It has been a challenging build up for the Singapore Marathon.
My buildup started in May when I started my housemanship after a 6 month lay off to allow complete recovery of my plantar fasciitis. I took part in 3 races over the build up – the army half marathon, a half marathon in malaysia and the Newton 30km challenge. I fell sick quite a few times in the final few months. The first minor setback came the week before the Newton Run when I had a sever bout of sore throat and flu symptoms for 3 days, forcing me to withdraw from the Nike Run. I was fortunately still able to continue light training without interruption but had to forgo certain key workouts. I ran the Newton 30km at a decent pace of 3:40min/ kilometer and it indicated that my level of fitness is pretty good 1 month from the Singapore Marathon.
However, disaster struck 1 week later when I came down with fever with absolutely no other symptoms. No sore throat, no running nose, no nothing. It struck me as odd. As the days of no running flew past my face, I was getting worried. 5 days went by and the fever showed no signs of backing off with paracetamol and rest. Dinah finally convinced me to see a doctor to get some blood tests done which showed mild thrombocytopenia (low platelets) and low white cell counts. A clinical history like this suggests dengue and I was promptly referred to the Communicable Disease Center the following day. A serology test later proved to be negative and I was spared daily blood tests to monitor my platelet count. My fever mysteriously disappeared 10 days later but the residual effects lingered on.
For the next 2 weeks I was unable to complete key workouts. 3 days before the marathon, I again developed a itch in the throat and had a severe bout of headache for the entire day at the hospital. I was in such discomfort and of course upset about falling sick so many times over the past month. But atlas, lots of water and plenty of sleep got me up to speed on Friday. I did a few easy jogs with my buddies Ramesh and Sia over the few days before the marathon and I remained positive with my chances.
Sia, Ramesh and I decided to car pool in Ramesh’s car to Fort Canning Park from which we will do a easy warm up jog towards Orchard Road. Warm up jog was uneventful which included a few dynamic stretches and stridings.
At about 4:50am I proceeded to the race start line. This year’s edition had the same energy and zest as the previous 2 years and if I am not wrong Orchard Central had its lights on this year for the first time, adding to the vibrancy and excitement to the largest running event on the Singapore calendar.
At 5am sharp, the race started without the standard counting down from 10 to 1 (is that a new rule?), causing quite a bit of chaos at the start.
The first part of the race was crucial. This year, the top female runners started off at a modest pace of about 3:50 to 4min per kilometer. I was in a dilemma. I had initially planned to start the race at a safe effort by running 4minutes per kilometer, after taking into the account the string of unfortunate events over the past month. But here we have this bunch of 15 ladies running at a nice pace of 3:50/km. Running in this bunch would conserve my energy both psychology and physically. I tried to convince myself that I still had some of that fitness at the Newton 30km and decided to have a go at following the ladies. It was a mental struggle as each kilometer went by.
At the 6th kilometer, I made up my mind to go through the marathon by myself at a more comfortable pace and let the ladies go. I was unsure if I made the right move but what’s done was done. I tried to run at a modest effort towards fort road.
East Coast Park
Upon entering east coast park, I was running by myself but the pace was more tolerable. I felt my breathing was slightly more labored than usual at the pace I was going at and attributed it to residual fatigue from my illness but I assured myself that I have already adjusted for that and am running at a slower pace. After running with several other participants from the other categories like the ekiden, I reached the turning point uneventfully. I managed to catch a glimpse of the Elite Women running and saw Ashley running among them. I could see my chances of defending my title slip away but I decided to continue to run within my safe limits.
Along the way back I caught up with two Kenyans who have dropped back from the group but they were themselves too tired to offer any help in running together to catch up with the rest. I continued to maintain my pace. I kept a look out on the runners running in the opposite direction and saw Ramesh, Devathas and several other familiar faces – it was a joy to see fellow runners on the same mission to complete a marathon.
Nearing the end of east coast park, I started to feel the fatigue that struck my legs. Suriya, a medical colleague of mine in the Armed Forces who was running the Ekiden, tried to get me going again but after tailing him for 100 meters, I couldn’t keep up with his pace.
The next few kilometers was a pain. The stretch towards Marina Bay was the most quiet, gloomy and unexciting section that one can have in a marathon – if you had run it, you will understand. At that point, my morale was low as I could see my fourth title slip away from my fingers. I tried to stay positive, using some of Ben Pulham’s wise words which he shared at the final Run clinic 2 weeks ago. But the thought of quitting came across my mind several times. Several runners passed me, including Mr Junichiro Adachi, or Jay for short, from Japan whom I overtook at the 18km mark earlier. Being passed by runners did not help the situation. The “devil” in my mind told me its ok to quit – i did pass several kenyans who had given up and were walking. Ryan Hall did not finish the Olympic marathon, so did Paula Radcliffe. Heck, even Haile Grebreselassie, the previous world record holder for the maraton, has been DNF-ing (DNF= did not finish) his races recently (interestingly he did DNF the Fukuoka Marathon on the same day). On the other hand, I did not want to quit because quitting once gives you permission to quit again. I thought of all my supporters, colleagues and friends – would they want me to quit? I think not.
After all these thoughts, I ran past the line of BMWs parked at the water point. I joked to myself if i could hitch a ride to the finish if i quit now. Ahead was also an ambulance with its back doors opened invitingly. Thoughts of quitting flashed by again but I resisted the temptation and trudged on.
One step at a time, with the beautiful scenery around me, my motivation picked up a little as there was only 8km to go or so.
Focussing on taking one step at a time, the heartbreak hill loomed up ahead. It did look longer and taller than the previous years. I primed my mind and legs to be prepared for the pain and cramps that may come on on the way to the summit. I consciously shortened my strides and focused on the ground before me. Each step was painful on my quads.
Upon reaching the apex, I descended slowly as coming down a hill is a major eccentric exercise to your quads and can trigger off a deadly cramp. After the descent, there was 2km more to go towards the finish. I was determined to finish it.
As I ran past the Esplanade, I looked forward to the sign that says 1km left! Upon turning up the esplanade bridge, my parents were there cheering me on and I gave them a weak smile. It has been a tough day at work.
Just as I was about to turn right on to Collyer bridge, my fellow compatriot Chee Yong overtook me. He is such as gentleman as he turned back and said “sorry Mok”. Haha. I wanted to laugh but doing so would risk having my abs cramp up. I think his 3am runs really gave him the determination and pain tolerance to push through to the finish. On my part, my legs were severely impaired by the acidosis in them and I could not react. I was just relieved to know the finish line is just a few hundred meters ahead.
Towards the end, I could hear Ross Sarpani, my favorite race emcee mentioning my name and I tried my best to acknowledge the crowd.
I crossed the finish line spent and on the verge of having my entire body contracted in cramps.
It was a tough race but I am grateful that my old injury did not flare up – it’s cured! (Like what my senior colleague, Dr Andy Wee, Consultant, Sports Surgery from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital would say)