Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beyond The Run - Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2009

When I accidentally trespassed into a lot sometime ago and found out too late that the other side was fenced, just when it was getting dark and there were no lamp posts to light my path, I imagined running away from prison while trying to get back on the road. Maybe it was a side-effect of watching too much Prison Break or 24, I don't know. But I never considered doing that in real life, much more running towards a prison. But then again that was exactly what I did just a few Sundays ago in the first Yellow Ribbon Prison Run.

An overcast sky hung above that morning, threatening to give reason for the inaugural run to be cancelled — a possibility more apparent to me after it happened to the NUS Run, where the pouring rain forced the organizers to cancel the event while the runners scampered for the nearest shelter. I wasn't in the rush to leave home early, thinking that Changi Village was just a few minutes away anyway. But a traffic jam slowed us down as we got nearer our destination. Once again I had forgotten to take the road closures into account.

We were nearly there when it started to drizzle. Then we met the initial surge of runners who had just taken off from the starting line. Clearly I was late, but I had company.

In my haste I skipped the ritual of making use of the portalet and started running immediately, a decision I would later regret. Like an answered prayer however, the drizzled didn't turn into rain. In fact, the weather was absolutely perfect for a run.

Somehow I managed to catch up with the tail end of the batch of runners who flagged off earlier. It was one of the few runs where I was more relaxed. Perhaps it was because we followed a scenic route, running near double fences of the prison and rehabilitation facilities; perhaps it was due to the cool weather; or perhaps it was because the entire thing was being done for a good cause — influencing society to become more accepting and willing to give ex-offenders a second chance at making good.

The man seen in posters and in the run's official site took part in the race too. His name is Hanniel Choong, a heroin user in a previous life, whose self-imposed mission was to break his personal best of 48 minutes as he celebrates his 48th birthday. I was among those who cheered while he got on stage during the awarding ceremony as the announcers exclaimed "mission accomplished!"

The finish line was located inside the Changi Prison Complex. Runners had to go through the open gates of the formidable Changi Prison Wall. Even with the fun and games, the compound still felt intimidating. I could only describe the experience as unique.

It was a very well organized run. From the starting point up to the finish line, things were in good order: distance markers, drinking stations, cheerers, road closures, volunteers, giveaways, food and games. Of the nine runs I have participated in this year, this has to be the best. I wouldn't want to miss next year's Yellow Ribbon Prison Run.

As a last note, I managed to beat my personal record for all the 10 km runs I've participated in this year by two minutes. I look forward to a better performance next time.


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