On the last day of the early bird registration, Joel suggested that we participate in the National Vertical Marathon. Though it's been years since I've heard about vertical climbs, it was the first time I decided to participate in one. My intentions were to simply experience a physical activity apart from running and enjoy the view at the top of the climb.
Priced at $26 (there was an additional charge for online registration), it proved to be worth much more. A week before, we received emails about our detailing. Joel and I were scheduled in detail 131, while Jon Soh was in detail 133. Meanwhile, Russell and Guan were participating as well; and so was my brother who was in the Youth category.
Come race day, the three of us met before registration. There was a subsequent 30min window for us to get prepared before we then headed to the baggage deposit and the pre-race briefing. We chanced upon Joel's friend who had just completed his climb in a very respectable 11-12 mins. As this was my first time and I was keen on running a sub-11, I probably asked many questions pertaining to the layout etc. He definitely provided an invaluable piece of advice - the race doesn't end at level 63, there are additional stairs to climb.
After gathering our detail, the organisers let us proceed with the climb. Details per staircase (there were two, separating different categories) were released in 2 minute intervals, thus minimising any bottlenecks in the narrow staircase. I broke into a pacey start, confident that in the 10 to 12 minutes, such a pace was more than comfortable and instead, the real work was the climb.
As we were assigned to Staircase A, it was about a 20m run before we entered the staircase. The handrails were on the right as the staircase turned clockwise. I quickly grabbed onto the handrails and began my controlled ascent. I could hear footsteps approaching behind me and I suspect at around the 3rd floor I was passed by another individual in my detail who was running up. I stuck to my rhythm.
The stairwell was pretty empty and perhaps around the 12th floor, I caught up with the earlier individual. Thereafter, there was a water point on the 15th floor which I skipped. For such a short race at a decent intensity, I wasn't planning to risk an gastric upset nor waste precious seconds in getting hydration. Continuing my climb, I recall glancing at my watch on the 20th floor as it struck 3:20. I knew a sub-11 finish was possible but wondered how previous champions managed it under 10.
I gradually began to overtake individuals from earlier details. Most were taking single steps, some were just waiting around for others or getting hydration (storeys 15, 32 and 44). I knew I began to feel the discomfort towards the upper 30s. It was a mixture of mildly burning legs and heavy breathing - both intensifying as the run continued. Nonetheless, the burning legs was nowhere near that of sprinting up staircases. Here, it was probably the cardiovascular system limiting the muscular system from intense lactic acid accumulation - just as how in a 5km race, there aren't burning legs unlike a shorter race.
Some participants voluntarily moved to the left (recall that the handrails I'm grabbing are on the right) as I passed, while others were using the handrails themselves, forcing me to pass on their left. The cumulative cost of passing perhaps 20 individuals was indeed numerous seconds but I was prepared for that. Perhaps one of my mild annoyances came from how some volunteers were standing at the landings, back against the handrails, hence forcing me to go around them. I could see no rationale for them doing that instead of standing nearer the walls.
After the increasingly difficult later floors, I finally hit storey 63 and glanced at my watch as it read the lower 10s. I knew the sub-11 was definitely secure and perhaps eased off a little. The last portion of the climb was somewhat confusing to navigate. It would certainly have helped if marshals were stationed to direct exhausted climbers. Nonetheless, I eventually found myself crossing the timing mat, guaranteed of my sub-11 finish. Thereafter, Chuan Heng greeted me - he was there organising the timings (I guess no long run at MR for him that day). I could only muster a "Hey" before moving on, fearing that I may block other participants. I then stopped my watch as I collected the finisher's medal. Little did I expect I would receive another later that day.
After a few more minutes, Joel and Jon Soh reached the top as well. After a few casual photos and lots of water, we headed down a few flights of stairs before taking the lift. We checked out timings (10:46 for me), collected out deposited bags and subsequently lingered around to get our heavily (literally) sponsored goodie bags.
Thereafter, MRT home and a strength session for me. After returning to my phone, I realised that I had a missed call - I suspected it was from the organisers. I was pretty certain with a sub-11 time, I placed top 10 hence may have been informed by the organisers. I returned their call but did not get an answer. Meanwhile, I resumed my other planned activities (studying ~).
After a little later, I received yet another call from a different number. I was expectant once again. To my pleasant surprise, I was informed that I had actually placed 3rd. After some discussion, the organisers gladly let Noel (who placed 1st in the Youth Challenge) collect the prize on behalf of me, saving me the convenience of heading back to the event site for the pick-up. NVM 2015 was definitely once of my most pleasant race experiences - good organisation, great goodie bags and the blessing of a podium finish.
|Thankful for the company :)|
|After the descent. Credit to Runcapture.|
|Pleasantly surprised :)|
|Achieved the goal of a sub-11min finish!|
|Men's Open results. An arguably slower field compared to previous years.|