the anxiety never left me fully, not with the fatigue of incessant walking, not with the joys of meeting familiar faces, not with being overwhelmed with the energies of a bustling city. it just stayed there, steadfast in its place, weighing me down, cutting short all my desires of reprieve. the day is slowly coming, it reminds me again and again. the day is coming...
race day felt otherworldly. i would be doing this alone, i told myself. i would be alone, even if i had friends running with me, they cannot run this for me, nor do i think they will run and wait for me. i guess that's the reality of running and why i do run. even if i had gained so many new friends and have built bonds with them, it is, in a way, a lonely sport. be it may, it strengthens one's mind and teaches one focus and determination, for surely, by the nth kilometer when all your body screams to stop, it's only the stubbornness of your mind that pushes you to go on.
i did my morning race ritual and sat inside a tub full of warm water and watched my legs turn pink. the heat should do me good, i said. as i felt the water begin to run cold, i got up and began the slow change from sleepy tourist to readied runner. orchard road was beginning to show new activity at 230 that morning of december 5, not even finished yet with the excesses of the night prior. singapore was stirring. i donned my tights, my singlet. i made sure my bib was secure, and that my phone was well locked inside my armband. i bid my sleeping kuya farewell and went down to finally, finally rid myself of this anxiety that had been plaguing me for the past 7 months.
i ran a few meters to warm up. i crisscrossed around people. ran up and down the sidewalk as music blared and echoed from the tall buildings that flanked orchard road. the full marathon of the 2010 standard chartered marathon singapore was about to begin. my friends ian and narnian eventually showed up, psyched and pump as i was, but i think i was more. ian was showing how he planned to time himself and narnian, who was running this, his second marathon, seemed to be handling this rather coolly. we all eventually made our way to our designated pens, the sub 5 hour runners, and waited for the flag off. the intensity was mounting, almost to a frenzy as the energies of 13,000 eager runners slowly condensed toward that final moment... the sounding of the blowhorn, heralding the start of the race. we all slowly trudged forward to the starting mat to activate our timing chips, then began what would be the longest run of my life.
ian and narnian took off ahead, still within sight of me, but too far for me to catch. i resisted to run after them since 42 kilometers is still a long way to go and i cannot risk exhausting myself in "playing" tag. i will keep to my level. i will not compete for i am my own competition, i told myself. my mantra calmed me and even at barely a kilometer, i knew i would finish this race. keep your shoulders low, keep your bouncing to a minimum, keep your strides tight and your cadence high, my inner trainer was talking to me every step of the way. drink for gastric emptying, take electrolytes to prevent cramping. respect the distance, enjoy the run. even in the dark, i could sense myself already smiling.
i eventually lost sight of my friends and found myself lost instead among kindered souls. they were runners like me, some fast, some slow, all running for different reasons, all driven by their personal goals. i felt comforted despite being in the company of strangers. i was alone but not really alone. i was feeding from their presence as well. running with them almost felt like talking to them, only the language was in the ways of effort, endurance, and determination. i began to hit the zones, that focus you get when your body begins to conserve its energies. the pain began to set it. the fatigue began to set in, and the voice in my head started to say that i stop. a few more, until the water station, i bargained. stop, it said again. stop, stop, stop... then my hip gave in.
my shoulders were sore, my hip was jabbing, and my abs began to spasm. i knew these pains too well. my last 32km run was a good lesson on poor preparation and what will happen if you don't listen to you body. i was reminded of this again now. so i stopped, and i walked, and i drank, and i rested, and began running again as i felt fit... just as i should do. i kept this routine, run-walk-stretch/rest-run for a good chunk of the race, trying my best to push just enough that i could regain a good running pace but not too much that my hip would hurt, as by now, the pain was beginning to build. soon, i found myself passing the 20km marker, the pulikat marker, as i call it since my legs would often cramp after this distance. surprisingly however, no such incident happened, much to my relief.
i eventually caught up with narnian around this time as well. he had slowed down markedly due to fatigue which eventually led to both of his hamstrings seizing. i stayed with him for a while, up until he could run-walk, and jogged beside him for a few meters, just till i was sure he will be ok. he had urged me to leave him and have me run to finish in good time, but only to be met by my surprising answer "it's only a race." i suddenly recalled barefoot runner, michael sandler, and how he said to listen to your body, and live to race another day. i eventually began running after about a kilometer with narnian, we were already at kilometer 30, and with 12 more to go, i could practically see the finish already. i bid narnian goodbye and began to jog faster. i could feel my toes being macerated in my shoes already, rubbing against my socks, skin soaked soft in my sweat. i could tell they were blistered and wounded already, but this much i already expected. there was nothing more i could do, run or walk, it was both painful, so might as well run and get things over with, and over with fast.
the sun was beginning to scorch as my sweat evaporated quickly. i tried to run in the shade but that did little help. i just hoped that the water station was near. thankfully so, it was and was under lots of trees. 5 more kilometers to go, and i could already hear the finishline and the cheering of hundreds of people. i'm almost there. i didn't know what my time was, but i really didnt care. i didnt care since i started running, i wouldnt care either after. i just wanted to finish. running over esplanade bridge was the final stretch, and i knew once i make the turn, i would see where it will all end.
that final turn was it, the final turn. i was there, at the finish, and just like that, my body allowed me to feel nothing and i made a dash for it. i crossed the finish at 4 hours and 38 mins. 4 hours of running, of testing my limits, of listening to my body, of respecting the value of effort, of remembering why i did this, of learning that running should be fun.
the organizers were right, this race was indeed unlike any other.