Two days before the New York City Marathon, Yi Yang Chen, 28, is already standing at the finish line. Along with six other Singaporean runners decked out in the national colors of red and white, she stands in the midst of a raucous, cheering crowd waving the Singaporean flag.
“I have really bad jet lag right now, but I couldn’t miss this!” she said.
The Parade of the Nations, the official opening ceremony for the NYC Marathon, invites international runners to parade across the finish line in full patriotic regalia, including national costumes and flags, while playing their traditional instruments. Of the seven participants of the Singaporean contingent this year, six are here with the help of David Tay, 56, the managing director of Athlete’s Journey, a Singapore marathon tour company.
“I encourage all my clients to come to this event,” said Tay, who emulates a sports coach’s upbeat and energetic demeanor. “The atmosphere is great!”
Tay, who has completed 28 marathons and three Ironman triathlons himself, set up the company in 2012 with two business partners. With the explosion of marathon running in recent years, especially in Asia, Tay saw a gap in the market and sought to fill it.
Tay’s customers hail not only from Singapore, but Indonesia, the Philippines and even China.
Athlete’s Journey caters to increasing interest with tours that ensure entry to international marathons – including four of the six World Marathon Major – and smooth out the logistical edges that runners face in a foreign environment.
“For many runners, it’s their first time in New York City,” he said of this year’s marathon. “We have a pre-race briefing in Singapore on what to expect, how to deal with the weather, the jet lag.”
In the days leading up to the marathon, Tay brings them on morning warm-up runs along the Highline, along the waterfront or in Central Park to familiarize them with the finishing stretch.
As marathon running enjoys a global surge, tour companies are giving customers more bang for their buck. Thom Gilligan, founder of Marathon Tours and Travel, one of the US’ oldest marathon tour companies, cites the VIP experiences he puts together for clients. These tours, which usually sell out, can include welcome cocktails, receptions, wine tastings and dinner with celebrities, he noted.
“The nature of marathon running has changed over the years,” he said. It started out as a competitive sport in the late 1970s, then evolved 15 years later into a participative sporting event. The third wave of marathon running, which we are seeing today, views the sport more as a lifestyle, entwined inextricably with socializing, leisure activities and travel.
Joo Koh, 40, a Singaporean who is running the NYC Marathon this year and who booked a tour with Athlete’s Journey, echoed Gilligan’s sentiment. “I’ve met so many people during training and preparation,” he said.
All of this is excellent news for marathon tour companies.
“My ultimate goal is to merge sports- and life-coaching elements into the tours,” said Tay. “A marathon helps people discover more about themselves, about life, about other people. It’s a journey.”