There is no escape hearing from someone you know and up to a friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s workmate, when scrolling through some social media feed about how happy, relieved, ecstatic they are completing the marathon. With pictures of course! A double thumbs up here, pointing at the 17K marker there, and the medal-biting selfie at the finish. Proclaiming “i did it!” or smugly declaring “done and dusted”, each post accompanied with 23 different hashtags.
Do I sound like a sour-graping marathon virgin? Well as a matter of fact, I AM a marathon virgin. Not necessarily sour-graping though (defensive mode ON).
The furthest I’ve done was a 32K event and that was already 3 years back (2015). Memorable for a very positive split – a steady 7 min pace on the front, and a walk of shame at the back. Running sporadically in that 2nd loop, 200m each time or whenever I spy a camera pointed at me. Hardly a fertile experience to grow any 42K ambition if there were any.
What’s the deal with the marathon anyway? Such a vague and arbitrary sounding number too, 42. Yeah, its because of some Greek guy who ran the distance (42.195 km says the pedant). And died right after delivering a message. Inspiring? Why endure that distance on 2 feet on concrete roads in this day and age, when a WhatsApp message can go around the world in a blink with just 2 thumbs? Best part, no one dies.
Back to my 32K experience, it was an eye opener. I realised I needed to be fully comfortable doing the shorter distances first, rather than keep striking off the next bigger K just because that’s the next step up regardless of my abilities at the moment. I am as average as every joe runner, and “uncle” can only improve so much at his age.
So I went back to joining a variety of events, the shorter ones. The first time I felt truly comfortable with 10K was in 2016 when finally I broke sub 1 hour (and the only time still). That took me 3 years from the time I started running. The next year I decided to just do half marathons. In completing six 21K events in 2017, I felt I understood the distance better when the year ended, knew how to pace myself properly, break the whole stretch down mentally, and save some energy for a sprint finish with smile for the camera.
When I actually started enjoying my runs, I found myself looking for ways to run to enjoy. (Cliche incoming) It was no longer about the destination, but all about the journey, literally. Not about the finish line gantry with the digital clock and the medal, but about the place itself and how I got there. The distance and time covered became just numerical outcomes of the run, not the reason to run, and not the ultimate metric of the experience.
Running in essence is just conveyance, taking myself from point A to B on foot. A 10 to 15K route takes me on a variety of routes from Hougang to the Sports Hub where I can have a shower and change to fresh clothes. It also takes me from Bukit Timah to Kranji via the northern half of the rail corridor then I can have nasi lemak somewhere nearby. Or from work going home. Road crossings and stop lights… So? Nothing wrong with a short rest with a backpack on for “uncle”.
On vacation, I need not always plan my trip around an organized event overseas for a run-cation. A 10K loop on the streets of a new city is more than enough to take me through several interesting spots while experiencing the locale slowly stir to life from dawn. And when I’m back at the hotel, it makes for guiltless buffet breakfast too.
I still join running events here and abroad but on a limited basis now. They’re like maintenance meds or minimum electricity spending to keep the lights on. Tired of the same old route for races here, and I don’t have all the time and money to regularly go for overseas races. I signed up exclusively for trail runs this year 2018 to keep things interesting. Not sure what I’ll do yet in 2019.
I don’t actually feel scarred by that 32K experience as I may have conveyed here. If I have to predict what would happen if I ever do a full marathon, I’ll probably finish 5 and 6 hours the first time. Not an appealing thought, to be frank. And its not as if you can tell me or anyone to “Just run faster lah!“. On the basis of elapsed time, that is already similar to my almost 6 hr run/hike at Bulusan, but that’s a trail run though villages, beach, rivers, around a lake and through jungle on the side of a volcano. The place and route itself is worth the suffering for the clueless novice visitor (me).
I feel the half marathon have the best balance of endurance workout and pleasure. Extrapolating that statement to a full marathon, the math fails though – ie. twice the distance, twice the workout, twice the pleasure?? Hell no. So, think twice, marathon virgins.
Now if there’s a full marathon event from NTU in the West to Changi Village in the East (or reverse), that is something worth joining and training for. Or from the Sports Hub going up to Thomson, Mandai, then looping back down via Bukit Timah. Wow, just imagining it, sign me up.
Maybe my next level up is not the 42K but trail ultras (as long as it doesn’t loop to make the distance)? I don’t know. I actually got to know someone on Strava who completed his first 100 km event before actually completing a full marathon distance/event. Older than “uncle” even.
Point of is… Not everyone sees 42K the same way. It definitely isn’t in my bucket list, nor it ever featured for me as the ultimate measure of what I can do in my running life. But I do understand the achievement, as the only way I can ever relate to Eliud Kipchoge is when I’m riding a bicycle over the same distance. Even on foot with a 3 hour head start, this guy will still finish ahead of me. Way more impressive feat than the CGI crafted scenes in superhero movies.
So I’m not raining on your parade, SCMS and marathon finishers. There is only one Kipchoge, we are all not Kenyans, so kudos to everyone for completing that distance on your pace and time, through pain and heat, through will and heart, and for some to stubbornly do it year after year. That’s some masochist level of suffering that I am not keen to go through. Yet.
Until they come up with that Trans-Singapura Marathon, maybe. But who knows? I may just be waiting for something to flick that switch in my head to finally go do it, an inspiration. And when the time comes, I already know the first thing I need to do before starting my 18 week training plan – create a Facebook account and announce it to the world. I need all the thumbs-up Likes and expressive emojis to spur me on throughout my quest. 👍