I Finally Did My First Overseas Half-Marathon. Here’s How It Happened.
I can still remember that "fateful" morning, – 29 September 2015, the day of my registration for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2016. I was awake by 6.30am, sent my friend, ET, a text to ensure she was awake too and ready to get on her laptop to register for both of us. It was nerve-wracking, watching the clock tick, anxious to get myself a slot for the race (Half-Marathon) when the registration website opened at 7:00am. I have been dreaming of doing an overseas race and finally decided, after 4 long years, to stop procrastinating and JUST. DO. IT.
At 7.07am, ET called me and I was expecting a happy “DONE!” from her but instead she said “Hey, quick go online and do your own registration now. I can only register for one person at a time and currently, there are about 5,000 people in the queue before me! Quick, go!”
Well, you see, the reason I wanted her to register for me was because I have no frigging computer at home and registrations on a tiny iPhone 5 take longer (or so I thought). I had heard that the slots get snapped up really fast but who knew that this race was THIS popular? (Apparently, our very own SCMS seems to be getting less popular every year).
Anyway, not to waste any time, I got on my phone and saw the queue at more than 7,000 before me and I was disheartened. I thought, “What if I don’t get a slot?” I held my breath as I watched the numbers dwindle and after what seemed like an eternity (it was barely 10 minutes), I got myself a slot to SCMHK Half-Marathon! Yes!
Race Pack Collection
A couple of weeks later, I received a (snail) mail in regards to the confirmation of my registration and the details of the race pack collection. The race was on 17 January 2016 and I had my flight to Hong Kong booked a day earlier on the 16, however in the letter, there was no indication of overseas runners being able to collect our race packs just a day before the race. I emailed the organisers and they assured me that we would be able to collect our race packs on the 16th. Phew. Unfortunately, ET did not receive any mail at all and when she sent an email query, the organisers said she could just show up with her passport or any form of identification in order to collect her pack.
Every single day a week before race day, we checked the weather forecast. Rain was expected. No, HEAVY rain was expected on 17 January 2016. When we reached Hong Kong, the roads were wet and it was drizzling. ET and I booked ourselves into the hotel right across from Victoria Park at Causeway Bay where the race would end. We thought that was the smartest idea, only to realise post-race that it wasn’t, as the road back to our hotel was cordoned off for the race and we had to walk a whole big round in order to get back to the hotel.
Anyway, as we were getting close to the ending time to collect our packs after arriving in Hong Kong, we didn’t even do our check in at the hotel. Immediately after leaving our baggage with the concierge, we literally ran across the road to Victoria Park, and found the queues still snaking along.
We joined the queue to collect the race packs and about one-third of the way through, we asked the marshals if we were in the correct queue and were told we had to walk across the muddy field to collect our packs instead as we were not local.
We carefully threaded our way through the muddy grounds in the rain and joined the queue that took us more than an hour. When we finally got to the counter, the guy looked at me and said “You have your letter?! You shouldn’t be in this queue! You should join the other queue!” I stared at him and the direction he was pointing at, totally bewildered. I asked if I could just collect my pack now, and he said no. He shoo-ed me off to the other queue.
It was then that I realised, this queue was only for the overseas runners who did not receive their letters in the mail and were there just to identify themselves and get their race bib numbers. Eventually, everyone had to go back to the first queue to collect their race packs. I was infuriated at how disorganised and the lack of, or misleading information that was given to us.
So, okay, we were back in the initial queue. It was fast moving (Thank God!) but the terrible part is how messy everything was. There was no proper system of “Who’s next” to collect their packs. Even when the marshals told you to go to the next available counter, the previous person was still there waiting for their pack to be packed! I guess the Hong Kongers believe in showing you they’ve thrown in every single item from the sponsors instead of pre-packing the goodie bag and only showing you your race bib.
In fact, they had run out of the XS size tee-shirts I indicated in my registration. They offered me the S size (by the way, another friend who collected the pack half an hour before me said they told her only M size was available!) and right next to me, they offered ET the M size. She asked them why I could have an S size and she couldn’t, and that’s when they started looking around their table for another S size tee. I am thoroughly appreciative of SCMS’s very organised and systematic manner of collection of race packs now!
The day I had been waiting for finally came. It was exhilarating. I was so well-versed in SCMS’s 21km route that I did not want to know how the route would be like in Hong Kong. I wanted the element of surprise! Seriously though, I wouldn’t have known exactly where I would be running even if I did look at the course map as I was not that familiar with the roads. All I knew was, we would be on highways and through a long tunnel. That sounded pretty much like going up the West Coast Highway / Ayer Rajah Expressway after going through the Resorts World carpark to me.
That morning, it was pouring. Runners en-route to the start point on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui were soaked. Some were covered in ponchos, some sheltered under umbrellas, but most people were like myself, suited up in our running gear and ready to rock n’ roll, come rain or shine. I get butterflies in my stomach before any race, probably because I always want to out-do myself.
This race, I was extremely relaxed, without any pressure to make a better race time, and I was glad that I had registered for the Half-Marathon Run 2 (2nd wave) which starts at 8.30am. This gave me ample time to go around taking many photos and watching the first wave of runners get ready to be flagged off. I was surprised to see police guards forming a line before the first wave runners. These people are serious!
ET and I joined the other runners at the Waiting Zone. As we stood there waiting, the rain got heavier. To be honest, I didn’t like that my shoes were already getting heavier even before I started running but I was glad it was raining and we had cool weather instead of having burning hot sun as it would have been in Singapore at such an hour.
The horn sounded and we were on our way! One thing I realised about Hong Kong runners is that they are very consistent. Unlike in Singapore where I see many runners, including myself, speed off like bullet trains in the beginning and slow down, or even start walking, somewhere after the 5km mark. The Hong Kong runners kept to consistent pacing and throughout the entire run I hardly saw anyone walking. They just kept going, even if at a slower pace. I wonder if this is because of their 3 hours and 6 hour cut-offs for Half- and Full-Marathon respectively?
The route took us through uneven roads in Tsim Sha Tsui before heading up to the Tsing Kwai Highway around the 3km mark. In Hong Kong, the roads were entirely closed off for the race whereas in Singapore, at least one lane would have been kept open for vehicles to continue running. There was no bottleneck, with more than enough space for all runners.
After about 7km, when we did a U-Turn on the highway to get on the West Kowloon Highway, we merged with the Full-Marathon runners. WHAT? We were only one-third through the run! Yes, there was still plenty of space on the highway for both categories of runners, and there were definitely sufficient water points but I felt it was too early to be rubbing (almost) elbow to elbow with that many runners (SCMHK had more than 70,000 runners).
The weather was eccentric. The rain got lighter and just as I thought I was drying off, the rain came trickling down again. The clouds turned dark, heavy and low and soon, there was a heavy downpour again. The 13km mark was when we headed into the Western Harbour Tunnel that was famed to be challenging. There would be an altitude drop of 30 metres and as with all roads, what goes down must come up.
The tough part was the climb up and out of the 3km long tunnel. Spirits were high amongst the runners and just when everyone needed support inside the tunnel, there was the “Kallang Wave” roar. Well, I’m not sure what they name this in Hong Kong but yes, it was THE roar and this actually made me smile to myself. I love how encouraging fellow runners are!
I have done 3 SCMS Half-Marathons and my race timings were between 2:03 hours to 2:07 hours. For SCMHK, all I wanted was to be done by 2:30 hours and I was happy to have kept to a rather consistent pace and even having time to stop and take many photos along the way. When we hit the 18km mark was when we were back on the roads on Hong Kong Island, and that’s where I saw many runners had slowed down (who wouldn’t be tired after battling against the rain?).
As this point, I saw a visually-challenged runner being guided and weaving through the runners. I started clapping and cheering him on and other runners followed suit. I have recently joined Running Hour, a group dedicated to helping the intellectually, visually and physically challenged build up their fitness and health levels and as a guide myself, I understood how tough it was to be guiding, and to be guided through runs, much less a race as grand as this. These people deserve more support than any of us and I was so happy to see that Hong Kong runners were equally as compassionate and encouraging.
So near yet so far. There was a rather steep climb up a bridge and most people were walking. I kept going, turning back to check on ET every few steps as her knees were in pain after going through the tunnel. She had very kindly agreed to join me in SCM HK even though she hates running, and in return, I promised I wouldn’t leave her behind at any point in the run (and I kept to that promise).
We got through that, saw the 20km mark and I kept shouting “Let’s go! Let’s go! Only one more km to go!” I believe I was saying that not just to my friend, those around me, but also to myself. The last push.
As we got to the finishing line, I felt almost delirious. It wasn’t merely because I had completed a Half-Marathon but the fact that I have finally done an overseas race. Big tick off my bucket list! Would I join SCM HK again? Naturally, I compared SCM HK to SCMS and found our SCMS much more organised than SCM HK, and now I have also opened myself up to a whole new world of races. There are the Gold Coast and Mount Fuji runs that I really want to join (but have not signed up for), so most likely I will be taking on other countries’ terrains next.
- Great route to take in sights of the City (Kowloon, New Territories and Hong Kong Island) and the Victoria Harbour, especially if the weather is in your favour (the race is usually held in January or February).
- Long tables of water, isotonic drinks and bananas were available after the 5km mark (on the 21km route) and many canvases were put up on the road for you to throw your litter.
- Different booklets were printed for each category of race and the best spots along the route for your friends to stand by and get ready to cheer you on or snap photos of you were indicated so you could be sure you have “cheerleaders” along the way (even the volunteers at the water stations were very encouraging).
- Not a conducive race for overseas runners - Information was not clearly given at the race pack collection and judging from the long queues of overseas runners who did not receive their letters in the mail, the organisers may have placed more importance on the local runners (I heard from a local that a week before, many counters were opened for them to collect their race packs instead of just a few).