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THE FINISH LINE

Taking the Singapore Marathon to the next level

Patrick Lee, CEO of long-running sponsor Standard Chartered Bank, says having the race at night will open up new opportunities

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StanChart Singapore CEO Patrick Lee (centre), an avid runner, is also taking part in the Ekiden team relay at this year's Singapore Marathon.

THERE are just two months to go before some 50,000 runners from Singapore and around the world converge at the F1 Pit Building in Marina Bay for the country's most established annual running event. This year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) is a special one, for it will be the first in the event's history to be held in the evening.

The full marathon (42.195km), half-marathon and the Ekiden relay will flag off just before sunset on Nov 30, while the 5km and 10km categories will start in the morning the next day.

The move is part of a broader plan to take the SCSM one step closer to achieving World Marathon Major (WMM) status by 2021. The other six WMM marathons - in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo - are all held in the day.

The SCSM contributes a tidy sum to Singapore's economy each year. According to latest available figures, the 2017 edition generated a total economic impact of S$22.6 million, with S$7.2 million of that amount spent by international visitors. In 2018, about 20,000 people travelled to Singapore for the marathon.

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Patrick Lee, the 47-year-old CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, believes it is the right time for the bank - the marathon's title sponsor since 2002 - to take things to the next level. BT Weekend met up with the veteran banker at his office at Marina Bay Financial Centre recently to find out more.

We're about eight weeks to go to the big day. How are the preparations coming along?

It's exciting because it's the first night race, and we've got very good sign-ups and strong interest. The bank has been sponsoring this for 17 years, and it's great to see how it's grown from just 6,000 runners at the start to 50,000 today.

We're now at the point where we want to take it to the next level. Having the race in the evening is an important step - it's probably more accessible and practical for people because it's not as hot compared to a day race. Hopefully, we can get more community engagement this year. At the big marathons around the world where the weather is cooler, you often get a lot of audience participation.

How did the different partners reach a consensus to organise the marathon at night?

We've been thinking about this for some time already. Obviously there are big logistical issues to sort out, such as having to close many roads. But we are doing this because we're pitching for the Singapore Marathon to be included in the WMM series. Once the event gets to that level, it will get a lot more interest and participation from international runners.

What are some of the other ways to ensure the marathon remains relevant for years to come?

Singapore has an ageing population, so people these days are more focused on health and well-being and sports. The government has been promoting that very heavily and we've seen a big pick-up in people doing sports activities such as running. We've done a lot to broaden the appeal of the SCSM over the years. From just one run when we first started, now we have the Kids Dash, the 5km, 10km, half and full marathon, and the Ekiden.

There's plenty of corporate participation, and 2,000 of our bank's employees also turn up to run in one of the many categories. Aside from that, we work closely with over 200 running clubs in Singapore to engage them and the running community.

What do you think the bank has gleaned from this sponsorship journey over all these years?

It's the power of connecting with the broader community, and having a common purpose that brings everyone together. It's the spirit of collaboration - it's a big logistical event together with all our partners and government agencies. The marathon ties in with some of our values - the brand promise of "here for good", and our proposition of promoting commerce and prosperity through our unique diversity.

The current three-year deal ends with this year's marathon. Presumably the bank will extend the sponsorship arrangement. What's the plan?

We are in discussions. We always have to work to make sure things are consistent with our values, and that we can add value to the community. We are keen to renew the sponsorship, and we need to look at how we can make the marathon better.

I hear you've been running in the Ekiden category for the past six years.

Yes, I've taken part in the Ekiden with our country management team. We raise money for Seeing is Believing, our bank's global community investment programme to tackle avoidable blindness. And in those six years we've raised S$160,000 through donations from people who support us.

What's your training routine like these days?

I run three times a week, about 5km or 6km each time. I play tennis, go cycling, go for walks. I started running more frequently 10 years ago, and for me it's time away from work. I like running outdoors and I feel refreshed and recharged at the end. Like most runners, once you get the running bug, it's hard to stop.

* Registration for the Singapore Marathon is now open, with early bird rates available until Sept 30. Visit www.singaporemarathon.com for more details.