“Graduate Women in Science!”
“International Women’s Day!”
Ooof. I am so conflicted over female-only events (scientific, sporting, and otherwise). I think they can be valuable and, when done right, can prompt important discussions, allow more voices be heard, build confidence, and result in pleasant surprises and thought-provoking questions. However, when done wrong – even just a little bit wrong – they can ignite complaints about reverse-sexism, and reinforce certain stereotypes that all progressive females would prefer to discourage.
Thus, I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I saw the Venus Run (sorry, Facebook link only) advertised on a Singapore running website. But I was looking for a benchmark 5K (if you’re new here, I’m just getting back into racing shape after a year of casual running), and as you can read in my review of the Safari Zoo Run, that event gave me an approximate – but not great – 5K race pace estimate. I figured that this Venus Run would offer a smaller field and less early-race congestion than any other 5K in Singapore. Plus, I’m all about promoting fitness to…well, anyone, really. So, I signed up.
To be honest, my initial impressions were not so good. First, there was the shirt:
Personally, I’m not such a “pink and sparkly” kind of person. And furthermore, the back of the shirt annoys me. I am lots of things – most of which I chose and worked for – that aren’t related to my gender or the situation into which I was born. So why am I defined (five times!) in relation to other people, before the shirt gets to “runner”? Sure, I like being female – but being female has nothing to do with the other, significantly cooler/awesomer, things that I am. [Do you think the Men’s Urbanathlon shirts from last year (before the event was open to both genders) read “Son / Brother / Boyfriend / Husband / Father / Runner”?]
And then, there was the sponsorship. I understand that this kind of an event needs sponsors – and the same few companies (mostly running gear and hydration) are sponsoring basically all of Singapore’s running events. Their absence (except for Moving Comfort – thanks, Moving Comfort!) leads me to believe that some of these big names aren’t interested/don’t see the value in sponsoring this kind of race. <— Ridiculous, really. Women hold a LOT of purchasing power, folks. And they’re going to dominate the Singapore running scene very soon – mark my words! So I assume that the race went with the sponsors they could find. I respect this – but do really hate to see event sponsors who are advocating a message that differs – I daresay even conflicts – with what a Women’s Run should celebrate: Women being fit, healthy, strong, empowered, and confident.
I suppose that SHAPE magazine aims to help women get and stay fit. But when I pulled the February issue out of my race pack and glanced at the cover stories, I saw “Beat Your Bak Kwa Craving”, “How She Lost 30 kg!”, “The #1 Secret of Skinny Women!”, and then…”15 Tantalizing Recipes He’d Love: Sirloin, lamb chops, chocolate pudding…” Well, that message is coming across loud and clear: Ladies, get busy working out, beating your cravings, and losing weight. You find that model-perfect body…and don’t forget to make sure there’s a hearty meal on the table when your man gets home! [Please, somebody, send a rescue squad. I need to be saved from the double-standards here!]
Then, at packet pick-up (which, incidentally, went very smoothly on Sunday afternoon – no line at all!), there was exactly one booth set up: Proskins. You can click the link if you want, but basically, Proskins makes compression apparel – apparel that, allegedly can “destruct fats, while toning and sculpting the body”. The fabric is infused with micro-capsules of caffeine, retinol, Vitamin E, aloe vera, and fatty acids. (Science friends, the claim is that these fatty acids will “yield large quantities of ATP, the perfect vehicle to improve the penetration of the active ingredients into the skin”.) This will “help to reduce cellulite without the use of surgery or creams”. Their “specific degree of compression” will “give a more even skin tone through the strengthening of connective tissues in the legs, buttocks and hips”. [*cough*pseudo-science*cough*]
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in compression apparel, which (in my experience) does increase stability, improve blood flow, and decrease fatigue. But my Zensah, 2XU, and CW-X gear does all this without the micro-capsules of caffeine. As an athlete, I do want to purchase products that will complement my training and help me achieve my athletic goals – but reducing cellulite and improving skin tone are not my primary goals. And this is a run, for goodness’ sake. Your audience already has at least one eye on exercising. Can’t we capitalize on that (which will actually work), rather than this?? [And besides, I prefer to drink my caffeine, thankyouverymuch.]
Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling so into the race when I rolled out of bed at 5:30 AM on Sunday. In fact, I even admitted as much on Facebook:
“Feeling less than enthused about this race, for some reason.
PF, flying solo, early morning, too much sparkle…not sure which. Looking for some run-spiration!”
Crazy enough, one of my clients answered the call, posting back to me a motivational quote that I had sent to her earlier in the week:
“Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'” -Peter Maher, Olympian runner
Well played, Maggie. Well played. I love this job.
So, I got changed, applied Body Glide, ate 1 bowl minus 2 spoonfuls of cereal (pre-race superstition), and hopped on the bus. I got off downtown, and enjoyed a gentle 1.5 mile jog to the race site, including a detour into the Bayfront MRT station for a restroom stop. Despite having good port-a-potty experiences at previous races in Singapore, I’m always happy to use a free, open, off-site restroom. Sorry, no port-a-potty review for this race. I wonder if there would’ve been pink inside??
*ahem* Anyway – the race was staged at Marina Barrage – on the top of the building, which has been planted with grass, and is a popular local spot for picnics and kite flying. It’s actually pretty cool. See?
The weather was quite good – about 78°F (25°C) and humid, but overcast. I brought my sunglasses, but (as you’ll see in the photos below), they stayed pushed up on my head for the whole race.
I arrived 20-30 minutes before the start. I had decided not to carry my water bottle for the race, but after a 1.5 mile jog, my mouth was a little dry. I tried to find an open water table for a drink. I was unsuccessful, but figured I’d be fine for a race that would only take 20-25 minutes. So, I stretched my calves, and made my way to the starting corral.
I had no idea what this race was going to bring. Based on some recent issues with my plantar fascia, I knew I’d be holding back a bit. I’d done a few test runs the previous week and found that, once my foot was laced into my sneaker, it didn’t really hurt while I ran. I also couldn’t correlate short, easy runs to any increase in post-workout discomfort. So, I approved myself to run the race, and to run hard – but not to go all-out. And if my foot so much as twinged, I planned to pull back and walk or jog. I’m learning that the plantar fascia is fussy, though, so I knew that I would have to be flexible and work with whatever the day brought.
I squeezed and inched my way to the front of the corral, while a fitness team tried to lead us in a bouncing, jumping, stretching warm-up. Thankfully, I’d already done my warm-up jog and stretch before cramming into the corral. A few moments before the race started, my friend Grace (who blogs over at Genetically Challenged Athlete, and has her race report up there) tapped me on the shoulder. I think the onus should always be on her to find me, as I stand a head above most of Singapore. We chatted briefly, then I moved a bit further forward. Seconds later, we were off.
I have to say: Starting near the front, and in a women-only run, was a lovely change from the congestion I experienced in our previous three races in Singapore. The first 200-300 meters were downhill (my inner trail runner jumps for joy!), on the ramp off the roof. I maneuvered around people a little bit, and by the time we hit the flat at the bottom and headed over the dam, there were only a few other people around. I was freeeee!!!!!!!!! Seriously, it felt awesome.
The leaders had taken off, and I tucked in with a few young ladies wearing red and yellow jerseys (local polytechnic team?). We passed the 1 KM mark – the sign was missing, but a very nice volunteer was kindly shouting, “1 kilometer! This is the 1 kilometer mark!” Good man. I checked my Garmin periodically and saw readings under 7 min/mi pace. This was faster than I’d expected, but my foot was feeling fine, and lungs/legs felt sustainable. So, I went with it. Honestly, Mile 1 was over before I knew what happened.
The course for this race was very similar to the middle half of the 10K race KMN and I had done a few weeks earlier (URun 10K OMB Challenge Race Report), so I knew what to expect. Pretty soon, we made a loop of a parking lot (?), passed the halfway water stop, did a short out-and-back side jaunt, and rejoined the main path heading back to Marina Barrage.
For almost a mile in the middle, there were runners in both directions on the path. Cones had been laid for about 2/3 of this distance – but I can’t figure out why they didn’t extend the whole distance. At this point, the number of “going” runners was far greater than the number of “returning” runners. I had enough space to run through smoothly, but there were a few times when the oncoming runners spilled over their (unmarked) “half” of the path. This didn’t cause much of a problem – although it might have when both directions became full – and extending the cones might be a good idea in the future.
Once we hit this “return” section, I could already see the Marina Barrage. Funny how something can be over a mile away, but look so close! I don’t remember much from the middle mile – by the time we looped around and got back on the path, we were already nearing Mile 2. I knew my splits were still around 7 min/mile, and I still felt pretty good.
When I’m all-out racing a 5K, the middle mile is always the hardest – but on Sunday, I hit the 2 mile mark without ever having that “I am never doing this again!” thought. I tried to keep my leg turnover high, and my steady pacing was rewarded, as I started picking off more runners in the final mile. We looped around to re-cross the bridge/dam, and I passed a few more on the (tiny) up-slope of the bridge.
We were routed around the Marina Barrage building, just as my Garmin hit 2.9 miles. At that moment, I knew this race was going to be long(er than 3.1 miles!). We circled the building, and I passed another one or two women, trying to shout some encouragement. But I knew that, if they were struggling on the flat, the hardest part of their race still lay ahead: We had to climb back to the roof of the building!
At one point, leading up to the ramp, I think that the group of runners I was near detoured onto the grass a bit too soon – but there were no cones or volunteers to direct us, so we cut onto the grass, rather than staying on the sidewalk. This was a blessing (lower impact), but also a curse (keeping your ankles stable on uneven ground at the end of the race). I rallied my trail running experience, and we turned the corner onto the ramp.
At this point, I was pushing. I hope my foot didn’t hurt, because I forgot to check. I knew the finish line was at the top of the ramp, so I was GOING. As I came around the final corner, I heard the race announcer calling the 10th woman through the finish, which put me around 11th or 12th. Hmmm..not too shabby.
As usual, I forgot to stop my Garmin right away, so it clocked an extra 10-20 seconds, while I slowed, collected my medal, and cleared the Finishing Chute. I took a bottle of water and a can of Aquarius sports drink, and headed back down the final ramp. I knew the end of this race was a doozie, and I wanted to do what I could to help my fellow runners finish strong.
Cheering at races isn’t that common in Singapore. I’ve played along for three races now, but I’m tired of it. I love to cheer. I LOVE to encourage/watch/help other people cross a finish line, preferably with a smile. So, I walked 1/3 of the way down the slope and cheered my head off. Grace came down to join me, and for at least 20 minutes, we cheered a steady stream of runners up that ramp. It. Was. AWESOME!!!
I love seeing tired faces crack a smile, or even a determined grimace, and keep moving. I love seeing someone who’s slowing down push a little harder to maintain their pace. I just want to run with every person who’s pushing up that hill, and whisper (or shout) in her ear, “You can do this!!!” I want people – yes, especially women – to feel that power, and to experience the thrill of crossing that finish line. To me, that’s what this kind of race is all about.
Have I mentioned that I love this stuff?
Despite my initial reservations, the race itself was great, and the day-of organization was solid. They even provided childcare (although this wasn’t well-advertised before the race), and a children’s race after the adult’s 5K finished. The awards went at least 10 runners deep. The course was sufficiently marked and staffed. Personally, I ran a surprisingly good race. But the greatest high, for me, was standing on that hill, watching so much strength and power, and cheering it on. I was born to do this.
So from now on, once my race is over, you will find me (the tall, loud, ang moh girl) yelling like crazy somewhere along the final stretch of races out here. Other runners, family and friends, cowbells, noise-makers, and kazoos are all welcome to join in the fun – so come find me! Working together, we can change the way the last kilometer of a race looks, and feels.
Taking a quick peek at my numbers:
Mile 1: 6:59 min/ mile
Mile 2: 7:13
Mile 3: 7:03
Final 0.35 Miles: 7:26 (<— Includes my failure to stop my watch after crossing the finish line)
AVERAGE: 7:07 min/mile
The final results will probably have a slightly more accurate time, but they haven’t been published yet. Overall, I’m thankful that my foot let me run, and my body produced a decent time, despite two lighter weeks of running and very little speed training lately. I’m thrilled that this is the pace that correlates with the effort I was giving. Maybe all those hours on the spin bike are paying off? All right, body, you’re now dabbling on the edge of “actually fast” again – it’s time to heal up this PF and really dive into some serious run training.
Would I do this race again? I surprised myself by answer with a hearty, “YES”. I don’t really need the pink, princess-y bits, but the organization was solid and I was able to run freely and easily, without being jostled about too much. I’m learning this is a luxury at a Singapore race! I know that women often find racing intimidating – and a Women-Only race can help allay some of those fears and is useful in getting more women out and participating. So really, my only advice/suggestion/plea to the organizers: Think about the goals and values of your race, and the message you want to send to all of the women and girls in your lives – and vet your sponsors accordingly.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a photo of the post-race treat I enjoyed later in the day:
Edit: Ladies who ran, if your legs are feeling sore, check out my calf-stretching suggestions! Stretches for other spots (including hips and under shoulder blades) will be up in the coming weeks!
And now…it’s your turn:
Other Venus Run participants: I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share!
What are your feelings on “Women-Only” type events (running or otherwise)?
What is the most delicious thing you ate this weekend?