Another Year of SCMS Another Fiasco

Why does it not surprise me to read of all the complaints on social media about the Gold Label Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore? For a country that prides itself on doing things well and setting the standards for its neighbours, this race is the biggest blemish in Singapore’s reputation and a laughing stock of the marathon world.

Take this post from a Malaysian who was in Singapore to support his friends.

And the number of complaints on the SCMS’s Facebook page. Much has been said about that and I will not go into that except that I think the whole fiasco boils down the desire to make more money by cutting cost and not being concerned about the runner’s experience. 

The latest blow up is complaints by volunteers about not being given food and drinks, being yelled at and being paid a miserable $20 for volunteering from 11 am the night before to up to 3 pm on Sunday. You can read all about that here. I will talk about this in a later blog post.

But of course my pet subject is always about people cutting the course. And this year is no different. Very early in the race, I could see FM runners coming in. Looking at the way they running, I know they have not done 40 km in such short time between 3 to 4 hours. Not impossible but there are not that many local runners that are capable of doing sub 4. So as usual, I did a result search of a few random runners are here are their results:

Sure enough my gut feeling was not wrong and all these runners are marked as DNF (Did not finish). But the interesting thing is that all of them missed the checkpoints from the 10 km  onward until 38.5 km. This year because of the late start due to the baggage problem, the cut off time was extended to 9 hours and so I believe no runners were officially “diverted” which means these runners either ran the wrong route by mistake or deliberately cut the course. I could like to give these people the benefit of the doubt that they ran wrongly but if one had trained hard enough for the FM, they will realise that their timing was not possible and the route was too short especially after they see the distance markers. The more likely reason is that these runners ran the HM route while signed up for the FM. In any case, still the organiser fault. Did they deploy enough marshal to direct the runners onto the correct route? Was there any physical barriers to prevent runners from cutting the course?

The Singapore Marathon will never improve if it continue to priorities profitability. It has the ambition of becoming a World Marathon Majors. But until it buck up and go humbly to learn from the Japanese or Taiwanese, the WMM will just be a pipe dream.. But having said that, they might just be able to buy that rights with the money they make from this race. Like what they did to get the Gold Label status.

 

Income Eco Run 2017

At 4.15 am on Sunday, I found myself at the start line of the 2017 Income Eco Run at the F1 race track. It has been a long time since I joined a local race and being at the start line filled with the stank of sweat and heat rub at such an ungodly time for a half marathon simply reminded me why I have not signed up for more races in recent years. Running Shots got some complimentary slots from the event organiser and I thought since I have not been doing much running recently, to take up 1 slot just as an excuse to get fitter. So here I am $%^&*(# feeling damn sleepy and smelling in that awful stench of sweat and deep heat! Why in the world do people put deep heat before running?

Back to the race. Because we came early, we managed to get quite upfront maybe 30 metres before the start line.  The race was started off right on the dot which is a good thing. From the F1 track, we ran towards Republic Boulevard. It was fairly dark but the route was fully closed or so I thought, until we hit the road when it narrowed down to 2 lanes width. :(….. And it got worse. 2 lanes to 1 lane and then back to 2 lanes and then 1 lane again. You get the picture? Luckily for me, since I managed to snag an early start, there wasn’t that many runners and despite the narrow route, I was able to run quite comfortably but I can imagine the frustration of the main bulk of the runners having to constantly merge in and out. There is one particular bad area coming out of Kallang Riverside Park onto Kallang Road where at the top of the staircase was an opening that leads to a small pavement that everybody has to squeeze through before going onto Kallang Road.

Believe it or not, despite the many races being held in the area in the past, this was actually my first race where 90% of the route was ran in the core Marina Bay and Kallang area and I was certainly not used to it. There were too many turns. U turn at Crawford Road; U turn at Republic Ave to Nicoll Highway; U turn at Stadium Drive; U turn at East Coast Park;  turn at Marina East Drive; U turn at Garden by the Bay East, U turn at Marina Promontory; turn up Bayfront Ave;  turn at Youth Olympic Park…….So many turnings and then having to run through the deserted Sports Hub area. Actually, the whole route was deserted. What do you expect? Starting at 5 am! Who will be crazy enough to come out to give support?

So anyway I started at what I thought was a fairly comfortable pace. I have no hard target. Just a prayer that I won’t finish slower than 2 hours 15 minutes. So when I saw the 2.15 pacers in front of me at the start, I was tempted to follow them. But around the 2 km mark, I actually overtook them. I was still feeling good and decided to continue on rather than slow down. I have no doubt they will overtake me somewhere later when I get tired. M had started with me but I saw here ran ahead soon after and I didn’t see her until we reached East Coast Park. And surprise surprise, she was behind me! Haha I thought, maybe this time I can be faster than her. She caught up with me at the Marina East Drive. The first word she said to me was “No more energy liao. You go ahead”. And then guess what – she ran ahead leaving me eating her dust! I think she was trying to “suan” me 🙁  

Along the way, I met a few known faces. Some I overtook, some overtook me and some played catching with me. Every now and then I look behind me to see where the 2.15 pacers were but they seem to be a fair distance from me. At the 15 km point I had more or less decided that I should try to not let them catch up and that was my motivation to keep pushing onward. When we passed the 9 km signage for the 10 km, I was like (E#_&%#%#(. So near and yet so far! We had to continue to run down pass Marina Bay Sands to Marina Promontory and make an u-turn back to MBS before going up that little incline on Bayfront Avenue. 

I saw Sotong, my fellow photographer from Running Shots there, busy shooting away and with only less than 500 metres to go, I know I was home free and well ahead of the 2.15 pacers. Not a personal best not a really good timing but hey with the limited mileage, I take that anytime. But no more 5 am race anymore. 

Looking back now on my performance with the official results out now, I surprised myself.  With no major races to train for the past years, the weekly mileage averages around 30 km and yet my timing at this event was closed to the 2015 Sundown Marathon’s HM time and that was achieved on the back of part of a built up to an ultra! So I haven’t really deteriorated that much hahaha.

Sundown Marathon 2017

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. The people at Hi-Velocity, the organizer behind the Sundown Marathon (SDM) should have remember this wise saying when they set up to “improve” this year edition.

The Sundown Marathon is an event which is close to my heart and which I have fairly good opinion of, unlike the SCMS. I seen the SDM grown from a small little race in 2008 with just 800 + runners to a mega race involving more than 20000 runners in 4 different categories. In its early days, the SDM could be considered a true heartland race running through the Eastern part of Singapore. It was also the first race to have a 84 km distance – probably the first ultra race in Singapore. While I didn’t run the SDM in those early days, I had many friends who did and those of us not running had a great time providing support to the runners as they ran through the Eastern Park Connector. We were there for the runners in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Those time, we made many friends and got a lot of appreciation including this nice little cap. This was also the only race that I won something – haha not a running trophy but a photo contest in the 2009 race expo. I did ran the SDM eventually – twice in fact, in 2011 where I had a horrible time and again in 2015. By then, the SDM had moved from Changi Village to Changi Aviation Road and eventually to the current Marina Bay. Along the way and over the years, it has became a race catering to the mass instead of being a niche event and I guess as it grew bigger and bigger, it became more and more difficult to manage. First to go was the run through the heartland making use of the park connector. Next was the 84 km Ultra Distance which I feel was unfortunate as that was to me the main highlight of the annual event. And by moving to Marina Bay, it has became just another race in the area – nothing really great or special other than it being held at night. But I guess to many marathon wannabes, this race was a much welcome introduction to running a marathon as it enabled them to avoid the harsh heat of a day race. And so years after years, the numbers continue to grow…… Continue Reading →

Singapore Marathon 2016 Cut Off Time and Diversion Points

Finally, Ironman Asia has announced the cut off timing at various points along the race route. But instead of at easily remembered distances like say every 10 km, they have it at various weird distances.  But this is still better than not having one. Here is a rundown of the cut off and what it means to you if you are dangerously close to it.

First, there is the overall race cut off which is 8 and 4 hours after last flag off respectively. Assuming the last wave starts at 5.20 am as per the Race Guide, that makes it 1.20 pm and 9.20 am. So if you cross the finish line after these times, you will not get a timing, the finisher tee and the finisher medal and the finisher tee.  However, the cut off timing for the full marathon is pretty generous considering the early start and the flat route. It is a bit tight for the Half Marathoners if they choose to walk all the way but still very doable.

Now lets analyse the consequences of failing to reach the various “diversion points” as the organiser choose to call it.

First up is at 3 km or 3.5 for the FM and HM respectively just along the start of Cecil Street between the Raffles Place MRT and Upper Cross Street  . The cut off time is 6.00 am which gives the runners starting at 5.20 am 40 minutes to run the 3 km or so making it roughly around 11 – 13 minutess per km. At that speed, that is walking pace! What it means for you is that if you have to take 40 minutes to touch 3.5 km, you probably have not trained a single mile for this race and you cannot possibly hope to complete the race be it the half or the full by the cut off time of 4 hours or 8 hours unless you can do the balance distance at a considerably faster pace which will seems like a pipe dream since you need to take that long just to walk 3.5 km.

Don’t waste your time and the volunteer’s time. You are better off going home to sleep.

Assuming you managed to clear the first hurdle but is now hovering dangerously close to diversion at 12 km. This is the start of East Coast Park at junction of Fort B and East Coast Park and you need to be there by 7.30 am. FM goes into East Coast Park whereas the HM goes up Fort Road. If you reach here just slightly before 7.30 am, said 7.20 m, and again assuming you start at the last wave at 5.20 am (I don’t even want to think that you start somewhat earlier and took that long to reach this point) , you are now averaging 14 minutes per km which is like dragging your feet and walking.

If you are a HM, congratulations. This is the last diversion point for you and you now have 1 hour 10 minutes to complete the last 9 km. If you are lucky, the Gods are kind to you, you get good weather and you can now improve your pace to 7 minutes per km to get that finisher medal. Can you double your pace? If you can’t, stop a taxi or hop on to a bus or the MRT and take a ride back. Don’t waste your energy cause what the point of walking back to the finish line if you can’t get the coveted finisher medal?

If you are a FM, you now have a new lease of life. Another 1 hour 15 minutes to do 6.5 km and reach the next diversion point of 18.5 km by 8.45 am. I reckoned that somewhere around the Car Park F2 area.  That seems pretty doable even if you have to walk this whole 6.5 km. The average walking pace is approximately 10 minutes per km but here you have an extra 1 minute per km so unless you need to go to the many toilets along the way to do Number 1 or stop at the food centre or MacDonalds for breakfast, you should be able to complete this stretch.

After this, the organiser has generously given you 3 hours 45 minutes to complete the next 21.5 km which is at the 40 km at Republic Boulevard outside F1 Pit building. 12.30 pm noon. This means if you have continued walking from East Coast Park to this place without stopping to dump, piss or take pictures or buy drinks, your are on target to complete the FM! If you had somehow found some inner reserve of energy, who knows you might even have a fair bit of buffer till the final diversion point.

By now, you should be hot, sweaty and if it is hot, hot, hot, super tired. Pray for rain. That always liven thing up a bit. But if you reach the last diversion point on time, you now have only 2 km to go. And a whopping 50 minutes to finish 2 km and collect your finisher tee and finisher medal. And I think even if you crawl all the way back, you can still make it on time. Congratulations, you are a Marathoner!

 

 

Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2016

This is going to be a super long post.

Once again it is the time for the biggest running event in Singapore, the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, the only Gold Label running race in South East Asia.

This year’s edition has thrown up some new surprises and controversy way before the flag off.

First up was the shocked announcement of the financial situation surrounding the previous 2 edition’s organiser, Spectrum Worldwide. Following that, a new company, Ironman Asia took over. The change of organiser and race director raised some initial hopes that finally the Singapore’s edition will live up to its Gold Label status. After all, Ironman the company is the organiser of the World’s Ironman series

And indeed things seem to look good when the event was launched this year in June. No huge jump in race fee and big promises to give participants a good experience. “it’s all about making sure that the athlete experience is the best it possibly can be,” said Ironman Asia managing director Geoff Meyer, –.TNP 8 July 2016. But that was the only well received news as after that everything that came out from the organiser were bad news and PR disaster!

During the launch, the organiser came up with a “Digital Race” where people were invited to post their experiences on social media and get as many Likes as possible to win race slots and other prizes. The idea seems great until friends’ Facebook got spammed by friends trying to win that free slot. And after frustrated Facebook users complained about the spamming – guess what was the suggestions from the organiser? – to temporary unfollow their friends who are participating in the digital race! screenhunter_154-nov-26-22-43Wow! What kind of a response was that? This particular gimmick certainly didn’t win them any friends and will certainly count as one of the biggest failure of a digital marketing campaign!

Then the surprise announcement that the Full Marathon(FM) and Half Marathon(HM) will start together from Orchard Road instead of 2 different locations as per the last 2 years – from Orchard Road (FM) and Sentosa (HM) much to the disappointment of many recreational runners who were hoping to start from Sentosa and take some photos with the mascots from Universal Studios and Resort World Sentosa. However, this move is understandable as logically it is easier and financially cheaper to have 1 start venue than 2. Interestingly, the event website still state  “2016 will mark the 15th anniversary the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore and we are set to once again feature three different routes for the Marathon, Half Marathon and 10km”

Except for the longer route at East Coast Park for the FM, the route is almost identical for both the FM & HM and much of the 10km overlaps the route for the FM & HM. Immediately runners were concerned with congestion at the start but the organiser were quick to allay these fears with reassuring statement that the runners will be separated until….

It emerged that both FM & HM will start together from 4.30 am onward, abide with different pens and wave start for runners with different race timing. With an expected 50000 runners and assuming divided equally between the 3 categories, we are looking at 30000 runners converging on Orchard Road and running together. How the organiser is going to separate the runners remains to be seen. Knowing the ugliness of our local runners, I am sure many of them will try to jam up the front areas not meant for them. This year Sundown had a similar pen system and wave start. And the FM & HM starts at separate time. Yet many runners were caught in a human jam trying to enter their respective pen and were delayed by more than 30 minutes. Will the same thing happen at the SCMS? 

And the congestion fear is all too real. The FM & HM will run together for the first 12 km until separation at East Coast Park. Will there be full road closures to allow the runners to run through smoothly throughout? From past experiences, inevitably the full road closure at the start narrows down to 2 and even 1 single lane further down the route especially at road junctions. Based on the Traffic Advisory issued, there will only be full road closures at Nicoll Highway and some of the roads around the Marina Bay areas. There are only partial road closures in the CBD and Fort Road areas. Will this mean a nightmare for runners trying to get a PB or hoping to use this race as a qualifier?

According to the SCMS website, the FM & HM routes will merge again at Fort Road on the return leg. The organiser has promised lane segregation. I don’t know whether they will do it all the way from Fort Road, which I hope they will really do so, otherwise this will result in a frustrating experience for the sub 4 & 5 hours runners in the FM who will have to weave through the strollers and walkers from the HM for the last 9 km.

It seems to me that this year, the combined start will only benefit the elite and fast runners, those FM sub 3 and HM sub 2 who will reach the finish line well ahead of the main group of runners. Pity the FM sub 4. They will be caught in the mass of of the sub 3 and sub 4 HM and the sub 2 10 km participant.

The latest bomb shell was given barely 3 weeks before the flag off. No MRT services! Unlike the past few years, this year due to “track maintenance” reason, there will be no early MRT service to bring the runners down to Orchard Road. Instead, private chartered bus will be available at $5 per person from 30 separate locations. SMRT claimed that it has informed the organiser way back in May yet SCMS only announced it this month. Why the delay in the announcement? Was it due to fear that the sign up rate will be lower if this was made known earlier? Whatever it is, the non availability of the train service means that runners will have no sleep at all with the first pickup starting at 2 am. And with so many bus converging on the same location within the same period, will there be a big jam and chaos at the drop off point?

So far it seems that there isn’t any evidence of a good experience yet and in fact all evidence are pointing to a chaotic start venue and real bad congestion both at the start and at the end.

Am I done? Not yet. Back in the bad old days of 2014, I broke the news of diverted runners. Since then there has been some changes made. Runners who are diverted will be disqualified and will not get a timing and medal although I understand they still get their finisher tee. But that ok and still an improvement over the days when diverted runners who run shorter distances or are assisted to run shorter distance can still get a timing and their medal and finisher tee. So why am I harping on this again?

The thing is, I still fail to understand why despite this being a Gold Label race, the organiser is still not able to set checkpoints cut off timing or state where the designated cut off points along the routes. This is the very vague statement from their website:

Note: There might be staggered cut-off times at selected sections of the race route. Details of diversion points will be released closer to race day. For participants’ safety and to avoid being caught in between live traffic, diverted participants must obey as instructed, or they will be pulled off the race course immediately.”

What is “staggered cut-off times”? And where is “selected sections” of the route? And “might be” meaning there may not be any at all? Having pre-determined checkpoints and announced cut-off times will help the runners to plan their race strategy. All major international races have them and even the KL Marathon have them and that is not even Gold Label. So what is the problem with Singapore?

I hope my misgiving are unfounded and after many many years of grumbling and complaints, with a new organiser on board, this year our runners will finally get a race that they can be proud of and truly have a great experience. And I really hope I don’t have to come back here to write a “I told you so” report.

Meanwhile, to all the runners doing this. Happy Running! Chin up and smile when you see our camera.

 

King of Sungai Lembing

Found out there is race at Sungai Lembing. Not having been there and given a chance, I decided to go for it. There 3 categories for this. 10 KM 21 Km and 50 Km. Naturally being the lazy bum, I decided that half of the pain will be enough and so  I duly signed for the the 21 km with a few other like minded wise men and ladies.

The 50 km flagged off at 6.45 am. Our 21 km flagged off at 7.15 am. When we reach the start venue, there wasn’t a big crowd. In fact the number of people present looks like than 500. Now I seriously don’t know much about this race. I know it is trail but there was to be no climbing, no jungle trail and no mud. In fact I heard part of it will be on paved road. So it shouldn’t be too tough right? And so hopefully I wouldn’t finish wooden spoon-list.

After the flagged off, we ran down the tiny little town centre. dsc_1600

Then we cross what to me must be the mother of all bridge at Sungai Lembing, a fat ass metal bridge. dsc_1602

Then we came to a cemetery or rather 2 Chinese cemeteries since they were separated by a road. Thankfully we didn’t have to run through it just next to it. What with it being the Chinese 7th month, I certainly didn’t fancy having extra runners popping up to run alongside me.

Now the thing about trail which I never seem to gonna into my head is that where there are trails, there are invariably hills and for this race, the climb certainly came early. Just 1 km into the race and shortly after the cemeteries, the road started to go up and up and up. Not mountain kind of high but still a 130 metre gain over 2 km. That’s like going up Bukit Timah Hill. Since I didn’t study the route beforehand and not knowing what to expect later ie how many more climbs, I decided to conserve energy and walk up!  First time that I started walking in a race.screenhunter_140-sep-13-19-40

By now M had already disappeared from sight. Vincent soon came along and overtook me. I kept him in my sight for about 1 km before he too disappeared. Which left AC. I presumed he was somewhere in front of me.

The route took us through many kampungs much like what we see on those old Pontianak moviesdsc_1617

Rubber plantation but mainly up and down hills after hills although none was as high as the initial climb.dsc_1607

And of course at various point in times we crossed/ran by the race namesake, Sungai Lembing dsc_1618

including crossing over one suspension bridge somewhere near the end of the racedsc_1625

By then I had run out of steam. It was getting hot. While I had warm up after 5 km and didn’t walk as much, it was still pretty much walk up the steeper inclines and run on the down and flats but of course stopping frequently to take photos like trying but failing miserably to take a photo of the sun risedsc_1609

Unlike say Muar Cross Country or Bali marathon, there wasn’t much hill top scenery but still it was pretty ok except for those darned motorcyclists which keep going up and down with their loud and smokey exhaust!

dsc_1611

I finally crossed the finish line after 2 hours 40 minutes. Never mind, it not the timing that matters. Just how much I got to enjoy myself. M and Vincent had already finished and M got a bonus 2nd place for the Women’s Veteran category!

Overall while this was touted as a no frills race, it was certainly well organised. Road directions signages and marshalls were in place at all strategic junctions. There were drink stations with water and isotonic drinks every 3 km or so.dsc_1614 Notice anything missing from this drink station? Yes there is no cup. The race has a strict “bring your own cup” policy and everyone has to bring their own carrier to fill up. This extend all the way to the finish line. For such a small race, they also used a sort of electronic timing chip which needs to be scanned individually via a handheld device much like a mobile phone. Not very efficient but sufficient for such a small race. And the result was out in within 2 days. Generally a proper nice little race which I am quite glad I came to run in.