It took some time but finally, I was able to do my first half marathon for the year with the National Geographic (NatGeo) Run 2015. And it was anything but the typical half marathon race, at least for a Runrio one. Here’s my story.
Like the usual Runrio races lately, gun start was really, really early. The half marathon starts at 3AM so there’s hardly any time to sleep. Waking up just past midnight and feeling a bit groggy, it’s difficult to appreciate the reason for the early gun start. But since I can’t do anything about it, might as well go with it. And thankfully, I had an uneventful morning and travel to the venue.
I arrived in the vicinity about an hour before gun start so for the first time, I was actually able to eat a decent meal before a race. Well, it’s actually more than decent but it’s not too heavy that I’d regret it later. I wasn’t able to finish my coffee though as it was hot and I might get dehydrated. I still had enough time to walk leisurely towards the baggage area where lines were already long. Thankfully, it was quite efficient so it was quick. I really liked that they divided the counters by the last digit of runners’ bibs.
Then comes the “finding the starting line” part. The starting line was interestingly placed on the side of the road nearer the bay, on the other side of the dividing fence at the center aisle. This made it quite a challenge to get to as practically everyone was coming from the other side and there were no signs whatsoever where we can get across to the starting line. This made everyone climb up the fence or fit themselves in the gaps just to get to the starting line. This is quite dangerous and encourages bad habits on the road.
And so after crossing over, I was finally able to join my 21K co-runners. It was such a sight to behold! More than 6,000 runners were joining the 21K leg alone! I think they released runners in waves because of the number and because it took some time before we crossed the starting line.
As you might expect, the crowd was really thick and it took some time before I was able to run in a more comfortable pace. One thing you’d immediately notice is that the hydration partner has changed but the number of hydration station remained typical Runrio with their long tables and short distances in between. Some of the waters served have ice and two stations served banana. I just can’t be sure if I just didn’t notice it, but kilometer markers don’t seem to be complete and those that I noticed seem to be a few hundred meters off as far as GPS is concerned.
This race is more than just the usual 21K race for me. I used this as a gauge on my current skill level as I prepare for my pacer duty in the forthcoming Run United 2. And based on my GPS devices, it seems that I can sustain a 5:50/km pace comfortably, but only for around 15K! Beyond that, I saw myself slowing down gradually, hovering just around 6:00/km as I complete the 21K. It seems like I still have to do more training if I was to be comfortable with my designated pacer assignment of a 2:11:XX 21K finish. And as I slowly eat the distance between me and the finish line, the sun was starting to rise—the sky was lighting up as early as 5AM! Good thing I was on my way back!
As I saw my GPS devices tell me I passed 20K already, I noticed that something was wrong—the finish line was still a long way off! And to my amazement, the finish line was almost an entire kilometer away from the 21K mark. All my GPS measurements were telling me the same figure: 21.8K. That’s a full 800 meters excess. That’s two loops of the inner lane of an Olympic-sized oval track. Just 200 meters shy of a full kilometer. And as I looked at my GPS watch, I was just a bit over half a minute off my RU2 target finish time of 2:11:XX! Official results say I finished in 2:10:23 (click here to go to the official results page). I can still remember vividly my thoughts as I approached the finish line: “I really hope that RU2 does not use this same route or else I’d be in trouble!”
Upon crossing the finish line, I noticed another something odd—the 5K event was just starting! I actually find it quite nice as the activity area wasn’t as jam packed as I got used to when I finish a 21K. It used to be that longer distances were at a disadvantage as just about every freebies in the activity area were taken by the shorter distances as they’ve all finished before we did! This time it’s pleasant and quiet. That’s when I truly appreciated the early gun start.
I finished too early for me to wait for my gym to open so for the first time, I changed clothes in the dedicated changing tent. I just find it odd that there’s a huge open window at the back with only some net-like covering for some privacy. I’m pretty sure that everyone inside can be seen from the outside. As I quickly finished changing clothes, I looked back at the tent from the outside from across the street and I can confirm you can see the inside. Of course I didn’t look long as some lady might see me looking at them and think I’m a pervert! Maybe a thin white curtain could be added in the future to this window to add privacy while maintaining ventilation and the flow of light? As a man, it’s not much of a big deal for me, but if my lady is changing in there and I know somebody else might be looking, then I’d be really concerned!
Here are my thoughts about this year’s NatGeo Run:
- The early gun start was difficult to appreciate at first but it really works at this time of the year
- The later gun start for the shorter distances was also an excellent idea as long distance runners don’t arrive at an empty activity area when they finish
- The hydration stations were still excellent including the people manning them
- I love that there’s now two banana stations
- The baggage counters were the most efficient so far in any Runrio event I’ve seen lately
- The finisher’s medal was really good
- I was quickly turned off when I was forced to climb over a fence like some jaywalker just to get to the starting line
- Some kilometer markers were off by a few hundred meters
- The 21K leg was off by 800 meters
Overall, NatGeo Run 2015 is still a really good event even though it didn’t seem to meet the high standards Runrio set with its previous major races. Runrio had always been pretty accurate with their distances so it was a huge surprise that this event would be off with such a high margin of error. Even the full marathon was reportedly 2K over! And that difficult to reach starting line was just terrible. Even the 5K runners had some challenge getting there as by the time they started, the finishers of longer distances were already crossing their path. Oh well, hope to see a better NatGeo Run next time!
To all the finishers, Congratulations! You may view the official race results here. 🙂