Galaxy Entertainment Macao International Marathon 2018

Marathon #35 was indeed a tale of 2 halves. I had an excellent first half, and a forgettable second. Much like the see-saw training I had after the great first 6 weeks. For the training recap, you can check out this post. Going into the race, But the plan was still to stick to 3:30 goal even though it would be near impossible given the way my training turned out. I’ve always maintained that Macao would be a stepping stone and learning opportunity for me leading to the eventual 3:30, so I certainly won’t learn anything had I detracted from the original plan and run too conservatively. I may be able to equal my GCM18 PR, but that won’t add much to my push towards 3:30. I needed to push the envelope.

Macao this year would be a touch-and-go trip for my wife and I. It was supposed to be a solo trip since it was such a short 1-nighter but the 2-bedded room was paid (in case there would be another runner joining) and the other single bed would’ve been wasted. The fun aspect when travelling with some of the training gang would be the sightseeing and eating. That part of the trip was very enjoyable, and we even dined in the award-winning Tapas de Portugal (also here) the night before the race. With the gear laid out the moment we checked in, I was able to hit the sack early. A little too early I might add, as I woke up at 2:30am which was way before the alarm! In hindsight, I should’ve finished watching The Godfather III on TV! I did catch the famous, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”scene though 😀 .

A light dinner at the award winning Tapas de Portugal.

I stuck to my pre-race meal protocol of a cup noodle and black coffee before heading down to meet Calvin and CY for a short 1K warm-up. I felt really good and was raring to get the race underway. The jog to the stadium was less than another kilometre and since we didn’t have any baggage to check in, we were able to bypass much of the crowd entering the track. All of us stretched a little before walking towards the starting pen. The crowd was already thickening. Macao practices a common start for the Half and Full Marathoners which meant there were plenty of shoving around within the pen as runners forced their way to the front. This was the most annoying part of the race – lack of etiquette by the mostly PRC, Hong Kong and local Macanese runners. I don’t foresee the race organizers changing this anytime soon. Nevertheless, I was being entertained (not!) by the poor pom-pom boys and girls who could do with a much needed break with their non-stop shaking of their pom-poms (they were at it for at least 25 minutes). I should also mention that I was also surrounded by cussing runners (I understand Cantonese enough to know their meaning) whose idea of conversation included colourful adjectives. I just couldn’t wait to get the race underway.

The clock struck 6 and we were finally let off. It couldn’t have come sooner enough and I was glad to tear myself off the annoying fellas. As usual, the exit from the stadium was a tight squeeze, followed by a hard right, a short straight and a hard veer to the left. It was only after this point that I could open up my pace and get the race underway. Winter is very mild in Macao – it was 20 Celcius at 6am – at least for the period I’ve visited, warmer than the Gold Coast winter. So the body got going right from the start. With the wider roads, everyone was able to find a comfortable spot and get going. Pace around me was brisk and it got me wondering if that many would be dropping out by the 10-mile mark. Then I remembered that most of these runners around me were Half Marathoners!

The first challenge presented itself in the form of the Governador Nobre de Carvalho Bridge. While it was dark last year, the entire length of the structure was completely lit this time around, allowing drones and photographers to work. It was mostly flat until around the 4.7K mark where runners were greeted with a 300m climb. Since it came so early in the race, this was tackled without any issues. I covered this stretch in 5:16 pace.

5K Splits: 5:27 > 5:02 > 4:58 > 5:00 > 5:16 = 25:47

The other side of Ponte de Carvalho (ponte = bridge, in Portuguese) allowed me to recover but I was very conscious not to get carried away by hammering the downhill. While the feeling was great at that point, there was always the matter with the wall at the back of my mind. The crowd thinned out a little exiting the bridge as we meandered around the streets on the other side of Macao. Wherever there were flats, I reminded myself to run relaxed and get into the zone. And this stretch along the coastal road was long and perfect to maintain that. I’d found the iPod battery flat right before the start, so I’d no entertainment to keep me distracted and it was all very much just me focusing on my breathing and cadence.

10K Splits: 4:59 > 4:55 > 5:01 > 5:01 > 4:58 = 50:42

As I closed in on the famous Ah Ma Temple, I had to be conscious of the cobbled stone path. The Vaporfly 4% isn’t a stable shoe and I’d to be mindful of not twisting my ankle, especially around the twisty path. Traffic control for the marathon have always been excellent except for the section before entering the Sai Van Bridge. As with last year, we had to share part of the roads with buses and their fumes were just terrible.

15K Splits: 4:55 > 4:55 > 4:54 > 5:02 > 5:07 = 1:15.38

The 15K mark was ominously the ramp up the Sai Van Bridge. The span bridge itself wasn’t a problem but it was along this long curvy ramp that many runners were reduced to a walk. My strategy was to maintain very high cadence with short strides. As long as I was moving at the same effort, I figured I would be alright. I hit 10 miles in 1:20.50, so I was still good. My fueling tactics were unchanged – a gel every 5K, drink at every station, sip on my bottle of Hammer Fizz every now and then. Clearing the bridge meant hitting the 17K mark and before long, the half marathoners were separated from those running the full distance. There wasn’t many of us left to trudge on. At around this point last year, the race leaders had begun to lap me.

The next 5K was run over a hardly scenic route. We went past the Coloane and some industrial areas. Really boring. It was still relatively cool, still OK for running and the well-spaced out sponging stations helped as well. A little fatigue was starting to set it, but things weren’t deteriorating at an alarming state yet.

21K Splits: 5:12 > 4:53 > 5:00 > 5:02 > 4:37 > 5:01 = 1:45.26 (the official timing put that at 1:48.01, a slightly quicker half than I clocked en route to my GCM18 PR, so there appeared to be some loss of GPS signal along the way).

I was still averaging 5:00 pace up to the 26K mark. Along this stretch where we had to go through a couple of switchbacks, I finally spotted Calvin who appeared to be running well around 230m ahead. I told myself to hang on and not let the gap widen. But I could only ask so much of an unprepared body.

26K Splits: 5:01 > 5:05 > 4:55 > 4:50 > 5:00 = 2:10.19

I started slowing down after this point. While on paper, there was still a chance that I finish close to my PR, the reality was far more chastening. The whole body was wracked in pain, with mini-cramps popping up here and there, even the stomach. The shoulders, and glutes weren’t spared either. It would’ve been easier to count the body parts that weren’t in trouble.

Once we hung a right to the Galaxy Casino, the Half Marathoners had only a couple of KMs to run. Those running the full distance still had 14 arduous KMs to negotiate. It was here that I unpinned by race bib last year, opting to not aggravate my PF further. This time around, I needed to gut it out.

30K Split: 5:02 > 5:09 > 5:01 > 5:05 = 2:30.36

I’d begun taking walk breaks and tried rallying against losing too much time. Due to the small field, there weren’t many runners who passed me. On the Gold Coast I’d have been swallowed and spat out. I wish I could be more descriptive of the remaining portion of the race, or what’s left of it, but the only persistent thing that I experienced were pain and suffering in the increasingly hot morning.  I couldn’t be happier when I saw my wife waiting with the camera after I rounded the last turn before entering the stadium towards the finish.

35K Split: 6:17 > 5:36 > 5:15 > 6:19 > 5:21 = 2:59.27
The rest: 6:10 > 6:52 > 6:40 > 6:22 > 6:21 > 6:47 > 5:46

Most don’t think much or bother about their running, and there’s nothing wrong about that. For those intending to push the boundaries to run their very best, every race matters. It validates the effort they invested into their training. Some take an express elevator to their goals, some take a more meandering path – losing, regaining their bearings, and learning. It’s now 2 weeks after the Macao Mayhem. I shall allow myself to be encouraged with how I did. It was 10 minutes off my PR (which works out to be around 2 KM) but still my 3rd fastest marathon. I set out to finish the marathon after last year’s DNF and I’d done so. It’s time to put this behind me and move on with recovery and rebuilding. I will take that 3:48.48 and be done with Macao Marathon. I’m now toying with the idea of returning to Chiang Mai next December. My only marathon there ended disastrously prior to using the Hansons Plan. I returned the following year to race the half but am itching to do well in the marathon there.

Post-race analysis:

  • I expected to suffer but not this much.
  • I expected not to be able to hit the paces (up to the wall) but I did. That probably explained the corresponding level of pain I found myself in  when reality finally set in.
  • Executing the Hansons Plan successfully demands strict adherence to the weekly mileage. I simply missed too many sessions. I was de-trained and my endurance levels plummeted.
  • In running the easy sessions too fast (they were within my pace window, but on the upper levels), I didn’t give my body the recovery it needed. The downstream impact would be poor recovery, compounded by the tremendous stress at work. I might have been knocking on the burn out door as well.
  • Having now experienced the extremes of good and poor Hansons Plan execution, I can now recognize the “good fatigue” and “bad fatigue”. You can usually ease off the “good fatigue” phase and start hitting the goal pace after a quick warm up. The mind and motivation, too, will be quite fresh. Bad fatigue, however, is a sucker punch both on the body and mind and is near impossible to shake off even after several days of gutting it out.

Macao: The Unfinished Business

Next Sunday, I’ll find myself on the starting line of the Macao Marathon yet again. This time with an agenda to finish the race after deciding to DNF the 2017 edition due to plantar fasciitis. The early decision to DNF (even if I could’ve finish well within the 5-hour cutoff) was a move to ensure I didn’t regress the year-long injury to the point of jeopardizing my A-race which was GCM18. The call turned out to be one of the best I’ve made. Making the decision early meant I was able to remove the uncertainty of the race, and just enjoy my first trip. If you’re interested, my 2017 experience can be found here.

Year-end races have always been tough. Q4 deliverables at work meant preparations were always going to be challenging, what more undertaking a shorter yet tougher training plan. Instead of the 18-week Beginner’s Plan, it was perhaps a little foolish (and over-optimistic) of me to have gone with the 14-week Intermediate Plan. I figured that I needed a few more low mileage weeks post GCM18 even if I was already running 6 days after that race. As it turned out, we already breached the 64K mark the very first week. Weeks 2 to 5 would be in the 70s, and there would be nothing shorter than 88K from Week 6 right up to Week 13 when the needle dropped back to 76K. Somewhere in there were 3 weeks of 90s. Race week will see a total of 86K run, including the marathon, but I intend to cut back some. As you can imagine, this plan isn’t for the weak of heart and mind.

I wish I could report that I hit all the targeted mileage. But a vicious cold strain spread across the office knocking me off pace on Weeks 7 and 9. Thankfully those weeks were so-called cut-backs from the 90Ks. Without a doubt, the body’s resistance level was already low coming off the high weeks. So despite sporting facial masks at work and constantly washing of my hands like a fella afflicted with OCD, I was still hit. While I wasn’t completely floored, those 2 weeks were pretty low points for me, hitting only 40% to 50% of the targeted mileage. I could’ve forced the runs through but they would’ve definitely sucked and I probably would’ve taken longer to recover. The total missed sessions included 2 strength sessions, 3 MP pace repeats, and 2x20K long runs.

To say that I was deflated would be an understatement. The Intermediate Plan will always be challenging but in better conditions, I wouldn’t have missed that many SOS sessions. I might have shortened the recovery days but I’d have at least managed 95% of what were penned down. Upping the volume AND intensity at the same time were definitely too much for me to handle, at least over this extremely stressful period at work. I ended up neglecting most of my core and strength work over the course of Macao training.

Still, there are some bright spots over the past 3 months.

  1. The last time I logged a 100K week was back in May 2015. This time around, I was able to hit 102K on Week 10 and still felt pretty good.
  2. I had a very good run in the first 6 weeks before the cold hit.
  3. Despite that, I logged 241K more in October than I did over the same month last year.
  4. I logged 178K more in September than I did over the same month last year.
  5. I will also be averaging more miles in November this year than the same month last year.
  6. My MP has slowly but surely been on the up, even if baselining the new MP will take a few more months of consistent work and proofing in a race or two. That’s another reason to insert races sparingly as a progress checkpoint. While I generally advocate training volume over racing week in and out, a low-key race every few months or so will be beneficial.
  7. I’m injury-free, unlike last year.

So my goal for Macao this year will be to finish. A bonus would be to equal the time that I ran in Gold Coast. Anything more than that would be unthinkable, with the 2 bridges standing in the way. Whatever it is, let’s get this done.

What’s Next After GCM18?

Here’s a quick update on my running. I returned to easy running 6 days post GCM18, with a 4K jog followed by a 10K the following day. Week 2 of August saw some daily commute transition pains which saw my wife and I moving from driving to taking the train. It wasn’t an easy decision even if for many out there it’s the most obvious choice. Surprisingly the new experience proved quite tiring with more standing, climbing and walking but after more than a month at it, I think we’ve adjusted.

In other words, I wasn’t on any training plan between GCM18 and the publication of this post. I just had to ensure that I keep my weight below 60kg and stick to a maintenance of fitness mode. Exercise comprised of plenty of walking, stair-climbing, mobility exercises (mostly involving resistance bands), and running 4 times a week mostly very short distances, at mixed paces. Weekends will see the low tens.

The past 5 weeks’ mileage (in KM) were 29 > 31 > 31 > 32 > 34. I did try to increase the volume to the 40s but found that to be stressful, and that isn’t something I would like my running to be. In this comfortable, no-pressure mode, I was able to keep to a 30K average the past 5 weeks. This week’s mileage should be in the same ballpark.

Tomorrow begins yet another marathon training cycle which will lead up to Macao in December. While I’ve set my 14-week Hansons plan to another aggressive goal time, I’m still undecided on how I’d like to run it. If I do stick to my aggressive goal, then I’m prepared to take it as a chance to learn, taking this as a build up to my 2019 goals. I won’t beat myself up over things and keep things stress-free.

The second option will be to race it on a less aggressive plan. You may have read that I DNF’d the 2017 edition (read the account here), so this year’s return is a bit of a chance to wrap up an unfinished business.

The final option would be to race the Half Marathon. It’s a good course and it will be a PR opportunity. I’ve a bit of time to think about it as Macao entries open only mid September. In any event, there will be something to look forward to every morning from Monday onwards!