Over the course of my running life, I have participated in multiple races ranging from a 5k to an ultra-marathon in Singapore, but nothing beats the experience of participating in an overseas race!
Immersing in a culture different from yours teaches you things no formal education can hope to teach. Aside from being able to escape the heat and humidity in Singapore, you get to run and experience a different route in another country - which is far better than constantly racing in Singapore's overused routes!
Below is the top 5 races that I have done overseas which I would strongly recommend to advanced and beginner runners alike!
Vermont City Marathon
The Vermont City Marathon is held annualy in the state of Vermont, just beside New York in the USA. It usually takes place on the last Sunday of May near the end of the Spring season - which means the weather might get crazily hot, what with the previous year's edition being cut short due to the high risk of heat injuries. I took part in the 2012 edition during my internship over at Walt Disney World, and if I had one word to describe the race, it wouldn't be enough. Immerse yourself in the tremendous crowd support from official volunteers to passer-bys and also homeowners in neighbourhoods you run past. No matter who you are or where you came from - countless high fives, free refreshments and also water hosing, the crowd support will definitely bring you to the finish line in the blistering spring heat of Vermont!
The course takes you through residential streets and Burlington's market place. You will hit the Northen Connector, a highway closed only once a year, and then the neighbourhoods again. Heading to the finish line, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the lake and nature surrounding you! The party atmosphere would surely liven up spirits after a gruelling race. Coupled with the top notch volunteer support, you will never want to do a race in Singapore again! (who am I kidding, we are so used to the local culture we continue taking part anyway ;) )
Penang Bridge International Marathon
Epic finish at the PBIM 2012!
I participated in the 2012 edition of the marathon. This was the last year that the major part of the half-marathon and marathon race was held on the old Penang Bridge, before subsequenly moving over to the new bridge that was slated to open the following year. Penang is a MAGICAL place. Even though certain parts of the Malaysian state is underveloped, it certainly is nostalgic as thhe environment and people around brings you back to the 60s. From the mouth watering Chendol to the trademark Penang Laksa, stuff your face with cheap hawker and street food fare which you can use as an excuse to 'carbo load' before the race!
The event starts in the middle of the night, with the marathon starting at 1AM that year. The course takes you through the main highway leading to the Penang Bridge, where you will either hate or loving going through almost 20 kilometre plus of bridge alongside with having to avoid the congestion due to the merger with the 21KM runners, before making an exit and hitting the highway full of rolling hills for another torturous 5KM, and then you are home free to the finish line! Sounds easy right? The support given by volunteers along the way is tremendous! Even though no crowds were there to support you in the dead of the night, the volunteers worked tirelessly to make sure you stayed hydrated. Water sponges - something which I realised was a norm in races in Malaysia, were a god sent as they cooled your body down when things started heating up! As you make your way to the finish line, meander your way through 21KM and 10KM runners again before crossing the finish line with enthusiastic emcees calling your name out!
Before you sign up for this race though, take note that it occurs annually 2 weeks before the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, but who's to stop you from doing both? ;)
BEST. MARATHON. EXPERIENCE. EVER.
Saying hi at the 37KM Mark!
The Tokyo Marathon is one of the 6 marathon majors in the world, consisting of races like the Boston and London Marathon. It is the penultimate championship race in the series to determine the world's best male and female marathoners. Even if you can't be the best, you can join them in competing in of the prestigious and must-do races in the world! Situated in the heart of Tokyo, the race takes you through iconic landmarks like the Imperial Palace, the outskirts of Tsukiji Fish Market, and alongside the Tokyo Tower with views of the iconic Rainbow Bridge! Aside from experiencing Tokyo on route, experience one of the world's BEST crowd and volunteer supports in the world, right from the beginning till the end of the race - virtually and mentally shortening the 42.195KM race to 4.2195KM one. From being treated to Japanese sweets, and being pampered like VIPs when you need to visit the portaloo to answer the call of nature - be warmed many times over in the freezing weather by kindness you might never find anywhere else in the world.
Entry to the race is not easy though. Every year, more than 300,000 hopefuls apply for a 1 in 10 chance to participate in the event that has only 30,000 slots available. Balloting starts in July, and results are out in September. Looking to stuff yourself with sashimi and a hot bowl of nabe in the cold weather? Hate the heat and humidity and Singapore, and looking to hit a PB in one of the most prestigious marathons in the world? Try your luck come July, because the odds of winning are higher than the odds of striking 4D or TOTO!
Gold Coast Airport Marathon
The finisher medal of the GCAM!
I participated this race in the hopes of securing a PB timing in the marathon - which I did eventually but not to the standards I hoped to achieve. Nevertheless, this was one of the best marathon experiences I ever had due to the flat course and again, the amazing crowd and volunteer support!
Heralded as a race to smash your local PB into pieces, the GCAM is one of the flattest and fastest courses in the world. Running next to Gold Coast's surf beaches and broadwater, immerse yourself in the Australian experience, with temperatures in the 10 to 15 degree celcius range! With low humidity and little to no wind in the morning, you'd also be inspired by huge crowds cheering for you. Still not convinced? Don't worry, registration is opened till the very last day before the race starts, so poison yourself with videos and photos of your peers cruising to their PBs in style.
Angkor Wat Empire Marathon
This race was held for third time ever in 2016 on the outskirts of Angkor Wat. Run through the different temples of Angkor Wat like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and the character in Temple Run whilst immersing and surrounding yourself with Cambodian culture, kindness and generosity as you are guided through the villages and ruins!
Be inspired by the children from schools and villages nearby who are overenthusiastic go give you high-fives you'd get fatigued from doing so first rather than running! I personally ran the half-marathon and secured my PB no thanks to the continuous need and want to entertain these cute children with their already outstretched hands - taking the pain away from my legs as I flew through the course. In addition, the flat course and views of the lake was a bonus to the experience!
P.S if you are lucky, weather here will be nice to you during the August period with humidity in the low 70%, but if not, its relatively similar to running in Singapore! (registration is extremely cheap though with a superb organization!)
If you are worried that you might gain weight whilst travelling overseas, worry no further! Look out for races that may be held during your travel period, or if not, travel just for the purpose of racing! Family and friends might call you crazy for doing so, but if you are determined enough to do so, nothing can stop you. The experience of participating in an overseas race changes you for the better.
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