to finish.”
It was lonely running alone, with no signs of anyone else. I wasn’t even sure if I was on the correct path. I was feeling so miserable that I no longer care about the time. All I hope was to finish the marathon. Just when I was feeling demotivated, I saw Vivien Tang and her running partner running towards me, encouraging me to press on. That cheered me up immensely. I was also feeling marginally better now that marina barrage is near. My cramps seemed to be alleviating too which was a good sign. Time check at 35km: 2:59:35, average pace: 4:50″/km.
I thought it would be a lonely run from that point onward. I was wrong. As I crossed the bridge to get to Marina Barrage, I saw dear Emily waiting for me. She was very excited to see me and cheered for me. I was so happy to see her that I was finally running under 6min/km pace. Emily ran with me at the side for a while. She even offered to hold my bottle for me. Haha! so sweet of her, but I was worried about breaking the rules so I told her I will hold it myself. Emily followed until she could not keep up anymore. I was so touched because she has not been running actively for a while and yet because of me, she has been running up and down the whole morning. After saying goodbye to her, I continued running and finally reached MBS. Now to conquer the Esplanade Bridge followed by F1 pit.
Upon reaching the end of the Esplanade bridge, I was once again surprised to see Coach Janna and Shumin waiting for me. I came to know later that Coach Janna had taken a video and at the same time reporting about my race progress to the rest of the team in the group chat.
As I made a sharp right turn into F1 pit, I saw Alan, Sew Hyong, Run’er, Peyling and her colleague standing at the side cheering for me too. They have did the 10km Nila run which was held together with the SEA Games marathon earlier that morning, no doubt also have to run in the heavy rain.
I was looking forward to the 40km mark at Nicoll Highway MRT station. I could feel many eyes on me as I ran inside the F1 pit. Many people were at the 2nd level, looking down from the the glass panels. I could even see some of them with their fists pumping into the air, like they were cheering for me.
Grabbed my last bottle filled with Gatorade at the last water station. 40km time check: ard 3hrs 27min. 2km more and the worse it over. I tried to push my pace a bit more. As I ran along Nicoll Highway, I could see Sports Hub. So near yet so far. I was feeling really tired and really wish everything could be over soon. It was the longest 1km plus to Kallang Practice Track. But I was so relieved when I finally turned into the stadium. Saw the finishing line with the clock ticking close to 3hr 34min. I dashed, thinking that was the end of my marathon. Crossed the mat and saw an official signalling for me to continue one more lap. Oh! So it hasn’t end? I was disoriented.
With the whole stadium cheering for me, I pressed on to finish the last lap. At the last 200m, it was all out and giving whatever I had left in my tank.
After what seemed like an eternity, I crossed the finishing line with a time of 3:35:54. I did it! I did not give up even though I very much feel like doing so after exiting ECP. I was relieved and exhausted, but I barely have time to bend and catch my breath. The next moment, I saw physio Emily, Rachel coming up to me, putting my arms around their shoulders. I can still walk, I wanted to tell them but I was so tired that I couldn’t talk. Rui Yong came up too, and he has Singapore flag around his back. There was a group hug. I was still in a daze. Then Mr Tang, SAA President came forward and took over from Emily, putting my arms around him, as we walked off from lane 1. There were lots of photo-taking. I felt dizzy and could hardly smile at all the cameras. Then the ever supportive Jackie came along too, taking over Mr Tang. Mr Tan Chuan Jin came over to congratulate me too and there were more photo-taking.
Finally, when all was over, I walked over to where all the supporters were gathered with Jackie. I spotted my family immediately. They were a big group. My dad, my 78 yr old grandma, my older brother with my pregnant sister-in-law and 2.5 yr old nephew, my younger bro, my uncle and auntie, Kaixiang, my cousin, with his wife and 1yr plus daughter. I was so happy to see them.
My secondary school friends, Charmaine, Shihui, Kim, Xiuling were all present too. Though we have not been meeting up often, they were eager to show their support. They noticed how pale I was after the race and were very concerned, asking me to rest and we can always take a photo another time.
As I moved down the line to thank and shake hands with the rest of the supporters, I began to feel the effects of the marathon. I was feeling dizzy and weak. Luckily, Meihui who was there with runner Jingjie offered me a sweet and I felt slightly better. I continued walking down the line to look for s29. Really very touched to see them. Check out the big and beautiful banner they made for me.
It has been an amazing journey and I’m really glad and honoured to be part of the 28th SEA Games contingent.