Sunday 8 December 2013

Why disqualified Standard Chartered Marathon ‘winner’ is my hero

I felt like a fraud.

Two Sundays ago, I ran the 73-storey Swissotel Vertical Marathon at Swissotel The Stamford. When people asked me what my time was, I would say just over 11 minutes and they would be impressed.

I don’t blame them. I was impressed with myself too.

Five months earlier, I had run the 40-storey National Vertical Marathon at Asia Square and my time was 12 minutes and 45 seconds.

So somehow I managed to climb nearly double the number of storeys in less time at Swissotel The Stamford. I even paused on several floors to take pictures with my iPhone.

It was quite an unbelievable achievement.

But I believed it because I used two running apps on my iPhone to record my time and both said under 12 minutes. I convinced myself that I had trained much, much, much harder for the Swissotel event, which accounted for my much, much, much improved performance.

Then a couple of days later, the official results were posted online. I found out my official time was 17 minutes and 53 seconds.


So it wasn’t under 12 minutes. It was way, way, way over 11 minutes. That actually made more sense.

It was also considerably less impressive. So my stupid iPhone apps were wrong!

But I had already told people my time was “just over 11 minutes”. What should I do? Should I contact everyone I told and inform them my time was actually almost 18 minutes?

I was in a quandary.

Then came Mr Tam Chua Puh - my hero.

Now probably the most famous pastry chef in the country, Mr Tam, 43, was the first Singaporean to cross the finish line at last Sunday’s Standard Chartered Marathon.

But he was disqualified because he had run less than 6km of the 42.195km race.

What was amazing was that he didn’t intend to be the first Singaporean to finish - he just wanted the finisher's medal and T-shirt.

I can relate to that. Before joining any organised run, I always check out the T-shirt first.

It can’t be too ugly (like the Illumi Run shirt), too kiddie (like the Chua Chu Kang Big Farm Walk And Run shirt) or too girly (like the Shape Run shirt).

I mean, I can run on my own for free. When I pay to join a running event, I’m essentially buying the shirt. So it better be something I want to wear.

(I don’t care much about the medals because when I wear them out, they just get in the way when I’m trying to eat my bak chor mee.)

While most events have an event tee, some bigger events, like the Standard Chartered Marathon, have a finisher’s tee as well. That’s value for money.

But while everyone who signs up gets an event tee, only those who finish the race can get the finisher’s tee. That’s why it’s called a finisher’s tee and not a run-part-of-the-way-and-take-a-short-cut tee.

And that’s why finisher’s tees are coveted by someone like Mr Tam.

You may not realise this, but running a marathon is hard. I joined the Army Half Marathon in September and ended up walking a quarter of the way.

But if Mr Tam couldn’t complete the 42.195km, why didn’t he join the shorter 21km or 10km race at the Standard Chartered Marathon?

One reason could be the Standard Chartered Marathon doesn’t have finisher’s tees for the 21km and 10km races. Anyway, a 42.195km finisher’s tee is twice as impressive as a 21km finisher's tee and more than four times as impressive as a 10km finisher’s tee.

I have a 6km finisher’s tee from last year’s Jurong Lake Run, which I am now embarrassed to wear. I can let Mr Tam have it since it more closely indicates the distance he can run.

Mr Tam told The Straits Times that he was also disqualified from two previous Standard Chartered Marathons. He didn’t say whether he returned the finisher’s tees.

Mr Tam could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Whenever I’ve seen a fat person wearing a marathon finisher’s tee, I’ve always wondered: “Really? This person can run 42.195km?”

Not that all fat people can’t be athletic. Look at Tao Li.

I’ve had overweight people and elderly people run past me before. At the Jurong Lake Run, I was overtaken by a woman pushing a stroller with a child in it.

That’s why it meant so much to me to beat the one-legged guy with crutches at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon.

But what Mr Tam has taught me is, so what if people think you ran 42.195km when you didn't?

So what if people think I finished the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in less than 12 minutes when I didn't?

As long as I wasn’t the first Singaporean to cross the finish line, no one has to know.

Unless they read this column.


- Published in The New Paper, 8 December 2013

EARLIER: Making a mountain out of a (Swissotel Vertical) Marathon