The moment I crossed the finish line of the BMW Berlin Marathon last year, I knew I wanted to come back because I felt that I could have done a better time and I absolutely love the race – the course, the crowd, the weather.
This year, I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to run the BMW Berlin Marathon again and it was a much more exciting and fulfilling experience because I got to lead a group of 10 of us for Team BMW Group Asia. It made such a huge difference having these wonderful runners – Eugene Lim, John Yeong, Neyton Tan, Sofie Chandra, Kenneth Seet, Samuel Chua, Melissa Foo, Jasmine Goh, Emily Ong – on this journey alongside me.
As part of BMW Group Asia’s commitment to environmental and social sustainability, we saw each other at monthly runs at scenic parts of Singapore and also for coastal cleanups. From April all the way to the race in September, the team grew closer and it was so good knowing that they were out there on the course, suffering with me, and also knowing that they would be there after the finish line.
Although I’ve done this race before, it doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, because I know what to expect, it made it harder because I know where the pain will hit. Going into this year’s Berlin Marathon, I wanted to try and aim for sub-4 (ie. to go under four hours for the marathon), but I knew that to achieve that, I needed to clock decent mileage and put in the consistency. Thus, I realigned my expectations for the race and was just grateful that I could make it out there.
What happened was, I had completed Challenge Roth (a full distance triathlon of 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.195km run) at the end of June and upon returning to Singapore, I was so eager to train for Berlin that I rushed back into training and ended up injured.
For four weeks, I could not really run properly as I battled a right shin splint and plantar fasciitis on my left. Because of these injuries, other parts of my body started overcompensating and I ended up with strained abductors too. It was very frustrating because I could not train much. I took forced rest for two weeks and with seven weeks left to Berlin, I did what I could to manage the injury (taped my legs for every run, saw the physio, did tuina, did dry needling, did red light therapy) and get my training in. I could not train to an optimum, having to reduce mileage and intensity, but I did what I could to help me get to the start line.
From the get go, the start line atmosphere hyped me up a lot with everyone singing and dancing, putting me in a very excited mood. Armed with the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 that is brighter and easier to see in the sunlight, I started the race at a steady pace (5:40/km) and was hoping to keep it at that pace or push slightly faster after the halfway mark. But when I got to 21.1km, I felt the fatigue shooting up my legs, so I told myself to just manage the pace and not give up.
Around 25/26km (where I hit the wall so bad last year), I started fading. Memories of last year’s race crept into the back of my mind – I hit the wall really bad at 26km and had to walk-jog the rest of the way – and I quickly brushed them off. I told myself not to put any pressure on myself, throw out any target time out the window, just focus on finishing and take one step at a time to the end. My wife Grace was out on the course trying to find me to take videos of me and she noticed my pace slowing (6:00-6:30/km) on the tracking app. That’s when she texted me “I love you, you got this” messages. When the notifications showed up on my Apple Watch Ultra 2, I started bawling and it strengthened my resolve.
Honestly, I felt like I died somewhere out there and came alive again. Because in the last 10km, I pulled myself together and I really leaned on the crowd to help me get to the end. Random strangers were calling out my name when they saw me suffering and all I could muster in return was a weak smile. The crowd support was exactly as I remembered it to be – people were lined all the way from the start to the end, cheering, screaming, singing, dancing, and it’s so easy to soak up the atmosphere.
Once I hit the 40km mark, I found myself digging deep and I shifted up another gear (didn’t realise I had any left) for the remaining 2.195km. The crowds were wilder and louder towards the finish and I gave everything I had left in the tank (my split was 5:30/km and 5:13/km for the last 2km). Crossed the line in 4:06:12 and hey, it’s a PB!! That’s nine minutes off my time in Berlin last year. Even though I felt a little nauseous after the race, I was elated with my time and couldn’t wait to find Grace. No tears at the end this year, because I was mostly happy and relieved that this is over and I can have a physical and mental reset.
Training for two long endurance races for the past nine months has taken its toll on me, emotionally, physically and mentally, and I desperately wanted a break. The finish line marked the start of my holiday and I was chanting, “Holiday! Holiday! Holiday!” under my breath as I charged to the end. Phew!
It was really different having Team BMW Group Asia with me this year, going through the same tough experience together. I’m really proud of all of them! I think we all have had our ups and downs on our journeys, we all had our obstacles to overcome, but we all made it to the finish line and that was the goal.
I’m really grateful to BMW Group Asia for this opportunity to bring everybody together. This experience is unparalleled! I really enjoy doing things together as a team, because I always believe that if you wanna go fast, go alone; if you wanna go far, you go as a team.