Race Report Of The Blackmores Sydney Marathon 2015 by FatBird Anthony

This year being the first that Team FatBird has been designated as Training Partner for the Sydney Running Festival, on partnership with CTC Travel and Destination NSW, I was slated to provide an 8-week tune-up program for the Singapore participants in the 9km, Half Marathon (HM) and Full Marathon (FM) categories.
As it was also my first time participating in the Sydney Running Festival (SRF), I signed up for the Full Marathon to get a full personal feel for the course which was known to be challenging with it’s fair share of rolling hills and slopes, and the tough final 10km to max out any marathoner’s resources.

The Blackmores Sydney Marathon also received the much coveted IAAF Gold-Label this year, making it a special event for myself and the running community from Singapore.  Way back in March, we have conducted a couple of information workshops and a lead-up run to bring awareness of the event to our Singapore marathoners.

We are heartened to note that by race day on Sep 20, we had 118 runners from Singapore across the various run categories participating at the SRF, a 90% increase from 2014’s number of 62 runners.

As part of my preparations for the Sydney Marathon, I begun watching my weight in a bid to have a better performance and feel of running lighter, after my slight increase in weight in Dec 2014 caused me to suffer quite a bit at the Taipei Marathon.  Drawing references from racing weight management gurus like Matt Fitzgerald, I was keeping tabs on the high-sugary night snacks I was regularly taking as well and doing longer endurance runs at our FatBird training operations starting from April.

By August, I dropped off 8kg of excess weight, which would eventually contribute to my scoring my marathon PB after a wait of 8 years, and for the first time ever, qualified for entry (and eventual acceptance) into the prestigious Boston Marathon.

I trained alongside Sydney Marathon participants in Ops Kingfisher, our 8-week marathon training program for those doing the STRun, Sydney Marathon and OSAKA Marathon.  With shorter but higher intensity tempo runs, hill and strength work in the weekdays, complemented with progressive long endurance runs in the weekend consolidated my strength and endurance speed for a good build up to race day on Sep 20.

Run Up To Race Day

I travelled with the group on early Friday morning on the Scoot 787 Dreamliner and touched down and checked into the Holiday Inn Darling Harbour hotel by Friday noon.  As I was also on the DNSW media trip, my race pack was collected and already sent to the hotel.  I had an easy afternoon before going for the Welcome Carbo-Loading Dinner organized by CTC Travel for all the package participants.  The seafood buffet was so good that long lines formed at the entrance, and we were given a time limit of 2hours to complete the sumptuous dinner – I was never this stuffed in a long time.

I had a good night’s rest before leading a small group of runners for a Conditioning Run on Saturday morning, which was almost derailed by the dawn showers.  Fortunately, we managed to run to Hyde Park (part of the Marathon route) when the rain stopped for the warm-up we so needed.

The rest of Saturday was spent relaxing, stocking up on supplies and resting for the important race on Sunday.  I joined the Media group for a very good seafood dinner at Nick’s, supplementing the previous day’s carbs with protein for a good fuel balance for the race.  We retired early for the night before waking up at 4am on Sunday for the race.

I ate the Muesli, cookies and bananas provided in the breakfast box before meeting the small group of marathoners for the coach to race site.  The Half Marathoners had earlier gone by another coach with Janet (CTC Tour Guide) to the race site for their earlier race start at 6:15am.

When we reached the race site, I was struck by the air of calm among the participants as we waited in lime for the portaloos, facing the magnificent Harbour Bridge with the Sydney Opera House (we would end our marathon race there) in the distant.

The Race
True to the hilly nature of this race course, the start of the marathon was on an upslope – the good news is there is always a downslope after the upslope.  Having seen the very good fuel support plan with ample hydration and good supply of Gu gels, I decided to travel light, with aSspi-belt just to carry my gels and electrotabs instead of my usual fuel belt.  The weather at 16C was warm enough for me to just wear a tee-shirt with a short pair of tights (where normally I would put on the long tights with buff and raincoat for the colder races).

I was lined up in the front of the A pen, very close to the starting line and I could see all the Marathon Pacers with their timing flags sticking out from haversacks they carried.  After a brief introduction of the elite runners, the race was started without much fanfare.  The runners broke off in good pace, spreading out quickly and making room for many of us to go smoothly – what a contrast to some of our local race starts back home.

The First 5km

By 3km, I was able to settle into a 4:50min/km pace with ample room to run and get comfortable.  I watched my breathing and told myself to relax for the long race ahead.  The first water stations appeared at the 5km mark, and I must say the IsoWhey isotonic drinks sure tastes good.  I passed the 3:30h Pacers by the 3km mark and remained in front of them throughout the whole run.

The next 10km

I moved into the 4:45-4:50 pace for the next 10km, interspersed with some jerkiness due to the number of sharp U-turns we have had to make.  Entering Hyde Park we were given a treat of Gu gels which came in handy to sustain the pace.  By then I was running comfortably at about 4:45h pace and checking constantly my breathing and running form.  There was quite a crowd cheering at certain segments of the course, esp. in Hyde Park.

The Next 10km (15km-25km)

We entered into the Hyde Park and I told myself to sustain the 4:45h pace for as long as I could to buffer a little bit of time in case I could reach my Boston-Qualifying (BQ) range.  Although I had not planned or targeted to get any BQ prior to this race (a PB would be a very good outcome for me considering that I did not specifically train for this marathon), I felt confident for the first time at the 23km mark that BQ could be a possibility at the rate I was going.

I did feel a niggle and twinge of the upper calves at the 18km mark, although it went away after I slowed the pace a tad.  By 25km, we were out of the Gardens and I was still feeling great.  I held on to the 4:45h pace, not wanting to push harder for fear of triggering an onset of cramps.

The Next 10km (25km-35km)

It was a series of rolling hills throughout the run, and when we went to the Opera House side at 32km mark, I could hear the cheers of the HM runners who had completed their race earlier, and a few FatBirds shouted my name.  I gave a thumbs up and continued running on strongly.  I have heard that the course gets very challenging from the 32km mark onwards and I slowed down slightly just to make sure I had sufficient reserves to tackle what might be coming.

The Final Stretch (35km-42.5km)

It started to drizzle at that point and with the winds blowing in from the sea, I felt cold and my legs were also tingling with possibilities of cramps.  I popped another electrotab which seemed to work well to keep the twitches at bay.  With 10km to go, I was very much on track for a good BQ, which for my age group is 3:30h.

I reminded myself to be cautious and not to work the calves too hard, especially with the many slopes that were about to come – the winding and rather steep stretch at 35-38km stretch being the most notorious.  I began employing my glutes more to pick up the legs, as well as maintaining my pelvic rotation to provide the forward momentum.  All these worked well to give my legs a breather and avoid an overload towards the end.

By 39km mark, I saw the Opera House in the horizon and could hear the announcer and loud cheers for marathoners who were finishing up.  I perked up and picked up speed steadily back to sub 5min pace, and aimed to maintain that all the way to the finish line – all this while calculating the slowdown odds should an unexpected bout of cramps erupt.

Fortunately that never came and as we entered into the final 1km, there were lines of supporters cheering us hoarse.  We felt like champions finishing the race in style and that brought new highs of motivation to the tired body.  

I maintained the sub-5min pace all the way to the finish chute, and with 200m to go, I could hear the announcer shouting “and here comes Anthony Sum from Singapore…”.  I raised my arms for the many photographers clicking away and finished jubilantly in 3h26min (3h25min net time), very happy that I not only beat my PB of 3h36min set in Korea, 2008 by a good 10min, but also managed to qualify for Boston Marathon finally, after 11 years of distance running.

My legs didn’t feel so tired as I ambled on to collect my finisher medal and tee, and sucking on 3 pieces of orange peel.  I walked on to collect my baggage (which was a long distance away – this needs to be improved upon) and felt a lot warmer after having my jacket on.  

The weather in the last 8km was cold for me, reminding me of the tough wet and cold weather I encountered in Taiwan a few months earlier.  I was happy it all turned out well in the end as I proceeded on to meet up with fellow FatBirds and Team SG runners for group photos.  The FatBirds did well with some scoring very good PBs and mostly respectable timings in light of the challenging course and weather.

As we proudly wore our finisher tees and medals, and holding up the Singapore Flag, we were all very satisfied with our race.  The challenges we faced during the run would not be forgotten so soon.  

Overall Race Experience
The Sydney Marathon is indeed a scenic course that is very enjoyable running.  I would recommend more to participate in the race, but definitely put in sufficient training (hillwork, strength) before your attempts.  The race organization was good in the aspects of hydration and aid stations, but things like the baggage points and ‘no name indicted on bibs’ and ‘no distance indicated on finisher medals” would need to be improved upon.

Overall, it was a great and enjoyable experience for me and my team of FatBirds, and we certainly hope to have a larger contingent from Singapore for 2016.

With my maiden marathon experience at the Sydney Marathon, I have the following observations and takeaway of the entire event:

Well organized race overall
Weather (15C-20C) conducive for a good race
Scenic route going past many city icons and lush parks
Drinks stations are sufficiently long to cater to even larger crowds
IsoWhey isotonic drinks tastes great and sufficiently provided
Generous supply of Gu Gels for marathoners in 3-4 locations
Nice running culture with most runners on the move, providing free access of running pathways

Areas For Improvement
Race Expo can be expanded to cater to the enthusiastic runner shopper
Hilly race course which can prove to be a big challenge especially to the under-trained newbie marathoner
Too many sharp u-turns, especially in the Centenial Park area
Baggage area at end point too far away (> 1km) from the finish line
Runner’s bib has no name printed
Finisher’s medal has no race category indicated
Running route with some pot-holes and uneven surfaces
Start Point right on a upslope

Of course, my journey to Sydney Marathon would not be complete without the post-run celebrations and activities which completed a most memorable and rewarding trip for me in recent times.  Check out my Sydney Marathon 2015 Post-run Delights Report for some of the fun and exciting activities I did.

This is the 11th anniversary of my distance running endeavor, and it showed that if I can still do Personal Bests (PB) and Qualify-For-Boston (BQ) after adding 11 years to my age, many more of you can also have your own running aspirations, set your goals, train according to plan, and someday you too will achieve your marathon dreams.

Make Marathon Running Your Way Of Life!

Life Is A Marathon – Do It, Live It, Run It!