SINGAPORE - National marathoner Soh Rui Yong had the audience in stitches when he recounted how he was cheered on by drunk passers-by stumbling out of Zouk in the wee hours as he ran past Clarke Quay on the way to becoming the top local finisher in the 2017 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM).
During the press conference for this year's edition at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Friday (Nov 29), the national record holder (2hr 23min 42sec) quipped: "With the evening race, hopefully they won't be drunk yet, but people will be out having fun and we will have strong support."
For the first time, Saturday's SCSM will flag off at 6pm and while completing the full 42.195km is no laughing matter, the elite runners are embracing the idea of the evening race even though they have different concerns.
Soh, who was also the fastest local last year (2:41:49), is aiming to go below 2:34:02, which M. Rameshon clocked at the 1994 Singapore International Marathon for the quickest time by a Singaporean in a marathon here.
Hunting for a hat-trick, the 28-year-old described the new race time as "perfect". He told The Straits Times: "I'm very happy it's a night race, because I'm not a morning person. I usually work 9-to-6 anyway, so all my hard sessions are in the evening. I don't have to acclimatise to a night race at all, as compared to a 4 or 5am start.
"I'm confident, but I'm also careful not to be overconfident and stay humble enough to respect that it is still a marathon and I have to play my cards right.
"I started aggressively when I ran my first SCSM in 2017 and paid more for it later on in the race. In this climate, you lose carbohydrates and electrolytes faster, and in the last four to eight kilometres, my calves were threatening to cramp and I had to cut my pace. So, it is important not to let adrenaline take over."
Defending men's champion Joshua Kipkorir, who won in 2:12:20 last year, has prepared three months for this race as he looks forward to the later start time.
The 24-year-old Kenyan told ST: "I think it is going to be good because the temperature is going to be lower.
"I want to defend my title with a better time, possible under 2:10. The biggest difference for me is I am going to have a heavy dinner the night before and not eat for the whole day before the race because I don't want to feel full and heavy."
However, Ethiopia's Yemane Tsegay, who won silver at the 2015 World Championships, felt that with the absence of pacers, winning the race is more important than a fast time.
The 34-year-old SCSM debutant added: "I have changed my training and been doing some longer runs at 6pm at home in Addis Ababa as part of my build-up.
"It was a mid-day start at the Fukuoka Marathon and I'm ready to run any time of the day."
The elite Wheelchair Marathon category will return for a second successive year with a field of 16 athletes, the biggest to date.
Australia's Madison de Rozario, who admitted to being distracted by the stunning view of Singapore's skyline racing here last year, felt the new start time may pose a psychological challenge, while the humidity will also affect how the friction propels her wheelchair.
The 26-year-old World Para Athletics Championships marathon bronze medallist said: "When we race early in the morning, you just go for it without much time to think, as opposed to an evening race, which you have an entire day to stress over it.
"We are also used to racing in hot and dry, and rainy and wet conditions. Hot and humid will take some getting used to, but this will be good preparation for Tokyo 2020."
Around 51,000 competitors of 133 nationalities are expected to participate in this year's event, with both the male and female elite runners competing for the total marathon Open category prize pool of US$244,000 (S$333,000).