Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2015. A Post Mortem

The lure of the marathon, to me, is often that tension between reaching for the goal and the struggle along the way. It’s the constant tug of war with the unknown.

Would you ever reach a point and be able to say: “It is accomplished!”? Is there really a tangible moment like that? I would hope to have moments like that - where a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. But is marathon running like that? The reality is that the ‘state of invincibility’ that we hope to achieve is not only a moving target but even if you DO reach it, it will fight hard against your best effort to remain tip-top. If you don’t train, that sub 4 or sub 3 isn’t going to just wait for you in the suspended state of perpetual status quo. Your stamina will decline. I feel that we have become junkies to our own perfectionistic mentality; or perhaps a slave to our fear to lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Wise are those who transcend that. But for now, I am not one of those….

This year, Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2015 would mark my 5th Hong Kong marathon. For years, it was inexplicable why I had so easily succumbed to the lure of SCHKM. But in the context of what I just shared, the answer is obvious. It isn’t about the same ole boring route. Nor is there anything so magical about Hong Kong. Yes, not even the food was enough to do that. It was something else, something innate and very primal within my nature. It’s that tension. I just have to beat my best effort. That is the only reason I would do this entire seemingly pointless thing. “Just to run a marathon!?”, some say. Yeah yeah, I know I am a junkie.

Despite my protest, I was designated to run in the second wave. When I requested a change, the organizer politely replied “take it or leave it.” So, I had to settle for a 6:40 am starting time. I had foreseen that this would have some unpleasant complication, but little did I anticipate it to unveil in such a way….

When I reached Tsim Sha Tsui, the crowd was already massive. The first wave was about to start. I went in search of the Kawloon Park Toilet and was pleasantly surprised to find NO QUEUE there. Very odd, where did everyone go? Sometimes, pleasure in life comes in very small packages. You would understand why if you’ve ever been in Hong Kong.

Did some light warm up after that and positioned myself at the very start of the holding pent to replete my ‘kiasu-ness’. It’s not that it makes a whole lot of difference. But I just thought it would be nice to not have to ‘fight’ my way through the crowd right at the start.

Gun off. Right on time. Quick flash back: What did I bring into the race this time? A sense of “whatever will be, will be”, I guess. But at the same time, there was that inquisitiveness of a ‘researcher’ who wants to know: ‘How far will this take me?’ Regardless, I will have to play my cards right to find out.

I stormed through this 3,668 strong crowd and took the pleasure of chasing down the runners as I made my way towards the first bridge. It felt light. I wasn’t really ‘charging’ ahead but was actually going at a comfortable pace of 4:15-4:20. By the 4th – 5th km, I have left almost all the second wave behind as I encountered the tail end of the first wave. I am not sure how many runners of the second wave were ahead of me (I could not visibly see any), but it felt odd as I passed the back packers of the first wave. It was an odd sense of elation and freedom.

But that elation was short lived.  I was heading into a massive crowd of 5,146 runners from Marathon Challenge. And there was hell to pay when you go against the ‘natural’ order of things. What was I supposed to do?

Did I say it was crowded? 

You see, on the bridges, there was very little room for manoeuvre. It was a two-way traffic juxtaposed, only partitioned by a simple divider. You can see the faster runners make their loop back on the other side. You need to avoid the temptation of crossing the divider, else you risk knocking into the oncoming traffic. But at the same time, you have all these runners who are effectively forming a blockade right in front of you. And speed is a relative thing. I felt like a reckless driver speeding down the high way in rush hour. I was almost cursing like one too. And it went on and on: From 7th to 21st km to be precise. It was tedious! Never had I encountered this of all the years of running in SCHKM. The recurring thought was: “If I ever get Wave 2 again next time, there will NOT be a next time!!”

This is a race. It is ok if there was no issue of time. So, though I may sound a tat condescending, please understand too that I was trying to better my time. I say this with no disrespect to the slower runners. At the end of the day, all I could say is C’est la Vie. You make do with whatever comes your way.

Those zigzagging did have a way of draining precious energy. Anyone with a bit of imagination can figure that out. So, by the time I reached 21km, I was feeling charred. Nevertheless, I was doing fairly alright with a time of 1:31. And by 22km, the ‘runway’ finally opened up. That was a relief. But it wasn’t time to pop the champagne just yet: The battle has just begun.

I was trying to make up for lost time. So, I sped up a bit. But at the same time, I was cautiously aware that the first 21km had drained me more than what I had anticipated. I could not afford to go too fast lest this would eventually take its toll on me by 30km. I compromised as I held on to a 4:16 pace and crossed the 30km check point in 2:11.

So far so good.

I was running with my Nike gear. As I traversed the tunnels, the GPS signal was interrupted. Eventually, perhaps the watch had decided that it has had enough of the interruptions; it began to throw tantrums by pausing intermittently. The time, distance and everything else was messed up. This happened around 35th km. As though that wasn’t enough, I started experiencing some ominous signs of impending cramps. The calves started twitching and seizing up on me. I knew that was it. Speeding up would not be wise after this because it would precipitate a full blown cramp. And when that happens, it’s over.

I think the drain came from the zigzagging. It had cost me more than I thought. I was always careful to avoid cramps and my tapering included taking 3 consecutive days of Magnesium tablets which usually worked perfectly for me.

Again, C’est La Vie.

So, the last few km was disappointing. The calves and thighs seized up every few hundred meters. At one point around 40km, I was so concerned that the cramp was imminent that I slowed down to almost a 6:00 pace. Took all the gels that I could but it didn’t make any difference. So, I hobbled on, only speeding up intermittently whenever I could.

Nearing the end, I was glad to bump into Moey, fellow 2012 Boston finisher, who was taking it easy after a 2 months hiatus due to injury. We chatted a bit but I had to rush off to at least ‘try’ to finish a decent time. A km before the finish, surprised to bump into Dave Ang, a fellow Penangnite, who was experiencing some dizziness due to overexertion. He was not feeling too well coming into the race.
In the end, I managed to cross the line with a time of 3:12:34. Decent enough, considering the circumstances. Not my best time, but certainly a personal best in SCHKM thus far.

So, what have I learned?

There is always room for improvement. I like this kind of tension because it causes me to push my limits. I may or may not achieve sub 3 one day. But it is not THAT important. I am not saying this only to pacify or excuse myself. If I am not good enough for sub 3, then I will train until I am more than ready. It is a moving target. And there is no such thing as a ‘permanent state of invincibility’. Only progression. Let’s evolve. 


  1. I've often said that I'd do something else once I've achieved my marathon goals but what those goals are and will I recognize or acknowledge them when I finally get there and say enough is enough, I really don't know. I like your analogy of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. I'm hoping there will come a day when I can finally transform into that butterfly!

    As always, I'm in awe of your achievements. You seem to always be able find that extra bit of determination, for want of a better word, to push through your adversities and come through just fine. I had no doubts about your abilities for a successful outing, cramps or no cramps. Congrats of your personal best!

    1. Thanks Nick, we are all on that quest to discover ourselves: our potentials and limitations. The more I learn, there more fascinating it is. I would encourage you to fully express your true potential first before deciding whether or not you've had enough. By then, may be the question would never cross your mind. A butterfly will not think why it has to fly... :)


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