Held towards the end of October every year, the Newton Challenge is often seen by runners as a build-up run to the year-end marathon race in Singapore – the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS).
That’s because the two race distances – 18km and 32km – are usually used by runners to gauge whether they are ready for the year-end SCMS Half Marathon and Full Marathon races, before embarking on the final leg of training and tapering.
Took part in the 32km category
This year, I took part in the 32km Newton Challenge – with the main aim of clocking some serious mileage under real race conditions, for my Full Marathon at the SCMS. As well, it was also a great chance to test my planned race fuelling strategies to completely prevent myself from hitting the wall come December – after having banged full-force, into the imaginary ‘wall’ at the Sundown Marathon this year, and to a slightly lesser extent, at the SCMS 2013.
I had also taken a bit of a break from intense running, to rest after my 50km trail race a couple of weeks ago – to allow my legs to recover. So I had wondered whether I would be able to maintain my intended marathon goal pace throughout the entire 32km.
This question was going through my mind as I made my way to the starting pen of the 32km race – which would take runners through two loops of the scenic and breezy East Coast Park. (The 18km race would be the same route, but with one loop only, though).
Broke into a slow jog when the race began
When the horn blew to signify the start of the Newton Challenge race, I broke into a slow jog and tried to maintain a steady pace that was probably hovering somewhere between 7 to 7:30 minutes per kilometre.
I’ll say that this strategy went pretty well during most of the first loop around East Coast Park, and it’s good that I wasn’t really feeling much exhaustion at this point in time – though running a 32km race is a really long distance!
The weather was cooling
It was also great that the weather was not only free of haze, but was also pretty cool and I wasn’t bothered by the sun during my run. Perhaps the early 5am race start had been a good thing after all!
Took first gel about 11km into the race
I took my first gel at around the 11km mark of the race, to starve off any cramps from developing. From that point onwards, I found myself digging into my supply of energy gels roughly every five to eight kilometres and took some water from the hydration points to wash the gels down.
This strategy had worked for a while, but I’ll admit that when I was running my second East Coast Park loop, I realised that I was starting to feel some slight aches in my legs. But a combination of energy gels, isotonic drinks and sodium tablets helped to keep all of this at bay, though – and I found that I could still muster up a slow jog with the help of these energy supplies.
Motivated by running celebrities and inspirational figures along the route
But every now and then, there were inspirational runners and other celebrities, along the route – to keep me going. For example, I spotted Gerrard Lin, who is better known as Ah Siao – dragging his all-too-familiar tyre, to raise awareness for the Bone Marrow Donor Programme.
It was really motivating for me to actually see this local running legend in a run, along the route, whilst dragging his tyre behind him. It made me realise that if Ah Siao can do it with the tyre, then I could definitely carry on and complete the race – without one to weigh me down.
Further along, I also spied Singapore’s oldest marathoner, the very friendly Uncle Chan Meng Hui, who still has the energy and determination to complete 42km marathons even though he is already 84 years old. I think that the mere fact that Uncle Chan is still so fit and active – is enough to inspire any runner.
Chugging on slowly to the finishing line
Seeing runners such as Ah Siao and Uncle Chan to motivate me, I slowly chugged on, but I noticed that my pace was slowing down. But by now, I had just passed the 28-29km mark and was on the final stretch already. I tried to keep up a pace below 7:30 minutes per kilometre though, as my target was to finish the race within four hours. But the longer I ran, it became progressively harder with every step I took. At this point, I reminded myself that I had recently conquered a 50km trail race – so I would definitely complete this race, too. I was so near – I couldn’t drop out now.
Finishing line in sight
Soon enough, after almost 32km of running, the finishing line was in sight. I was tempted to speed ahead so that I could get there faster and have a rest sooner. However, I held back and tried to maintain my pace – and reached the finishing line in less than four hours, with mere minutes to spare.
And the moment that I had finished the race, the 500ml bottle of isotonic drink and the refreshing wet towel that the volunteer was handing out were probably two of the most welcoming things that day!
A very generous supply of food available
Now I could finally take a well-deserved break and tuck into the generous supply of food available for runners. I immediately noticed that there were plenty of delicious items available, including ice cream, jelly, nasi lemak and sandwiches.
Furthermore, plenty of additional isotonic drinks were also on offer for runners to re-energize themselves. Many other races that I have taken part in, do not have such a wide spread of complimentary food for athletes to refuel themselves. So that’s one good thing about taking part in the Newton Challenge, I thought.
And as I had wanted something cold and refreshing, the first thing that I plumped for was the lovely Nestle ice cream on a stick. And when I unwrapped this and took a bite of the chocolate-vanilla flavoured ice cream with the yummy chocolate coating, the scrumptious frozen treat tasted like heaven in my mouth…