All illustrations by Lydia Tan
Every year, in the first week of December, Singapore’s CBD bears witness to one of nature’s most spectacular migrations.
Tens of thousands of humans gather to make the arduous journey from Marina Bay to East Coast Park and back again, in search of glory, personal fulfilment, and a 42.195km Finisher T-shirt. Not everyone will make it unscathed. Along the way, many fall prey to stitches, dehydration, and—the apex predator—severe chafing.
I’m talking, of course, about the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, which has never been the subject of a National Geographic documentary, but probably should be. After all, amidst the sea of blue jerseys, there is a hidden diversity that is just waiting to be discovered …
Most marathon participants are Singapore residents, but there’s a special cohort of hardcore runners who cross timezones to run. These serious marathoners took time from work, applied for a Visa and checked into a hotel for the privilege of waking up before dawn to run 42.195km under Singapore’s sun.
Marathon? Pffffft. It’s not a real marathon unless you’re mildly jet-lagged in a foreign land, with an unfamiliar cereal churning in your stomach. On the bright side, it is the fastest—albeit the most painful—way to tour Singapore’s historic civic district. The race route covers everything from St Andrew’s Cathedral to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
If beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then bananas are proof that God wants you to get off your ass and exercise.
Honestly, is there a fruit more perfect, more uniquely suited to the athletics in general and running in particular? Bananas are soft, seedless, and easily eaten with one hand. More importantly, they are rich in potassium and sugars that every long-distance runner requires.
Sweet potatoes provide many of the same essential nutrients, but they need to be cooked and peeled before you can shove them in your gob. Energy gels work too, but they are more expensive and less fun in terms of shape and colour. No wonder races are full of runners chomping down on bananas without breaking stride.
The Grandmother Your Encik Warned You About
What do you think about when you think of sports for senior citizens? Chances are, you think Taichi, Golf or—for the Netflix crowd—Chair Yoga.
Fortunately, your NS sergeant-major is more progressive in his views and more correct when it comes to the facts: Age is just a number, and there are grandpas/grandmas out there who can run like a 5-year-old Gazelle who’s been disqualified for doping. Don’t let their silver hair fool you, endurance sports is not gymnastics—i.e. The exclusive domain of the young and precocious. There are uncles whose wrinkles conceal the lungs and heart of a freshly-bereted Commando.
Receding hairline? You’ll be the one receding into the blurry background when they outpace you before the halfway point.
Sometimes, you will spot medium-large groups of people running together, at the same speed. No, they’re not a Masonic club, or the security detail of a particularly fit Minister.
More likely than not, it’s a pacer. As their title suggests, pacers are experienced runners hired to set a certain ‘pace’ for the benefit of participants who want to beat a personal best. Inconsistency is a real problem during marathons because it’s easy to to crash and burn after too fast a start, or to underestimate the running speed one needs to hit a certain timing .
Pacers help prevent such noob mistakes by acting as a personal stop watch. Whether you’re aiming to finish in 4 hours, 4.15, or 5.5 hours, you can just follow their lead and never have to don a watch.
You can spot most professional marathon runners from a mile away. It’s not just the speed or their expensive wrap-around sunglasses. They all share a distinctive body shape which separates them from lumpier amateurs: Lanky legs, bulging calves, arms where you can see every cord of muscle rippling beneath the skin because there’s 0.01% body fat.
Watching them run inspires mixed feelings of awe and despair. It’s awe-inspiring to watch the human form in peak condition, pushed to the boundaries of what is possible. It’s depressing because you’ll inevitably compare it to your own body—a pear-shaped oddity hidden beneath a flattering L-size t-shirt; which turn a darker shade of grey after a 100m jog to catch the bus.
Of course, not everyone can claim the gazelle or the ostrich as their spirit animal. Every year, many hit the wall and end up walking the last 10-15 km because their glycogen is depleted or due to intolerable knee pains. After all, most marathoners are not flinty-eyed pros who’ve turned themselves into machines for locomotion through years of superhuman discipline, but average guys in search of a challenge.
Inevitably, some are not adequately prepared for the event, whilst others might have over-prepared by not giving themselves enough rest. Either way, you will see a lot of people folding before the finish line. They will be walking with hands-on hip, bent over from the lack of breath. Some will walk on valiantly till the end, while others will hop onto a bus to avoid passing out.
No shame in trying and failing and trying again. But here’s a message from our sponsors: If you’re a runner, eat carbs beforehand and get plenty of sleep. If you’re not running …
You, yes, you
Did your Tinder date go badly? Did your friends bail on dinner at the last moment? Are you completely uninspired by the selection of movies currently screening?
Why not come down to support the people who’ve dedicated their Saturday evening to the most unnecessarily painful of human endeavours? You may not enjoy running (or even moving), but there’s no denying the spectacle. Come Saturday evening, 30 November, thousands of runners will be putting themselves to test like salmon swimming upstream, or monarch butterflies crossing North America.
Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to get off the sofa and join them. December is upon us and it is probably too late to start on your New Year Weight Loss resolution. But there’s always next year, and maybe watching a Marathon is just the inspiration—or ass-kicking—you need to make good on 2020.
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