Since moving into the world of trail-running, I have had a nonchalant interest in taking part in road races. I prefer the process of training for an trail-ultra and travelling for a race in some far away land. Finishing a trail-ultra after hours of moving was so much rewarding than any road races that I’ve done.
But the Sundown Marathon is special. It was the first marathon that I completed, despite not knowing much about running back then. 7 years has passed and with the exception of a non-entry in 2015, I’ve run all the Sundown races in that time. This year was my 7th race and I was approached by the organizers if I would be interested to be part of the Sundown Ambassadors. It was a big honor and felt like a thank you for the years that I had spent running the event. Although, I will say that I paid for my own entry before being approached to be an ambassador.
I even made it into the newspaper!
The focus of this report would be about my race performance. I know that the event race pack collection had not been smooth sailing from the get-go (you may refer to this post). The race venue was quite odd for a marathon and the atmosphere was bland as compared to the years before. I’ll leave my thoughts at that. Perhaps the organizers can take some cues from international races on how to have a great race atmosphere.
Special thanks to Kimberly, Stephanie from Hivelocity and all the volunteers for all the hard work behinds the scenes for race.
I had decided early on that the Sundown Marathon 2017 would not be a priority A-race, but a B-race; to finish as best as possible without much expectations. The A-races of course were my 3 trail-ultras; Hong Kong 100, Ultra Trail Australia and UTMB CCC.
Training for Sundown wasn’t as specific of you would imagined; no long road runs or any of that stuff. But Coach Andy was confident I would still be able to have a good run with the base trail mileage that I had.
Race nutrition was tricky. I don’t like gels but preferred solid food like the Pro-Bar Bolts. I bought the Overstims Energix and the Overstims Coup de Fouet gel from Gone Running (10% off with the code Azlan10), but never had the time to test it out before race day. Still, I brought those alongside a pack of Pro-Bar bolts, 2 sachets of Tailwind Naked flavour used alongside the Simple Hydration bottle. I contemplated wearing the Naked Belt, but didn’t wear them in the end.
As an ambassador, I had priority access to the race pen. The last time that ever happened was in 2012, that long. It was quite cool to be standing at the empty race pen before runners came in. But on hindsight, it didn’t make much of a difference. Everyone I knew was in that pen and had passed me at the start of the race.
I was steady off the blocks and went off with a quick but conservative pace. I kept on the outer right lane to avoid getting ‘crushed’ by the faster runners. The start of the route was a little different compared to earlier years. Towards Marina Barrage, I chatted with a runner who had followed me on Strava and recognized my WAA attire. I tried selling him some virtues of the trail-running way, but he didn’t quite enjoy dirty shoes at the end of a trail run. We chatted a bit more before parting ways.
About 1 km into the start of the East Coast Park (ECP) route, I had to hop into the nearest toilet for a quick relief. As I was going off course, I heard someone shout my name. I responded by waving but wasn’t sure who it was. After finishing, I sped up to find the person and discovered it was Jonathan, one of my friends from my working days in NUS. He had won a slot from me and it was his first marathon in a long while.
Later on, perhaps beyond the 21 km mark, I began to feel a drop in energy levels and reluctantly tried the Overstims Energix. It tasted a little odd at first but I drank about half of it. To my surprise, I felt an immediate surge of energy and later finished that tube. Thankfully, no stomach upsets entailed but I soon regretted buying and bringing only two tubes of the regular energy gels.
I later got passed by a struggling Jiong How and also bumped into a struggling Beatrice, whom I was introduced by a mutual friend. I wished her luck and made the u-turn. That was when I began my aggressive running approach, at a closer to tempo pace. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep it up, but my body and mind felt good enough to keep pushing. I later passed by Frankie and Wei Chong coming into the 33 km mark.
It was a relief to be back out on the road after exiting ECP. But this was hardest part of the race; holding on to the finish. As I approached Benjamin Shears Bridge, I felt someone running very close to me. It turned out to be Anwar, who was running the 21 km. I was quite surprised he was still running well! But I had to push forward to fast-hike and run up the slope before speeding down the other side of bridge.
I started falling apart mentally some time after the down-slope despite being 4 km away from the finish line. It felt very far! The end was a very unexciting, dark section of the road, which could have been lit up to avoid a collision with other runners. But I sped through that before sprinting down the finish line.
I finished with a new personal best.
After collecting my bag and momentarily sitting down, Wei Chong greeted me and hobbled over to where I was. He also finished with a new personal best of 04:24:10. But our elation was momentary as a security guard told us to move away to avoid blocking the road. Blocking who I wonder?
Jiong How would later join us. Despite his misadventures with his energy gels, he completed in a good time of 04:44:03 for his first marathon.
What can I say? It’s been a good 2017 thus far. I came back to HK100 earlier in January and finished a race I DNF’ed a year earlier in sub-24 hours. And I now finished my 11th marathon in a new personal best after having a bad timing last year. It’s been good and I’m very grateful. It’s hard to do away with road running completely really, but road racing has since been on the way side since trail running began. It does however, imbue a different kind of running which I think is still fundamental, but not too important at this stage of my running.
Plenty of thanks to WAA Ultra, Coach Andy, Physio Reggie, fellow peers, friends and volunteers. It’s been a great journey so far, let’s keep it going!