I accidentally ran the full 42 km marathon more than 30 years ago when I was 12 years old.
This was how it happened.
We were a bunch of restless kids looking for 'free' things to do
I had just finished my PSLE and my brother TM and I were spending the carefree post exam days hanging out with the boys in the neighbourhood, most of whom were older than I. A motley bunch we were, a group of Chinese, Malay, Indian kids aged between 12 - 18 years old, my brother TM was 15 and I, at 12 years old, was amongst the youngest of the group. Looking back, I realised how 'uncommon' it would be to find such a 'grouping' today, the parents of today wouldn't have approved. 'Good' kids of today would not be found hanging out aimlessly with other kids in the neighbourhood, they are too pre-occupied with the parents approved and 'funded' enrichment programmes, school CCAs and overseas holiday trips with their parents.
All of us didn't have any 'electronic gadgets' to occupy us, there was no such thing as computers, video games or mobile phones then and many in the group didn't even have TVs at home. So we did what kids then do, we spent our days looking for outlets to expend our boundless energies, We joined and represented the neighbourhood Community Centre (Kallang CC) in inter-CC competitions. We also formed our own informal teams and competed amongst ourselves in soccer, basketball and other non-Olympic sports we created, such as the 'Throwing Slippers Contest' where we would draw a line on the ground and stand in a line about 20 metres away to then try throw our slippers to land as close to the line as possible, with the losers having to piggyback the winners as a penalty
The only thing we had in abundance was time and restless energies. We didn't have much money, so we had to look for things to do that were 'free' and went to places within walking distances or nearby places where the bus fares did not cost too much.
So one fine day in December 1980, one of the guys suggested we go join this 'mass run' on a Sunday that would start off from the old National Stadium which was about half an hour walk from our neighbourhood, it was called a 'marathon'. The full run was about 42km long but we could stop at any point along the way without completing the full 42km if we could not take it. I thought why not, I had joined the neighbourhood gang on a number of 10km walkathons, jogathons before and thought this would be no different.
'The Third Singapore Marathon' in 1980
So on the 7th of December 1980, which was a Sunday, together with my 15 yr old brother TM, a small bunch of us gathered at about 4 am and walked to the National Stadium for the start of the 'mass run'.
I didn't plan to nor thought I could run the full 42 km, the plan was for me to stick close to my brother during the run and try to run as far as I could and see where we would end up, probably at the 10 km mark or at best the 20 km mark. I brought along v little money and I didn't bring my student bus pass. There was no such thing as EZlink cards then, and we had to buy a monthly student bus concession stamp to stick onto our student bus pass for free student travel but it being the school holidays, we didn't buy the monthly bus stamp. So it was critical for me to stick close to my elder brother so that we could make our way home together from whichever point of the run that we end up stopping.
So at about 5 am or thereabout, together with thousands of other runners, we were flagged off at the National Stadium. So off we went and as according to plan, I stuck close to my brother, jogged along behind him, always keeping him within my sight.
Brother, brother, where are you?
Then it happened.
It was somewhere between the 5th to the 10th km mark. I suddenly realised that I was separated from my brother, I could not no longer see him amongst mass of runners in front of me. I was not worried, I must have been too slow for him and he must be just a bit ahead of me and all I had to do was run a bit faster to catch up and I should be able to find him in no time.
So I upped my pace and continued running. And soon I reached the 10km mark. Although before the start of the run, we had agreed to just try to run as far as we could manage, I had thought that 10km would likely be where we would stop as that was longest distance I had ever run up till then. But then my brother was still nowhere in sight. And I had a decision to make, if I did not stop then to exchange my runner identification for a 1/4 Marathon certificate, I would have to continue running till the 20km mark before I can have the chance to get a certificate. And once past this point, if I did not manage to complete the 20km, I would not get any certificates at all.
I decided to continue running. I was sure my brother was running or waiting just a little ahead of me.
Brother, brother, where are you?
I realised that I no longer had a choice.
I was fast tiring. And before long, I wasn't able to run continuously any more and had to stop to walk to rest a bit every now and then. But my brother was still nowhere in sight. So I continued running.
Midway through the 10th to 20th km mark. It dawned on me. I am now in unfamiliar territories in many ways. I had never run beyond 10 km before, I had no clue where I was, my brother was nowhere in sight and I didn't know how to get home even if I were to give up and stop running at that point. I no longer I had a choice. I either catch up with my brother who must be just a little ahead of me in the run or I had to complete the whole marathon to end up back at the National Stadium so that I can walk home from there.
For the first time, I began to panick a little. I must find my brother soon or I could be 'stranded'.
So despite my tiredness, I pressed on and resumed running.
I had no choice.
Lamp post by lamp post.
Soon I was approaching the 20 km mark. However it was no longer a matter of deciding whether I should stop to exchange for a 1/2 Marathon certificate any more. I needed to find my brother fast or risk being stranded in some unfamiliar place without any clue or enough money to get home.
I still vividly remember this particular stretch in the route. I think it was somewhere in Ang Mo Kio, it was straight, long, sloping upwards and lined with trees and street lamp posts. I was in pain and had wanted to give up but I knew I had to keep going.
Every time that I entertained thoughts of giving up, I would look for some lamp post ahead and tell myself that my brother could be waiting there at that particular lamp post and I just needed to continue running that little bit more to reach that lamp post to find him.
But then of course, he was not there and I would then look for another lamp post a little further ahead and told myself the same thing and made myself aim for that new lamp post target.
So I began to choose lamp posts about a hundred metres ahead, kept encouraging myself that my brother must be waiting under that lamp post, aimed for the lamp post only to find, as expected, that my brother was not there.
So I kept repeating the same drill.
Focusing and targeting a lamp post a hundred metres ahead at a time, I just kept running. It was getting more and more painful but focusing, one at a time, on a target that's visible ahead helped me forget the pain.
By the 20th to 30th km mark, I no longer entertained any more hope of finding my brother and accepted that I had to complete the marathon in order to get home.
Soon I realised that there were fewer and fewer runners around me. I was falling way behind in the pack. I didn't know the time, it must be late in the morning as it was certainly getting brighter and warmer quite quickly.
Before long, I found myself running somewhere along Orchard Road. I was so far behind in the pack that many of the drinks and first aid stations along the route had already started packing up when I reached them. I was getting cramps and had to take longer and longer breaks in between my run.
The old National Stadium flood lights towers -So near yet so far
The last 5 km was along Nicoll Highway leading to the finish point of the 42km marathon, the old National Stadium, which has since been torn down.
Soon the National Stadium's iconic flood light tower became visible in the distance. I was elated, the finish point was finally near and within sight!
But the final stretch was the hardest.
The cramps in my legs were getting more frequent and more excruciatingly painful.
I was in so much pain and the National Stadium's flood light towers, unlike the lamp posts I had used as target boards earlier, they discouraged instead of encouraging me. Many many painful minutes of running would go by and the flood light towers would still not look any bigger and the National Stadium itself would still not come into view and the finishing point would still look nowhere nearer.
It was really discouraging. So I decided to stop looking at the National Stadium flood light towers in the distance and instead went back to my earlier 'strategy' of looking for lamp posts about a hundred metres ahead to use as short term target boards to aim at.
So lamp post to lamp post I pushed on, again.
I finally made it.
I was not sure how many hours it took, but I finally made it to the National Stadium, ran that final lap around the running track and crossed the finishing line.
I made it. Finally.
I must be one of last few hundreds that day to cross the finishing line before the cut-off time that the organisers had allowed for awarding the official certificate for those completing the marathon.
I remember I was not even elated when I collected the certificate for completing the full marathon issued by the organisers, the Jogging Association of Singapore (see picture below). I was just too tired and in too much pain, I just wanted to go home.
I carried that day's 'lamp post by lamp post' with me ever since
Ever since that day, in the more than 30 years since that accidental marathon, I've carried a 'lamp post by lamp post' attitude with me. Every single time that I was faced with a seemingly impossible task or challenge, I would recall that fateful day running along that arduous uphill stretch somewhere in Ang Mo Kio when I first experienced how to keep myself going by targeting one lamp post at a time. I would also remember how I got discouraged by the 'so near yet so far' National Stadium flood lights tower.
So whenever I am faced with adversity or a painful journey or season, I would keep the 'stadium lights' (the end point) in my mind and but at the same time focus my sight on the next immediate furthest yet visible 'lamp post' (next manageable milestone or target) and just press on lamp post by lamp post.
It had since helped me overcome countless seemingly impossible challenges that I would otherwise not be able to.
Brother, where were you?
Oh, back to the story of the accidental marathon.
So after collecting my full marathon certificate at the finishing point at the National Stadium, I embarked on the 30 minutes' walk home.
When I finally reached home, I saw my brother at home.
I asked, 'Brother, where were you?!!???'
My brother replied, 'I lost you somewhere before the 10km mark, I thought you had given up and gone home, so I stopped and came home to look for you after the 10 km mark."
*Advice to young readers
To young readers, I would not advise you to attempt what I did above. It can be damaging to your health and even dangerous to attempt the marathon at a young age, especially without proper training, adequate preparation and physical conditioning.
By the way, I was bed bound and wasn't able to walk for 3 days after the marathon.
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