Optimal Race Execution with a Sub-optimally Trained Body: Singapore Marathon 2014
I joined the group of 4:15 marathon pacers for a long run of 33km the day after the Bull Charge. That was really the only serious bit of training I did for this marathon. Work, children and a few other things had taken priority over training for a good few weeks, so despite having a perfect training program, I was under prepared for this race.
The week before the marathon I got plenty of sleep and I was feeling quite good. A few people asked what my goal was for the marathon. My answer was, "to run kilometre 5 the same as kilometre 35."
A few days before, I started to feel a tender, tight spot on the tendon just above the back of my left knee and both Achilles' tendons were feeling a bit tight. I reminded myself to be aware of it during the run, but didn’t worry any more than that.
The day before the race, my goal changed. I realised that I might be able to run fast enough to arrive at the finish in time for the kids’ dash. The run for 4-6 year olds started 4hr15m after my start but need a few mins to get from my finish line to their start, so I estimated I needed to finish in 4 hours.
The evening before, we took the children to a friend’s house for St Nicholas celebrations. After cycling home, and before putting the children to bed, we prepared my kit and the kids’ stuff together. They were very excited as we pinned their bibs onto their chosen t-shirts.
I woke up at 3:50am, ate a little, got dressed (and saw that my toenails were probably a bit long… but still didn’t cut them), drank some water and called a taxi.
I got out of the cab a few hundred metres away from the start line, but ended up running (very slowly) about 1 km up to the nearest crossing point and back to actually arrive where I needed to be for the start. I saw my friend Jason – a 4:15 pacer and chatted to some colleagues as we waited in the front pen. I had been given a VIP bib and was allowed to start in the pen right at the front with all the elite runners because I had raised SGD 5,000 for Seeing is Believing. I felt very lucky to be there… but a bit of a fraud hanging around the start line with all these super fast runners who would finish more than an hour before me.
The horn went and we started on Orchard Road in the dark. I ran with my colleague, Alex, nice and steady at just about 5:35 per km. Not long after the 1km marker Phil, Amit, Nikolai and many others passed us, all running at a good pace and looking comfortable. I made some predictions about their finish time, compared to ours. Alex said he was targeting 5 hours.
Just as we came off of the Formula 1 track - Allan passed us, complaining he had injured his calf… again! I kept chatting to Alex (he might say I was chatting “at” him, relentlessly nattering away) and kept the pace easy. At 8 km, I ate my first gel (of the four that I was carrying in my sports bra).
As we came into East Coast Park the sun was just coming up – it was a lovely sunrise. The second gel went down the hatch at about 16km.
At Big Splash – about 17km - Ben and Jon were watching the race and cheering us on! It was lovely to see them.
Just after the half way point we caught Allan again. "I'll struggle to finish," he said. I told him to stop before he did any permanent damage. Of course, he's a stubborn old boot and didn't stop until he was over the finish line. After the U-turn at the end of the park, we saw lots of pacer groups running on the other side of the path, in the other direction - recognised some, including Jason, Nicholas and Abigail and shouted some encouragement! Alex was still running next to me, and with a very rough calculation worked out that it would be reasonable to predict that he would be finishing well under 5 hours. "Are you really still targetting five hours?' I asked him. He answered that he still felt good but we'd see...
I had enough gels with me to take one every 8km or so, but I was planning to pick up an extra at one of the aid stations and perhaps eat two during the last 10km... One at 32km and another at 36km. On the course map there was a gel station marked at km 23-24. It wasn't there.
Running back past Ben and Jon at km 27 I asked if they had any gels... And got told off, "You should be self sufficient!" Dead right! I should be! Just past them there was a group or spectators offering iced coca-cola – I took two. Thank you! Thank you!
A kilometre or so after that, Alex started to slow. I waved him to come back beside me a couple of times, but I think he may have started a little fast, so I didn’t insist and by km 30 when I looked back for him, he was out of sight. I was on my own with nobody to chat “at”. I remembered my Dad’s trick for gauging if you are running too hard (in the “olden days” before heart rate monitors) – breathe through your nose. I have tested it before against my Mio Alpha heart rate monitor and it is really quite an accurate indication of Easy/ Zone 1 effort. I find it particularly useful when race nerves or stress makes my heart rate jump around.
Some people were starting to walk, lots were stopping to try and stretch out cramps. I was still passing people I recognised from having over taken me earlier in the race. Once into Gardens by the Bay, just before the 34 km mark there was a group cheering and giving out iced cola and dates - fantastic! Thank you, whoever you are!
Just before the 36km signboard, which said "Don't forget to pose when you see a cameraman," a photographer snapped this one of me
... obviously not posing... next to the Flower Dome. My thighs were starting to feel tight and tired, but I knew there was not much further to go and they felt good enough to last. At 37km, I saw Trine watching the race - she took this photo.
I ate my last gel with just about 5.5km to go, and then slowed a little to go up onto the Esplanade bridge... I tried to relax and coast on the way back down the hill but it was awkward. Then, at almost 40km we merged with the slow end of the 10km race.
Nightmare. Just when your legs have had enough and when you most need your rhythm to get to the finish, you hit a wall of people walking, jogging, stopping, holding hands... I nearly tripped over a guy wearing a 2012 GB Olympic team singlet because the drinks station was so crowded. Sorry, whoever you were, and thank you for letting me use your back to break my fall! The last kilometre was even more crowded and hard work “slaloming” to get through crowds and crowds of walkers. I was very happy to get to the end in 3:56:28.
After the race I compared the timing for this one with my first marathon in 2006. I was fitter, younger, lighter and better trained for that one, but not as experienced or as mentally strong... and I hadn't yet met Ben and Jon. At the half way point my 2006 marathon was over 3 minutes faster than this one, but ended up over 10 minutes slower.
I had a drink, wiped myself down as best I could and found some shade. A very, very kind volunteer allowed me to use her phone to send a message to hubby. Then I walked as fast as I could over to the start of the kids' race. I searched all through the crowd for the flag off crowd I expected them to be in. They weren’t there. I walked towards the back of the crowd and eventually found them.
My eldest son was not feeling fantastic. We gave him the choice to run or not (I would have been very happy to wait with him!) He still wanted to run... but didn't let go of my hand the whole way and walked a few times which was unusual for him. I hobbled along on my tired, stiff legs to keep up then we walked through the finish area, where he was very chuffed to get his finisher medal! I put him on my shoulders so he could look out for daddy and brother when they came through. We found them again, had another drink, I changed out of my running shoes into my Oofus slippers, then walked to the MRT. We didn’t even attempt to get a taxi, tried that last year! Unfortunately, by this time son #1 was feeling even more tired and under-the-weather and wanted to be carried. Normally that would not be a problem, but the escalators down to the platforms were not moving, so I carried him down the stairs, my poor quads screaming with every step.
The rest of the day went something like this, for all of us: Home, food, drink, shower, nap, drink, food, trains, lego, drink, sofa, story time, bed.
My cycle to work the next morning took a little longer than usual…