Brooks, Nike, Salomon, Adidas, North Face…these are the headlining names on most of the running races in Singapore. So when I first heard about the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, a fundraising run for the Yellow Ribbon Project, I was intrigued. Some investigation revealed that the 10-year-old Yellow Ribbon Project unites various agencies in Singapore to support the re-integration of ex-offenders into society. The Yellow Ribbon Project provides skills training and social support for ex-offenders, as well as community education to encourage their acceptance back into Singaporean society.
In a society that (I’m generalizing, folks) values conformity and adherence to rules, Singapore can be a difficult and unforgiving place for those – including ex-offenders – who have strayed from the narrow confines of societal expectations. Thus, as race date neared, I was overwhelmed and encouraged by the level of support I was seeing around the city for the race: billboards and media campaigns, certainly – but also lots of social media support from younger generations of Singaporeans.
So although the timing wasn’t great for me, I couldn’t help but register, and start getting excited, for the race. Training-wise, I was caught somewhere between post-marathon recovery and pre-ultra taper, one week after another “mostly for fun” 10K (Salomon Vertical City Trail Race Report), and 2 days after/4 days before super-long ultra training runs. So I settled on using the race as a longer-tempo effort. My two main goals were:
1. Run strong – a slightly faster pace than training runs.
2. Run steadily – none of this “out too fast” business from last weekend’s race
One extra bonus of our anniversary mini-staycation was that we were staying about 20-30 minutes closer to the race location than we would have if we were at home. Once we found an open subway entrance (doh!), we were just a 20 minute ride away from the shuttle bus pick-up point. Because of the point-to-point course, and the lack of parking at the start, shuttle buses were arranged to transport runners from a nearby MRT station/parking lot to the Start and from the Finish.
Finding the shuttle buses was easy: We just followed the sea of yellow shirts! This race is in its fifth year, and kudos to the organizers for having instituted a very efficient and effective transportation plan. We waited less than 2 minutes to board a shuttle to the Starting Line.
I actually quite enjoyed the 15 minute ride to the start: This was all new territory to me. This part of Singapore is comparatively undeveloped, and we drove past forests, a golf course (or two?), and a few military/airport-related buildings. I saw lots of cyclists – if I ever get up the courage to get my bike on the road out here, THIS is where I want to ride!!
The starting area at Changi Village was alive and kickin’ on this Sunday morning – runners were everywhere, queuing for restrooms and having a pre-race drink at the food stalls. With just 15 minutes until the start, we quickly made our way to the baggage drop – very efficient – although I wish they hadn’t re-bagged everything in enormous plastic bags. This was a safety precaution in case of rain, but it seemed so wasteful, I cringed. Ah, well – I’d be happy for the extra protection, if the skies opened.
And it was starting to look like that was a possibility. The sun was sort-of shining, but heavy clouds hung nearby. Would we be running through a downpour? Only time would tell!
We hustled to the starting corral.Fortunately/unfortunately, I can’t provide a port-o-potty evaluation for this race; I didn’t have the need to partake. Good thing, too, as we didn’t really have any time to spare We glimpsed the Starting Line, but were met with a wall of runners ahead of us.
The race start was imminent, and since both KMN and I were using this as a training run (not a goal race), we decided not to fight our way forward through the crowd. KMN predicted that we’d cross the Starting Line 5 minutes after the gun. He was correct, within about 10 seconds. [I have no idea how he did that.]
I’m still not sure that starting so far back was a good idea, but it was the decision we made at the time. On the plus side, we didn’t have to deal with the cramped, overheated corral feeling that those further forward undoubtedly experienced. On the minus side, there were 4,300 runners in the 10K race that morning, and I started behind at least 75% of them – but was the 296th runner to cross the Finish Line. If that doesn’t give you a good idea of what my first few miles looked like, this might:
I dodged, weaved, “trail” ran in that grassy patch on the left, and tried not to annoy any of my fellow runners as I struggled to find a clear path. Navigation, rather than pace, was my greatest challenge through the first two miles. This is reflected in my mile splits.
Mile 1: 8:24 min/mi
Mile 2: 8:32
Thankfully, by the third mile, people had spread out and the course opened up a bit. I was able to lock into a steady, strong pace for myself. I was feeling good and conquering the small rolling hills (unusual for Singapore) without too much thought. In fact, the course map indicated several “Incline Slope!” warnings on it, but I’ll admit that, even after running the course, I’m not sure which hills were the marked ones! In short, the whole course rolled, but I didn’t find anything to be terribly steep.
There was also a contingent of students from a local school (I think) at the top of each hill. They were banging on makeshift drums, shouting encouraging words, cheering, and sometimes chanting. Cheering isn’t terribly common out here, so their encouragement was terrific, and I couldn’t help but smile and thank them.
I cruised past the Johore Battery (an underground armory built by the British and used to store ammunition for the defense of Singapore’s coastline during WWII), the Work Release Camp (where some inmates work during the day), and the Changi Chapel and Museum (apparently, a monument to those who maintained their faith during WWII). I’d never had reason to come out to this area before, and a tempo pace (rather than killer race pace) let me take in a passing look at these sites.
There was also a misting tunnel somewhere along this section. Most runners opted to run through, so I swung just to the side (to avoid the congestion) and caught some errant spray. Despite the high humidity (and threatening clouds), and seeming complete absence of evaporative cooling…the mist still felt lovely.
Mile 3: 8:00 min/mi
Mile 4: 8:06
We passed the Tanah Merah Prison (for young offenders) and the Changi Women’s Prison, where some of the staff gathered outside to cheer on the runners. I’m not sure if this was a mandated activity, but for any of you reading (none, probably) – I can assure you that the runners hugely appreciated your support. Thank you!
This is the first race I’ve run in Singapore without my water bottle. I’ll admit that, going into mile 5, I started to feel a bit thirsty. Usually the middle miles of a race (3 & 4, in a 10K) are the hardest for me – but mile 5 was my hardest mile in this race. Perhaps we hit some uphill (not sure), and this section definitely included a hairpin turnaround (my favorite!), but I told myself that I could do anything for 2 miles, and would just have to wait for the Finish Line to have some water.
[Safety first! Hydration is important! Ignoring thirst is a dangerous game. Pesonally, though, I knew I went into the race well-hydrated, and that I could safely run for less than an hour without water, while still remaining within the “safe” zone of dehydration. But be sure to make smart decisions for your own body!]
Mile 5: 8:26 min/mi
Just after the 5 mile mark, we entered the outer prison wall. This is an area normally closed to the public, opened especially for this race each year. The course made some tight turns in several places, and I was able to catch a few glimpses of other sections and runners. I enjoyed a nice steep downhill (cruisin’!), then a ubiquitous cafeteria smell (which is exactly the same in Singapore as it is in the US, even though the food is probably different – go figure). I really dislike any food smells along my race courses, so I balanced momentary nausea with an extra burst of speed, to get through this section quickly.
The last 0.6 miles of the course was an out-and-back, that went downhill on the way out. By this time, I was more or less ready to be done. The “out” section seemed to go on forever. Finally (I swear it felt like finally, even though it was just over a quarter mile), I rounded the cone and turned onto the “back”. Strangely, the “back” section seemed much shorter. I powered up the hill and even picked off a few women on my way to the Finish Line. And that was it – I was finished.
Mile 6: 7:55 min/mi
Final 0.28: 7:24
RACE TIME: 51:25 for 6.28 miles
AVERAGE PACE: 8:12 min/mi
I think this would have been a solid 8 min/mi effort in the absence of early congestion (totally my fault for starting so far back). And overall, the congestion assured that I ran a smarter race than the previous weekend. Two slow miles, followed by some faster ones, was a much superior pacing strategy. Given my current training and race goals, and the rolling nature of the course, I am perfectly content with this finishing time.
I took my medal, then grabbed a sports drink and a cup of water. Dear Organizers: The enormous reusable plastic cups were brilliant, in my opinion. A race in Singapore requires far more than a tiny 8 oz cup of water for rehydration. This 16 oz cup was perfection, and I brought mine back for at least 4 refills. I happily stationed myself outside the finish chute fence, and cheered for the incoming runners.
[Quick PSA: Folks, STOP TAKING PHOTOS IN THE FINISHING CHUTE! I know you want a photo with the Finishing Arch, but some things aren’t meant to be documented – especially when you stand with your back to the stream of finishing runners, while your friend takes your picture. This causes extra congestion, and could make it hard for officials to see a runner who is in distress. Keep moving, and take your photos somewhere else, for everyone’s safety! Thanks.]
Soon, I saw KMN cross the line, and he joined me on cheer duty. [OK, he refilled my water cup several times, and stood next to me, while I cheered. I’m the loud one in this marriage.] A short while later, I saw one of my clients cross the Finish Line of his first 10K. !!!! He ran a great race, and finished enthused and eager to keep training (a sure sign that he ran a smart race!). Way to go, J! Another client followed shortly thereafter. I chatted with both briefly, drank some more water, then we wandered off to pick up our finisher’s swag. Ultimately, we ended up with a generous packet (registration was $35 SGD/$28 USD):
We skipped the massage tent (long line) and kids’ activities (no kids), but walked through several exhibits describing the goals of the Yellow Ribbon Project and profiles of several ex-offenders who went through YRP programs. In fact, several of these folks were there in person to interact with participants and spectators. Quite a lovely personal touch, if you ask me!
Eventually, we gave in to the announcer’s pleas for participants to help form the “biggest Yellow Ribbon ever in Singapore”. We each received an enormous yellow cap, and joined other supporters “inside” the ribbon.
I’d never been part of a human ribbon formation before, so was strangely excited over the whole thing. Unfortunately, the announcer was having trouble rallying enough participants in to fill out the ribbon. [KMN and I joked that they should have made post-race goodie bags contingent on participation in ribbon formation. More realistically, though – offering participants an extra mooncake might have helped – Singaporeans are ridiculously motivated by free gifts, and by food. Free food probably would have done the trick.] But eventually, they managed to rally 1,200 people “into” the ribbon. We waved our caps, jumped up and down, and were captured on camera.
The dark clouds persisted, and we feared we’d get caught in a downpour at any moment. We collected our checked bag – the lines from earlier were considerably reduced, so this only took a moment – and headed up to the shuttle buses. We were a bit overwhelmed to see the lines for the shuttle:
Again, though, there were lots of buses, which departed as quickly as participants filled them, and what could have been a logistical nightmare ran smoothly, and before we knew it, we were back at the MRT station making our way home…just in time for the clouds to open! It was like the organizers had everything under control – including the weather.
And the final pleasant surprise from the run came the next day, when the results were posted. They turned out to be the coolest, most interactive results I’ve ever seen. You can play with them yourself here (you can use my bib number, 17153), or just take a look at a few screen grabs I took analyzing my data.
There is no doubt that I’ll be returning to this race. The organization was fantastic – from the shuttle buses to the course markings (6K/10K splits) to the cheerleaders and other volunteers, execution was pretty much flawless. I enjoy supporting a worthy cause, and I appreciate the education/publicity efforts the Yellow Ribbon Project made, both online and at the post-race Carnival. Their presentation of information about their work and profiles (and presence!) of those who have been through their programs, definitely brought the program to life, and made my support seem all the more worthwhile. Thank you, Yellow Ribbon Run team & volunteers!
If you want to read what other people had to say about the race, check out:
Multiple yellow lines: a weekend two-fer (by GCA)
Yellow Ribbon Prison Run Race Results and Review (on Everything You Want To Know And More)
The 2013 Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2013: My Reflections (by Priscilla)
Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2013: A Race Laced With Grace (by Gideon Ren on RunSociety’s blog)
[Contact me if you are a blogger who has published a post on the race, so I can add your link to this list.]
*I was offered a free entry to the race to be a part of the Yellow Ribbon Run’s Social Media Team. I declined, as I’d already paid my own entry (it’s against my policy as a blogger to accept comped products, and I think this applies to race entries too, although I’m not entirely sure yet), but noted that I would be blogging about the event anyway. I was offered (and accepted) a “Goodie Bag”, containing a press release, pen, and jump drive. [Maybe I should have declined this, too? I’m so confused.] The only item I have used so far is the press release, which influenced this post only in as much as it provided a few facts that I shared at the start. The rest of the post is one lengthy lump of my honest opinions.
What race(s) do you run, regardless of timing/training, just because you support the cause?
Thoughts on accepting comped race entries?
[How about in light of the fact that I don’t accept comped material goods? Same? Different? I’m just trying to figure all this out, guys.]