As soon as my running friend Deb booked her plane ticket to Singapore, I checked the race calendars to see what races were being held the weekend she was here. Sunday, Sept. 8 turned out to be a pretty popular race day: POSB PAssion Run for Kids, the Tampines Run, and the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Salomon Vertical City Trail Race (10K + 20 story stair climb).
[Poor Deb asked me, before her arrival, “Can I still run a race if I can’t pronounce the name?”]
Deb and I trail raced together quite a bit when I lived in Rochester, so the Salomon Trail Race seemed the natural choice.*Important note: In Singapore, registration for a race closes about a month (or more) before the race. Race routes aren’t published until 2-3 weeks before the actual race. Thus, we are almost always signing up for a race without knowing the route. Of course, the route from previous years can serve as a guide. Information on the Salomon Vertical City Trail Race was sparse, but the website trumpeted:
“First flagged off in 2011, the inaugural Salomon Tiong Bahru Urban Trail Run gave the 1,500 participants the opportunity to race and experience the 800 metre Marang Trail. With an elevation of 70 metres, the trail consisted of steps and shaded footpaths through secondary forest. The run also brought participants through six overhead bridges including the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore, the Henderson Waves, which provided a scenic view of the city to Telok Blangah Hill Park.
After the very successful and memorable first edition of the run in 2011, organisers are cognisant of the fact that expectations from runners this year are high. They promise that no stone will be left unturned to make this year’s event one of the best trail races in Singapore.”
I have quickly grown to love Singapore races that aren’t held on the waterfront/Gardens by the Bay/Marina Barrage course that most races here use, and I was doubly happy with the prospect of some trail running. I was excited to share my Singapore running life – humidity, overhead bridges, urban trails, and all – with Deb. So all three of us (Deb, KMN, and I) signed up. I eagerly awaited the unveiling of the course.
Unfortunately, when I picked up our packets the week before the race, I was treated to a sad surprise when I looked at the course map. The route ran along some of the major roads around the Tiong Bahru neighborhood: Havelock Road, Alexandra Road, Jalan Bukit Merah… and I checked very carefully, several times – but I didn’t see any trails on the course. Not a single one.
I came home and showed the map to KMN, who is a bit more familiar with the area than I. He confirmed my suspicion: no trails. Apparently, a “City Trail” means “run along some of the major roads in Tiong Bahru”. And, hello, Salomon sponsorship??? I will admit to feeling confused, misled, and frankly – more than a little annoyed about what I perceived as very deceiving website text.
But Deb was here, we’d already paid our registration fee ($45 SGD/$36 USD), and of course we were going to run. I awoke at 3 AM on race morning to a massive thunder and lightening storm. I crossed my fingers that it would pass, rolled over, and slept for 2 more hours. By the time I woke for good, the thunder and lightning had moved out, but the rain was still pouring down. We got changed, pinned on our bibs, had a bite to eat, grabbed some umbrellas, and headed out for the bus. By the time we alighted in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood, the rain had lightened somewhat, and we poked around to find the start.
I was quite surprised at how few runners were hanging around the PSB Academy campus, where a banner in the small parking lot marked the Starting Line. We checked our bags (there were 3 people ahead of us in line), then I used the bathroom (there were 3 people ahead of me in line there, too), did a quick warm-up (no one was ahead of me, in case you were curious), and assembled at the start. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were part of a field of several hundred – as opposed to the usual several thousand that populate the starting line of a race in Singapore.
Personally, I had no idea what was going to happen with this race. I’d run a pretty decent marathon just two weeks earlier, and was nearing the end of my post-marathon recovery – just in time to jump back into 50K ultra training. Needless to say, the focus of my running since April was on distance, not speed. What was my 10K pace two weeks after a marathon, for which I’d trained with some tempo, but no interval, work? That was an excellent question.
Some of my favorite “comparative race time reference” charts suggested that 48-49 minutes might be appropriate, given my recent marathon time. While that hurt my speedy-runner heart (I’ve done 10Ks in around 44-45 minutes), the prediction seemed reasonable, given my current level of training and the fact that any ‘snap’ I had in my legs was probably still in marathon recovery. So I decided to run by feel, and see where that led.
Given the small field, and with speedy Deb (who is faster than me at the moment) at my side, we worked our way forward at the starting line, until we were just 2-3 rows back. Without further ado, the horn sounded and we were off.
I realized immediately that I’d chosen the wrong sneakers for the race conditions. I was wearing my Brooks Pures, my standard sneaker for anything less than 6-8 miles, but traction isn’t their strong suit, especially on rain-soaked roads. I think this cost me a bit of energy in both running efficiency and in caution – I did not want to get injured by wiping out on a slippery road somewhere.
I glanced at my watch about half a mile in and was happy – but slightly worried – to see a 7:15 pace. It seemed OK at the moment, though, so I focused on not slipping and finding my proper place in the pack. I can’t overstate how amazing it was to run a race in Singapore where I had SPACE! Beautiful, glorious, amazing space. We started on the road, but were quickly routed onto the sidewalk. Still, after passing a number of runners in the first half mile, I had plenty of space to run, and could easily pass with a few steps in the grass next to the sidewalk, when necessary. Runners were pleasantly spaced apart, though.
Mile 1: 7:21 min/mi
Mile 2: 7:28
As my legs started to feel a bit shaky headed into the third mile, I realized I had made a classic mistake – one I spend plenty of time warning my clients about all the time: I had gone out too fast. Attention runners: Your coach does it too, sometimes.
So, I reined my pace in a bit and kept running. We hopped from the sidewalk onto the side of the road and back again multiple times, looking for the best and shortest way along the path. Because the race was small, the roads weren’t closed and we were supposed to be on the sidewalk. But the sidewalks weren’t really closed either, and the early bird residents of Tiong Bahru were out for morning walks, trips to the market, and breakfast. So, when there were pedestrians on the sidewalk, the runners often dropped down to the side of the road. This wasn’t exactly the safest option, but given the early hour, it somehow worked.
There were lots of auxiliary police out to handle traffic at intersections, and they – along with the help of volunteers – made sure that I sailed across every intersection. Although all roads were open, they stopped traffic when they saw runners, and I was able to cross without ever stopping. I can only assume others had a similar experience.
We climbed a bit at the start of the third mile, and were rewarded with a gentle downhill. My whole body was feeling tired. I couldn’t really point to one specific thing that “hurt” – I was hot, but not overheating. My breathing was hard, but not out of control. My legs were tired, but not on the brink of collapse. But I actually fantasized about climbing back into bed and closing my eyes somewhere during the fourth mile. I suppose you could say that my head wasn’t really into racing on this particular morning.
Somehow, though, I was maintaining my position. During this section of the race, I passed no one – and no one passed me.
Mile 3: 7:59 min/mi
Mile 4: 8:17
Ah, well – some races are like that. And despite my general exhaustion, I was happy to see so many residents coming out to support the runners. Usually, races in Singapore are staffed by hordes of student volunteers, who are fulfilling school-mandated volunteer hours. This race, however, was supported by the local Community Center, and thus most of the volunteers were aunties and uncles. Seeing them out on a rainy (although the rain was still holding off – it had been raining immediately up to the start) morning to stop traffic, give directions, and pass out water was quite sweet. It gave this race the kind of “hometown” feel that’s often lacking in events in Singapore.
I will admit, though, that when I turned a corner at the start of mile 5, and realized that we had to cross an overhead bridge, I mumbled a few choice words
under my breath in my head. And I’ll confess that I walked up the stairs, pushed myself into a gentle jog on the overhead bridge, and very carefully walked down the stairs – which were quite slippery. The last thing I needed to do was fall on my tush down 1.5 flights of stairs.
I think I picked off one or two runners during this section, and the course cameraman snapped a picture of the only time I was passed after mile 3:KMN, in the same spot, a few minutes later:
I started to pick up the pace for the last mile, but as I rounded a corner,I realized that I was fast approaching the building where the stair climb would be held. Sure enough, after a quick turn and switchback, I was funneled into the stairwell. I’ll admit that I was caught off-guard – my Garmin only clocked 5.6 miles, but heck – I was climbing!
Mile 5: 8:51 (including overhead bridge climb/descent) min/mi
Final 0.6 miles: 8:33
Honestly, after doing a 40 floor stair climb at the URun 2013 race with one zilliondy other people, this stair climb was a dream. Runners were separated enough that there was space in the stairwell, the stairwell was about the same temperature as the weather outside (hot and miserably humid, but at least not hotTER, as URun was). I was able to climb on the “inside” track, using the handrails – which was a major bonus. I even shoved my handheld bottle into the back of my shorts so I could use two hands to climb. Many thanks to the gentlemen who moved out of my way as I passed them during the ascent. Passing is tricky on the stairs – thanks for making it easier by giving way.
I alternated a slower, two-steps-at-a-time climb technique with quick feet one-step-at-a-time climbing. I have zero scientific evidence supporting (or refuting), but this approach seemed to keep quadricep exhaustion at bay. I lost count of the flights and couldn’t find any labels in the stairwell, so when I thought I was on the 12th floor, volunteers assured me that I was on the 8th. Whoops. But, there was nowhere to go but up – so I kept climbing, and eventually emerged on the roof.
Runners were immediately shuffled into an elevator (like, within 30 seconds of finishing), and except for about 15 seconds when I thought I might throw-up in the sweaty-runner-stuffed, moving-at-the-speed-of-molasses elevator, the ride was uneventful. I emerged at the bottom, and easily found Deb, who finished about 3 minutes ahead of me. KMN came down a few minutes later. We walked a bit, rehydrated, and returned to collect our checked bags.
Deb finished just one place out of official Award territory – and since the awards and raffle weren’t starting for another hour, we decided to skip them and head home to get cleaned up. But not without a quick photo shoot with the starting line:
Total Run Time: 45:10 (Average = 8:04 min/mile – remember that the run was only about 5.6 miles)
Total Race Time: 49:12
[7/114 women, 35/463 overall]
Thumbs up for the results reporting – all finishers are listed, there’s a neat pictograph of finishers and finishing times, and it’s easy to adjust the results list to see the results you want (all, by gender, etc.). This seems like a small thing – but in Singapore, it’s actually not
Since I started the race without much of a goal, I can’t be too disappointed (or not) with this finishing time. Overall, of course I’d like to be faster. [Who wouldn’t?] But given the circumstances: Recent marathon, not much racing mojo, slippery roads – I’m quite OK with the finish. And although I make no secret of my annoyance about the deceiving marketing of this race…I have to confess that I will probably come back next year. Despite the short course, despite the lack of trail, despite the sidewalk/road hopping – I loved running a race with a local feel. These are rare in Singapore, and I definitely want to give such events my support.
Ever get ‘tricked’ by race advertising?
10K: Love or Hate?
Stair Climbs: Yay or Nay?