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Marathons gain traction in sports vacations

More Singaporeans are signing up for travel packages that include running a marathon.

SINGAPORE: For six days in February, financial manager Catherine New took time out from her busy work schedule to soak in the winter wonders of Kumamoto, in southern Japan, with her husband, Lim Yee Wei, and a friend.

Part of Crest Travel & Tours’ 13-strong group, the trio’s itinerary included a visit to a live volcanic crater and fruit-picking at a local farm. But their vacation also included an unusual item: A 42km Kumamoto Castle Marathon.

The Lims and running buddy Poh Hwee Chwee had signed on for Crest’s Japan Marathon Series, an initiative by the travel group to get Singaporeans to run marathons in the country while enjoying their travel. The Lims’ trip cost S$2,195 per person (twin-sharing) for a six-day package, which included a 12-week training programme with local running group Team FatBird.

“The attraction of running marathons overseas is the cool weather and I did a personal best of 4 hours and 25 minutes in Kumamoto,” said 46-year-old New, who also participated in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in 2011 and the Hong Kong Marathon the next year. “I’d not been to Japan, so I thought it would be good to try it. It was very hassle-free because everything was arranged for us, and we even had a local guide and an interpreter. The interpreter is important because not many people speak English in a small place like Kumamoto.”

POSITIVE RESPONSE

Such marathon-travel packages are picking up in popularity here. Scenic Travel offers trips to the Gold Coast Marathon, CTC Travel offers the Sydney Marathon, while Dynasty Travel this year introduced packages to South Korea’s Chuncheon and Jeju Mandarine International Marathons. CTC’s package to Sydney also includes a running clinic with national distance runner Mok Ying Rong, the younger sister of SEA Games marathon gold medallist Ying Ren.

Marjorie Chua, Crest’s general manager of special interest travel, said the company is looking to add the Kobe and Osaka marathons to its series next year. “There are a lot of marathon runners in Singapore as people are more health conscious now,” Chua said.

“We focused on a community marathon like the Kumamoto Castle Marathon because there is a lot of interaction and the locals come out to cheer and dance. The feedback from our participants was very positive, and the dream is to have 50 people running in Kumamoto next year.”

The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) is also working with Dynasty Travel – and running partner Team FatBird – to recruit Singaporeans runners for two marathons in Chuncheon and Jeju on Oct 26 and Nov 16, targeting 200 participants from Singapore for their initial rollout.

Response has been positive, with about 80 people signing for a fully-booked workshop on Korean marathons scheduled on Friday (Aug 22). Other races such as the Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Marathon and DMZ International Peace Marathon could be included in future if response is good.

Added Irin Lin, KTO’s marketing executive: “We are seeing an increase in Singaporeans running marathons and a lot of them look elsewhere to run. Korea’s unique selling point is its weather, which helps for those who want to (achieve) personal bests. There is a language barrier if you don’t speak Korean, so the travel agent makes it easier by helping with race registration, collection of race packs and accommodation near the race venue. There is also a Korea craze now, so their families can tag along, cheer them on and go on holiday.”

RISING POPULARITY

Team FatBird founder Anthony Sum said the marathon-travel trend has only picked up in recent years.

“Queensland was the trailblazer here with the Gold Coast Marathon, which has grown in participation from Singaporeans over the years. This (trend) bodes well for marathon running. Tourism organisations are seeing marathons as something that can help sell their country and they are building on sports tourism.

“What we bring is help in structuring the package and tailoring it to the marathon, with specific things such as carbo-loading dinners, race pack collection and preparing runners with a training programme.”

Participation figures provided by Tourism and Events Queensland reflect the rising trend. In 2007, 24 runners from Singapore competed in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, with numbers leapfrogging to 358 this year. The Gold Coast event is popular with runners due to its cool weather and fast, flat course, and is the only Australian race with the International Association of Athletics Federations Road Race Gold Label.

Despite other international marathons muscling in on the market, Ms Lim Mui Khim, Tourism and Events Queensland’s international director, South-east Asia, welcomed the competition. “Gold Coast is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Australia and runners combine the run with their holiday. The fast runners use Gold Coast to qualify for Boston Marathon as well,” she said.

“We like to believe the market is big enough for all. Besides Gold Coast, some of our other popular marathons include Brisbane Marathon and Sunshine Coast Marathon. We even had Singapore runners sign up for the Big Red Run in the Simpson Desert (Central Australia).”

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