I ran the Singapore Marathon (also called the Standared Chartered Marathon, named after the organisers) last Sunday, and I have got to say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in a long, long time. Like the NaNoWriMo, I had gone into this expecting something difficult, but not this difficult…
The start time of the marathon was 6 am; organisers say this is due to the high daytime temperatures in Singapore which can hit 30 degrees Celsius and above. Any later, the majority of marathoners (who finish between four and six hours after the start) would have been caught in the midday sun.
This very early flag off time meant that if I wanted to have a decent breakfast and still start on time, I would have had to wake up around 4.30 am, which I did.
I met up with a couple of friends just before the start of the run. The three of us decided to run together; our pace for the 21km in August was quite similar, but this was the first time we actually sought to run together — we felt that since this was our virgin (I love this word) attempt, we’d just stick together and see how it goes.
We started off really slow, telling ourselves that we’d pick up the pace at the 10km mark. But by the time we reached 10km, we realised that if we were going to last the whole way, picking up the pace now would have been suicidal.
At the 28km mark, I noticed the first signs of cramping. A tightness in the calves made me pull over and stretch, but I knew this was only temporarily. Once cramps start, they don’t go away, and stretching only helps for a while.
By the time I hit the 33km mark, my cramps were getting very bad, so I told my friends to go on without me, as I needed to bring down the pace a notch.
But my friends, being the nice guys they were, pushed me on.
“Come on! We’ll take it one water point at a time,” one of them said.
“You guys go first, I feel the cramps coming, I can’t keep up. Go, go, just go,” I said.
“Just a little bit more, then we can stop and stretch,” he said, pointing to the sign tied to the lamppost that read “Drinks 150m”.
“Just go,” I said, with more than a little hint of annoyance. “I feel the cramps, and the pressure to keep up with you guys will just get me injured. If I don’t complete, I’m going to blame it on you guys.”
“Hey, you can’t do that.”
“Just go! I’ll meet you guys at the end.” And with this, they ran ahead.
Hitting the Wall
There is this saying that non-elite runners will hit a “wall”, some point in the race where their body feels absolutely depleted, normally around the 30km (20 miles) mark. For me, it started at the 28km, but fully set in at the 33rd.
My legs started cramping up with every attempt I made to run. Even walking was a problem, actually. And at one point as I stepped onto a pavement, both my calves pulled really tight, and I felt like they were imploding. I was literally immobile for a minute, before the tightness went away. I did some stretching, and continued on my way.
Before this race, I told myself, “I’m going to complete this, even if I had to crawl to the finish line.” But this was easier said than done. With 9km more to go, I wondered to myself how I was going to complete this.
A Road Marshal
When I passed by the 35km mark, I saw a person pulling up, apparently due to severe cramping. A young road marshal (he looked like he was in his teens) ran up to him and helped him. As I jogged past this fellow, I suddenly had severe cramping, so I pulled up too. This marshal had a friend as well, who was sitting down on the pavement when the other guy cramped up.
So as I cramped up, the other marshal who looked even younger, tried to look away. But I stared at him, wondering how he could be so apathetic. I was dying here! Finally, he looked at me, and asked, “are you okay?”
I waved him off and replied, “don’t worry, I don’t die,” at which he replied, “oh, okay,” and continued his stare into nowhere. I was rather amused by this, and walked on.
At the 37km mark, feeling bored out of my skull, and useless as a Frisbee, I needed someone with whom I could share my woes. An Indian man suddenly started walking beside me. I turned to him and said, “not easy, eh?”
He looked at me like I was a Frisbee hurtling toward him at 90km per hour. I continued, “heh, this is one experience I’ll never forget.”
“Ya, me too,” he said, and he started running again. It felt good to be able to motivate. But after walking a little bit more, I wanted to do more than motivate, I was desperate to move a little faster.
So I did what I felt was a last resort: The Shuffle. The Shuffle is a hybrid of walking and jogging, a kind of dragging your feet, though without letting your feet touch the ground. Unable to run or jog, and desperate to move faster than walking, this was my only alternative.
What’s “The Shuffle?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ll explain it to you.
Sometimes in the park, you’ll see some people who look like they’re jogging, but at a curiously slower pace such that they’re not really jogging. They’re really doing The Shuffle. Some of these less experienced Shufflers actually move slower than walking speed.
Being a relatively fast runner, these are the people I walk past and think, “what the f*ck are they doing?”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is The Shuffle.
You can never pin-point what exactly these people are doing until you are exposed to the concept of Shuffling. Now when you see these, you can safely say to yourselves, “yes, that’s one of them; one of them Shufflers.”
The iPod Shuffle (so popular with runners and joggers) wasn’t so-called for nothing.
While shuffling my way to the finish line, I told myself, “never again!”
Never again will I submit myself to this torture. Never again will I allow myself to stoop so low as to even think about doing the Shuffle. Never again!
Next time, I’m training for this shit.