In October, I quit my job to embark on 6 months of travelling through parts of South East Asia, Australia and Central America. With the hopes of running a few international races, I stopped over in Singapore during marathon weekend. Singapore is one of my favourite countries, so I was looking forward to having a running tour through it’s diverse neighbourhoods.
The Singapore Marathon Expo
Race packs were collected in the conveniently located Sands Expo & Convention Centre, next to Marina Bay Sands. My boyfriend, Henry, and I were able to explore Gardens by the Bay before heading across the road to collect my bib. The expo itself was well organised, with no queues and dedicated lanes for each race distance.
After collecting my bib and race singlet, we walked around the limited stalls to see what they had to offer. It was small and uneventful compared to other expos I’ve been to. I bought energy blocks for the race and a bottle of magnesium spray for recovery. As we were leaving, we made a monumental mistake of opting for a seemingly harmless 10 minute massage. The ‘massage’ consisted of hot oil and a spiked, wooden stick against my neck and shoulders. Torture.
Race day was an unknown for me, with Singapore being my first evening race. Previous races have had me up racing early, before spending the rest of the day relaxing. A 6pm start time was whole new territory. I focused on staying hydrated, drinking lots of water and electrolyte replacement tabs.
I underestimated the impact of Singapore’s heat and humidity though, as I was feeling lethargic before we’d even left the hotel.
The race started in the infamous F1 stadium alongside Marina Bay. The nearest MRT station is Promenade, an easy one for us as we stayed a few stops away in Chinatown. Leaving at 4:45pm gave us plenty of time to arrive, use a toilet, do my warm up and leisurely head to the corral. I didn’t have anything for bag drop.
However, after arriving at the station, it became apparent that the fairly organised nature of the race thus far had ended. Hundreds of runners were attaching their bibs and warming up in the underground station. From the ticket barriers all the way to the station exit there were crowds of people doing this. It turned out all the roads outside the station were still open for traffic, with police limiting people coming out the station to cross the roads towards the start area. This soon caused a huge back log of runners all the way down to the train platforms, some pushing and shoving as bag drop closing times were fast approaching. It was chaotic and hot. Not what you want before a marathon.
This chaos continued right up until the runners only area. Here, two lanes formed: ‘express lane’ (for those without bags) and bag security. The queues were outrageous, despite bag drop closing in 10 minutes. Fortunately, I was able to walk straight through the express lane and go to my wave -D. There were lots of toilets at the start, with small queues, along with electrolyte drinks and water.
Half and full marathon runners were put in the same start pens, so it was crowded and hot. I had beads of sweat dripping off my face before we had started running.
With a rolling start from 6pm, I crossed the start line at 6.22pm. Still in the sun, the first few miles were very hot and sweaty. My race strategy was to run conservatively for the entire course, stopping at every water station to stay hydrated. Water stations were found every 2km, with an additional 11 isotonic stations, ice chip/splash stations, and a further 3 stations with bananas, pretzels and gels.
Despite the weather conditions, I thoroughly enjoyed the first few miles. I got to see areas of Singapore I hadn’t seen before and there was a buzzing vibe amongst the runners. I saw Henry at 5km, which was a nice early motivation boost. There were a few other spectators here and this would be the last time I saw any until 19km. However this positive race experience shortly came to an end.
On 29 April, I stopped a medication I’ve taken since 8 years old for a bowel condition I was born with. The process of weaning off, and eventually stopping altogether, was ok. However, a side effect I’ve suffered with has been incredibly painful anal fissures (sorry TMI). They come and go, with some races being unaffected and others resulting in a DNS. As with the Singapore Marathon, some races start ok but get progressively worse as the miles go by. I think it might be because of chafing, but I need to see my specialist again as I’m unsure why it keeps happening during runs.
By mile 6, I was in so much pain I started walking. Within a few miles this had turned into a hobble. I cried from 10km until I saw Henry at 19km, due to pain and utter frustration that this problem has affected yet another race this year. Many runners stopped to see if I was ok, offering gels and anti-cramp spray. I said I had knee problems to avoid the embarrassing truth.
Between 10-18km, the race took place on a raised highway. This was a long, never-ending struggle in the dark and heat, with no spectators or sights to provide distractions. It wasn’t possible to leave the race at this point, so I turned my music up and ploughed on step by step. This section was mentally challenging. Finally the course turned round at mile x and we were headed back into the city. Everyone around me was walking in silence.
Passing by the 18km sign, we were officially off the horrible highway and I stopped to message Henry. Our original plan of seeing each other at 10km/16km fell through given that the race was on a raised highway. He went to wait just after 19km – where the course divided into the half and full race – as the only spectator.
By the time I reached him, I was determined to make the half marathon cut off. I had already come so far in pain and knew I could battle through the remaining 3km. Despite the lack of supporters, the morale amongst the runners had drastically improved since the highway. I was surrounded by people chatting and positive attitudes of finishing the race.
My Garmin had hit 13.1 miles way before the 20km sign. It then buzzed again at 14 miles with no end in sight, which was extremely frustrating as I wanted it over with. Eventually we turned a corner to see the last few hundred meters in sight, with Marina Bay sands in the distance.
The volunteers were amazing, continuing to enthusiastically cheer for us walkers coming through. I met at girl during this last bit who kept motivating me and held my hand until the finish line.
I finished the 14.7 mile ‘half marathon’ in 4 hour 4 minutes. For context, my half marathon PB is 1.51 and my most recent half was 2.04. I’m not sure where the extra 1.6 miles came from. The race was predominantly on narrow roads with few turns but maybe I weaved a lot during the race.
I was absolutely shattered and vowed never to run another evening race again. I slowly walked towards medal collection when a guy who previously helped me during the race approached me. He had waited at the end to see if I finished ok. Just one example of how amazing the Singaporean runners were that day. The energy at the end was that of relief, with high-fives and hugs all round. Many people were suffering from cramp, with medics bringing wheelchairs to help runners get to bag collection.
I waited for the half marathon to officially close (a short wait given how long the race took me) to see if there were any spare half marathon medals. I didn’t want to take one away from people who had actually signed up for the half. Luckily there were lots left! We were given a banana, water and cold towel post-race – minimal waste compared to other marathon’s leaflet-filled goodie bags.
Although I wanted to love this race, it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for. The heat was unavoidable. But the disorganisation, boring course and lack of spectators were unexpected. I hadn’t expected so much of the race to be on highways. I understand the full marathon course continues onto the scenic gardens by the bay, but most of what follows is on highways too. Compared with the NYC and Chicago marathon, the Singapore Marathon wasn’t worth the long and expensive journey from London. As it coincided with my existing trip, it wasn’t a problem.
Furthermore, the marathon didn’t have a ‘race’ vibe like any other run I’ve done before. Other runners seemed very chilled before, during and after the race with huge numbers of people walking the whole thing. I imagine this would be challenging for people going after a PB, with constant weaving past walkers.
To date, I have been fortunate enough to complete 4 World Major Marathons (London x3, Chicago, Berlin and New York). For those speculating that the Singapore Marathon will be joining these elusive 6, I would be surprised. The whole race experience didn’t compare to any of these races. Never say never, but it’s unlikely I’d choose to run this again.
I hope these tips help anyone considering running the Singapore marathon in the future.
Tips for the Singapore Marathon:
- Focus on hydration for the day of the marathon.
- If you’re using bag drop, get there as early as possible to avoid queuing in the heat.
- Get to your corral as late as possible to avoid standing in the cramped and hot start area.
- Bring entertainment for the race. Music, podcasts, audiobooks. There’s very limited crowd support or sights along the course for distraction. Most of the race is run on highways.
- Bring spare electrolyte replacement tabs or drinks with you. I saw many runners with a spray to help cramps too.
- Check MRT closing times and organise post-race transport if you’ll likely finish late. The marathon organise coaches but you need to book and pay in advance.
- Start out slower than you would usually, unless you’re used to running in Singapore conditions.
- Download the official Singapore Marathon app. It worked well, had excellent live tracking and helpful information for both runners and spectators.
- Don’t use the marathon’s ‘lettered’ meet up area. My boyfriend wasn’t allowed to enter here, meaning it took a while for us to find each other post-race.
For more information on the Singapore Marathon, check out their official site here.
Thanks for making it this far!
Happy running x