So, where were we?
Ooooh yes, that’s right. Just crossing the starting line at the 2XU half-marathon.
The first part of my race report is here. But briefly: Thumbs up for the ease of bag check and the cleanliness of the pre-race port-a-potties. Thumbs down for the wave start that was semi-secret, for the 10 minutes elapsed between waves, and for the hidden pre-race water, available only at the entrance to the starting corral. We unintentionally started with the third wave of runners (we didn’t intend to start with any wave, since we didn’t realize it was a wave start). Due to illness the previous week (KMN) and a naggy plantar fascia the previous month (Holly), we planned to run the race as an easy training run. Also, this is for Amy at Writing While Running, who requested photos of the shiny, 14-page Race Info Booklet:
Air temperature at the start was 27°C / 81°F, and humidity was over 90%. For anyone who’s counting, that’s a heat index of 31°C / 88°F. At the start. In the dark. This isn’t out of character for Singapore, but it’s still hot. It feels even hotter when you’re smushed onto a course with 9,000+ of your new best running friends. [So don’t ever travel to Singapore to PR a race, OK? But, ummm…you should still travel to Singapore! And email me, so I know you’re coming. I will take you to eat good food. I promise.]
But all that aside, at about 5:52 AM, we began our run! The very first stretch of the race was along part of the Formula 1 (race car) track. This was kind of cool, except that the the sides of the road had some special, extra-heavy-duty F1 rumble strips, presumably to alert the extra-heavy-duty (and fast) F1 cars if they were veering off the road. As our wave of runners crossed the Start line an expanded (running-runners take up more space than standing-at-the-starting-line runners), I found myself running on these rumble strips.
Unfortunately, they were not very runnable rumble strips. Imagine running along a sidewalk of poured concrete rectangles (like, a regular sidewalk). Now, take one corner of each rectangle and sink it about 20 cm / 8 inches into the ground. When you do this, the opposite corner will lift about the same amount. Imagine yourself suddenly running along this crazy uneven surface pressed together with lots of other runners about 15 seconds after starting a race. Whoa. Instability city. On the plus side (?), I experienced a nice little adrenaline surge.
Minor Issue #1: Dangerous footing right out of the gate. Organizers, our runner-ankles would have appreciated it if you had extended the gate from the starting corral right along this section of the road, to keep people off this uneven surface. Just a thought…
I made my way onto a better surface, pronto. The course was full, and the first mile included some tight turns. After that, though, things were a straight shot on Nicoll Highway for a mile or two. We had (just) enough room to run, and did some early dodging and weaving to pass people. We also jumped onto the median for a short section along Nicoll Highway, just to pass some slower runners and walkers. Honestly, on a course with so many runners, there is no good answer for how to get varied speeds to co-exist peacefully. The slower runners and walkers should stay on the outside (this is what I advise my run/walkers to do); however, the outside is also where the faster runners have the best chance of passing. There’s no good solution – but we were making our way through all right.
Mile 1: 10:27 min/mi (Twisty, turny, crowded)
Mile 2: 9:01 (Kind of where we were estimating that we wanted to be)
My first major gripe with the course came at about 2.5 mi/4 km (I wasn’t taking notes, so the miles are all approximate here, folks). That particular section of road would be run twice by the half-marathoners. The first time through, we were supposed to turn left to make a loop along the Kallang River. The second time through, we were supposed to turn right to continue along the course. To add to the complexity, the 10K runners (who were starting at 6:30) would be running first loop only. Thus, at the split point, the signs read: “10K TURN LEFT” and “21K SECOND LOOP TURN RIGHT”. This is confusing to explain, so I made you a little cartoon to help illustrate:
There was not a single sign (that we saw) indicating what “21K FIRST LOOP” should do. Not one. [Fellow runners: Please correct us if we missed something. But both KMN and I were looking hard, both times through – and that’s four eyes plus two contact lenses.]
The volunteers along the course at that point were stuck standing in the middle of the road trying to shout these directions at the top of their lungs to a sea of racing, confused runners streaming past. Designing this kind of double-loop course was asking for confusion. Designing it, and then marking it poorly was just plain irresponsible.
Yes, the course route was shown in the shiny race pamphlet (see above) But I still believe that it is a race’s responsibility to have a clearly labeled course, period. Runners get stupid when they’re racing (myself included). Signage needs to be clear, easy to read, and obvious – with volunteers acting as a supplement to (not replacement for) good signs.
And so, Minor Issue #2: Course Planning: a non-looping course would have been easier to follow, although I do understand that other constraints may have made that impossible. Which brings me to Serious Issue #1: Poor Signage: if you have to loop, at least make the loops easy for runners to follow.
Post-race reports from other runners indicate that several participants did get confused along this section: Several skipped the first loop entirely (resulting in a 16K run), and others ran the first loop twice (resulting in a 26 K run).
Thankfully, we managed to follow the course properly, and turned left into the first loop, down partially closed roads. This wasn’t exactly scenic, but there were at least plenty of safety barriers between us and oncoming traffic, so at least it felt safe.
Mile 3: 9:40 min/mi
Then, we turned onto a little path along the Kallang River. There was a flight of about 10-15 stairs leading down to the river, which definitely caused a back-up and a break in the running flow. Once we got down to the river path (which was nicely paved), it was pitch black. The time wasn’t even 6:30 AM. In Singapore, it is still thoroughly dark at this time. And while there was a path, it really wasn’t wide enough for all the runners. Several times, I found myself running (scared) in the grass next to the path, unable to see what was ahead, and hoping there weren’t any holes, ditches, or snakes.
What’s worse is that there actually were street lights along the path – they simply weren’t turned on. I don’t know who was at fault for this, but Serious Issue #2: DARK RIVER PATH. Very, very not OK.
Mile 4: 10:27 min/mi (Stairs & dark path slowdown)
We emerged, ankles intact, and continued back around to Nicoll Highway for our “second loop”. This was about when I broke out my first fuel. I ate half a pack of Sports Beans at mile 4.X, and they were disgustingly sticky and gross, as they tend to get around here. But, I gobbled them anyway, knowing that both the sugar and electrolytes were important. Obviously, this necessitated the guzzling of water, and I realized I’d pretty much emptied my bottle.
We had skipped the first four hydration stations, but it was time to brave the crowds. We cruised into the next hydration station and I quickly refilled my bottle with a few cups of water. I wanted to ask a volunteer to refill from his larger water bottle (rather than dumping perfectly good cups), but the volunteers were so busy, frantically filling cups, that I didn’t want to disturb them. I didn’t realize the extent of the challenge they were facing until later, though – so we’ll come back to this point.
And did I mention that this water stop was right before the road split described above? Well, it was. However, hydration was available on just one side of the road.
This meant that if you were on the first loop of the 21K and wanted water, you had to cross into the path of the second loopers, then make your way back to the left before the split. We avoided this by skipping the station the first time around. Thank you, handheld bottles! But really, this weirdness was easily preventable.
Minor Issue #3: Hydration station traffic flow. I know space was tight, but maybe it would have been possible to tuck a water table on the other side of the road, too? Or at least put this one in the middle, so runners on both sides could access it more easily?
We continued along, feeling the heat and humidity, and enjoying the moments when the crowd magically thinned and we could feel a slight fresh breeze. I was taking in a lot of water – I remain completely amazed at how much water my stomach can handle in Singapore. In the US, I was a one-sip-every-10-minutes girl, but that definitely won’t cut it out here. Here, I can easily take a few long swallows every 5-10 minutes without much negative stomach impact (at least at training pace), and as we headed into the latter two-thirds of the race, my drinking picked up considerably.
Sometime between miles 5 and 6 (~km 9), we crossed the Geylang River. There were a few steps up, a narrow bridge (there may have been some construction going on, but I couldn’t really tell – just a lot of barriers and a really narrow walkway), and a few steps down. Basically, everything slowed to a walk (again).
Mile 5: 10:05 min/mi
Mile 6: 10:50 (Walking the bridge crossing)
We continued along the east side of the Geylang River, past some HDB estates and condos. Unfortunately, the path here really was not built to accommodate so many runners. It could comfortably accommodate about 2 abreast, but the number and density of runners really required at least 4 people abreast. Again, we took to the grass (sorry, grass!) for a more open path. At the half-way point (6.5 miles/10.5 km), we each took a salt tab. While I think this was important for replacing electrolytes on such a long, sweaty run – the dang thing made me unquenchably thirsty for the remainder of the race.
We stopped at the next hydration station to refill our bottles again, and for the first time I realized how bad the water situation was. The hydration stops were offering both Pocari Sweat and water. But by the time we came through the course, the volunteers could hardly keep up with the demand. Runners were lining up at the tables (again, only placed on one side of the path), waiting for a volunteer to fill a cup for them. The pre-filled cups were long gone, and the volunteers definitely couldn’t keep up with demand. Pocari Sweat was available first, so I snagged a cup and drank it while walking down to the water table.
The situation for water was even worse – volunteers were pouring from 16 oz water bottles into cups. Basically, they put a few ounces in each cup, and after 2-3 cups, the bottle was empty, and they had to reach for and open another bottle. I feel a bit embarrassed for the organizers that I have to actually point out: This is a ridiculous way to provide hydration for thousands of runners.
Let me be clear: I am NOT blaming the volunteers. They were doing their best. No one could have kept up with demand under those conditions. I felt a bit guilty waiting for three cups to be poured, then taking them all to refill my bottle – but since I waited my turn, I felt (sort of) justified. I hoped that the problem was only speed – and that there was enough water for everyone, if they were willing to wait.
Again, some comments I’ve read online since seem to indicate that some of the hydration stops ran out of fluids (one? both? I’m not sure.) for the back-of-the-pack runners. I also worry that those running for time totally skipped the hydration stops, because they were too chaotic and full. This might sometimes be OK, but again – in the Singaporean heat, this is a recipe for heat-related-illnesses. NOT EVER OK.
So here we have Serious Issue #3: Hydration has to be easy. Volunteers MUST be able to provide enough fluid to the runners, fast enough (especially in a place where the heat index regularly hits 90-100°F).
Mile 7: 10:45 min/mi (Water)
Mile 8: 9:44 (No water)
Mile 9: 10:50 (Water)
I ate the rest of my Sports Beans, and we stopped for water again between miles 8 and 9, and repeated the process: Nudge our way into the table, grab a cup of Pocario Sweat to drink, wait for water, refill bottles, toss the cups, and keep moving. Looking at the data now, it looks like each of our hydration stops cost us about a minute. I thought we were faster than that, but maybe not. Also, by the time we came through the course, discarded cups and bottles (that’s a LOT of 16 oz bottles) littered the path and clogged the areas next to the table, further hampering traffic flow. I decided that this was my last water stop – with 1.5 liters of water already in my system, I could definitely finish the last 4 miles with one 500 ml bottle.
This was also the point at which KMN and I separated. He really needed to use the restroom (“At least I’m hydrated!” he quips), and decided to wait on line. Ah – did I neglect to mention that each hydration stop had exactly ONE port-a-potty? ONE. Every stop we passed had a line of 5-6 participants waiting to use it. There were nearly 9,000 runners in the 21K, and 11 or 12 hydration stops. Minor Issue #4: One bathroom per water stop isn’t enough, either, except maybe at the very beginning, or the very end.
I don’t mind adjusting my pace so KMN and I can run together, but I wasn’t going to hop around waiting for him (and the six people ahead of him) to pee, so I took off on my own (with his blessing). I was very familiar with what was left of the course – it was essentially what I’d run for both the URun 2013 Challenge and the Venus Run. We ran through the East Bay, across the dam, and past Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay. We did an “out and back” along Marina Bay/Kallang River that was much longer than what was shown on the map (ooops?), and looped up to cross the mixed-us bridge across the Kallang River.
Strangely, I was thankful for the slight incline over the bridge, if only as a break from the monotony of 11 flat, flat miles. I distracted myself by encouraging whoever I was running near, as we ran up and over the bridge, then flew down the other side. I got some strange looks, but it’s all good. I’d lost my running partner, I wasn’t in a racing zone, and I was bored. And thirsty. And hot. Distraction was welcome.
Mile 10: 9:47 min/mi
Mile 11: 9:17
Mile 12: 9:04
See? Even my paces suggest that I was ready for the whole thing to be over. We passed the 20K sign, and I promised myself “just 2.5 laps around the track!”. But I should know better than to trust on-course markings, especially when my Garmin read just 12 miles. Whoops! Minor Issue #5: Can we please get the distance markers in the right place? Please???
We proceeded to run the longest-feeling “out” section of an “out and back” that I have ever run. The “out” section was directly next to the finish line, so we essentially ran past the finish line, and continued away from the finish line, for almost half a mile, before a hairpin turn that redirected us toward the finish line. This whole section was sunny, hot, and felt interminable. I understand that they were trying to eek 13.1 miles out of the course, but DANG!, that was a brutal way to finish.
Furthermore, as we turned toward the finish line, we could see, and eventually ran past, the “Start” arch, which actually said “Finish” on the reverse side (which is the side that was facing us). Only, for this race, the Start and Finish were in slightly different places. The real Finish line was still a few hundred yards ahead. Yes, this is a small point, but at the end of a race, the last thing you want to do is fixate on something that says “Finish”, only to realize that it isn’t, really, the actual finish. But finally – finally – I crossed that finish line.
Final 0.94 Miles: 8:24 min/mi
TOTAL TIME: 2:07:51 [My Official Net Time was listed as 2:07:52 – Garmin and I are GOOD!]
[Garmin measured the course as 12.94 miles. Another inaccurate course measurement for Singapore. Stellar. Forget science, I’m gonna start a certifying body for Singapore run courses. Geesh.]
I took my Finisher’s Medal and Shirt, and the ice-water-soaked-towel they provided (best swag EVER), then set out to look for water.
Cue: *HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!* That’s what you thought you were going to do, Holly.
The moment I left the Finishing Chute, there were people. People, all over. People, sitting on the ground, two steps away from the chute. People, people, people. Serious Issue #4: Put the Finish line festivities where there is sufficient space, and encourage crowd flow in that direction. All this congregating and sitting literally AT the finish line is annoying, and could be dangerous – What if there were a medical emergency? How would personnel and supplies get through easily?
I wove my way through the crowd, and found the Non-Alcoholic Beer Tent [Seriously? Beer, at 8 AM? Non-alcoholic beer, at 8 AM? Ugh.] But…no water. Finally, I pushed my way into the finish chute for the 5K/10K races, and grabbed two cups of water from a table there. I made my way back to the 21K Finish (hopping over people the whole way) to wait for KMN. He finished a few minutes later, and we *both* set out to look for some water. We found one table giving out 1/3 full cups of either water or Pocari Sweat (I can’t remember), so we took two each and walked out of the finishing area to find a quieter, out-of-the-way spot to sit.
We stretched, sweated, chatted, sweated, got temporary tattoos, and sweated. [So sorry for the Singapore Cancer Society volunteers who were tasked with walking around and applying ‘Daffodil Days’ temporary tattoos to sweaty runners. You guys totally drew the short straw on the volunteer gig.] KMN went to look for bottles of water. No luck. He returned with a few cups of water and Pocari. I downed mine, but was still thirsty. Organizers, let’s revisit Serious Issue #3: Hydration has to be easy. If you are putting together a race – especially a long event, and double-especially in a hot climate, there has to be lots of fluid, easily available to the runners. This is non-negotiable, in my estimation.
While KMN was off on a hydration-hunt, I realized that my left “pointer finger” toe was really hurting, from rubbing against my big toe. I’ve been running in Singapore for 6 months now, and my body is still finding new places to chafe. Sunday’s additions include the aforementioned toe, the spot where the drawstring on my capris hit my abdomen, and the backs of my knees. Yes folks, the backs of my knees. It’s amazing.
cooling off continuing to sweat for about 15 minutes, we decided it was time to move on: We needed more hydration than a few sips of water, and clearly we weren’t going to find it at the finish line carnival.
We collected our bags (very smooth!) and headed to the subway station. We were planning to pop over to a nearby branch of our gym to get some water and clean ourselves up – after all, it was Easter Sunday!
My overall impressions of the race? If you didn’t catch it already, I wasn’t such a fan of this race. The route was average, and the loops/out-and-backs were annoying (especially the last one!). Despite the apparent pre-race organization (registration, packet pick-up, etc), there were some serious planning mistakes: missing info about the start, bad course marking, routing through some runner-unfriendly spots (rumble strips, stairs, narrow bridges), and most of all – unsafe practices. For me, that last one is a deal-breaker. Race safety is a priority: for my sake, but even more so for my fellow runners (especially the inexperienced ones). Routing onto a dark path, inability to provide fluids quickly at Hydration Stations and the Finish line, and unsafe congestion in the Finish are all pretty much inexcusable. 2XU, I won’t be back next year. Thanks, but no thanks.
For me personally, the race got the job done as a long run. But I probably would have been happier to keep the $52 SGD/$42 USD in my pocket, and go on my own run. However, I should note that the race package was pretty generous:
How was the workout itself? Well, our pace was definitely slow (9:54 min/mi average over the whole distance). But for what we wanted to accomplish on Sunday, this was just fine with me. And, despite what the splits say, I think we actually ran a pretty steady pace for the first 9 miles (somewhere around 9:45-10:00 min/mi), when we were actually running. Water stops and walking sections obviously slowed us down at some points. And I definitely sped up after Mile 9. Guilty!
The day was hot, and I drank about 2L of water on the course – and I was still thirsty for at least half the race! I think the salt tabs may have been at fault there, but as the day continued, I seemed to recover pretty well, without any dehydration symptoms – so I think my hydration and electrolytes were actually pretty good. As far as fuel goes, one bag of Sports Beans is a bit on the low side, fuel-wise, but since we were taking things easy, it worked out fine. But although this strategy was fine for a slow, easy pace, this race does make me worry a bit about how my body will handle that much water when I’m running a faster pace. But that will be a different experiment for another race. Sundown Half-Marathon, perhaps?
Also? Final standing based on Net Time (ie, adjusted for start time): 176/2093. I’m guessing that 2093 is “Open Female”, but that actually isn’t specified (so helpful, results page!). Can’t really complain about that. Again – I might actually be dangerous, if I were racing. 😉
*Whew!* I think the report took as long to write as the race did to run. I’ve gotta get faster at this! But for now…it’s Friday afternoon, and I’m heading out for a run. Cheers!
Runners: Any tips for handling crowded water stops?
Anyone/Everyone: What’s your favorite piece of hot-weather-apparel/gear (running or otherwise)?