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.

 

Virtual Racing

Time has really changed with the onset of what economists called disruptive economy. Taxi companies, hotels, travel agencies, bicycle rental are all being affected by this new way of doing business. But I never thought that running in a race, which is a very personal and physical thing can be affected as well.

Typically, when one sign up for a race, he pays a registration fee which entitles him to run in the race, a goodie bag with some freebies, an event tee and after the race, a medal, a certificate and perhaps a finisher tee. During the race, there will be some sort of support, drinks station, road marshal and medical aid. There may also be a carnival area for the runners to enjoy after the race. Above all, one gets to run together with friends and compete with peers on a public course that is partially closed to traffic. And that is what a typical road race is like. 

But now it seems the disruptive economy has reached into the ambit of road racing. Now a person can register, pay a small sum of money and run a virtual race ie he runs alone according to the race or challenge as determined by the app. There is no fixed route, no support and no finisher tee. Some will have a medal and nothing else. And you run alone.

This is the part I don’t understand. Why pay good money to other people and then run alone without getting any support or for that matter any real challenge with other runners. It just doesn’t make economic sense to me. Couldn’t it be cheaper to just do one’s own run. Why need to pay other people for that right? Some may argue that in some cases, the participant can get a medal but we all know what we do with the countless medals that we already have from real races. Mostly they just get chucked into a cupboard to be forgotten. Some may argue that these app create special race challenges like a virtual parallel race with the KL Marathon for instance, or a distance challenge. But companies like Nike and Garmin and many other apps already has peer challenge programs which requires no payment. So why pay to run your own race?

Can somebody tell me what is the attraction of doing virtual race?

 

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 →

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?