I Ran the Standard Chartered Half-Marathon in a Suit and I Survived
Yesterday was the 15th annual Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore and sadly, an athlete passed away before he reached the finishing point. The runner, a 29-year-old believed to be John Gibson, was an Englishman living in Hong Kong. There's no information as yet on what happened to him. There have only been two race-related deaths in the 15 year history of the race, but numerous cases of heat exhaustion and other physical injuries abound. So you can see why our choosing to run in suits has raised more than a few eyebrows about the wisdom of such an activity.
This year, AUGUSTMAN decided to work with Global Clinic to raise funds for a medical mission trip this December. (Donate here) The money will go towards providing prescription lenses, cataract surgeries and more for Cambodians who don't have regular access to essential medical care. We've written about the work they've done and so part of our program this year was to run for a cause. We did two races, the Asics City Relay Marathon earlier this year, and the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. Four colleagues ran the earlier race. I ran the SCMS2016 21km.
WHY A SUIT?
There were a few reasons for this. First, I'd done several sport related adventures all suited and this was a nice way to round up land, air and sea. Secondly, I'd done a couple of marathons and a triathlon in my younger days, so I was confident that I could complete this. But I also knew I had no real time for training given a hectic travel schedule and I needed to up the ante to encourage people to donate. Hence the suit. Third, the severe heat of running in a suit is what the people Global Clinic helps have to endure on a daily basis. It was a way for me to appreciate how tough life can be, if only briefly.
Two members of the 2016 A-Listers, Siva Shanker and Joe Tan, joined in the race running blindfolded to bring across the significance of sight to the regular man. Assisted by Bobby and Jakob from Runninghour, an outfit that supports running for the physically challenged, they did the half marathon blind, surrounded by over 46,000 runners all trying to overtake each other to achieve their own personal bests. (Donate to their campaign here.)
Bobby and Joe completed the race well ahead of myself, clocking in at 2hrs 35 minutes and even stopping to assist a runner who had collapsed from heat exhaustion, keeping him awake until medical assistance arrived. Jakob, Siva and myself all came in around three hours. Along the way we saw numerous runners who petered out due to a lack of hydration, improper pacing or a simple lack of preparation.
MY PREP WORK (SORTA)
First of all was the clothing. We went with Uniqlo's Airism range of clothing, which has select pieces for suiting. Airism offers mainly casual wear, more sporty in style and wicks sweat away, so as to keep you cool (incidentally, ideal for Singapore's humidity). But they also have work shirts and some jackets. We chose the Dry range of jogging pants that has a similar effect, which helps to keep you cool. Underneath it was Nike's Dri-FIT compression tights that was snug next to the skin, wicking sweat directly off the body and keeping me comfortable even though I was wearing three layers. Footwear of choice was the Nike Free RN. Incredibly, we saw some runners wearing basketball shoes to a long-distance run.
I carbo-loaded a couple of days before hand and made sure I was plenty hydrated 24 hours before the race. My brother, Eric, who studied physiotherapy as well as nutrition, suggested that I ought to drink 200ml of water per kilometre. I thought he was nuts until I started sweating. I didn't manage to get a sip until the third water point, due to the sheer volume of people present.
It's not so much the amount you sweat as the difficulty of letting heat out from the body effectively under so many layers. I found myself inhaling deep breaths and out to expel body heat better. It wasn't too tough, however. I averaged 8 minutes a kilometre for the first 13km, not impressive but not hideously slow. The clothing, however, wasn't the problem. It was my knees which gave way.
I have chondromalacia patellae in both knees, which is a fancy way of saying I don't have enough cartilage under my kneecap so impact hurts bad. I simply had to go from a steady pace to brisk walking for the next 4 kilometres. That slowed me down severely.
At 17km, Siva caught up with me and I tried to pick up a slow jog for the last 4km. That's when the Sun hit, with the joyous warmth of the morning on 3 layers of clothing. I managed to sprint the last 400 metres or so to the end line.
And here's the rule to surviving a suited run: know your limits. It's easy to be caught up by the speed of better runners and chase after them at the start but in the long run, you suffer more fatigue. I watched runners sprint and stop, sprint and stop. Others stood on the bridges halfway through the run to take photos of the sunrise, not considering the effect of lactic acid buildup in the muscles when you stop. There were runners who clearly hadn't prepped and did 3km before they tapped out. Slow and steady does win the race. Unless you're racing against a Kenyan. I didn't have a heat stroke, I didn't even feel that uncomfortable and I managed to stay pretty much on target with my 8 minute a kilometre estimate. To anyone who insists that Singapore is too hot for a suit, I have proof it's not. And if Uniqlo is not your style, Ermenegildo Zegna has TechMerino, the luxe equivalent.
This run isn't just a vanity project. It's really to highlight an important need that Global Clinic is fulfilling in less developed countries all around us: medical care that we take for granted. If you think this is something you'd like to support, make the donation here.
P.S. Special thanks go to Pei Ying Siew and Gerald Tan for their photography and waking up at 4am to chronicle the event in photos.