I took part in my very first marathon away from Singapore, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, on Sunday, 2nd July. As the first time racing in another country, I thought it would be a good idea to document the experience.
DAY ONE: LEAVING SINGAPORE
Boarding the flight to Brisbane from Singapore together with the other runners from the F1 Runners Team and CTC Travel at Changi Airport Terminal Three, I was feeling strangely excited. I didn’t know what to expect during the next few days as I had never run a marathon overseas before.
Would my training pay off, or would I embarrass myself and wind up on the sweeper bus?
The mood and atmosphere at the airport when we were leaving had been joyful even though we had met at the ungodly hour of four in the morning. Everyone must have been eager for the Australian adventure ahead.
I also began to wonder whether I had packed too much for the marathon and the trip itself. While I was planning to wear similar running gear to what I usually wear in Singapore races, I was also mindful of the cooler climate at the Gold Coast and so I had some winter gear with me. I had figured at that point that it would be better safe rather than sorry, as I don’t really have a high tolerance for the cold.
Prior to the trip, I had done my research on the temperatures at the Gold Coast in July so I would know what to expect, and I had learned that the average temperatures were around 12 to 21 degrees Celsius; this sounded perfect for running.
For local races usually, I don’t think about what I need until the night before the race, so having to think about these things in advance was something I admit that I was not quite accustomed to. But I felt I managed okay, preparing a checklist of what I needed and double checking what I had packed again and again so that I did not miss out on something essential.
The flight to Brisbane took seven hours and after that, we transferred to the Gold Coast via a bus ride which took roughly about one and a half hours. By the time I had dinner at a nearby Chinese eatery that had been pre-arranged by CTC Travel and got to the hotel, I was ready to have a bath and then crash straight into bed.
DAY TWO: RACE PACK COLLECTION EXPO
The next day, I went to the race pack expo to pick up the race pack with my group. Held at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, the race pack collection expo reminded me of the larger scale events back in Singapore, with sponsors and other exhibitors hawking their wares.
There were some Australian touches to the race pack expo too, and they included a free flow of Kiwi fruits made available to runners, courtesy of Zespri. I tried some and they were the sweetest and juiciest things that I have eaten. Or perhaps it was also because I was hungry; it was about 2 pm and I had not yet eaten lunch.
I also did a shake-out run at about 6.45am in the morning and this went quite well. This easy pre-race run had been organised by Lexxus Tan, coach of the F1 Runners Team. I had found that in the cold weather, it was much easier to maintain my target pace without my heart rate shot up compared to Singapore. I began to understand, at that point, why so many people come to the Gold Coast to run and record personal best timings.
I was also enjoying the easy pre-race run much more than I would have when running in Singapore, soaking up the beautiful scenery along the beach. It was a good way to get a feel of the weather at the Gold Coast so that I could plan my race strategy accordingly. This would bode well for the marathon, but provided that I didn’t suffer from cramps or make any school kid errors on the race day.
DAY THREE: GARMIN LEGENDS LUNCH
I was particularly excited about today because we were attending the Garmin Legends Lunch, a pre-race event held by the Gold Coast Airport Marathon organisers for invited guests to meet up with superstars in the running scene and to get tips from the running pros. At the same time, there would be a carbo-loading lunch to prepare runners for the race the next day and to provide them with the fuel that they needed.
Races in Singapore generally do not offer such opportunities to share and impart knowledge with the elites, so I thought that this session was quite special.
The luncheon was a few train stops away from the hotel so that was quite convenient. However the place was quite hard to find, and we were not familiar with the area, and as a result, my companions and I got slightly lost in trying to locate it.
The first person whom I asked for a photo with at the luncheon was Yuki Kawauchi, Japan’s citizen runner. I have heard a lot about Kawauchi; he holds down a full-time job in Japan as a civil servant yet still finds time to train at the elite level while running a marathon almost every week. Most of his marathons are below 2:10 hours. Coming face to face with him, I could barely speak but I managed to regain my nerves to ask him for a photo. He obliged, so that really made my day.
The tips were quite useful. Kawauchi came up on stage, along with several other elite runners such as last year’s winner Kenneth Mungara from Kenya and the Gold Coast Airport Marathon ambassadors and Australian running legends such as Pat Carroll and Lee Troop, the latter who was Mok Ying Ren’s running coach during his one-year full-time training stint in the USA.
It was interesting to find out that Kawauchi uses his almost weekly marathons as part of his intense training schedule and does his 20km training runs at 5min/km pace but on the other hand, Mungara believes in doing far fewer marathons per year and does a full training cycle to build up towards each marathon that he participates in.
With these tips playing in my head as I got changed and ready for bed that night, I wondered how I could make use of these to do well at the marathon the next day. I didn’t really want to fly all the way to the Gold Coast only to mess up the race. No, I wanted to run well.
DAY FOUR: MARATHON DAY
It was a cold and chilly morning at 9 degrees Celsius when I woke up at 4 am to prepare and get changed for the marathon. Plenty of thoughts were playing in my mind at that early hour. I just wanted to snuggle up under the warm covers again and get back to sleep.Why did I choose to come all the way to the Gold Coast to run when it was so much warmer in Singapore? Could I really pull off this race and do it justice?
I got changed, grabbed my jacket and gulped down a bottle of Gatorade isotonic drink and then I was off. This was not my first choice of isotonic beverage as it is not actually available in Singapore, but at least I have tried Gatorade before, so I knew that it was safe and it would not play havoc with my stomach.
I usually don’t eat before races and the Gold Coast Airport Marathon was no exception. I find that I am prone to stomach cramps when I do try and I wasn’t going to risk anything, after having come all of this way to run.
At roughly 5.20am, the bus came to pick up the Singaporean runners to head to the race, and I got on it, thankful that there was some heating on board.
But upon getting off the bus at 6 am, I could feel the cold in my bones again, even with a jacket on. I was freezing and once again, I started thinking, what had I gotten myself into? Would I really be able to run well in this cold climate that I wasn’t accustomed to? This was all quite new to me.
Getting into my start pen was also cold and the body heat from other runners around me didn’t really do anything in terms of warming me up.
So I stood there, my teeth chattering. I could also feel goose pimples creeping up my arms and pins and needles in my feet. ‘How can I run like this?’ I wondered.
When the horn sounded signalling the start of the race, it took me about a couple of kilometres of running before my body could warm up enough for me to throw away my jacket. Running with a coat on wasn’t really comfortable.
Once I had gotten rid of my jacket, I soon found myself actually enjoying the route. With the beautiful Gold Coast scenery and Australian Gold Coast residential suburbs surrounding me, I must admit that I was having quite a good time looking around and not thinking about the race kilometres at all, for the first 21km of the race at least. The slight feeling of pins and needles in my feet also went away.
The scenery had been so different and much more interesting compared to what I usually see in Singapore; in most local races, I usually see the same sights such as the Singapore Sports Hub, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and so on, so my surroundings were definitely a refreshing change. It was then I began to understand why so many people travel overseas for marathons.
The massive Australian crowds also helped. Compared to all the races that I had done in Singapore, the clapping and cheering of the spectators were really amazing. For someone who has never run a marathon in another country before, it was definitely something, and I believe that the feeling truly helped me keep on running. In fact, some of the people in the crowd were shouting my name; they had read it on my race bib and used it to cheer me on. It was amazing and I felt warm and fuzzy inside as a result.
At the same time, I was also mindful of starting out too fast, so I maintained a very conservative pace, which had probably allowed me to enjoy myself. By 30km I was still feeling good and going strong, picking up the pace gradually. My strategy had been to start slow, build the effort, run negative splits and finish the race strong.
I realized that I was on track to achieving a massive personal best, as long as I didn’t cramp or have any major upsets. I only needed to keep up with what I was doing.
I had brought my own energy gels with me from Singapore; I was thankful that I had the foresight to take my own with me because the gels that were provided by the organizer along the route were not the type that I have tried before.
I went all out at 32km, pushing up the pace and at the same time, finally allowing my heart rate, which I had been controlling throughout the race, to increase. This went quite well until the last 5km when I could feel a little bit of cramp; fortunately, I was still able to run well enough, by focusing my thoughts on other parts of my body to take my mind off the pain. I think that the weather had also helped.
The sun was coming out in the latter stages of the race, but it was still nothing compared to the heat and humidity of Singapore. I found that the cooler weather was really conducive for running and seemed to aid me along. No wonder so many Singaporeans like to train at home and race overseas.
I sped up more in the last two kilometres, now going for broke. The final few hundred metres were amazing because there were throngs of spectators and runners who had already finished, cheering us on and reminding us that we are almost there.
It was truly amazing and I would never forget that feeling. And I somehow forgot all about the slight cramps in my legs and gave it everything I had, crossing the finish line in a new personal best, by 45 minutes. It was a timing that I was really happy with, as I had never expected to run so well. The running atmosphere in Australia is also something that I have never experienced in Singapore and I found it really motivating.
Collecting my finisher tee and medal and snacking on the free flow of Kiwi Fruit, I was still speechless at how I was able to improve my marathon personal best by 45 minutes.
The pre-race nerves by now were completely gone and replaced with a sense of pure elation and disbelief. The Gold Coast Airport Marathon is truly a personal best course for many Singaporean runners, and now the list includes me.
Still high from running the Marathon, I could not wait to talk more about my successful race with my family, as I made my way back home to Singapore, via Brisbane.
Prior to going home, we headed to the Paradise Country farm to spend some time with the wildlife there. I think I went photo-crazy, snapping pictures of the cute animals there. I also had a photo taken with a koala.
Not only were the countryside sights and sounds radically different to what I am used to in urban Singapore, but I also think that the walk around the farmlands had been good in helping my legs to recover after the marathon and prevent my leg muscles from becoming too tight. Most of the time, I don’t walk much after a marathon, and my legs feel very stiff for days afterwards. But this time, I didn’t feel such bad stiffness or cramps post-race, and I think that this may have been the reason.
Overall it was a memorable trip to the Gold Coast and I think that I can be pleased with how everything had gone.