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 →

Hong Kong Marathon vs Singapore Marathon

We came to Hong Kong especially for the Hong Kong Marathon (HKM). The HKM is a hot event and in the past years, all the slots are fully taken up within 24 hours of registration. For this year’s edition, the organizer switched to a ballot system. As I understand it, a large group of Singaporean got in including 3 of my friends which was how I found myself freezing my butt off next to the start line early Sunday morning.

Despite the hype over the HKM among Singapore runners, some of whom come back year after year, I have no desire to run another marathon. Been there, done that enough or at least until something much more interesting comes along. So anyway there I was looking at the runners anticipating the flag off and I couldn’t help but compare the race with our Standard Charted Marathon Singapore (SCMS). I know it not very fair but somehow we like to compare everything in Singapore with HK and this is no exception.

At the start pen, the runners were led to the start line in an orderly manner by a row of uniform marshals

There are some similarities between the 2. For one, both are big race. The HKM has about 78000 participants over 3 categories and the SCMS about 46000 over 5 categories. Both races had the 10km flagged off at a different location from the half and full marathon. But that where the similarities end.

Start

At the SCMS, there was no provision for public transports to the race start site. For the HKM, there was special arrangement for the MTR to operate early and bring the runners to the 2 start points.

The first wave flags off at 6.10 am compared to 4.30 am for SCMS (HM & FM). Subsequent waves for HKM starts at 6.35 am & 7.00 am (FM) and 5.45 am; 8.00 am and 8.30 am. And because of these staggered start for the HKM and despite the 78000, there were absolutely no congestion. In Singapore, we hear complaints of congestion at every race, last year edition inclusive. The SCMS made the HM and FM runners start off together at the same time abide in different pen/waves with staggered time between each pen ranging from 5 minutes to half an hour! In HK, there were 6 waves for the 10 km runners with half an hour in between. In Singapore, all the 10 km start off together in one wave! 

Road Closure.

Nathan Road in HK where the FM and HM start is a 4 lane road with 2 lanes each in one direction. There are potted plants and a divider separating the 2 directions. I expected the flag off to be on only 1 side of the road since they are so clearly separated and thus leaving 1 portion opens to traffic. Imagine my surprise when I saw that both directions were closed and the runners were flagged off from both sides. That surely will help to reduce congestion. After the flag off, I made my way to the end point – well almost – like about 1 km from it. And I was again awe struck. It was right smack in the middle of Causeway Point area and there were shops and residents on both side of the road and yet the entire section of the road was closed to traffic and pedestrian! I don’t think we will ever get a full road closure in Singapore in any residential or commercial area! Just look at the photo.

Look at the space available for the runners along Hennesy Road

And I was told by those who ran that although they ran mainly on highways, it was the same full road closure throughout. No sharing of the road with vehicle. Again, we won’t get to see this here in Singapore. If lucky in Singapore we get to run on park connectors where there is no traffic but once on the road, it is a sure bet that it will only be a partial closure.

Cut Off Time

There is a cut off of 6 hours, 3 hours and 2 hours for the FM, HM and 10 km respectively in the HKM. SCMS has a 8 hours cut off for the FM, 4 hours and 2 hours for the other 2 categories respectively. The HK course is mainly hilly with many slopes up bridges and underpass (tunnels) . Singapore’s course is flat with no incline at all. Yet HK has a much stringent cut off and despite that, more runners than Singapore. For HKM, the cut off timing and cut off locations for not just each category but each wave of runners were stated clearly in the race guide. The SCMS has cut off timings which does not make much sense at least to me. The sweeper bus is clearly seen behind the last runners at HKM. In Singapore, runners who fail to meet the timing at the various cut off points are diverted to a shorter route back to the finish line!

Finisher Tee

For the HKM, there is no finisher tee for the FM runners. Just the usual event tee; a medal and a teeny weeny towel. Back home, a finisher tee is a given and it is given to everyone who completes the FM regardless of their finish time unless they were unlucky enough to be caught by the marshal at the various designated cut off point.

No wonder a friend remarked to me that there were hardly any walkers unlike in Singapore where one can see walkers right from the flag off! Those who run in HK, all 78000 of them do so not for the tee but to compete against the clock and themselves unlike in Singapore where one can actually walks the full distance of the FM and still finish on time.

The HKM is a race for the serious runners and not meant to be a mass participation fee event. This just show that HK has got its priority right and the event is for those who are willing to train for it and not just for any body who wants to brag.. The SCMS is a iAAF Gold Label race. The HKM is not but if I have to choose, I will pick HKM anytime even though the route is more challenging and there is no finisher tee and I may get DNF since I running slower and slower nowadays. SCMS – until they start to take runners seriously, I foresee more and more serious runners will continue to fly overseas for their race fix and boycott the SCMS.

Singapore Marathon 2016 – A Non Runner Report

So the Singapore Marathon has come and go. And happily for the majority of the runners, the chaos that I and many others foresee when we first heard about the combined start of the FM and HM did not materialise. In fact by all account, it was smooth sailing all the way. Well almost.

Understandably when almost 30000 people gather together in one area, some congestion is to be expected. But I guess the Pen system and the staggered start works well enough to ease the jam. Probably the only screw up was that the 10 km start was delayed for almost 30 minutes.

But ultimately in a big race like this, there is bound to be some congestion and like the previous edition, the congestion was at the end at the 40 km point when all the 3 categories merged together. And this was contrary to what Geoff Meyer said in the announcement of the new routes: “Meyer also pointed out that the half marathon and full marathon runners would be running on separate lanes” and “To ensure a smooth end to the race, we’ve created separate lanes as the routes merge from the 33km mark for Full and Half marathon runners to maintain their pace,” said Meyer to Yahoo Singapore.”  There was no segregation at Raffles Avenue where I was.  So something failed here or Ironman Asia could not persuade our very pragmatic authorities to see things their way.

Apart from the congestion, the other sore point  was that some of the hydration points ran out of water. Actually was it out of  water or out of cup? I was at the 40 km water point and personally witnessed this. scm_9330The volunteers stopped serving the water. At first I thought they ran out of water but 10 minutes later, a landrover came by and replenish the cups and it was business as usual. So I supposed it was a case of being super unlucky for those runners who ran past the hydration points when they just happened to run out of water or cups.

Last but not least, an observation on the diversion points. There were comments on the various running forums that some runners took short cut. This was particularly so at the 12 km Fort Road/East Coast Park junction where the FM and HM split up. Apparently, FM runners can just take the HM route without completing the loop at East Coast Park. And although they will not get a timing they will get their finisher tee and medal.  People also took shortcut along stretch of East Coast Park. This as opposed to being marked as “DNF” and disqualified from collected the finisher tee and medal. Oh well I supposed this is to be expected seeing that the organiser cannot possibly partition off the full race route. But the organiser could make it more difficult for people to take these type of short cut by having proper cut off timing and checkpoints instead of the weird 3 km, 12 km and 18 km diversion points. And why was there a need for a diversion point at 40 km when there is no other way for the runners to go but to the finish along the race route?

But overall, reading all the comments and feedback online, I think this year edition was indeed a much improved version compared to the last 2 editions. With more time and experience next year, possibly can there be hope that Singapore will finally have a Gold Label race to be proud of?

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.

 

Singapore City Race 2016

For someone who swear does not want to run local races, I somehow find somehow find myself doing 2 races within a month with a third to come next month!

On Saturday morning I find myself at Marina Square for the 3rd Singapore City Race with 5 others in a team and thousand of participants to challenge ourselves in the City Race. I done both 2013 & 2014 editions and while I think my group took too long to complete, we did enjoy the experience so we are back for a 3rd time to torture ourselves.

The City Race is different from the conventional race. Participants can either run solo or in a team of up to 6 members. The unique thing about this race is that the race route is intentionally not reveal until the morning of the race on site and the participants have to use their ingenuity and legs to get to the 6 checkpoints in the fastest time. This means not just running fast as a team but also knowing the shortest and best route. The first 2 editions brought us all the way to Bukit Timah so I was kinda expecting the same only to be surprised this year. To our utter surprise, this year was a totally “city” race. No trail. And the furthest checkpoint for those in the Long Distance, which means us, was at Changi Chapel all the way up at Loyang!

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Photo Credit : Rosemary Chan

So after studying the map and a short discussion, we flagged off. First target was the nearest checkpoint at Tanjong Rhu. Most of the runners took the Marina Promenade route. We figured going via Nicoll Highway was the shortest and that was how we ran. Nicoll Highway, Stadium complex area and crossing the suspension bridge to the first checkpoint!

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Photo Credit Rosemary Chan

Weather was still good and a short 10 minutes later we were at the next checkpoint at Katong Park. To my disappointment, the 2 Singh and British soldier sentry statues were no longer there. Was looking forward to having a group photograph with these 2 kind souls. What a bummer.

At this point we had a short discussion whether we should go to Checkpoint 9 & 3 which was at Joo Chiat & Dakota but which will involve a short detour of maybe 2 to 3 km. In the end, the pragmatic Vincent decided that it was more prudent to go straight to Checkpoint 8 at Bedok Jetty and to cover these 2 areas on the return leg. So 6 km down, we reached Bedok Jetty. 3 checkpoints covered!

From Bedok, it was going to be a long haul to Changi. We crossed the underpass to Bayshore, ran along Upper East Coast Road and had a pit stop at Bedok Corner Food Centre where we had goreng pisang, sugar cane and coconut juice. Then we continued on to Simei. With 5 of us in the team being Eastsider, we knew the area very well. Our dilemma was how to get to Changi Chapel via the shortest and safest route. By now the sun was out and we didn’t want to run any extra distance if possible. There was various way to get there with the shortest being up Upper Changi Road East to the TPE/PIE/ECP junction. But the problem was there was no pavement along part of that route especially where the 3 expressways meet and it was kinda dangerous with very heavy traffic entering and leaving the expressways. Initially we ran along the PCN underneath the MRT track next to ITE East until we hit Jalan Angin Laut. The plan was to go into Simei, cross the PIE via the overhead bridge to Tampines and run beneath the HDB flats parallel to the PIE before hitting the junction. But that involve a longer distance of at least 3 km. At Jalan Angin Laut, after some further discussion, we decided to abandon the plan and try out luck with the heavy traffic. So we got to run next to the expressway and dash across all the various exit and entrance. And thank God, we and all the other like minded runners made it through safely without any incident.

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Photo Credit Jancy

Checkpoint 10 done and dusted and now the long long route back to the city. This time we decided that the most logical way was the straight route from Upper Changi Road East to Still Road. No twist and turn. We did have another pit stop for iced coffee at a coffeeshop at Bedok though. By now the heat was getting to us since it was already noon and we were doing run/walk. The MRT and the bus look so tempting. Just hop up one of them and it will get us so much closer to our next destination at Joo Chiat. But of course we have our integrity and pride and so we run/walk on. And after what seems like an eternity we reached Joo Chiat Place where checkpoint 9 was supposed to be to discover it was not there. What the hell! Apparently, there was some printing error on the map or some miscommunication and in fact the Checkpoint 9 which is Kim Choo kueh was the outlet at East Coast Road and not the one at Joo Chiat Place. Thankfully it was just a short distance away so not much of a problem.

The kueh looks so tempting but we were rushing for time now and cannot stop to eat so on we go. Then my lack of long distance mileage shows and I developed cramp outside the Katong Mall. Damn! So while the others ran ahead, I had to walk the next few km. But hahaha since I was the team leader with the timing chip and bib, they still have to wait for me so even if they are far ahead, only my arrival counts. Too bad for them.

Our last checkpoint was at Dakota Crescent. Thank goodness it wasn’t that far from Kim Choo. Not more than 2 km. And despite my walking, I think we did quite good time cutting through Goodman Road and using the Park Connecter to reach Dakota Crescent in double quick time. Checkpoint 9 was at Tian Kee Coffee. Oh to stop for a sip. But time was of the essence and we had to move on but not before the ladies played on the Dove playground for a while!DSC_1436

I found back my legs on Nicholl Highway and managed to run back catching up with the 3 ladies. Vincent and Mel had zoomed off and disappeared from view. At the junction of Suntec and Marina Square, I managed to dash across the road first to reach back to Marina Square only to find no Vincent and Mel. The 3 ladies came shortly and we were wondering where the 2 of them disappeared to. Turn out they detour to Suntec City for shopping? and from being the first and fastest in the group they returned last. But all well that ends well and we crossed the finish line together. 7 hours after flag off at 7.30 am!

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Photo Credit Rosemary Chan

With this, I completed the longest race for this year. No plans to do anymore. Too lazy and tire to do this type of distance. But then again, never said never……