Save the Singapore Marathon

DECEMBER 8 — I am not a runner. I would like to be but I lack the discipline and endurance running requires.

Allowing the human body to do better, go faster, run further is a beautiful thing and probably why marathons are so much more than just another sports event... they are aspirational acts.

Signing up and completing a marathon is something to be proud of and if your city is host to one of these events, that is something to be proud of.

My brother ran this year and I was beaming with pride for both my sibling and my country as he crossed the finish line with the glistening skyline behind him. The experience was worthy of any bucket list.

This is why I was sad to hear people across Singapore were upset the Standard Chartered marathon, the city’s flagship long distance running event, had moved to an evening time slot this year. 

The rationale is that beginning the race at 6pm would allow it to be run into the, cooler, night. 

In previous years the marathon began at 4.30am. This meant that most runners only completed in the race between 8.30am and 11am by which time it’s already pretty hot.

Professional runners also complained the pre-dawn start time was disruptive in terms of their training routines and in general an event run largely in the early hours was not conducive to real fan engagement.

The 6pm start time seemed an ideal way to attract audiences and please high calibre runners, prerequisites for Singapore to join the small club of cities holding a World Marathon Major. 

Unfortunately, it appears the new timing worked too well — attracting more than 15,000 runners (the largest-ever cohort) and ranks of supporters.

The event was so successful it caused significant traffic disruption. The marathon takes place on public roads which are closed for its duration (and some hours before and after) and the large number of participants and crucially the extensive road closures turned southern Singapore — the CBD, Beach Road and Vivo City areas — into traffic hell on Saturday evening.

People were stuck in jams for hours. Some struggled to make it to their own weddings due to tail backs, others simply had to nurse bursting bladders over up to four torturous hours. Not fun.

Of course, this disruption led to a rash of complaints about the marathon’s new start time and calls for the event as a whole to be shifted.

So much disruption for a bunch of running men and women; can’t the event simply be moved to a stadium, or park connectors somewhere on the outskirts of the country?

Well, perhaps, but then it simply would never be a major world event and that is the sort of thing Singapore needs to position itself as a Tier A world city.

A marathon is much lower cost than more grandiose events life F1 or the football World Cup but generates lots of good publicity.

A run through Singapore’s CBD at night is spectacular... an event held in Choa Chu Kang will, honestly, never earn a spot among the world’s great races.

I sympathise with those who had their plans badly disrupted by this year’s race but with a little planning, the shortcomings can be rectified.

Last weekend in Singapore saw not only the marathon but a U2 concert itself attended by tens of thousands, a major anime/cosplay event and there was also the matter of proximity to Black Friday sales.

If the other events were more carefully spaced out and with more thought given to transport to and from the marathon, I think this year would have passed without major incidents.

The extent of the road closures should also be made clear to the public as early as possible.

There were thousands of angry frustrated people stuck in traffic last weekend which is bad but there is a bigger picture.

The London and New York Marathons shut large parts of those cities down but they persist because of the focus on athleticism, fitness and charitable causes.

Singapore needs to stay in the major world marathon game and I suppose the race to the perfect marathon is itself a marathon and not a sprint.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.