The Decision : September was the month when I rested from my runs to recover better from the spinal fractures and then got restless. I did one ‘serious’ fun race (see previous blog – Lunghi Run). Perhaps it was the full Moon effect. On last day of September I made my biggest decision, ie to run the inaugural 50 km (solo) ultra marathon with 2XU SG Ultra Marathon Race. The race would take place on 7th October, Saturday evening, just 7 days to go.
This is a close to 55 years old uncle who started running in late 2014. Delved into a vertical marathon, half marathon in 2015 followed swiftly by a marathon, aquathlons and OCR (Spartan Races), swimming and cycling challenges. Got injured in a bicycle incident, fracturing two lumbar bones and wrist in last Nov, fell into ‘deep valley of depression’, had a few medical scares but resolved and then running two marathons so far this year, with a PB. This is just 3 months after last marathon, a few other races, taking a break because doctor couldn’t recommend a solution for the back pain and I thought I would save on physiotherapy and massages. Doctor recommended a MRI scan now to confirm that the nerves were not impacted since my pain had remained, which is going to cost another bomb – I’m still deliberating. Then this.
I have been testing the limits while I still can think coherently. This could stem from the past tragedies I faced back in 2011-2013. In some ways, we don’t know what tomorrow brings. While we live, what can we bring to a better world ? Questions like this bounce around more. Do we achieve everything through work alone – financial stability, self-esteem and the ability to help others ? Can we go beyond ? How can I improve myself ?
From back to back half marathons, to full back to back with half marathons, a week apart, I guess this was an inevitable outcome. But I didn’t plan this ahead. I had already outdone myself through the overseas marathon, beating the previous marathon timing by 45 minutes. You can see, I had not been running as much too. March and July were the marathon months. I did realize more may not be better as a result of my injuries. The regular runs were more like 4 km round the park these days, no way near the long run distance that would be recommended for preparing for a marathon/ultra.
I started using Garmin from March. Both marathons were in early part of the months so the volume came more from the marathon race distances. Everything kind of came together in some ways. Maybe it helped that I also take the usual runs and races as part of the development or training for something ultimate which I am still seeking. It also helped that I am still amateurish about all this running stuff. I’m sure experts and coaches would be pointing out my lack of mileage and conditions too. But in the end, I’m just competing against myself.
Before The Race: After I signed up I started worrying about the route and so I did a bit more time looking at the detailed description given. Still, I wasn’t able to really get the feel for the route. The other time I had to look closer at the map route was the half marathon trail but that was still relatively better since it was day time and easier to ask for directions if you do get lost. But I tried visualizing a couple of times how I would complete the distance especially after the 42 km is up, and then the next 8 km to 50 km.
Plan was to do really slow pace and adopt run/walk strategy and travel ‘light’. I have difficulties starting slower somehow in races. My last marathon pace told me average 8:30 min/km was my best timing pace so I needed to stick to 9:30 to 10 min pace average. Simplistic thinking was not to aggravate my injury and have enough to last that additional 8 km to the 42 km.
The Race : Race started at 5.00 pm sharp on Saturday evening. A few hundred runners were gathered at the start line – both 100 km and 50 km solo.
Rain witnessed the start and poured fairly heavily, blessing the runners at certain parts of the journey. I love to run in the rain but was hoping it would come later part of the race. Still, thank God for it as it cooled the body down for the first part of the journey. (The consequence was that I nursed two blisters on both heels at the end of the race.)
There were 4 distinct checkpoints along the route (8 altogether due to it being a loop), taking us from Gardens by the Bay East through Promenade to Marina Barrage, Marina East Drive, East Coast to Tanah Merah Coast Road and then Aviation Park Road (before Aviation Park) and U-turn back after 26 plus km. The last stretch was up the Green Bridge and thus skipped the Marina Barrage. Only the 3rd checkpoint (about 19.5 km from start) was a major stop where one could get more than the usual water and Pocari Sweat. Still, to most of the runners’ disappointment, there was only bread with jam or peanut butter, banana, biscuits and chips. There could have been some other foods as I was ‘slow’. I managed to take a banana, a slice of bread and some Pocari Sweat and refilled the bottle on the outbound. On the way back, I only managed a slice of bread with just water. Ran out of Pocari Sweat.
First 30 KM:
While the plan was to start slow at close to sub-10 min pace, I was carried away by the rain and the cheerful runners in front. I ran between 7:22 to sub 9 min pace till 20th km where I took the food. I even took a toilet detour, something which I don’t usually do even in marathons.
Then I started run/walk strategy proper. There were a lot of lamp posts at that stretch too, so I ran a few lamp posts and then walked fewer lamp posts and repeat. It so happened there was a lady in pink socks who seemed to be diligently doing the walk run strategy. It appeared she was leapfrogging us at intervals. I just took to doing that too – walk fast, run to catch up, then walk again, and repeat. Then we loop back at the U-turn, just over 26 km.
She was much younger and faster. When I took the slice of bread on the return loop plus the water, she took a shorter break and then disappeared from sight.
And I did see Tyre Lady earlier too, running with her tyre tied behind her – reminding me of another Tyre man in Singapore, on her outbound in the opposite direction. Let out ‘Wow’ and she was very cheerful letting out her encouragement too. Amazing Lady !
Last 20 KM:
I continued with the run walk for a long stretch, without really seeing anyone ahead till I get to the stretch with just trees on both side. Luckily for me, I could see one red light flashing in the distance. It belonged to one runner who was running/walking with his partner. But they were pretty fast and soon disappeared from view as I got back into the East Coast Park. After what seemed like many km, I saw the lady in pink socks again. She appeared to be slowing down. Before 41 km, I was in front with two other male runners and then we had to walk back a hundred or so metres when we realized we were on wrong track. I had reached there without bonking or cramps – so far so good.
I had felt a warm sensation of pain at the back at about 40 km but it was momentary. Or my brain had shut the pain off soon after as I focused on reaching marathon distance. Every 40 minutes to one and half hour intervals I consumed the energy gel that I had brought in my belt pouch. I reached 42.2 km. Garmin told me I got to 42.2 km at about 6:25 hr, faster than my most recent two local timings. Caught up with two brisk walkers in front. One of them asked me what distance we had covered so I told him based on my Garmin. Nobody behind and nobody in front.
I went ahead for the next 5 km or so. I took out my smartphone to check the general direction after some km because there was nobody in sight. There were some parallel paths and diversions and there were confusing markers showing 15 km and 16 km, I guess for the shorter distance races. I reached the last checkpoint, just before the Green Bridge and then jogged the more than 3 km back. By that time it seemed easier for me to do that, but I realized later on looking at Garmin, it was at a slower pace than my run/walk.
On reaching the finishing line, I felt like I was the last runner on earth to arrive. Dead silence and a sense of emptiness somehow. Nobody was at the 50 km table and the table looked sparse, a few medals lying there and a few used bottles. A group of volunteers were gathered at the 100 km table.
I halted my Garmin. 7:54 hours. Faster than I expected. Good…
Finish : The volunteer said ‘The good news is we still have the medal for you…’ . I was thinking, oh, there is bad news ? I waited. She then said that they were left with XL polo tees so maybe I could take them and proceeded to take out the shirt to show me. I wasn’t really thinking much and thought I could try them later on. I also thought like one other person who gave feedback, that the organizer should have arranged for someone to welcome back the runners. But I didn’t feel anything – just a passing thought at that moment.
I slumped into a white chair, one of several around the area, beside another runner. I ate the banana and drank a bit from the Pocari Sweat bottle. Took a couple of photos. I started chatting with the runner next to me, Summer and he said I could add him on FB too. I did that.
Mighty short sleep and 10 km run next
That was my first ultra marathon. But it didn’t end there. This was not the end and perhaps that was why I didn’t feel anything yet. Weeks before all this, I had already signed up for the SIA Charity Run which was celebrating its 70th anniversary. I was going for the 10 km race at 7 am Sunday morning. This was Sunday morning already past one o’clock in the morning. As I had to walk slightly more than 1 km away to locate my car back at Kallang Theatre, I left soon after the chat. It took longer as I started to feel the blisters rubbing at the heels. By the time I drove home, showered and got onto the bed, it was past 3 o’clock. I adjusted my alarm clock for 5.30 am but woke up at 5.15 am. Took bread and peanut butter again with coffee this time.
Sent my son to his camp who happened to be on guard duty on a weekend and reached the F1 Pit just in time to join the crowd gathered. Saw Kim Lai (Mr Tan), an avid runner/photographer perched on a beam and waved to him. In a few minutes, the first wave was flagged off. I moved along and found myself in second wave. My thighs felt like lead and my blisters were complaining. My eyes were kind of smarting due to lack of sleep and dryness, so I was surprised later by the photo which Kim Lai took. (I wasn’t in any of the pictures taken for the ultra marathon taken by Running Shots and Kim Lai, the nicer photo credits are due to them in this blog !)
I tried to shuffle along, taking smaller steps and then moving along with the crowd. There was slight drizzle momentarily during the run. Once I got moving, I just kept going so I didn’t feel that I had to count the km. Noticed a lot of them were walking. Suddenly I saw someone in lunghi running past and was quite sure he was Ali. But I had no energy to catch up this time. I finished the race in 1:35 hr, much slower than my norm. And there was no need for energy gel – I felt like I had enough too from yesterday’s feast. I would vomit if I were to consume one more. Felt a slightly higher level of satisfaction this time though at the finishing line. Mission accomplished.
3 days before the race, I also became a Singapore Cancer Society Charity Athlete after attending a briefing. So I had pledged to run 500 km from Saturday to end of this year. I had just given myself another challenge since I had barely averaged 2 km per day last month. 500 km in 86 days – you do the math. Now I still need to recover. But I’m closer to the ultimate goal perhaps. Do good through running. Support me if you can. Thank you.
Run Safe, Run Happy.