My latest adventure in jungle running was the Standard Chartered Half Marathon. The most interesting part of this story is actually not the race itself; it's how I got hold of a race entry. When we arrived in Singapore, the last thing on my mind was running outside. After my first day sweating it out here, I started planning a nice solid eight months of quality time with treadmills, ellipticals, and their ilk. This plan proved short-sighted when, a couple of months later, I decided that running was actually doable (albeit in a slow, zombie-like shuffle). By then, the entry period for this race (a legitimately cool half marathon that would allow me to have a reasonable training leadup) was over. Boo!
So I stopped thinking about it and moved on to other, shorter races. But then, as the race date approached, I thought, hell, maybe someone will sell me their number. I asked Husband to ask around at work to see if anyone was signed up but unable to run:
Me: Do you mind asking?
Husband: No problem.
Me: Did you ask?
H: Oh... no, I forgot. I'll ask today.
Me: Did you ask?
H: Oh... no, I forgot again. I'll ask today.
On the fifth day, I got an email from Husband, who was at work: "I asked. Nobody here runs and they said to tell you that you're crazy."
Point taken - except Husband forgot to ask the one girl in his office (our Finnish friend Raisa) who actually runs. I emailed her to ask. She didn't get back to me right away... but then about 2 weeks before the race she had an answer. She had a number for me! Here's how she got it: her friend was supposed to run but then she caught her nanny/maid stealing. The nanny/maid was summarily sent packing back to the Philippines. The friend had two infants, a large dog, and a husband who was planning to run the marathon portion of the race. The moral of this story is: always prioritize your race training over your husband's; otherwise, you'll be stuck watching the kids and the dog when your maid gets caught swiping cash from your dresser.
Ah, Singapore... the place where every self-respecting expat has a multitasking maid called a "helper."
... and that's how I trained for a half marathon in 2 weeks!
Race number firmly in hand, I met Raisa at Harbourfront (a mall near the start point) at 5:30 am on race day. It was extremely early, but we saw lots of people milling about - people dressed for partying, not for running. We soon discovered why: there's a 24-hour McDonald's in Harbourfront. Fun fact: Singaporeans enjoy a post-clubbing McDonald's breakfast just as much as Americans love their IHOP (or Waffle House, if you swing that way)!
Thus refreshed, we walked onto the bridge to the race start. The race ends in beautiful downtown Singapore, but it starts on Sentosa Island (well, if you can call a sandbar infested with man-made beaches, resorts and a theme park an island), which is just off the "main" island of Singapore. After about 10K, the race route crosses a bridge onto the "mainland," then skirts the southern shoreline before heading inland towards the CBD.
The first half of the race - on Sentosa - went really well (except for the strangely numerous hills and the detour through a parking garage at Universal Studios). As I mentioned before, people here really get into a race: not necessarily by running fast and pushing themselves to the limit, though I'm sure some do, but by carrying cameras with them to take photos of the crowd, stopping to take random photos of the race route or of their own sneakers, posing with Shrek at Universal Studios, taking home movies of their friends running next to them making badass faces, etc. I saw more than one guy running with a full DSLR kit dangling from his neck. They also got into it by pinning handmade signs to their backs: motivational ("Don't give up!"), challenging ("Try to catch me"), informative ("Just married"), and... just plain unpleasant ("I ate many onions last night").
The second half of the race, though, was not so fun: the sun was officially up and we ran on a baking, raised highway for many, many kilometers. No shade. My knee started to twinge. That pesky internal monologue started up in my brain:
Me: Stop and walk. Just for a minute.
Brain: No... push through to next water stop.
Me: It'll be so comfortable...
Brain: You ran the Boston Marathon. Stop being a pussy. [Note: this is now Brain's standard response whenever I feel like wussing out].
Me: Oh my God, there's a guy on the side of the road puking his guts out from heatstroke! I have to stop and walk.
Brain: Nah, you're several minutes away from heatstroke. Keep going.
...the usual stuff. Sometimes I listen to the monologue and sometimes I don't. I was tempted to ignore Brain and side with Me. Unfortunately, though, I had a running partner with me. If you've ever run with a partner, you know the one crucial rule about running with a partner: you must run faster and farther than that person, otherwise you are a fucking loser. My monologue began to take on an annoyingly Finnish accent. (Just kidding, Raisa!)
Well, my knee took matters into its own hands (knees?) after a while, and I had to slow down to rest it before continuing. Once it felt marginally OK again, I resumed my run (I've dubbed it the Singapore Shuffle) and made a triumphant comeback to about 100 meters behind Raisa. Then I slowed again, grabbed four cups of water from an aid stand, gulped two and dumped the other two on my head like a nomad who'd been stranded in the Sahara for weeks. Resuming my Shuffle, I gutted it out to 20K: only one more K to go! This is when your body is supposed to summon some elemental strength from within and propel you heroically across the finish line. Or, if you're me, your body says "screw it" and slows of its own accord (Brain was by this point no help whatsoever). The only thing that sustained me during that last kilometer was the fear of being passed by this guy:
Somehow I found the strength to pass him.
I found Raisa at the finish corral (she was only about 30 seconds ahead of me - whew!), and we collected our hard-earned medals and took a celebratory photo, which I've titled "Photo Finnish" because I'm hilarious like that:
She's Finnish: get it?
Raisa: thank you for putting up with me and for being such an excellent running partner!
Heli: thank you for the race number!
Onion guy: thanks for giving me the motivation to pass you!
P.S. I am a nerd: