Waiting for a number


Says it all, really

Tonight after work I went to collect my number for the marathon. I’ve done this lots of times before, in Singapore and round the world. The organiser rents the biggest hall they can find, fills half of it with vendors selling running-related tat, and the other half is full of volunteers handing out race numbers to the entrants. It’s pretty simple. In Tromsø they had about 300 runners so they had a trestle table in the town hall and a few people with a clipboard and a big box of t-shirts. In Tokyo they had the expo centre and they processed 20,000 runners in the couple of days leading up to the run. And in Singapore they usually hire a hall in one of the millions of convention centres that adorn this isle. 

But not the Sundown. Not this year. This year had to be special. 

This year, they had it outdoors. During rainy season. On the only sizeable area of bare earth for miles, since everything else around the Formula One building is tarmacced. I guess they spent so long finding that geological implausibility that they forgot when it rained, the earth would turn to mud, so nobody thought it would be good to put any boards down, rather than have people walk through the mud. 

Then to make it extra special, they printed everyone’s race numbers when they went to collect them. Which took five minutes per person. 

With big events, throughput is key. You need to have a really good reason to make the number collection process ten times slower than it would be normally, because otherwise you’re just making the queue move slower and slower and the poor guys who join at the end have hours added to their time. And it’s not like this was an incredibly personalised race number that you got as a result. Here’s the bottom of mine:

That’s right, my nickname in 7mm high Times New Roman. I’m sure glad they spent all that time working out how to do that. (At the Gold Coast in 2008, they printed CUSHTIE in inch high letters on the race number so urchins could jeer at me by name from the sidelines at 38km. Unless they’re equipping every spectator with a flashlight and binoculars, i don’t think I’m getting a shoutout at the weekend. )

But all this was to come. I joined a line at 6:40 and for half an hour, seemed to go nowhere. All i could see was a big sign saying ‘RACE PACK COLLECTION’ above a row of portable toilets. Finally I rounded the corner to find … am even longer queue, accumulating before a giant marquee full of people printing out race numbers. And there I stood for another 45 minutes, with my shoes getting muddier and flies landing constantly on me, while the heat and humidity crawled ever higher. 

All this time, the MC was bellowing over the PA system about what a great night it was, and what fun there was with the fitness class organised in the race village. We couldn’t see any of this, because the enormous marquee and the portable toilets blocked our view completely, but we couldn’t get away from the demented yelling of the one man army on the microphone. 

After far too long, i got to the front of the queue and received my goodie bag. Usually this is full of a load of old tat: a towel emblazoned with the sponsor’s logo, a bottle of lukewarm energy drink (just the thing after an hour and a half standing around with nothing to drink), and some other bumpf. 

This time, to respect the environment, there was a piece of paper with the marathon route on it, an off-brand Tiger Balm patch and a single promotional leaflet. Inside a bag big enough to transport my kids. Thanks very much for that. The bag isn’t even waterproof (at Tokyo they gave you a big plastic bag to stuck your clothes into, to ensure you have a dry set of gear to change into after the race – but then who’s going to need that in Singapore, in the middle of the rainy season?)

So I had my pathetically printed number, a vest with the race logo, and an enormous bag. I trudged past the huge marquee, and then got lost in a maze of mud and metal barricades trying to find the race village. 

It took me a while, because apart from a few Prudential insurance agents trying to sign people up, there was nobody there. It was like a post apocalyptic wasteland, where only an idiotic aerobics instructor had survived to shout at us. Sure, there were lots of shops trying to sell stuff, and in any normal pre-race expo they’d be crowded with customers, panicking before the start of the race. Instead, everyone, knackered by the insufferable wait, just went straight home. Which must have been great for any shopowner who’d stumped up the rent to be there. 

I staggered away. As I left, the MC started extolling the wonderful food and beverage available. Gourmet food trucks aplenty. Pro tip: if you’re going to make people queue for two hours, maybe out the food where they can get to it, instead of putting it after they’ve given up hope and have decided to go straight home. At least I hadn’t brought the family with me. (“Hey kids ! Let’s go spend two hours standing in a queue watching dad swat flies!”)

To add further insult to injury,I went to the bus stop. The bus goes straight to my house. It was parked up by the exit to the race village.  As I approached, I saw the bus driver get in. The bus driver told me the stop was just round the corner. I set off there, arriving at the bus stop just as he drove past without stopping. 

So I got a taxi. “Cantonment Road” I asked, as clearly as I could. 

“Limpopo Grove?” he asked in disbelief. 

(Cantonment Road is a fairly major road in Singapore, where the deceased Father of the Nation built an enormous block of flats everyone knows about. You would expect a taxi driver would recognise it. Or if not, use his GPS.)

“Cantonment Road” I said, at the end of my tether. 

“Kings Grove Hospital?”

“The police station” I declaimed, grinding every tooth in my mouth against every other one. “The police station.” If i was going to murder somebody tonight, I might as well make it simple to arrest me. 

“Oh, Cantonment Road” the driver said, and off we went. 

Let this be a permanent reminder to me to never, ever, sign up for another event under the Sundown Marathon. Now all that remains is to see what they can do to muck up the actual race. 


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