Having plagued by plantar fasciitis (PF) on my left foot since July, my first goal for SCMS was simply to arrive at the start line, feeling fit and healthy.
During the injury period, I cut down on my mileage and replaced most of my runs on cross-trainers and with spinning classes. I did more strengthening and core exercises too. Though my stamina and fitness declined during this period, I was quite happy with my progress as I felt physically stronger than before. My tight calves muscles (particularly on my left calf) were finally loosening. My PF was on route to recovery. The injury was a blessing in disguise I guess; it has forced me to rest my fatigued legs and I learnt to appreciate the simple joy of being able to run freely without the stress of chasing the time.
In September, I started running outdoors or on treadmills (due to haze) when I no longer feel pain when I run. As the pain usually come after my runs, I was careful not to ramp up my mileage or intensity too quickly. I continued to ice the affected area daily and foam-rolled every other day to reduce the tightness in my calves.
Then came October. My PF was healing well and I was able to put in some decent training in October, choosing quality over quantity. I went back to running 4-5 times a week in mid-Oct, while continuing my gym routine (simply because I really enjoyed the spinning classes). My mileage averaged 65km-70km per week. Training in October went well. I felt more confident in my tempo runs, and managed to run at a faster pace (as compared to pre-injury days) for some of the key workouts.
On 1 November, I participated in the Great Eastern Women’s Run which I completed in 1:31:35. (few seconds slower than last year.) It was lung-bursting effort and I struggled at the last 5km. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the results as I wasn’t sure I could run a sub 1:32 timing. It was a confidence-booster and closer to race day, I decided to base on this race to determine my target race pace for SCMS. Since my average pace for GE Run was 4:20″/km, I thought 4:40″/km or somewhere around would be a good target. Perhaps if I still feel good after the half-way mark, I could try increasing my pace to 4:35″/km. And so my 2nd goal for SCMS was to sustain 4:35″-4:40″/km pace. If all goes well, I hope to finish the marathon in 3hr 15min -3hr 17min.
If it doesn’t go well, my third goal would be to do better than my local PB time of 3hr 23min which I achieved last year.
Training continued as per normal in November. This year, other than Jackie who accompanied me on most of my runs, I am thankful to be able to do my long runs with a few more training buddies on some weekend mornings. I was so used to doing long runs that average about 5 min”/km to 5:15 min”/km pace in the past year. This group pushed me to run close to race pace, and to start slow and finished fast for long runs. It was tough but they made the training bearable and enjoyable.
Three weeks out from race day, I did my longest long run at East Coast Park with Safra Running Club. Jackie had a back pain and had no choice but to skip the run when the pain flare up the moment he started running. I ran 35 km on my own at an average 5 min”/km pace and that brought my highest volume in this 9-wks training cycle to 85km. I was relieved to get the longest run out of the way and looking forward to tapering.
The following weekend, I ran 27km with Alex Tiong and Ivan Eng, starting from MR to Upper Peirce to Seletar and back. The guys were kind to follow my pace at just under 5min”/km. I’m sure they are capable of going faster if not because of me. Towards the last 5km, they started picking up the pace and I ran at sub 4:40″/km till the end. Another confidence booster long run.
I remembered I was feeling low and lethargic as I struggled through my intervals two days later. Jackie assured me that it was normal to feel more tired than usual at this time due to the training volume over the past weeks and that I should be able to peak at the right time when race day arrived. Indeed, my energy level was up again the following week. I only had two workouts on the last week leading to race day: 5 x 800 m intervals at avg 3:08 min per set on Wednesday (suppose to do this on Tuesday but it rained) and an easy 40 mins run on Thursday. And when I toed the starting line on 6 Dec, I was feeling fit, healthy, fresh and relaxed. =)
The Day before the Race
Jackie and I went to Sports Hub to support the Kids’ Dash which was held a day before the 10km, half marathon and marathon. My elder brother has signed my 35 months old nephew up for the 700m Kids’ Dash and we wanted to support. It was fun watching the little ones run and walk. After lunch at Kallang Wave Mall foodcourt, where I had a nice bowl of salmon don, Jackie and I headed to City Hall. This year, I suggested to book a hotel room near the race site so we could sleep in a while more on race day morning.
After checking into Peninsular Excelsior hotel, we rested a while before visiting the National Art Gallery which was just a stone’s throw away from the hotel. In the evening, we had dinner with Ghim at Marina Square. I had Japanese curry rice with pork cutlet while Jackie had the same but with chicken cutlet. We all ordered the set which came with a free salad bar.
By the time we finished dinner, it was about 7.45 pm. We decided to return to hotel to rest, shower and prep our race gears for tomorrow.
The initial plan was to turn in by 9pm to get at least 6 hours of sleep. But I suddenly remembered I have not studied the race route and hydration points to plan the exact distance where I should take my energy gels. So by the time we hit the sack, it was already after 9.30pm. Nevertheless, I was well-rested and slept like a baby throughout the night.
I woke up feeling fresh when my alarm rang at 3am. Washed up before waking up Jackie. I had my breakfast, coffee and bread by 3:30am. I find taking breakfast 1.5hrs to 2hrs before race works for me.
Since our hotel is near the end point, there is no need to deposit our baggage and that save time cause the baggage queue could get really long. We decided to warm up by jogging to Orchard Road. I must say the hub has a really good sense of direction. We arrived at somerset in no time and stopped by Orchard Central to use the toilets before walking towards Ngee Ann City to meet up with our training buddies.
Goodness, there was already a huge crowd waiting to enter the race pens. It would be hard to spot anyone in that crowd. We bumped into Alex Tai and Run’er and a moment later the pens opens and all of us entered the race pen 2 allocated for 3hrs-4hrs marathoners. We quickly made our way to the front, hopefully to find a space as close to the start line as possible.
As we waited patiently for 5am to arrive, we saw more familiar faces and everyone exchanged words of encouragements,”jiayous” and “all the best”. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and positive vibes. The time crept closer to 5am. The chain that held us back from the elites runners were taken down and we moved forward to merge with the runners in the priority pen. No special privilege to start at the priority pen this year but no issue since runners from Pen 1 and 2 would be flagged off at the same time.
The race started promptly at 5am. The runners in front shot off at top speed. Runners at the back pushed and dashed off in a flash. Adrenaline pumping, I ran alongside with Jackie, reminding myself to run my own race and not get “pulled” by the faster groups ahead.
Jackie and I maintained around 4:35-4:40″/km as planned. Joshua sped past us after some time as he tried to catch up with Ying Rong and her friends ahead. The next few km went past uneventfully as we settled into race pace.
Time Check at 5km: 22:57
By 7km, Jackie was dropping back and I knew I was on my own when I could not hear him behind me anymore. Ran past the Floating Platform and saw many Ekiden runners finished the first leg of the relay. Received some cheers from them too.
It was dark along F1 pit, but I could make out the two ladies in front – Jasmine and Jenny! I ran on and caught up with them after a while. Not long after exchanging some words of encouragement, I was out of the F1 pit and onto Nicoll Highway. By then, most runners have dispersed and I could only see a handful on the road ahead.
Time check at 10km: 46:26
I was feeling good but I knew it was still too early to know how the marathon would fare in the end. So I try not to get too excited and focused on maintaining the same pace. Took my first packet of gel as I approached the next hydration station. Lost sight of Ying Rong and group just before entering into ECP. I pressed on, knowing that I still have a long way to go. It was early in the morning but there were already many supporters out at ECP cheering for all the runners. I gradually caught up with two guys ahead and decided to tag along with them since we were all running around the same pace. Suddenly, I caught sight of Trevor from Safra MF. He joined our group and we ran together for a while.
Time check at 15km: 1:09:40
One of the guys, Julien Guienne (I got to know his name after ironlady, Ling Er tagged him in one of the pictures on fb) asked for the time I was hoping to finish the marathon. I glanced at my Garmin and told him, at the pace we were running, it seemed like 3hr 15min is possible. However as there’s still more than half-way to go, I told him I shall see how it goes after the 21km mark. We pressed on and sped up a little, probably excited about the possibility of completing the marathon in 3:15. Not long later, his friend dropped back and then it was just me and Julien pacing each other.
I took my 2nd pack of gel at the 18km mark as planned. Spotted Baoying just ahead and she was still looking strong and fresh. She was surprised to see me as she thought I was ahead. We chatted briefly, wish each other well and I ran on with Julien. I always like approaching the u-turn point, cause that’s when you could see all your friends on the other side and cheered for one another. It was a sight to behold when I saw a contingent of runners comprising of Andy Neo, Rachel, Poon ZL, Ivan, Baldwin, Alex Thiong, Ewin, Chun Kiat and many more, running at 4:30″/km pace, on route to a 3:10 marathon. Cheered for them as they ran past looking very focused. Not far behind were a few more runners, Ying Rong and her friends. And I knew I was currently in 3rd place for the local women’s category.
Time check at 21.1km: 1:37:29
I was happy to finally reach the half-way mark of the marathon, feeling strong and fresh, vastly different from how I felt during SEA Games and even last year’s SCMS. I was beginning to feel quite optimistic about this race. Julien and I worked together for the next few kilometres. I drank as I ran, picking up two cups at a go, one for drinking and one for cooling down over my head. He on the other hand, prefers to slow to a walk to drink. But he would always caught up with me after that.
Time check at 25km: 1:55:14
We had sped up over the last 4km after the half way mark. I was beginning to feel the first sign of fatigue setting in and very much looking forward to the support station set up by Tampines and Toa Payoh Safra Running Club at 28km mark, where I received lots of support and encouragement from fellow Safra members.
The next few km went by in a daze. It seemed more difficult to maintain the pace and I got the feeling that I was then running at more than 4:45″/km pace. But each time I checked the 1km split, to my relief, I was still hovering at 4:35 – 4:40″/km. I told myself to keep going and 30km would be my checkpoint to reassess my pace.
Time check at 30km: 2:18:20
I was gradually overtaking more runners at the last stretch of ECP. At the last water water station, Julien fell back and I was all on my own again. (He eventually finished in a respectable 3hr 23min). I did a quick body check. Running posture ok, breathing controlled. So far so good. I was not feeling as exhausted as I thought I would be. Seemed like the race was really working out well. Still, it was too early to tell. After all, marathoners would know the race only starts at 32km. Finally, I arrived at the end of East Coast Park and just in time to see Ying Rong breaking away from her friends and running strongly towards the golf course. Joshua was not far ahead and I was hoping I could catch up with him soon.
At the 31km mark, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jackie again. But there was no time for chit-chat cause I’m in a race! We ran together and overtook a couple of runners. Caught up with Joshua first, and then Poon ZL. As we ran past the golf course, we spotted Ivan too from the 3:10 contingent. We encouraged him to run with us. But he was having bad cramps and slowed to a walk eventually. Jackie and I ran on and saw Chun Kiat and Ngee Hung. We cheered and motivated one other. I was getting really excited as we approached Gardens by the bay. It was 33km and I was feeling better than before now that we were so close to the end! The pain which I was anticipating after 32km never hit me. I took that as a positive sign that the next 9km would be manageable somehow.
At Gardens By the Bay where it was once again a long straight road, I could see Ying Rong less than 50 metres ahead. Not wanting to increase my pace too suddenly and risk cramping, I aimed to just keep her in sight. That being said, I must have gotten a little motivated to see that she was so close, and by the time we crossed the bridge to Marina Barrage, I was closing in and she was just 20 metres ahead.
It was a joy to receive support and cheers from Jurong and Mount Faber Safra Running Club at the Marina Barrage. (After the race, Zhilei told me that we were their first “customers” so they could not react in time.) As I grabbed a cup of water at the next water point to myself down, Ewin, who has slowed to a walk due to cramps, encouraged me to chase after Ying Rong who was just ahead. Motivated, I ran on.
Time check at 35km: 2:40:12
I was finally shoulder to shoulder with Ying Rong as we ran past flower dome. I was hoping I could pull away from her at this point but Ying Rong was determined and hung on closely. I was getting nervous. On one hand, we still have 7km to go and it’s gotta be tough to fight for this 2nd placing. On the other hand, I was glad that Ying Rong has kept up. It’s always better to run together and push one and another to reach the fullest potential. And so we worked together for the next couple of km towards Benjamin Sheares Bridge, the infamous heartbreak hill of Singapore, where it could make or break your run.
With Ying Rong hot on my heels, I dare not slow down. I tried to maintain the same effort as I pounded up the bridge. I thought of those hills I ran on during my training- NTU hill loops, M&M at Upper Pierce, Sentosa etc. “Make them count!” I told myself as I put one foot forward after the next. Step by step, I could no longer hear Ying Rong behind me. But I dare not slack, as she may surprise me when we go downhill after 38km.
As I was approaching the top of the bridge, I saw a familiar figure in pink ahead. It was Rachel! Motivated, I pushed myself and finally caught up with her. I was winded and could barely muttered any encouragement to her. Rachel cheered for me and I pressed on. With the upslope out of the way, I cruised down Sheares Bridge as fast as my legs could carry me, not daring to look back to see how far Ying Rong was behind. It suddenly dawned on me that we weren’t competing for 2nd place anymore, but the first place cause I was now leading the local women’s category!
Reached Republic Blvd road and merged with the 10km and 21km runners. It was so crowded and we spent some effort weaving in and out of the crowd. I wasn’t sure how far Ying Rong was behind, but knowing what a strong runner she is, I knew I could not afford to slow down even one second. I was determined to hold onto this lead for as long as possible.
Time check at 40km: 3:05:01
I had exactly 10 minutes to cover the remaining 2.195km. Can I make it under 3:15? Spotted Alex Thiong as we made our way towards Raffles Ave. I was too breathless to cheer for him, but Alex saw us and tried to keep up with us. Up Raffles Ave and then another right turn onto Esplanade Drive. There was lots of supporters at the side cheering the runners on. Spotted Colin (this year as supporter), shouted for us from the right side. One last bend and I would see the finishing line. The last 200m signboard never feel so welcoming before. Gave my all and sprinted to the finishing line as I watched the clocked ticked 3:14:xx closing onto 3:15.
And yes, I did it! I crossed the line in 3:15:02 (net time), bettered my local pb by more than 8 minutes! A bonus to come in first for the Singaporean Women’s category too! Gosh, I won the Singapore marathon! I could hardly believe it. After two years of second placings in 2012 and 2014, and one disappointing 6th in 2013, the victory is especially sweet.
And what was even more astonishing was to receive news that I came in top 10 for the Women Open’s Category; which according to IAAF’s guideline, this is consider a qualification for Rio Olympics! Gosh, it’s like a dream that seems to good to be true!