Story contributed by Shaun Chook. Pictures by Shaun Chook, Ng Cheng Cong, Les Tan/Red Sports.
“Good morning, runners.” Cheerleaders wake up just as early to make their way down to the marathon. (Photo 1 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
City Hall, Sunday, December 2, 2007 – In my quiet little corner in the east of Singapore, thousands of sweaty, exhausted and determined people run by once (or twice) a year on a pilgrimage to satisfy their craving for a runner's high, plodding along roads and concrete paths on their journey to victory. Yet with such proximity and exposure, never once did I attempt to find out all about the legendary race that has inspired millions and derives its origins from an ancient battle that was significant in the conception of the modern world. That all changed, as I made my way to the Padang at 5.45 in the early hours of morning on the 2nd of December to cover and experience the Singapore Marathon for myself.
By the time I arrived, the men's full marathon was already underway under the glow of incandescent street lights. The atmosphere was vivid with excitement and life, with runners and supporters packing the immediate area along the Esplanade Drive and the Padang. A variety of running categories were held to cater to every kind of runner - from the gruelling pace of the full marathon spanning 42.195km, to the lighter 10km route, and even a kid's dash event at 750m.
Not surprising then that participation has soared over the years, with people more aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, or simply with the nagging urge to sweat it out for two to five hours with feet pounding concrete and tarmac. With participation at 40,000 this year, the event has seen its best turnout ever.
To me, inspiring seemed a fitting description of my view of the event. To see thousands of people sacrificing precious sleep to defy their physical thresholds across the country is in itself an amazing thing. Coming from all parts of Singapore and even the world, runners pit themselves against each other at hours when most would still be comfortably asleep in beds. The start of each race seemed to take forever to subside, with runners filling every space available on the roads.
The determination and steely discipline many of the participants showed during the race was another aspect of the event that served as inspiration. 42.195km is no small feat. Neither is 21km or 10km for that matter. Most of us students are struggling with our 2.4km test, and these people are running distances that are easily multiples greater than what we normally do. Completing the race is an inspirational feat in itself, one that is hard fought and well earned. The attitude of the runners themselves proved commendable, with many inscribing words of encouragement to spur themselves and others on.
As a result, we saw palpable raw emotion emerge from the runners during the race and at the finish line. Watching them run, you could literally feel the pain and joy each runner experienced – the satisfaction of completion, the sheer frustration, and most definitely, joy and companionship, the very spirit of sport.
The charming thing about marathons is that you never quite know what to expect as a photographer. There are always novel, interesting ways people pursue in their bid to throw in some fun or challenge into their run. The challenge was to recognise these golden moments and capture them in still frame, serving to encase timeless memories or simply to tell a story. Many gamely tossed smiles and waves, recognising that just maybe the joy of running may be captured and shared with the rest who haven't discovered it just yet.
And then there are those who go even further - competing in wedding gowns, in lavish and quirky outfits, and a man who decided to carry his partner over the finish line. Kudos to him.
If it wasn't the runners, then it was the supporters who decided to get creative and cheer on the brave participants. Persevering through the immense, sweltering heat that came with the rising sun, they screamed, shouted, cried out with utmost diligence and fervour for their loved ones and friends, as well as any other runners passing by, waving banners and placards wildly in the air.
adidas jumped on the bandwagon by providing placards with names inscribed for that personal touch, and spared no expense rolling out their own banners with their famous three words, no doubt spurring the runners on even more in the midst of their journey.
It wasn't before long the memory card started running out of space, and not too long before the event finally came to a close. 6 hours just went by like that, and my job was just about done. In retrospect, the age-old marathon has indeed captured the essence of sport - the pure emotion, the competition, the joy and the grace. In a marathon, everyone wins. What matters is crossing the finish line, to be able to say with pride that you just spent that handful of hours completing a legendary race. To be able to tell yourselves that you denied the many times you felt like giving up and felt like throwing in the towel when the road just seemed too tough. Many life lessons can be learnt in sport, and of the many we can cite a few - patience, determination, diligence and discipline. For all the runners, cheers to your efforts and your determination. It was a battle hard won.
“Motorists are advised to avoid a massive rush hour jam along Shenton Way.” Some of the 12,000 marathon runners who started at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. (Photo 2 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
The leading pack of women runners stunned the waiting 21km runners with their pace as they ran past along the Esplanade Bridge. (Photo 3 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
42-year-old Singaporean Koh Boon Pin pushing fellow Singaporean Lee Yuen Ping along the marathon route. Lee, 22 years old, is wheelchair-bound because of a condition known as Spina Bifida. They finished in 4 hours 46 minutes. (Photo 4 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
“So who needs the toilet?” Some of the 16,000 10km runners raise their hands to signal their readiness for the start of the 10km race. (Photo 5 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Singapore’s fittest footballer and Player of the Year, Aleksandar Duric. When asked why he was running after a year of playing football, he said, “Only 10km. No problem.” He finished in 44 minutes. No wonder he is so fit. (Photo 6 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Tan Tyzz Chau carries his girl Guan Mei Feng towards the finish line. They both ran the half-marathon in a time of 3:24:12. (Photo 8 © Shaun Chook/Red Sports)
A runner stretches to prevent cramps just before the finish line. (Photo 9 © Shaun Chook/Red Sports)
Cheang Kok Chung of the Ministry of Trade and Industry at the start of the marathon. KC, as he is known, finished the marathon in 3:32:30, placing him in the top 2% of male marathon runners. (Photo 10 © Kennie Pan/Red Sports)
A patient supporter waits faithfully for her friend. (Photo 11 © Shaun Chook/Red Sports)
Simon Teo is all smiles at the end of his 42km marathon which he finished in a time of 3:44:20, placing him in the top 4% of male runners. (Photo 12 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Her sign says: “This is my race and I’ll be victorious.” Well said. (Photo 13 © Shaun Chook/Red Sports)
Teo Ser Luck, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, finishing the marathon in a time of 4:00:34, placing him in the top 8% of all male runners. (Photo 14 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
“Here they come.” Runners heading back along Shenton Way after completing the Marina Bay stretch of the run. (Photo 15 © Shaun Chook/Red Sports)
“I believe I can fly.” Neo Chee Wee gets high on the home stretch in the marathon, finishing in a time of 4:4:17. (Photo 16 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Start of the women’s 10km event. (Photo 17 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
Elaine Lim finishing the marathon in a time of 3:24:45, placing her in the top 3% of all marathoners. She was the third fastest female Singaporean runner. (Photo 18 © Shaun Chook/Red Sports)
“So … where’s Goutham?” Some of the cheerleaders who started their day at 5.30am continue to hold their posts even as the sun made it unbearably hot on the sidelines. Balachandra Goutham eventually finished the half-marathon in a time of 1 hour, 57 minutes and 27 seconds. (Photo 19 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
“I run with you, my friend.” (Photo 20 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
Blind runner Henry Wanyoike (right) finishes the 21 km half-marathon in a time of 1:25:14 to place 8th in the field. Running with him is Joseph Kibunja. (Photo 21 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Lung Wen Jie (left, in red) and Lung Wei Si head down the stretch towards the finish line. Wen Jie finished in 1:15:35 while Wen Si was 6 seconds behind in 1:15.41. (Photo 22 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
Actress Tan Kheng Hua running for charity. (Photo 23 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
“I finished!” Andrew Ng finishing the half-marathon in 2:34:59. (Photo 24 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
Mark Balakrishnan of the Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC) at the end of the half-marathon. He finished in 1:32:14, placing him in 24th place among all male runners. A full contingent of ACJC, Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Junior College runners were spotted at the race. (Photo 25 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
No sweat. A handy towel and eyes focused on the finish line bring Ho Hui Ping home in a time of 1:11:46. (Photo 26 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
A runner in a wedding dress. We haven’t figured out if she was running to or away from a wedding. (Photo 27 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
Who’s the lucky groom? (Photo 27 © Ng Cheng Cong/Red Sports)
George Tse finishing his marathon in a time of 3:45:9, placing him in the top 5% of male runners. (Photo 25 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Ed’s note: Most of the time, the focus is on the podium winners. I thought it would be inspiring to turn the lens on the rest of us who plod along at a different pace but who still do our best to finish the race. So I hope you enjoyed this picture spread which I believe is the biggest picture spread on the Singapore Marathon you’ll find in town. Enjoy! Les, editor+photographer.
n.b. The Singapore Marathon is also known as the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon or Stanchart Marathon.