The perks of being a constant bystander at marathons

Sapa has many beautiful rice terraces that runners run past during the Vietnam Mountain Marathon. — Filepic

I don't run and I don’t plan to join a marathon in the near future. But I have been to numerous marathon events all over the world.

The first time I did this was in 2011, when I accompanied a good friend to the Singapore Sundown Race. Back then, this friend – Hana – had just started her marathon “career” and was looking to expand her running portfolio to include international events.

She didn’t do too well that day as it was a night run and she was not used to running in the dark.

A year later, she joined the Bangkok Marathon in Thailand, and I, together with five girlfriends came along for some shopping, sightseeing, eating and cheering.

She has participated in many international marathons with her own group of runner friends too; I have joined then on a total of five trips including to the Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2016 in Rotorua, New Zealand, Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2017 in Sapa, and the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon 2014 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The marathon in Rotorua was the most memorable for me as we were in the country for 10 days, driving from one small town to another, taking mud baths, visiting Hobbiton and making friends with other Malaysians who also participated in the event.

It wasn’t a good marathon for Hana and her friends though as they did not do well that year. Fortunately, they made up for it in the mountain race in Sapa the year after.

That was also a memorable holiday for me as I had to take a solo eight-hour overnight train ride from Hanoi to Sapa.

A “marathon holiday” is common among folks who compete in international running events. It is also a profitable tourism product for some countries as many runners would come to the events with their family or friends in tow.

Hotels, homestays and home-sharing rentals would be fully booked throughout the marathon weekend, while restaurants, cafes and tourist attractions would enjoy good business from both local and international visitors.

Event participants get to meet runners from all around the globe, be treated to cultural shows and other entertainment features set up especially for the event and even get discounts on top-notch running gear and apparel.

For a bystander like myself, I also get to meet people from other parts of the world, learn new cultures and try interesting cuisines. More importantly I get to see just how passionate these runners are over something that I absolutely hate. Though I cannot relate to their experience, I do love seeing how happy my friends are when they’ve crossed the finish line, and I sympathise with them when they receive the dreaded DNF (“did not finish”, a term given to participants who are unable to finish a race because of an injury, or technical errors) order.

Though we can’t travel abroad now, I am pushing my friends to run and train more during this “downtime”, as I hope they would keep participating in more marathons overseas in the future, so that I can happily taggling along.

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