A weaker field at this year's Osim Sundown Marathon threw the race open for unheralded local runner Sharon Tan to win her first 42km race yesterday.
No Kenyans signed up for that category, while last year's winner Sakiko Matsumoto of Japan opted for the 10km race instead. Regardless, Tan, 27, clocked a creditable 3hr 35min 45sec to emerge as the surprise marathon champion.
Yet it was not her No. 1 position that gave her the biggest sense of accomplishment. Instead, she was most pleased that she beat her personal best by more than an hour.
The secondary school chemistry teacher drew inspiration from Singapore's Olympic-bound marathoner Neo Jie Shi, who unexpectedly qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Games last December.
Tan, who started running in 2008, sought to cut her timings this year by joining a running club in January.
She said yesterday: "I've read up on Neo Jie Shi's story. She also joined a club - Safra Running Club and became really fast. I guess I was quite a complacent runner until late last year, when I was inspired by how she could run so fast and make it to the Olympics.
"It's inspiring for people like us - who are not-so-bad runners but also not the elite type of runners."
Through the Northern Kia Runners club, Tan learnt the importance of speed and strength trainings, and it has paid dividends.
She said: "I didn't expect to break my PB (personal best) by this much, as I wanted to (clock) four hours. The interval training and the need to push my aerobic and speed capabilities helped and they have made the difference."
Rachel See, 33, was also surprised to win the 21.1km event, as fellow national runner Mok Ying Rong, who had just set a national best time last month, had started strongly and led for about half of the race. But Mok did not complete it, handing the SEA Games marathoner top spot.
See said: "I wasn't feeling too good for the first 10km. I think I ate too much and lacked sleep, which made me feel like throwing up.
"I thought that since it's a night race, it's going to be a difficult race, I'd just go at a relaxed pace and don't push myself so hard."
This year's event, the ninth edition, saw 27,600 people across five categories sacrificing their sleep for the run that started at the F1 Pit Building.
In the men's half marathon, Kenyan Noah Kutung Chepsergon, 35, breezed to victory in 1:17:20, while China's Li Wei, 27, won the 42km race in 2:37:37.
While both of them were in Singapore for the first time, they were motivated by different reasons.
Said Li, a tourist: "I came here purely because I wanted to use my legs to see Singapore. It's a unique race as it's held over the night, so that's a meaningful first for me."
Chepsergon, who won $500, said: "I do this for a living, if I win the race, I'll earn my income."