Nike Sales Malaysia’s invitation to participate in the Singapore leg of the Human Race was too good to turn down especially when the city state was the only South East Asia venue to host this global event. Trust it to the sports marketing giant to put on a superb show, uniting 25 cities, celebrity runners and iconic athletes, and not to forget one million runners together for the benefit of 3 charitable organizations (20% of the registration fees go to the runner’s charity of choice). For this to work, Nike latched on to the power of the Internet, weaving the event promotion, registration, and training into their Nike+ portal. This allows participants to set up virtual challenges and log their training. Those who couldn’t make it to the appointed venues could also run the race virtually. The choice of date was significant since it’s to take place on Malaysia’s Independence Day – 31.8.2008. Each registrant has their own selection of beneficiary for personal reasons and believing that children are indeed our future, my choice was ninemillion.org.
About the charities
The ninemillion.org campaign was created in 2006 by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in partnership with Nike and Microsoft. The goal of the campaign is to give more than nine million children better access to education, sport and technology by 2010. The ninemillion.org website exists to raise funds, but also to give voice to those who often go unheard, allowing visitors to see pictures of the camps where children pass much of their lives, read refugee children’s stories and understand what refugee children’s lives are like.
Lance Armstrong Foundation
The Lance Armstrong Foundation – LAF – was founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. The LAF is a nonprofit organization located in Austin, Texas focusing on providing practical information and tools people with cancer need to live life on their own terms. LAF’s agenda include Prevention, Access to screening and care, Improvement of the quality of life for cancer survivors and Investment in research.
World Wildlife Fund
WWF was born into this world in 1961. Since those early days WWF has grown up to be one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. Currently there are more than 1300 WWF conservation projects underway around the world. Almost all WWF’s work involves partnerships with local non-profit agencies and other global NGOs.
My participation, however, was nearly derailed by the muscle strain I picked up just 3 days before race day. Luckily I recovered enough to make the trip down, even though I was a little stoned by the muscle relaxants! Everything had been arranged by Nike from our flight and hotel stay to race pack collection, and thanks to Frank who helped pick up the flight tickets, all I needed to do was to be at the KLIA on Saturday morning. I was the first to arrive and soon enough I was joined by Frank and Pueh Tian. We killed time at McDonald’s while waiting for the boarding time. Only at the waiting lounge did we linked up with Niki Cheong from The Star and Richard Augustin from the TimeOut KL magazine.
Our ride in the tiny 737 was pretty bumpy and there were so much thick clouds that I knew it would be a wet weekend. We cleared customs very quickly and before long reached the Gallery Hotel soon enough. There were many banners promoting Sunday’s race from the ECP stretch all the way into the CBD area and the results show – due to the level of awareness generated, Singapore was the first country to fill up and close the registration process. I’d say it’s a result of good marketing, a large population of fitness enthusiasts and a credit to the Singapore government’s health and fitness programs.
The race pack
We were met by Alison Lee, Nike Malaysia’s Marketing Communications Manager, at the hotel with our race packs. In each pack was a red Sphere Dry tee with a unique race number, a large Nike polycarbonate water bottle, championchip, wrist bands to denote starting category and access to the Nike Partner’s tent, race guide, and various vouchers. We took a bit longer to locate our room numbers as they were painted (quite small in fact, which led me to think it was done intentionally) on the floor instead of the door. Well, such is the case of a boutique hotel! Then it was a short walk to Robinson Quay for a late but very nice lunch at a Belgian restaurant. We headed separate ways after lunch with Frank, PT and I opting to hit Orchard Road for some shopping.
The Gallery Hotel
After a fantastic lunch at a Belgian restaurant. Note Tintin’s gang painted on the wall
Shopping is also a workout
1 heavy downpour, 4 shopping malls and 6 DVDs from HMV later, my legs were starting to feel the effects. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped to admire the lantern floats moored along the Singapore River in front of the CentrePoint mall. Much as I’d liked to spend the night chilling out at the numerous waterholes there was racing to be done the next day and I’d yet to sort out my race kit, which I did while channel surfing between the EPL game and HBO. It was lights out by midnight.
I didn’t hear my watch alarm ring but by 7:15am I was down at the coffee house for breakfast. The plan called for an excursion to the Raffles City area. This time we opted to walk there, instead of riding the MRT. Weather was superb for walking with a steady breeze and plenty of cloud cover. At the end of the 2KM walk, we had quite a few silly photo opportunities. You can check that out in the photo album. The skies looked threatening though and I bet at least 11,000 other people were praying that it wouldn’t pour. That’s the number of runners who will be hitting the race at 4:15pm. Well, 11,000 and the hundreds of dedicated volunteers, performers (did I mention that there would be performances en route as well as after the race?), and hardworking crew. Lunch was at Funan’s Pastamania.
Shoe of choice for the race. An arty farty shot to match the boutique hotel
The Alkaff Bridge, part of the race route, in the background.
We were early to the Padang and we observed that it wasn’t as soggy as we thought it would be. It seemed that everyone was concerned about the state of cleanliness of their Lunar Trainers! It was nice to catch up with Siva who was on stage duty and later Wong whom we met at the Nike Booth. After all the wacky photo shoots (again!), and a chitchat with an American who desperately wanted to run but couldn’t register on time, we proceeded to deposit our baggage. Thus far, everything was efficiently organized. Stickers were provided to ensure that we don’t forget which baggage counter we left our belongings.
2 of the ridiculous shots we took. We had too much time!
Finally we made our way to the Esplanade where the staging area would be. The crowd had been steadily building up and the sea of red was swelling. I didn’t opt for a warm up, a requisite before a 10K, since I didn’t want to risk my quads. Instead I rested at the steps inside the Esplanade and enjoyed the aircond. While my legs felt OK in my walkabouts, I wasn’t quite sure how it would react when the pounding started, hence my decision to play safe. With 30 minutes to go, the 3 of us headed down to the starting pens. We were assigned the 1st pen which actually was for the elites and faster runners. Of course I felt out of place even if the rulebook mentioned that those aiming for sub-50 were to be allocated the first start. I guess I felt that way because there were many obviously faster runners who were assigned to the “slower” 2nd pen. Among whom were BoSe and David Ong. It was almost coincidental that we could hook up despite the huge crowd. A handful of runners were in Lunars. It was getting packed in the holding area and I wished we could just start. The skies were holding even if there was a very light drizzle.
The Wave 1 start. Can you spot me? Hint: Look to the right, and squint.
A DJ and 2 MCs were hamming up the crowd but I thought that having the teen who is a cancer survivor on stage was a nice touch. He and his family would be flagging us off. There was also the WWF panda mascot. It certainly allowed the runners to relate to the charities they contributed to. A couple of short interviews later, it was time for action.
The air horns sounded and everyone burst out of the pens running like being chased by bulls in Pamplona.
The first K was a ridiculously fast 4:50. The second K was even faster at 4:37. I was monitoring my quads for any sign of discomfort but they seemed to be holding up. Given the narrow start, there were plenty of jostling as the back runners tried to get in front. I’d lost contact with Frank and had Pueh Tian for company for a full 4 seconds. The pace continued for the next couple of Ks and I thought that I might not be able to sustain it for the whole distance. By the 3rd K, the crowd around me became sparser. At least within the 3 feet around me. That allowed me to make clean and fast grabs at the water stations. I couldn’t sustain the sub 5 pace after the 3rd K and my splits hover between 5:00 to 5:10. I didn’t find the narrow riverine paths a problem. As I passed the packed pubs along the waterfront, I jestfully shouted “beer, beer!”. It was unusual then to experience some hot spots on both soles. The sun peeked out from the clouds and it suddenly turned warmer. A combination of tiredness and slippery surface slowed me down further in the final 2K but I hung on for a 51:06 finish. The distance was quite accurate at 10.09K. A check later at the Nikeplus website showed that I placed 33,343 globally.
I wasn’t too happy with my timing as it was nearly 3 minutes slower than my best but considering the circumstances and conditions, I wasn’t too beat up either. Most importantly, finishing the race meant that I could partake in the festivities that laid ahead. There weren’t much of a crowd after the finish line, so I quickly de-chipped and collected my finisher’s baton containing the exclusive bracelet. The volunteers did a great job in clearing the queue for water and refreshments and I was able to collect my baggage very quickly (unlike the chaos of the Singapore Marathon). The young volunteers at baggage check even complimented my finishing time, which was a nice gesture.
The finisher’s bracelet
Part of being an invited guest meant that I could gain admission to the Nike Partners’ Lounge where plenty of food and drinks awaited. You could also guzzle as much Heineken as you wanted if beer was your preferred post-race carbs. I ate lightly and finished a can while camera girls snapped polaroids of guests. The concert on the stage were shown live on my dream TV – 42″ Panasonic plasmas, lined up at various spots in the lounge. I pulled Shaharudin, who finished 5th, for a group photo and also saw Jeanette Wang, Singapore’s top triathlete and winner of this year’s Sundown Marathon. I observed that she was very disciplined in her warm down. I thought she spent at least 15 minutes on her cooldown routine.
The Malaysian contingent including Shaharudin (2nd left)
The post-race spread waiting for us at the Partners’ Lounge
Niki, Richard and Pueh Tian joined us not long after and once everyone had eaten and drank, we walked over to the Media Centre located in the Singapore Recreation Club to collect our press kits. Niki had to submit his report back to The Star and we had an opportunity to browse the press photos trying to find our faces.
The concert in full swing
Since the trio wanted to hang out at the post-race concert, which featured top Singapore rap and hip-hop artistes and an upcoming band from the US, Boys Like Girls, Frank decided to join me over at Robinsons as I wanted to pick up some toys for the kids back home. I settled for a Ben 10 bag for Carbokid1 and a Thomas The Train carriage for Carbokid2. On our 2K walk back to the hotel we picked up a kebab each at the Shiraz stall along Quay. The Singaporeans were so efficient that even before the concert was over, the council workers were already dismantling and removing the street boardings, barricades and buntings.
Packing was a little difficult early next morning due to the generosity of Nike and my shopping. Some violent shoving and teeth gnashing later, I managed to put away all the stuff. The ride to the airport in the pre-booked Merc Vito was smooth with no traffic jams. To kill some time, I took the virtual SLK on several spins on the X-Box console at Changi and there was no changing the fact that I still sucked at Need For Speed. The 10am (75% empty) Airbus flight home was way more comfortable that the rocky ride in the Boeing.
In closing this account, I’d like to record my heartfelt thanks to the generous people of Nike Sales Malaysia namely Alison Lee, Siva Shanker and Wong Li-Zren for inviting us to the party. They not only showered the Malaysian contingent with great hospitality and made us felt at home, but worked unbelievably hard to put up a smashing event for the 11,000 of us runners.