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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Singapore Bay Run/Army Half Marathon 2013 - Screw Up of a Race!

The Army Half Marathon was the first race that I took part in back in 2004. So I always have fond memories of it. Over the years, I signed up for it 7 times, ran 5 of it and did not start 2 due to injuries. The last was in 2010. Since then I have stopped doing it, disappointed by the sheer size of it and the consequential poor race experience.

This year, however, seduced by the super low registration fee of $12.00 for NS man and the promise of 3 event apparel comprising a race singlet, an event tee and a finisher tee, I signed up for it. I also thought that this could be a perfect way to test my race fitness for the upcoming biggie. Big mistake!

First was - there was no event tee. Okay maybe I did not read the fine print that it was either a singlet or tee. That I could accept. But the race day itself.... it was a huge huge disappointment.

The flag off time was 5.15am. I never understand why they need to start a short 21km race so early. So I had to get up at 3.30 am to make it there. As it turned out, due to the heavy traffic from Orchard Rd to Bras Basah, we reached at 5am. By the time we walked to the start bay, the race had been flagged off. But even then there was still a big crowd at the bay. We took 10 minutes to reach the start off before we could start jogging.

First foul up. With 30000+ half marathoners, why didn't they start the race in waves? Even smaller races like the 2XU and the Run350 starts their races in several waves to ease the congestion. I estimated we were somewhere in the last quarter of the pack. Fortunately, Robinson Road was wide enough and I could run at a steady pace but overtaking was really impossible and rather pointless. There were 3 mini bottlenecks at Maxwell Rd/Shenton Way junction; Shenton Way/Marina Boulevard junction and Marina Boulevard/Marina Bay waterfront. At all these junctions, runners on the vehicular roads which were 4 lanes wide were forced into a 2 metre wide lane. Bottlenecks built up but thankfully these were short stretches and while we had to walk through, it was still passable.

From the Marina Bay waterfront onward to Garden by the Bay East, was the second foul up. The place was in semi darkness with minimal light from the buildings and park light. There were also many structures outside Marina Bay Sands Shoppes. With the poor lighting, while I did not see anybody fell, there were subsequent posting of runners who tripped especially at the staircase leading to the Helix Bridge. Again it makes me wonder. Did anybody from SAFRA or the event organiser note these type of details? Why didn't they put up portable lights along the way instead of throwing a few light stick on the ground? This was not touted to be a night race and runner safety should always be a priority but somehow some people seem to think that runners have night vision goggles and can see through all that darkness.

Then the biggest foul up of the race came. At the end of Garden by the Bay East where it joins the Tanjong Rhu park connector (7km), the runners came to a complete standstill. There was a waterpoint there and many runners stopped for a drink only to find that they could not go forward. Like everybody else, I was one of the many who were stuck there for more than 20 minutes.  What happened was that the path at Garden by the Bay East which was a good 4 metres wide narrowed to a 2 man width and as there were thousand of runners descending on to that point, everybody came to a standstill. I understand it wasn't so bad for the earlier runners but for those behind, it was terrible and extremely unacceptable. I have never been in a race where I have to stopped running for such a long time and I dare say it has never and will never happen anywhere else in the world! And the irony of it was - there was this sign that that said "Don't stop, keep pushing". How to don't stop when nobody could run? And if the runners had keep pushing - I am pretty sure some runners will end up in the water or be crushed! It was a disaster waiting to happen and the worse thing was? It was the same last year and nobody at the Army or SAFRA seem to bother! Whoever came up with the route needs to be court martial. If a stampede had occurred, many people could have either fall inside the bay or get stepped on as the runners were boxed in by the sea on one side and the bushes on the other side.

Photo by Andy Ng
The only good thing about this particular congestion was that because the runners were cleared to go through 2 by 2, it became easier a bit to run from than on notwithstanding that the park path here were so narrow. And this is the 4th screw up. A big race like this should never be held on narrow park path. Runners were trampling all over the grass and cutting corners here and there to get ahead. Is it really that difficult to get approval for semi-road closure that they have to force 30000 runners to run on 2 man width park path? If this is the situation, I rather go back to good old East Coast Park where at least the paths are wider!

I did the first 10km in 1 hour 31 minutes, a personal worst no thanks to the screw up along the way. But the return leg seems okay as we enter the Stadium site. The road were wide enough to run now. The sky was now bright enough to run comfortably and all was fine until the 21km runners ran smacked into the 10km runners at the 17km. The congestion builds up all over again. And the last foul up? Why do the Army persist in forcing the army boys to take part when they are obviously not interested? Many of them were walking, strolling and blocking those who wants to run. It is for this reason that I have not taken part in this race for the past 2 years. The congestion is so bad that it is no longer fun for us average runners who do not and are not able to start right in front and thus escape the jam. And why can't they plan the route such that the runners do not merge?

Somebody who was stuck together with me in the jam at the 7km commented that this was what we get for $12. And I had to agree. We pay peanuts so maybe the army thinks we only deserve a monkey race? But to be fair, the above aside, the logistic was good. Water points were plentiful - maybe 2km apart. Too many in fact, The army as usual deploys its unit as supporter and there  were Misting station, cheerleaders, mascot, drummers along the route to cheer the runners. That in some way serve to mitigate the bad situation for me.

But I swear - no more mass local races for me. I rather take my money and go overseas and enjoy myself rather than go through such poor races where obviously not much consideration was given to the runners' experience. 


  1. i dare say this is the biggest fuckups in AHM history...

  2. Wow 1:30 in 10km, i thought it was a 21km race?

    You better stick to walkathons

  3. Ha ha I agree totally with you. Better to stick to walkathon