National Geographic Earth Day Run Race Report

  • 15K on a 16K training day.

  • A route away from the usual ones, yet not too far away.

  • Reasonable entry fees.

What’s not to like? The 4 of us from the training group found ourselves at Kota Kemuning yesterday morning for the National Geographic Earth Day Run. Nick has kindly collected our race kits which contain, other than the usual race number and tee, collapsible water bladders. The rationale behind the inclusion of this unusual but practical item was that the water stations were of the BYO cups variety. No cups, except for 1 near the finish, were used to serve the drinks and runners were expected to fill up and drink from their own eco-friendly reusable bladders/bottles.

The drive from USJ took us less than 20 minutes and once we found a good parking spot, we got in our 1K warm up jog (too short, in hindsight) before taking the short walk to the race start. I’d earlier chewed on a nut bar just to stave off any potential hunger pangs. For this race, I debuted the Nike Vaporfly 4%, having received it last week. I reckon this morning presented the perfect opportunity to get acquainted to it. Once I get one or two more runs in them, I’ll post up my thoughts about these shoes. For hydration, I relied on plain water stored in a 500ml Salomon soft flash stashed into a Salomon belt.

Recent mornings have been very sunny and warm and this race had a 6:30am start. That presented us with a minor concern but the quicker we wrap things up, the less time we spend out there baking in the sun. 

The 15K flag off. Photo courtesy of Runwitme.

Once again, this being a training run, my goal was to maintain a marathon pace effort. This was a 70K week and with 2 more days of running before the scheduled rest, running any faster would be pointless and unnecessary in the whole scheme of things. At least that was the intention.  Because it was under 5 minutes right from the flag off! Anyways, I told myself I’ll back off if I felt I was overextending myself. At this point, Calvin and Chiam (C&C) had surged ahead. I was still able to see the leaders up ahead and a handful passed me not 1K into the race.

Traffic control was good as was the enthusiasm of the water station crews. True to Shah Alam’s design, we had to clear a number of roundabouts. They aren’t fun and I’m sure the technical teams didn’t find them easy to manage as well. Nevertheless, I found the control to be above average for the most part. Nick pulled back at one stage and we ran together, keeping one another honest to the pace. We could still maintain conversation which was a good sign. Just before the furthest u-turn, we spotted C&C chasing one another the side of the road. Adidas Sub-2s were hot on the heels of the Zoom Flys! At 8.5K, I found myself still putting in a good shift and decided to hunt for runners in front. My racing strategy has always been that of patience by letting the runners drop back to me. And when I pass a runner, I should be able to hold on to the finish. So it was 1 runner, then another and this went on until I spotted the 2nd placed woman some 300m ahead. Still, I bid my time. It was still too early to push, and they were just out of my range. By the next K, I’d dropped the 2nd woman who was clearly struggling, and was looking out for the lead woman. 

I must’ve been so intent on the game at hand that I missed acknowledging some call-outs along the way – sorry guys! Thanks for the shout out 🙂

Photo courtesy of Runwitme.
Coming through! Photo courtesy of Runwitme.
A cheery and helpful crew member helping with the refill. Photo courtesy of Runwitme.

Having dropped the lead woman not long after, it would take another good 3K before I drew up to Khay Ann and we ran for a bit, still quite comfortably, before a right turn suddenly saw me ahead. I kept the momentum up and pushed for the finish. As I crossed the line, a crew member threw a 5th placed tag on me, gave me a heavy medal and a banana. Pretty pleased with the performance definitely and proved quite a bit that training’s on the right path. I thought there would be some hamper or prize money but alas, prizes were for the top 3 of each categories only. But we were just too happy with our respective results to be too flustered about it. It was a gauge of where we stood in training, after all. My splits of 4:50 > 4:52 > 4:54 > 5:09 > 5:00 > 5:04 > 4:55 > 4:57 > 4:53 > 5:00 > 4:54 > 4:54 > 4:41 > 4:47 > 4:33 gave me a substantial PR in the distance (though a little short).

It was overall a well organized cozy little event around the Kota Kemuning neighborhood. I just love these kinds of events. Being the early ones back to the finish allowed us to check out the booths at the area, mostly exhibiting eco-friendly products and featuring such initiatives. The complimentary ice-cream scoop was heavenly and we even had our chance with vain shots at the insta photo booth.

Photo courtesy of Runwitme.

In closing, my thanks to Nick for picking up the race packs and providing us the ride to and from the race! Where stated, photos are courtesy of Runwitme.  Thanks for the use of the photos! You can get the latest updates on the local running scene and more by following Runwitme at http://www.runwitme.blogspot.com.

Standard Chartered KL Marathon (10K) Race Report

I ran the SCKLM Half Marathon in 2017 as training for my Gold Coast Marathon (GCM). I did just enough, without over-extending myself to finish the back-loaded race, where challenging climbs litter the later stages of the race. This year’s GCM training plan demands discipline not only in sticking to the prescribed training distance but also the paces and on the day of the SCKLM, the plan called for only a 13K. That pretty much determined the distance for my SCKLM participation.

But I procrastinated 15 minutes too long and all the slots were sold out. Such was the popularity of the event. SCKLM is one of the few in-country events where its popularity commensurate with the quality of organization. Fortunately, the organizers continued to have the bloggers in mind, and I managed to secure an entry!

This year’s SCKLM would be its 10th running and the entries were huge – 38,000 across all categories! With the presence of the GCM booth at the race expo, I joined Nick and the teams from TEQ and HTT in providing support over the 3 days. That meant plenty of time-on-feet, on top of Week 6 of marathon training. It was hard but rewarding to be able to help spread the word on GCM. I got off a little early on race eve and got a bit of much needed rest. I had been so busy that I was still deciding on what time I should wake up and get to the train station, but it all got sorted out easily enough.

Because it was just a 10K, I needn’t fret about what to eat or what to wear. In fact, adopting a “training run” mindset meant a simple singlet, shorts and the versatile Elite 9 (in case I decided to kick things up a little), grabbing a chilled bottle of water sans breakfast (nope, not even an energy bar) and driving to the IOI LRT station. I didn’t have to wait long for the complimentary ride and 20 minutes later, I was at Dataran Merdeka witnessing the continuous stream of Half Marathoners heading off. Promptly got down to my 3K warm up and headed into the starting pen and secured a spot 10 feet from the start gantry. Admittedly, I had my doubts about executing a sprint start, as all 10Ks demand, but decided to keep my spot. I’d decided to keep an honest effort in honour of the Dignity for Children Foundation for which I raised funds for. The plan was to run a faster 2nd half with pace ranging between 4:35 to 5:00. That was to give myself a wider window to operate.

Sharp 6:45am and the gun sounded. The course hooked an immediate right to Jalan Dang Wangi and immediately opened up, so the log-jam which I anticipated didn’t happen. Runners had ample road to run. It was years since I ran a 10K race, so I had no expectations and while I had some pace parameters, I ran according to feel. From Dang Wangi, it was a sharp left into Jalan Ampang before a right to

Jalan Sultan Ismail. By the time I got to the MAS Building, the top 3 race leaders were already on the other side. It would be suicidal to pick up the pace any further for me and I was actually enjoying the pace so much it felt rather effortless. The crew, traffic marshals and police were doing a great job and we had the roads pretty much to ourselves. I made sure I clapped back and thanked the crew whenever I could. Once I cleared Jalan P Ramlee and turned back into Jalan Ampang, I was already running alone. The pack of 4 in front was still about 150m in front of me so I bid my time.

Crossing the wide Renaissance Hotel junction, I reeled in 3 and when I got to the Quill Mall, which was the 5K mark, I was in a loose group of 4. This would be the posse which I was glad to be drafting off. I was enjoying myself so much that not once did I peeked at the watch. Then it had to happen – the laces on my right shoe became undone along Jalan Kuching, not far from the Jalan Parlimen roundabout. That brought about some curses and I made sure I triple-knotted the laces before chasing down the pack that had drew away and had built a 100m lead on me. As we all know too well, the climb up Jalan Parlimen can be tough and my stride length and pace dropped a little. Luckily my cadence was still high and with a quick water grab, I overtook 1 tall Caucasian. Just needed to hold on to another K before a long downhill before the final approach to the finish. The Caucasian caught up and passed me but with downhill being my strength, I drew alongside and we ran together down to the National Mosque. I told him to kick for the finish and he asked me to follow. I replied that being on marathon training mode, I was as chuffed with the fact that I was running this pace for this long and urged him to go ahead.

Unwatermarked photos courtesy of Tey😁

I couldn’t catch the other 3 runners ahead but no one passed me either when I crossed the finish line. And forgot to stop the watch until 5 minutes later! Satisfied would be an understatement. While I was 6 weeks into marathon training, all but 2 workouts had been easy running. The 2 faster workouts were speed intervals (12x400m, 400 recovery, 2K warm up and 2K cool down) and a 10K tempo (at goal marathon pace, 2K warm up and 2K cool down). Back at the recovery area, I caught up with the other guys from our GCM training group who also ran some impressive timings. Then it was a quick departure back for home where family duties await.

photo courtesy Calvin

It would not be proper to not thank the generous contributors to my fund raising for Dignity for Children Foundation under the Run for a Reason initiative. The total sum collected may not be much, but it was a recognition of the Foundation’s efforts in providing hope to the underprivileged kids among many projects they undertake. To learn more and to support these wonderful folks, click on the link above.

My thanks also to the SCKLM organizers for remembering us bloggers and media reps in your annual biggie and congratulations on a job well executed! The 10th was the best yet!

To my fellow GCM training group folks, let’s keep this momentum up all the way to July 1st!

2017 Galaxy Entertainment Macao International Marathon Experience

Observant readers will note that I didn’t classify this post as a “Race Report”. That’s because it wasn’t a race. IMHO, an event is only a race if the participant has put training hours, effort, and planning into executing it. Otherwise it’s just a run, an outing or experience. And that was the state of my fitness when I toed the start line of the MGEIM last Sunday.

It all started with my plan to insert a year-end race so that I keep my training going. But it became clear that picking myself up post-GCAM17 was going to be tough. I tried easing into it and when that failed, tried pushing the pace in whatever shorter distances I managed to squeeze out. Neither approach worked. A hectic 2nd half of the year at work and the ever-present PF issue added to the misery. A major work event that was supposed to have wrapped up in November was instead deferred to a December start, and that pretty much doused whatever optimism I’ve left – the hope that I can get in 2 months of decent running for a 3:55 was abandoned.

Languishing in no-man’s-land running wise, I quickly emailed the organizers to downgrade my distance to the Half. Unfortunately all slots for the Half had been filled and they were no longer accepting any requests for that distance. The Mini Marathon turned out to be only a 5K instead of 10K, so that option was immediately dismissed as well. Que sera sera!

The 6:40am flight into Macao was smooth and I even managed to nap some time into the 3 hour 45 minute flight. A short 10-minute cab ride into Taipa (all cab drivers in Macao are hell drivers, there I said it!) cost me RM34 and since it was too early to check in, I dropped my bags at the concierge and went off to get my race bib at the nearby Olympic Sport Centre Stadium where the race would start and finish, looking for late breakfast and do some photo-walking.

Very decent room. I especially like their firm mattress and supportive pillows.

It was my first time in Macao and I enjoyed the laid back old town feel. Crowded but not entirely without the old town charms. By the time I returned to the hotel, I’d got some fantastic shopping done at the Nike Factory Outlet and tens of nice photos. Simple meals cost between RM16-RM25. Drinks, unless they’re alcohol, aren’t that cheap though.

Indoor stadium block of the complex. Same spot for baggage deposit the next morning.
Lengluis at the REPC
At my pace, no amount of doping will get me to the podium hahaha!

It was dark by 6pm, but with the public track just adjacent to the stadium complex, a shakedown run was in order. This track was a godsend to me. The upkeep of the infra was excellent with a well-maintained track, superbly well-lit and there’s even a drinking fountain, lockers and a couple of vending machines. The 300m track goes around 3 tennis courts (all utilized the time I was there) and 2 football fields. All these smack in the middle of high-rise flats. My routine was a mixed one, easy jogs, strides and stretching. There were even several elites from Japan, South Korea, India and Africa working out. With the exception of my departure day, I ran everyday in Macao.

With no goal time, getting kitted out for Sunday morning was so easily done. No point fretting over every piece of gear – just a training run, with the GoPro coming along for the outing. Contrast that to Saturday night prep-up for the Gold Coast Marathon! The only thing I did that took more time was taping up my foot.

Putrajaya Ultra tee, Kalenji trail shorts, Saucony cap, Hoka Tracer
Brought 6 gels, consumed 4.

With Masters marathon extraordinaire, Lim who would finish in a superb 3:30-ish.

The event attracted around 12,000 runners across all categories but everything was pretty well organized in such a small area. The marathoners get the section at the head with the “halvers” corralled off in the rear. I was positioned right in the middle of the pack. Weather was comfortably cool, no shivering at all. The start was stop and go due to the narrow exit out of the stadium but immediately after that, there were plenty of space on the roads. The stabbing pain on the PF surfaced right after the start but the discomfort eased off with each passing mile and I was able to gradually enjoy the run. Temps were at a perfect 17 Celcius and a little foggy. The 2.5K long Gov. Nobre de Carvalho Bridge was our first challenge. The bridge was strangely not lit, so we weren’t treated to a scenic view. No vain shots then! Before hitting the 300m stretch of climb that was steeper than Mayor Hill (see photo), the bridge was completely flat and we were even treated to gentle cool breeze. At my conservative 6:05 pace, the climb didn’t pose much of a problem.

Runners were taken past some landmarks such as the mega casinos, the Guan Yin statue, and the famous Ah Ma Temple (because we’ve to balance the sin of gambling with absolution, don’t we?). All very grand and glitzy but if you’re observant, you’ll see some pretty grungy shop-apartments too.

MGM Casino

The event was sparsely supported by the locals. Other than the crew at the road junctions and drink stations, most of the folks out there were senior citizens – some offered claps while most just went about their morning exercise routines. The roads were well maintained with no potholes and traffic weren’t that much of a problem either, with very few cars out.

An Ah Mah walking past the Ah Mah temple

After a couple of switchbacks, it was another bridge to tackle – the Sai Van Bridge back to Taipa.  This climb was gentler but longer, and the entire bridge was closed to us runners. By the time I got back to the vicinity of Galaxy Casino (20K mark), I had to make a call. To continue at the easy pace I was going would mean I’d outdone my own doubt of finishing within the 5-hour cut off with the PF. I reckoned that even factoring some slowing down in the late stages, finishing around 4:15 wasn’t that far-fetched. Considering my longest run was a 23K a couple of months ago, along with 30km/weeks the last 2 months devoid of running mojo, I was a happy chump.

Heading down the other side of the bridge towards Taipa. Lenglui alert!

At that point, there would be no doubt that I would be able to finish well within the cutoff time. But at what price? Would it make the PF worse, being out there so long? With base training starting January, just 3 weeks away, it was a risk I daren’t take. Another 22K would’ve meant longer time spent on my feet pounding it out. That pretty much decided it for me, to be conservative. Focus on the big goal in July 2018.

Once the decision was made, it was easy to run the 8K to the 28K mark without any pace inhibitions. So I went for it. It was just a lovely feeling to run unburdened by pace restrictions knowing that I could just go with the flow and how I felt. At 4:57 to 5:05 pace, I was still largely in control. At that pace for the marathon, it was thrilling to pass many runners. While I was in a high to entertain the thoughts of continuing right through to the 35K mark, I was also savvy enough to know that the crash will probably hit me hard at the 30K point, potentially aggravating the PF further.

So I stuck to the plan to stop at the starting point of the 2nd loop for the marathon, roughly the 28K mark. I removed my bib before walking 1.3K to the stadium to collect my bag. Along the way I couldn’t help but cast envious looks at the huge medals and towels the HM finishers sported. The faster marathoners were just coming in.

I reminded myself that that morning I made the right choice, ran smart and in the later miles, at a pace that conjures up wild imaginations despite my lack of physical fitness. Most importantly, I managed the injury risk prudently and didn’t end up worse than when I started. It was time for serious rehab work and getting stronger for 2018.

In closing, 2017 was becoming an extreme case of the highs and lows for me, running wise. I ran my best ever marathon on the Gold Coast, yet until Macao, 2 races – SCKLM and GCAM – were all that I’ve done. It would’ve been 3 but I DNFed Twincity Marathon due to stomach issues. Thank goodness I don’t have anything in the pipeline for the remainder of the year. Let’s get this year over and done with already!

Website: http://www.macaomarathon.com/en/
Entries: Opens sometime in September, capping off at 12,000 runners, across the Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K Fun Run categories.
Race Fees: 400 MOP (approx RM210) for both the Full and Half Marathon; 70 MOP for the Fun Run.
Race start: 6am for the Full and Half Marathons, 6:15am for the Fun Run.
Cutoff: 5 hours.
Entitlements: Towelette, sling bag for baggage deposit. Post-race: Finisher towel, medal.
Description: AIMS certified. Other than 2 bridges, the course is largely flat. Marathoners go on a 2nd loop within the island of Macao (covering Taipa and Cotai) after the first 28K. Course is not very scenic on the island, with the sights around the peninsula faring better, with the casinos, Guan Yin statue, Ah Ma Temple and 2 bridges. Support is sparse.
Weather: Hard to predict Spring weather. Monitor the weather constantly.
Quirks: Baggage deposit area is inaccessible from the start area even though they’re within the same stadium complex.
Challenges: Hotels are expensive in Macao. A bit of digging around is necessary and I was lucky to have found the Asia Boutique Inn located in Tapia and a short walk to the start/finish.
Good: Comparatively small event. Well-stocked drink stations that included Pocari sports drinks and sponges. Well-managed traffic. I may one day return to run the half marathon and will have my wife along as a tourist.
Bad: None that I can think of, except the late opening of entries and narrow exit out of the stadium.


2018 will be the 40th running of the Gold Coast Marathon (GCM). I’ll be returning for my 8th GCM and training plans have been drawn up. Won’t you join me for some Good Times? Hit the image below to get to the official Gold Coast Marathon website! Do join the Team Malaysia Facebook page to get all the local happenings, updates on training sessions, tips on travel and running the race on the Gold Coast.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2017

Where do I begin? My 32nd marathon was a race that I truly prepared even if I didn’t initially set out to run the distance. The plan was to rebuild from the half before taking on the full distance this year end. But for some reason, probably rooted in a divine one, a friend planted some hope and a little confidence in me that the goal wasn’t beyond me. His positivity came bundled with a 12-week training plan which I ended up embarking. There were slight mods to it as the weeks rolled by. 
With the plan in place, I committed both mentally and physically to “The Cause”. Sweeping changes were made to how I trained. On top of that I reshaped some aspects of my diet (ice-cream and milk-based coffee were treats while vegs, seeds and nuts featured a lot more in my meals), largely staying injury and illness-free. My goal kept me focused and anchored. No problems with maintaining discipline and consistency.
Motivation, because you can’t succeed at a discipline based sport like distance running unless you’re consistent, and consistency is grandchild to motivation. “
Jack Daniels, Ph.D.
Over the course of the 12 weeks, I only missed 3 days of training, excluding the rest days, due to a mild flu. While I’ve the gang along for some of the longer runs, much of the extra miles were tackled alone. Weekday sessions started at 5:30am initially but were moved earlier to 5:15am when the need for more miles arose. There were only 3 double days over the 3 months. As I had no access to a track for intervals, I drove to a nearby location and ran the 1.2K reasonably flat rectangular loops around Tesco. Initially hostile stray dogs prowling the area learnt to ignore me as the weeks progressed. During the Muslim fasting month, I had more company on the roads in motorists who made their way to a mosque in the area. Some days, I had to outrun or outmaneuver garbage trucks out on their rounds. But all those inconveniences strengthened the mind and resolve, and many tough repeats were seen through with plenty of mental reinforcements.
One key workout was a simulator at Putrajaya which I ran faster than MP thanks to pacing duties by Jessie.
As the weeks rolled by and fitness gained, confidence and a sense of belief grew as well. But I remained cautiously optimistic simply because the marathon can humble a runner. A mental scar isn’t something that’s easily rid of. The only nagging issue was a recurrence of plantar fasciitis in the 3 weeks before race day.

Fast forward to arriving at the Gold Coast, with the customary group photos covered on Friday, Saturday was basically a warm-up jog. Nick and I wisely opted for The Star 5.7K Challenge instead of the Southern Cross Uni 10K.

With all the walking and photo-taking interspersed between speed pick-ups, I ended up with a Personal Worst (PW) timing for a 5K. I’d said before I boarded the flight to the Gold Coast that I’d run a PW and a PR at GCAM17. The only thing left to do then was to run a PR on Sunday! Before that, there’s the Garmin Legends Lunch to attend. Suffice to say that there was plenty of gawking at the presence of runners we don’t normally see up close and in the flesh. Too bad we weren’t lucky enough to grab photos with Kenneth Mungara, Yuki Kawauchi, Brett Larner (famed blogger of the Japanese running scene) and Jess Trengove. The petite elite women are proof that long legs aren’t necessary to running super fast 😀
With Sara Hall, who won the Asics Half Marathon.
With Desiree Linden, who finished 4th in the Asics Half Marathon.
With Kevin Hanson, one half of the founding brothers of the Hansons Marathon Method.
We wisely chose to head out at 6pm for dinner on Saturday since the crowds would be big. True enough, our first choice for ramen was packed and 15 deep line. We settled for an alternative, also a Japanese ramen shop and I somehow finished a bowl of tonkotsu ramen and gyudon! The gear, including the drop bag, had been laid out earlier back at the hotel and I opted to go light – the heaviest load being the usual 8 gels in my belt. I hydrated well the entire Saturday.
After a good 6 hours’ sleep and a cup of noodles (out of convenience and salt) and a banana, I was already out queuing for the G-linq to Southport at 5am. I didn’t opt for the provided coach to the start as it was just too early. The trams were so packed that in normal circumstances I’d be accused of indecency – such was the close physical proximity to fellow commuters! On arrival at Southport, I got myself a small cup of long black from the usual café along the way and ventured to the race precinct. For the first time, I’d arrived before the HM start! Nick along with many Malaysians were already somewhere in the start pen along with 9,000 other runners.
The mood while waiting was relaxed. There was no pressure. I knew that whatever the race outcome, I’ve had the best training ever which itself was already a success. The time to enjoy the race had finally come. See, mind games at work right there! After meeting up with fellow Malaysians and conducting a toilet visit, it was time to warm-up done before checking in my bag.
Morning temps weren’t that bad. I’ve encountered colder stuff during the past GCAMs. It helped that the wind died down and after wishing everyone a great race, I made my way to the starting pen and discarded my layers. I embedded myself with the 3:50 pacers as the plan was to start the first Km slower before easing into goal pace.
My mind was refreshingly unencumbered by doubts (a little of which crept in during the taper phase) as Rob De Castella dished out last minute advice to the runners. My goals were simple: Primary: 3:45, Secondary: 3:48. Don’t think too far ahead, just focus on every 5K, get to the 30K mark feeling good and I’ll be in with a good chance. Gels every 5K, hydrate at every station – 2 cups minimum.
A GCAM playlist was already set up on my iPod but strangely found myself putting Enigma’s Sadness on repeat. It was no doubt a strange choice but I found the track to be meditative and its calming tempo suited the relaxed state of mind I was in. It would astonishingly stay on repeat until the 37K mark!
5:30 > 5:23 > 5:18 > 5:14 > 5:18 for a 26:49 at 5K (avg 5:21). It was still early in the race and I dialed it back a little. When we got to Surfers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bigger crowd cheering us on than the previous years. It was around here that I passed the 3:50 gun time pacer.
5:15 > 5:18 > 5:18 > 5:17 > 5:25 for a 53:37 10K (avg 5:21). At this point, I was a minute ahead of 3:48 finish, and firmly lodged in between my primary and secondary goals. The 3:50 gun time pacer, Erin Wallace, was about 120m ahead and I took a mental note that I need not be concerned since the difference between gun and chip timings was about 2 minutes. If I kept my consistency, it would be a matter of time before I drew close to her.
5:20 > 5:22 > 5:20 > 5:21 > 5:18 for a 1:20 15K (avg 5:22). I was still a minute ahead of 3:48 finish, thus very consistent. Again, I was cautious not to get carried away because it would be the easiest thing to do, what with the amazing support we were getting from the crowd. This section will be where you get to see the elites zoom by on the other side of the road, just a few yards from you.  I only caught 3 seconds of the lead and chasing packs.
5:16 > 5:23 > 5:20 > 5:24 > 5:24 for a 1:47 20K (avg 5:22).  A few Kms laters, I did spot Choo Hooi and Francis. Burleigh Heads ah… Fantastic crowd and noise! I high-fived a few along this stretch and felt relieved that I still kept pace discipline. It’s just so easy to get carried away by the crowds here.
5:20 > 5:19 > 5:19 > 5:19 > 5:21 for a 2:14 25K (avg 5:22!). 1 minute advantage maintained.  I remembered silently congratulated myself on reaching the halfway mark in good shape and looked forward to getting to the Southport Bridge (30K). Sadness continued playing, keeping tempo.
At Surfers, on the way to the 30K mark.
5:24 > 5:22 > 5:20 > 5:16 > 5:23 for a 2:40 30K (avg 5:18!). This was par for a 3:45 finish, if I held on to the end. This 5K was interesting, in that it’s the quieter section of the route, after the raucous Surfers Paradise area. The sun would be sapping some of the energy off and it would be where for the first time, some tiredness will creep in. I was for the most part, running alone. There were no one to pull me except for Enigma but I was in the flow of things. That was until I finally caught up with Erin, the 3:50 gun time pacer. She and her posse were moving at around 5:18 pace, so I hung with them for the next 1.5K. It was an amazing experience. Truth be told, I rarely run with pacers, preferring to dictate my own progress. But Erin was amazing. Her charges ran in a tight pack and I drafted right behind her – so close that her 2 red balloons were bumping off my forehead! And because we were a pack, I was able to feed off the cheers from the supporters – pacing teams are natural magnets for attention and shouts of encouragement. Plus with Erin herself gave out team talks. It was easy, almost effortless running with her. In fact, I had to hold myself back and stayed in her wake – didn’t want to be pushing this early. We were a pack and we were out to kill the race!
30K at the Southport Bridge and just ahead of Erin’s posse.
5:21 > 5:25 > 5:26 > 5:24 > 5:29 for a 3:08 35K (avg 5:28). I lost 7 seconds per Km here but still held a minute’s advantage over a 3:48 finish. The minute drop wasn’t great but I was still generally OK. Right after the Southport Bridge is a gentle elevation drop. The road was very wide here. I veered to the left to grab a couple of gels from the table (in retrospect, I should’ve maintained a straight trajectory) and lost some yards as a result. I kept a lookout for Nick who mentioned he would be there to take some photos, but couldn’t spot his bright orange Nomad jacket. The 3-deep crowds worked hard and runners were the beneficiaries. As a result, the sharp but short incline just past the finish on the other side wasn’t felt that much. The 5:29 split was a slow down up the bridge over Biggera Creek.
5:23 > 5:21 > 5:24 > 5:27 > 5:23 for a 3:35 40K (avg 5:27). I was definitely slowing down and Erin passed me early in this section, right after the u-turn at Runaway Bay. I had to dig deep to not let her get away. At this point, I needed a push and with the quads burning and in pain, I was afraid that they will lock up. Somehow, I was able to catch up with her. Her group had broken up, leaving only a handful with her. Then she said something which put some life back into the legs and spirit. “If you’re feeling good, you can push for a 3:45 with a 5:15 pace to the finish. Otherwise, stay with me and keep it steady. If you’re pushing ahead, this is where I say goodbye to you. You can do it!” Somehow, that got me going again. I ran knowing that the PR was mine, just a matter of how much. The pressure was completely off. I just needed to make sure the quads didn’t cramp up.
Quads were in a bad shape. Coming off the bridge, I was afraid they would seize up. Erin, with her red balloons, was just behind.
5:55 > 5:40 > 4:51. After 3Ks of clawing back into the race, I found myself at the 41K mark. Right across the road was McDonald’s that marathoners knew so well. At this stage, with the personal battle won, I opted to turn off my iPod, slow down (the 5:55 split) and take the cheers in, applauded the supporters as I ran down Marine Parade. The execution has been almost according to script, save for a couple of lost minutes. A left turn towards the GC Aquatic Centre. and the familiar 250m to go sign came up. Rounded a few curves and spotted Nick, as he had promised, to the right and waved. In the finishing straight, I passed 3 more runners and a few seconds later, it was job done!
I congratulated a woman who I tailed and basically grinned my way through the misting tunnel before collecting the fruits and drinks, medal and tee. This year, the organizers threw in a small towel as well which was sweet. The area wasn’t as crowded yet, so I took my time around the area before wandering off to the designated meeting point.
There was no one there, so I quickly collected my baggage and thanked the volunteers there and just about then, Nick arrived. Waited a little more but since no one else came along, we left and coincidentally linked up with Jeanie and her colleagues just after they wrapped up their wonton noodles at Southport!
The PF and legs held up all the way back to the hotel. The soreness would come later in the evening and would not go away for another 3 days.
Removing the PF taping back at the hotel.
The little 3:48 pace slip I tucked under my watch strap.
Now that the dust has settled, I’ve had the chance to review the race. It was executed largely to plan. A bit of slippage occurred after the 35K mark which meant I’ll need to tweak the long runs to include fast finish. I could’ve tapered better but I’d put the fast finish long runs on a higher priority. Overall strength regimen, often overlooked by runners, is one area for improvement. I didn’t encounter any cramps and hydration was good. I peed around the halfway mark too. I won’t change anything I did on race day, only the preps will need some tweaking here and there.
Late-stage pace is something I’ve to work on.
Sometimes, all it takes is a breakthrough performance to bring about a new level of belief. Remember that first sub 60-min 10K or sub 2-hour half? The first sub-4? It was only impossible until it’s done. GCAM17 was that to me. I had thought that 3:55 would be all there is for me. GCAM16’s 3:57 didn’t help either. It needed a review of my past 3 years’ training logs to convince me that my past underachievements were due to training inconsistencies – too many hills and vales in the charts.
Developing consistency alone will have already yielded improvements. GCAM17 training started with a weekly mileage of mid-50s before climbing to the 60s, 70s and 80s, with cutbacks every 3 weeks to allow recovery and prevent staleness. There was much less pressure on absolute mileage and greater focus on quality.
I can only hope that I’m able to build on this and see where I end up. It may take me a longer time compared to the others but this is my race. What made GCAM17 sweeter was the fact that my training was undertaken alongside what is now a stressful job, something that won’t change for the easier anytime soon. The value of mental fortitude can’t be played down. Like the saying goes, “Where there’s a will…” or “If you want it bad enough…” Whichever works, right?
Thanks to TEQ, EMQ and HTT for the hospitality, help and looking out for me as always. With their support, and with those from the GCAM Training Group, we were able to extend our assistance and experience to those looking to run their first GCAM. My GCAM adventure wouldn’t have been possible without these groups of nice folks. To the friend who planted the belief in me and sent over the training program, thank you. And where would we be without our family support?
EMQ outdid themselves this year leading up to the GC2018 Commonwealth Games. During the Garmin Legends Lunch, race director Cameron Hart said that this year’s edition was a test bed in preparation for Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and the improvement shows. From the increased number of spectators, inclusion of several misting stations, finisher towels for the marathoners, the event was overall even better – the best I’ve experienced in my 7 years of participation. The many PBs set are testament to the route, volunteers, crew and city. GCAM provides a course geared towards running your best time. The number of PRs recorded are super high, just ask around the Malaysians who travelled there. If your goal is that, make it your destination. If your plan is to experience a scenic and overseas race, GCAM should be right there at the top. 2018 will be GCAM’s 40th running and I heard big plans are afoot to make it an even more memorable one.
So, congrats all around to everyone – from the runners to the organizing teams!
Looking back: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 |Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10

Honda Half Marathon 2017

The 2017 Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM) was fortuitously slated right in the middle of my 12-week GCAM training, so registering for the Half Marathon (HM) distance wasn’t that hard a decision to make. Up until May 21st, I’ve done several long runs over 21K and a single 30K in training. With that in mind, the initial goal was to run the HM at goal MP which is 5:20.

But as indications of my training proceeding quite nicely, I began entertaining thoughts of using this as a PoC (Proof of Concept) for GCAM. What if I push the pace quicker than my MP, hovering between LT and tempo, right from the start, and see how far I could sustain it? If and when the wheels come off, I could always fall back to the MP and cruise home.

Photo credit: Rany (I think!)
The morning started at 3am and despite just a 5-hour sleep and a couple of flu tabs in me from the night before, I was out of the house by 3:30am, not hung over. The plan was to hop on to the complimentary train ride from the BK5 station but alas when I got there, the staff told us that it wasn’t supposed to open, contrary to what the race guide said. The nearest operational station would either be IOI Mall or Awan Mendung. I chose the latter. Thankfully, the boo-boo didn’t mess up my plans that badly and I arrived in time to get in my 10-minute warm up before joining the thousands in the starting pen. In total, there would be 36,000 runners across all categories that morning. An amazing number really, cementing SCKLM as THE premier marathon in the country. Numbers mean little, if the organization is sub-par. But I’m glad to report that Dirigo Events and its partners delivered. In fact, I believe it’s the best KL Marathon I’ve experienced.

I found myself standing next to Cheong and just a few rows ahead of us, Calvin. The 2:00 pacer stood just off my shoulder to my rear. The morning wasn’t that warm but humid so with me still sweating away from the warm up, I needed to constantly sip from my bottle of Hammer Fizz. The vibes around the race precinct were great. The emcees were doing a great job with the crowd, the drones buzzed overhead, crew directing runners to their designated pens using large boards. I didn’t have any checked baggage so was there very lean and light.

The start was fast and a little surreal because I can’t remember any recent halves that I’ve done in KL. So the route, while familiar to me as a driver, was almost new and fresh to me as a runner. The first couple of Ks were comfortable even if too fast at close to 5:00 pace. Yet, Cheong and I were exchanging bewildered looks when the 2-hour pacer settled a few meters ahead of us! That was just too fast. I reckon the pacees must’ve breathed a sigh of relief when the pacer eventually dropped back, hopefully before flatlining his charges. Lovely traffic management and scores of crew made sure we ran the right way with no incidents. Before I knew it, we were already right in KL’s Golden Triangle along Jalan Bukit Bintang, heading to the Tun Razak intersection. From there we took a left towards Tun Razak-Jalan Ampang intersection. Normally, this junction is a traffic nightmare so it was awesome running through the wide roads with no worries. My plan was to simulate a marathon strategy and thus my gel intake intervals were executed likewise. 1 pack every 25 minutes or 5K whichever came first. I peeked at the watch at 10K mark and it showed 51:15.

A few Ks later we took the left ramp to Jalan Jelatek in order to link up with the AKLEH elevated highway. Here my pace dropped a little negotiating the ramps while Cheong continued his merry way. He would remain ahead of me from this stage on, even though I kept him in sight right up to the final 3K. AKLEH proved to be quite enjoyable and I was happy to note that I was on my side of the highway running back into the city and not the other side where the 5-6 hour marathoners could be seen snaking their way out of the city. My pace were considerably good against my marathon plans but wouldn’t have been sustainable in a marathon scenario. To hammer home the point, the aggressive early pace took its toll and boy, did the last 5K hurt. I even had time to stop for a photo with Wan at the 17K Lucozade Hydration Station.

I couldn’t be happier when the sight of the Moorish minarets of the KTM station and a bit later, the clock tower of the Sultan Salahuddin Building came into view. I crossed the line in 1:54:49 (average pace 5:22) which meant I was 2-3 seconds slower per K than what I would’ve liked. But then I raced this from the beginning which wouldn’t be how I’d run the marathon. Overall, it was a good training session and one that offered plenty of takeaways such as where I should be beefing up for the marathon!

As for SCKLM, it’s really the one to run in the country. Personally, I’d run the Half as the route is more enjoyable, and I’m able to finish in a shorter span of time. From my perspective, there’s absolutely no complain with regards to the traffic management, water stations, crew and race precinct. Kudos to the race organizer, and the huge team working behind the scene to make the event such a great success. I’ll definitely return next year for a better outing, hopefully with a bigger GCAM crew.

Toyo Tires Putrajaya 100 Miles (78K) Race Report

When entries for this year’s final edition of the Putrajaya 100 (rebranded Toyo Tires Putrajaya 100) opened some months ago, I didn’t bite. It has been a bruising year at work and I’ve struggled with moving the mileage beyond what’s needed for general fitness. In case you’re unfamiliar with the venue, Putrajaya didn’t get to be infamous for nothing. Even when Nick signed up for the 78K category, he earned more ribbing from the gang than admiration. There was even a hint of sympathy for him too.

So it was unbelievably perplexing, that in the course of  the next couple of months, more of us found ourselves to be part of Nick’s troupe. For the life of me, even now, I can’t believe I was suckered in. And like lemmings, Lum, Cherly and Jeanie came along too! The monies paid, there was really little chance of not turning up, even if all the running I did leading up to that night was just the maintenance sort, fluctuating between 30-50K weeks.

However, at least on the runners’ side, was the favourable weather forecast for the night. Evenings have been stormy (conditions which I love) and certainly beat being put on a slow roast. The list of mandatory items were long and carrying the load presented an equally challenging task for the long haul. But you can’t negotiate on safety.

The plan was to pack as light as I could. Where possible, I brought along alternative gear in my carry box. The red Saucony Palladium packable jacket was eventually replaced by a RM5 Daiso poncho when rain didn’t appear to be on the cards. I also reduced the number of nut bars I carried and ditched the single pack of gel, relying on 2 remaining bars and a bag of mixed roasted nuts for fuel. From my experience in TNF Hong Kong, my primarily nuts fuel plan worked pretty well, staving off hunger while providing denser calories. A single 500ml soft flask was included being a much lighter option, instead of the UD bottle. I decided to bring along a clear lens shade as eye protection from rain, insects and what-have-you.

Book was placed there as a reference for the pack size.

My final load was comfortably packed into the UD SJ pack. The new Salomon 1L race vest would’ve been ideal but there wasn’t much room in that one, unfortunately. Apparels were also of the bright and light variety, Saucony’s Speed of Lite vest and shorts, a buff and a safety vest over all that. Footwear duties went to the Kinvara 7 instead of the earlier intended Guide 9. Again, it was part of the “go light” strategy. Socks were the Pacific & Co ones which feature reflective nubs. No compression wear. Drop bag facilities were extended to only the 100K and 100 milers, so the Petzl Nao will have to be carried throughout my 78K distance.

Frank was kind enough to drive Jeanie and I to Putrajaya and since we were early, we made a short detour to Equine Park for a light snack. I had a large bowl of ABC to stay hydrated and cool myself down but skipped actual food since I wasn’t hungry. It’s never easy running in a heavily stuffed mode. When we got to the race site, and having gone through kit inspection and race number collection, it was just chilling around sipping on the Americano which I’d brought along. It was getting clearer that there would be no rain that night. Thankfully, the air was cooling with a slight breeze going.

Prior to flag off, Arman gave a quick briefing covering the important safety reminders and route updates. Finally, along with 40 or so other runners, I was finally let off. I emptied my mind of any doubts or emotions and just went with the flow. The number of 78K runners was smaller than the nearly 100 52K and close to 140 runners for the 100K categories.

Photo credit: Rany Tan

With Jeanie running strongly, I decided to hang back. Nick, Lum, Cherly, Frank and Leong (who turned up to lend support) were all close by and we took things really easy, walking frequently and not the least bothered that people were passing us. The night was still young and self-preservation was of utmost importance.

Photo credit: Run & Explore

When we got near to the hotel where Nick’s wife was waiting, we put on a grand show of 5:45 surge. Naturally as soon as we passed the section, we resumed our walk break! Nothing like these nonsensical moments to take the mind off pressing matters 🙂 .

Photo credit: Nick’s wife. I was just a blur. 5:45 pace ma….

We got to CP1 pretty smoothly and after a quick refill of the bottle and a bite of 2 slices of bread,  we resumed our journey. Several mouthfuls of ice-cold Coke helped to freshen things up too. Not long after that, we had more company in the form of CY, Richi, Zijill and Julia who biked along. As much as I’d like that ice-cold beer (CY and Richi kept reminding Nick and I), I kept my focus on the task at hand. Thankfully, the McDonald’s along the way was so crowded I wasn’t tempted to head in for a snack!

Photo credit: CY

It goes without saying that with many of the gang present, there would be more than one photo taken!  I felt a little bad as we were proceeding rather slowly, and these guys were on bikes. After CP2, we lost them, thinking that they could’ve backtracked to support Frank, Jeanie and Cherly. It must’ve been difficult for them but they somehow appeared again when we arrived at CP3! We’ve covered 26K, which wasn’t even halfway but I was comforted that we’ve about to start the difficult 13K to CP4, the halfway point, and the same distance back to CP5 (CP3) for a total of 26K.

Photo credit: CY

With the clock past midnight, Nick and I gingerly (and should I say, briskly) got through the Muslim cemetery stretch before the route joined up with the highway to CP4. Along with Nick, we covered another 6K before I spotted someone hustling at great speed towards us. Somehow I knew from the running form, that the person was Frank and I was proven right. He had put in some serious afterburners to have caught up with us. Jeanie and Cherly were still in the game much further back.

As we continued our run-walk strategy towards CP4, egging Nick along, we cheered the returning runners from the 100K category. Then there was Jeff, on his way back and in the lead in the 100 miles category. After sharing some pain management tips with me, we wished him the best as we moved along. Several stretches of this sector were in total darkness, so it was great to have Frank’s powerful headlamp to complement our Petzls.

Status update at approx 35K mark for us, from eventual 100-mile champ Jeff.

CP4 was located at the top of a steep climb but boy, was it a relief for me to get there. Nick was in some pain with his inflammed knee. We urged him to consider resting longer and should conditions turned for the worse, he could at least hitch a ride on any marshall vehicle heading back to the staging area or earlier CP. With some hope that somehow he’d make it, Frank and I departed for the final half of the race. Perhaps triggered by copious quantity of Coke, there was a greater sense of urgency and I felt that the timing was right to focus and close down the distance to the next 2 CPs (52K and 58K respectively) the best we can. My legs were still fine and there was some confidence in my strides and I thought, “Just go with the flow”. With Frank, we made some good progress, passing runners along the way.

Then in the distance, we spotted 2 lights – it was Jeanie and Cherly! So good to see that they were still in it! And with that we went our ways. Our spirits lifted, no doubt. Next party we ran into was Piew, Yan Leng, Kien Siong and Li Leen – our next bunch of supporters. We hit the 2 CPs in very good timing, with pace ranging from 6:10 to 6:30, passing more runners than ever before. Fatigue started creeping in only after the 58K mark, with the discomfort stemming more from the pain in the metatarsals than anything else. I had encountered no cramps, no gas in the stomach, no water retention issues on the extremities, just some mild discomfort in the tummy – nothing a hot drink can’t settle. I’d been fueling well on nuts, bars and some bread slices but a hot drink would’ve been great. But Frank has been kind enough to pace along and we were still power walking!

By the time we embarked on our final 8K, Piew and Yan Leng had had to leave us. The progress was slow but it was already too near to completely stop.

7K to go! Photo credit: Khairul Nizam

With 4K to go, Frank and I were operating on getting to the next lamp-post or bin and so on, but with the spirits lifting as we drew ever nearer to the finish, we ran more than we walked. We passed 2 more of our category before crossing the finish line in 12:55, and not a moment sooner as the day was warming up quickly.

Relieved to have finished. Photo credit: Jeff

All in all, it was a great outing for me. My expectations had been really low, with hardly any significant mileage, but with friends’ support and right fueling, I somehow finished in a relatively comfortable state, with no injuries. Thanks to the GCAM gang, whose names I mentioned earlier, for turning up and Frank for not abandoning me over the 2nd half of the race. We covered the 2nd half faster than the 1st which was a wisely executed strategy, getting us the 5th and 6th position respectively. It was only at the finish that I learnt that Nick has decided to stop at the 52K mark on account of his condition. We were just glad he made the hard call as there are upcoming races to be run – and yes, we need him for more vain shots! I should thank all the volunteers, crew and the PACAT organizing team for the hard work out there. It’s never easy putting everything together and staying out there for the runners for such a long period of time! This year’s edition was the last time we run the roads of Putrajaya and we look forward to finding out where next year’s edition will be held.

Saucony was also a sponsor for the Toyo Tires Putrajaya 100 this year and all 100 mile finishers, over 20 of them, won themselves new pairs of shoes!

Photo courtesy of Frank.

With the longest run done, it’s time to enjoy a little downtime before revving up the legs for an early 2017 marathon over the next few weeks.

Note: I wonder if there’s any leftover Sapporo’s from that night? 😉

CXP Run 2015

Small neighborhood runs are interesting. The distance is usually short, minimal frills and very nonchalant about proceedings. Always refreshing to include these into the training regime, more so if it’s not far from home.

The CXP Run put together by the Taylor’s College in SS15 was one such event. Nick had alerted me on this and with a RM35 entry fee, it was a go for me since it nicely replaces the usual track work. By 6am we were already warming up around SS15. The start venue was quiet as if nothing was going on on a lazy Sunday morning. Only when we were back to the campus at 6:30am did I see people slowly ambling in. It was clear then that the race won’t start on time. These college kids really need some discipline in keeping to the clock!

It was about then when I noticed that my pinned race bib had disintegrated at the corners. The material used wasn’t water-resistant and as a living person, I do sweat. The paper had simply melted away and I thought I’d better inform the folks at the Secretariat. The conversation went something like this:

JP: Ummm… I’d just like to point out to you that your paper bib melts. Just so that you’re aware if runners come back without them.
Girl-Student (whom I later found out was the Race Director): Oh! Do you want a new one?
JP: But that’s not the point, the new one’s gonna end up the same way. It melted just with me doing my warm-up. (At that point I also realized that there are no names tagged to the bib numbers, so winners can basically be anyone).Lady bystander: But, you’re an elite. We, the slower ones, won’t sweat as much. (Misguided and unsolicited statement at every level).
JP: Right. I just want you to know. (Before walking off, sweating even more profusely).

 

Before the start and bib-meltdown already in progress. Photo credit: Mrs Captain.

6:45am and there were still no indications of the race starting. We hung around the gates trying to predict which one will be the designated start when the Race Director and her crew turned up. Things got quite funny when she climbed on top of a stool and proclaimed that “she was quite unstable”. Quite concerned, I asked if she meant mentally or physically being in a precarious position. Next, she asked us to stay behind the line. All of us runners looked quizzically at one another wondering, “Which line?” because there was none. There was no banner nor any arch put up, so we, like what Barney the Purple Dinosaur always said, “used our imagination”. She must have realized that we should be starting from the main road and thus we were ushered to the new spot right beside Asia Cafe. The stress must’ve got to her because she started answering her phone calls while still holding on to the hailer. She was such a hoot and you’ve got to credit her for doing this on top of her coursework. Setting up an event isn’t easy on any account. Once again, we toed the imaginary line before we were let off. There were no age categories and runners were simply grouped into the 10 or 5K distances.

3 young ones immediately broke into a full on sprint which shocked the lead cyclist who started pedaling like crazy to stay in front. Fortunately for the cyclist, one of the younglings fizzled out at the end of the road but 3 other took his pace in the lead. I broke free of the masses before even before McD’s but Nick was already ahead. Subang is full of long and short inclines and racing here as never been easy. I saw that I was in the 7th position with the leading guy about 300 meters ahead. One vet was in pursuit alongside his younger friend. Nick was making good progress and basically everyone held on to the same position most of the way. If you’re familiar with Subang, the roads around the township see heavy traffic nearly every day of the week. There were no road closures, not even a lane. We were therefore running in our own little imaginary (again, thanks Barney!) paths, trying to keep safe and literally survive the race.

The damn stomach issues cropped up again – it’s definitely a pace thing, now that I’ve observed it – and first it knocked the wind off me and later dropped me like a sad story 3 times. Any intentions of catching up with the 2 runners ahead fizzled. This was turning into a fight of not dropping anymore position rather than timing (which was already a goner in my case). Like a case of separated twins, Nick was also off-pace from his ITB issues. My bib had already come off the pins and I was left clutching at it like a baton for much of the way. I was passed by another and with 1K to go, Nick caught me and we finished together in 50 minutes and change – reckon we were in 8th and 9th, judging from the race progress.

Other than some vouchers and a yogurt bar, there was nothing else in the finish pack, so we left for a light breakfast around the corner. I’m glad there’s no more 10K races leading up to GCAM and can move on to longer distances done at a more race specific pace. Thanks to Nick for ferrying me to and from the race site.

Newton Challenge 25K 2012

The objectives I had heading into the Newton Challenge were twofold. Firstly it was to be an opportunity to log my first >30K of the year and secondly to just survive the tough course. Last year I logged a total of 43K (actual race distance of 25.9K) for a 4:54 finish. The actual race itself was completed in a disastrous 2:51. If you’re interested in the 2010 race report head on here.

Now that you’ve read the 2010 report, you’ll understand the reason for my second objective don’t you? Some modifications to the plans for this year. Instead of logging 17K to top off the race distance, I opted to just cover 8K. I figured there’s really no point in running myself into the ground and achieving nothing with a marathon distance training run – I was afterall not down to run any ultra. Any chance of getting enough sleep was dashed with the setting off of the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t even the Chinese New Year and there was already a big bang show of noise. That ruckus resulted in just 3 hours of light sleep for me.

Group 2 (Calvin and Malcalm not in the picture) about to start out.
Group 2 (Calvin and Malcalm not in the picture) about to start out. Photo courtesy of Tey ET.
With Jeff and Mohan before the start. We were lined up close to the back of the crowd. Photo courtesy of Pui San.
With Jeff and Mohan before the start. We were lined up close to the back of the crowd. Photo courtesy of Pui San.

Not wanting to end up rushing back to the starting line for the main event, the group comprising of Calvin, Malcalm, Loke, Wind and I promptly set off at 4:20am. The plan was very simple – head out 30 minutes and return the same time. Jeff, Frank and Roy joined us not long after we started – they were on the way to completing their 17K pre-race run. As it turned out we from the 2nd group managed to cover the 8.27K out and back with adequate time to spare for refuel and re-kit. The average pace of 6:36 really told the story and my average HR was at a low 134. I emptied 3/4 of a bottle of pre-soaked chia seed, 2 packets of gel (thanks for the Roctane, Frank), and changed into a fresh vest. The 2XU cap, shades, BV calf sleeves, Brooks Infiniti III shorts, Kinsei socks and Kinvara ViziPro were my kit for the race.

Speeding up after clearing the Ammah Hill on the return. Photo courtesy of Runner Footprints.Plenty of new year greetings were shared as we waited for the start. The strategy was to run a conservative pace up till the last 5K, when I’ll then amp up the pace to a half marathon and subsequently 15K race pace. I only needed to ensure that I cover the first section before the Ammah Hill conservatively as I find that section tougher than the second part. The execution was according to plan and I let all the runners go about their own pace and not get suckered into running another person’s race. My pace fluctuated between 6:06 – 6:34 the first 5K, which meant that I was running well within my comfort zone. My breathing only laboured in the tough climbs – and were not even hard in the other sections. I skipped the first water station at the 4K mark since I was well hydrated. Took my first gel at the 8K mark and pretty much stuck to this interval until the end of the race.

Heading towards the finish. It was starting to get warm. Photo courtesy of Cham LK.
Heading towards the finish. It was starting to get warm. Photo courtesy of Cham LK.
Kelvin (in red) checking out my hair for dandruff?! Photo courtesy of Tey ET.
Kelvin (in red) checking out my hair for dandruff?! Photo courtesy of Tey ET.
Still smiling! Photo courtesy of Kelvin Yew.

It was great to see Kei Ming, Jason Loh and Kah Wai manning the junctions directing the runners. Their cheers were welcoming indeed. After the 5th K, my pace only dropped to a slow of 6:03 3 times. The rest of the splits were under 6 minutes. Despite the encouraging pace I was pretty much running based on feeling. And to that I was very conscious to keep my pace within my capability. No drastic moves until the final 5K, I kept reminding myself. When the 12K mark was hit, I found that I was still running so very comfortably, so I allowed a slight increase in pace. And held it until the 19K mark when, as planned, the pace was quickened substantially up to the finish line for a 2:22 finish (self timed) and an appoximately 30-minute improvement over 2010’s timing. The distance was a little short at 24.4K (for a total of 32K run).

Streeetch!
Streeetch!
Aladdin Runnerz and friends
Aladdin Runnerz and friends
First medal of the year. Compared to the ultra light Nike vests that I typically wear, the asics was heavier but nevertheless it performed pretty well in the humid climate.
First medal of the year. Compared to the superb ultra light Nike vests that I typically wear, the asics was heavier but nevertheless it performed pretty well in the humid climate.

I’m overall satisfied with the race, no complaints whatsoever. Performance and fueling plans were good but can be better and with a number of over-30Ks planned over a period of 4 weeks from next week, I hope I’ll be able to pace even better. The slight route modification made the race easier certainly. The starting time of 5:30am helped too. All in all a perfect start to the day and year.

Stats:

Tokyo Marathon 2012

6am and the iPhone alarm rang. The buzz was really not needed as I’d 2 snorers who were cooking up an operatic duet throughout the night. You can’t tell the maestros to clamp up when they’re inspired and putting up with other folks in a confined space are all part of dorm stay experience. It was different in NYC as I had fellow runners Seow Ping and Geraldine with me and the 3 other guys who shared our room were not in most of the time. Then we had the dorm to ourselves much of the time. In Tokyo, most of my room mates were one-nighters, even stressed up workers who were just passing through. I packed ear plugs but was afraid to use it for fear of not hearing the alarm. To make matters worse, there were no single rooms available so I needed to gut it out another night. Chalk that down to learning. Unless the entire dorm room is made up of runners, I’ll opt for a hotel room the next time.

The timing chip is the pink rectangular plastic

As my baggage were all packed the night before, I was out within 30 minutes. Mawar and her entourage who happened to stay at the same hostel were just stirring. I made a brief stop at Excelsior Caffe before heading to nearby Shinjuku. The plan was to meet up with Chloe and the rest of the Malaysian group at the Washington Hotel, which from earlier research, can be accessed via an underpass from the Shinjuku Station South Exit. The plan totally went down the drain when for the life of me I couldn’t locate it. Asking around only generated perplexed looks. I told myself to get topside so that I could get my bearings right. Once topside those plans too were screwed as the entire area was teeming with people. Other than the twin towers of the Tokyo government building, I couldn’t tell one building from the other. People were walking in all directions so there wasn’t any obvious way to go – if I know Japanese, it probably would’ve helped as there were plenty of volunteers. Some frantic moments later I SMSed Chloe to forget about waiting for me as the clock was ticking down. Furthermore the other guys were already at her place and were good to go.

Walking towards the race precinct
Hordes of runners. Most important is to get the bearings right.
Stuffing the man into the bowling pin costume.

A few traffic cops I asked had no clue where the Washington is, and all gave me different directions that I wasn’t prepared to risk heading to. I was at the point of panicking on how to manage my bags when a fellow runner, a Japanese speaking Caucasian, who saw that I was in trouble spoke to the cop but she too couldn’t get any clear picture for me.

It became obvious that in order for me to still run without carrying my bags along the whole course would be to stash my backpack into the clear deposit bag. Which was a tricky thing to do since it’s a 43-liter bagpack! And I wasn’t sure if Tokyo was going to be like NYC where nothing else are allowed into the deposit bag other than visible items themselves – no other bags nor plastic wraps. And I was going to put a big black bag into a bag! The good Samaritan runner and I did just that. Inspired by videos of conductors pushing commuters into a packed Tokyo train, both of us pushed, squeezed and punched the backpack into the deposit bag, ripping a hole in the process. The clear bag is made really tough and other than the small rip, we eventually did it. With a wish for good luck, she pointed me to the direction of the waiting baggage vans which I made just in time. In my haste I forgot to ask her name but did thank her profusely. When I got to the trucks (mine was # 32)

The volunteers taped up my pack, laughed at me as I struggled with my numbed fingers to tie up the cord and graciously wished me luck in my race. On the way to my designated G corral, I joined the queue to the porta-potties while munching on a Clif Bar and took in a GU. 10 minutes later I was already part of the 35,000 strong ready to race. With a field this big, G corral was located a kilometer to the starting mat.

The wind dampened the spirit of race morning as we stood in the open. As TV crews were running here and there interviewing runners and helicopters whirred above, the mood was rather quiet were I stood. The body still ached from the rushing around from Osaka to Tokyo late Friday night. I’d overestimated the abuse my body could take, the choice of opting for 2 large backpacks rather than 1 roller bag a very bad one. My cousin was shocked at how heavy my packs were. The pain and soreness were troubling enough that I popped a couple of Tylenols and a lozenge for the throat before bedtime on race eve.

After like forever standing in the freezing wind, the skies to the left suddenly erupted in balls of puff. The cannons had been fired, a cheer went through the crowd and the race was underway. For the leaders, at least. We were still standing there and only a few minutes later started shuffling forward, stopped and resumed again. Adrenaline was slowly taking over as I took a left with the thousands of runners to the main avenue. The atmosphere along the main road was fantastic. The earlier airburst of the trademark sakura and heart-shaped paper shower littered the ground as runners made their way through the streets of Tokyo.

First K was slow due to the crowd unlike NYC and Gold Coast, when race pace was a get go from the the start. It would be the 2nd K before I could run under a 6-minute pace. However, it was obvious from the 1st kilometer that the Tokyo spectators and volunteers would be special. I thought that NYC would be a very difficult act to follow. Where NYC comes alive once the runners get off the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn, Tokyo had thousands of spectators from the very beginning and the spectacle never lets up. I was advised by a globe-trotting marathoner that Tokyo should be run as a fun race because there was so much to absorb gut-wise – spectators offering everything from M&Ms, miso soup, plums, oranges, bananas, chocolates, pickles, fluffy pastries – a veritable buffet of carbs and sugar. Your visual and auditory senses will be maxed out as well. Performers range from rock bands, disco dancers, cute dancing kids, 2 YMCA-singing groups, belly dancers in costumes out of the Arabian Nights, old folks singing and performing traditional songs in front of the Asakusa Temple, and basically hundreds of thousands of shouting and screaming spectators. Tokyo may not have the horns of the Brooklyn fire trucks but she has many taiko drummers keeping beat. It’s like the crowd of NYC’s First Avenue throughout the 42 kilometers. An image that will stick in my mind long after the race was the volunteer who was on the verge of losing her voice but was still screaming encouragements near the finishing stretch.

The runners themselves are no less colourful. You can easily spot Power Rangers, Samurai Warriors, Ultraman, Pikachu, Doraemon, Panda and Spiderman costumes amongst the runners. Quite a number had the Tokyo Tower and Sky Tree replicas poking out of their heads. A few days after the race as more and more photos were uploaded to Facebook, I saw that there was even a guy who ran as Jesus Christ – barefoot and topless, in loin cloth carrying a cross! That definitely put a new twist to the phrase “on a wing and a prayer!”

Photo courtesy of David Ong aka Happy Feet
Photo courtesy of David Ong aka Happy Feet

Meanwhile the race was unfolding for me. It hadn’t warmed up by much and my pacing had been very comfortable (28:54 at 5K, 58:12 at 10K). It was still very cold and breathing through the mouth took some getting used to. But I was moving well and I believe adrenaline numbed whatever physical soreness I had. The course offered several opportunities of catching the elites on the other side of the road but I missed seeing Haile, the African contingent and the top Japanese elites around the Roppongi stretch. I saw the chasing packs behind the leaders and what a sight that was. Totally inspiring. People were talking about maintaining smaller steps and higher cadence. But in all the major races, I’ve yet to see these runners in the top packs. The runners in the upper echelons possess long flowing strides and maintain long “air time”. Very quick touch-and-go and they’re off.

Photo credit: Photorun

My pacing has been rather consistent and my race has been rather uneventful, which was great. My PF issues have been non-existent probably numbed by the cold, no cramps, no blisters, no rogue pebble in the shoes. Status was green and I was able to cover extensive stretches in the zone. As I was carrying a bottle of sports drink, I skipped the water stations in the first 12K and from then onwards, drank from alternate stations. I took a pack of GU Roctane every 8K, which caused some bloating and gas. My only struggle from the halfway mark onwards (about 2:01) was my bladder. Every single toilet stops had long queues. Losing time was never a concern of mine but allowing the body to cool down further will present some issues of having to get back the momentum. In fact some waiting runners were seen jogging around the toilets to stay warm! And so I held on. And ran on.

Other than the hyper crowds, my race stayed pretty uneventful. I appreciated the bursts of energy from the bananas, every now and then. I only noticed that I started dropping pace from 26K onwards when I slowed down to 6:0x-ish pace. It was more a gradual phenomenon rather than sudden thing. The cold water served along the route had started to cause some stomach issues and I did consider emptying my bladder on the run but somehow just couldn’t do it.

Ginza was undoubtably the hardest stretch and I believe that only the sight of the elites on the opposite side (35K for them) prevented me from sliding further because I made a conscious rally at that point to not lose more ground. I dug in and clung on to a pace which ranged between 5:54 to 6:12. That got me to the 36K mark. It was great and the crowds were the thickest I’ve seen in this part of the route and they certainly played a big part too in getting the weary legs moving.

Fuel needle near zero

37K was where things started to get unravel. Unsurprisingly it had to do with a bridge. I walked up that one and from then on, I stopped looking at my watch. My race was over and it was damage control time, employing some shuffling and walking. I was depleted yet I was glad that other than the wall, there were no lower back and PF issues. With the proceedings the way it was, I hopped into the toilet for a well-deserved release. More walking ensued. The last 2Ks were very tough, inclines littered the way in the Ariake area. I ambled through 41K in 6:59 and 14 minutes later turned right towards the finish line. On the stage were the winners, including Haile who looked rather despondent with his 2:08 fourth-placed finish. My timing of 4:24.57 on paper is about a minute slower than my 2011 Gold Coast Marathon but I was surprised to find that the distance of the Tokyo race is 42.9K, nearly a whole kilometer longer. My friends also had similar readings on their Garmins with the max recorded at 43.1K. It the distance was indeed longer, I’d probably had ran and walked faster than Gold Coast 🙂 . Considering the physical toll my body was under, I was ecstatic with my timing. The slightly conservative approach minimized the effects of my pre-race fatigue.

Once the finish line was crossed, we had to walk about 200 meters to where the post-race refreshments were handed out, including the finisher towel, drinks, sports sprays and bananas. The volunteers’ genuine graciousness made me rather misty eyed and I was really touched by the show of warmth on this cold and overcast day. If not for the race, it would’ve been a downright gloomy day. After taking a breather and changed back into my dry clothes, I hobbled a mad 2K to the train station. Due to the setup of the finishing area at the Tokyo Big Sight, tired runners were forced to walk a ridiculously long way to exit the area. That was perhaps, the only downer. I texted Chloe that I’d like to bail out of the post-race gathering before making a long trip back to the hostel. I spent the night doing laundry before deciding that it was time for some undisturbed sleep in the privacy of a single room. Yup, I upgraded my bed from the dorm to a proper room. I dozed off to sleep with no problems basked in the warmth of the supporters and volunteers of the Tokyo Marathon, my 19th. My 20th shall be in sunny Gold Coast Australia!

Mass “changing room”

 

Learnings:

  1. When travelling to an overseas race, preserve your body. Take the roller bag and don’t be a hero by using a 50-liter backpack on top of a 43-liter one. Your shoulders and back will thank you.
  2. Spend a bit more on a hotel room. Sleep is very important and you’ll have privacy to get ready for the race without disturbing your dorm residents.
  3. For a point-to-point race, stay closer to the finishing line.

Why one must run Tokyo at least once:

  1. The volunteers and spectators are spectacular.
  2. Experience the Japanese culture and hospitality.
  3. Excellent race experience, from the sights to the array of food/refreshments served.
  4. While not as flat as Gold Coast, it’s still a PR course. The last 8K will be over rolling streets and crossings. The weather is tricky – cold this year but warmer in 2011.

Not so good:

  1. The post-race Death March, exiting the finishing area to the train station.
  2. Cost for Malaysians. While accommodation and flight tickets present great deals if sourced early, food and transportation are expensive. It may be cheaper to fly Delta from Singapore to Narita and leave after the race.

For fantastic photos, check out the gallery at Lets Run.

BSN Putrajaya Night Half Marathon 2012

There were so much indication that it would be raining cats and dogs (and the odd toads too) as I drove towards the race venue. Flashes of lightning streaked menacingly in the distance and the skies were as dark as the depths of Arkham. I had Yvonne on tow but despite being earlier than usual, we found ourselves having to take the scenic route to Precinct 3 due to the road closures. Let it be known early in the post that there were 2 things I dislike – running in Putrajaya and running at night. Because the place is mostly landscaped, Putrajaya has some of the most rolling terrain out there. But after getting some superhero vibes from Spongebob, I thought these won’t be factor. The goal was multifold – first, practice holding back. This was to help secure my “pacee” to a good start and also to practice pace discipline for the marathon. Second objective was run by gut feel and not depend so much on the watch. Finally while not a personal best time, a 1:52 would be a bonus.

Are you ready kids?!

I opted to keep the poncho in the car as the skies didn’t look like it was going to open up – the breeze just wasn’t strong enough to signal impending rain. Perhaps it would be later. In any case I had my cap on and the large open mesh Nike Speed Cage+ was the shoe of choice. The Kinvara stayed in the car (rhymed?). Diet had been patchy during the day – had a late soupy breakfast at 11am, rice with potatoes, veg and tofu at 3pm and a small bowl of noodles at 6:10pm. In between 3 bananas while waiting for the race to start, I drained a bottle of sports drink while a smaller bottle filled with pre-soaked chia seeds in raw honey and lime juice would be my fuel for the distance. I had 2 gels clipped to my belt just in case. Some dynamic stretching and then it was time to head to the starting area.We were actually a little late joining the throng of half marathoners at the starting line and as such we were lodged close to the back. No choice then but to worm our way politely towards the middle of the thick crowd. Plenty of Excuse me‘s and Thank you’s.

A few minutes later, we were let off. but for more than 2 minutes we were still standing there wondering if a technical issue had cropped up. It turned out that the starting mat were too narrow and the runners had to funnel through a tight area. A slight tinge of regret crept up – perhaps I should’ve gone further up. All that thoughts vanished as soon as we’re off the start. The road opened up and there wasn’t any excessive dodging of slower runners. My pacee stuck close to me. While the plan was to run according to feel, I wanted to check on the pace of the first 2K to ensure we weren’t running too fast. I brushed off the 5:10 first K as screwy – the watch can’t be right. 2nd K was where I wanted it to be 5:28. Then I shut off the reliance of the watch and just concentrate on getting the rhythm going. Even at this early stage we were passing more runners than we were being passed.

Despite the ups and downs of the roads my pace was reasonably consistent. I took my own natural fuel according to the visual cues of the water stations and therefore could bypass the crowd at those areas. All I needed to do was to just keep the momentum going. The crowd support, at least in the beginning of the race, put together by the organizers were superb and very vocal. Certainly a mark or two above the dour racing atmosphere in this country. It was then that I noticed the heavy breathing of my pacee. Told her to focus on staying relaxed and that we were doing fine, however in the middle of being in my own world and the pacing, I lost her somewhere before the 10K mark. I reckon she wouldn’t be far behind and would have me in her visuals.I passed my colleague Zul who was running the marathon (he was busy snapping photos!) at the Sri Saujana Bridge. Further up, I chatted and passed Winnie before literally running into Pui San (luckily we didn’t go sprawling on the tarmac). You could safely guess that if those 2 ladies are spotted, Mohan can’t be too far away. True enough after squinting hard (must be the age), he recognized me heading towards him and the bantering about Air Asia and photo opp ensued. Time to go!

A nice touch was the placement of large LCD distance markers (complete with canned cheering, LOL!) at some major checkpoints. I noticed running past 3 such displays in my half marathon race. Traffic control had been flawless and everyone could concentrate on running. There were even supporters in superhero and Star Wars costumes. I thought Darth Vader would strike out at the passing runners with his light saber but thankfully he waved it like a traffic warden. The initial apprehension on Precincts 7 and 9 were non-issues and were in fact the most enjoyable long stretch I went through. I was still totally aerobic and hitting the 10K mark in 53 minutes were very very easy. Confidence had build up along the way and the rolling roads were no longer a factor. I had a decision to make, to keep going at this relaxed pace or to give it a go at racing. Giving it a go won the night. At the top of one of the ramps heading towards Shangri-La Hotel, I came up to my training partner Calvin. I didn’t get to link up with him at the start so it was nice to have caught up. I called out to him and said there were just 9K to go. 9K compared to the tough 32K progressions done. 9K which is less than 8 loops around the KLCC Park. I caught a downhill and rolled down expecting him to follow.

Things only started to get a little challenging the last 3K when a stitch hit. No choice then but to grit it out without slowing down. The form was affected but can’t slow down by much. Just keep going and ignore the 4 pebbles lodged inside my shoe! I’ve problems of this nature with the Lunaracer and the Cage. After a while the pebbles didn’t matter anymore as they’re embedded into the insole with each step. Those that were shifting about inside, one just had to ignore. I refused to check the watch. At this point it didn’t matter anymore. 2 more turns to the finish, I passed Michelle who was visibly struggling – not only affected by illness but also the grief of the passing of fellow runner Meei Meei. Luckily Raymond was close by and in attendance and KP Tan was around too.

Lots of huffing and after spotting KA and Ben in the crowd by the finishing chute, I crossed the line just missing the bonus goal by a minute at 1:53.15. Got my finishing pack and drinks and ambled up to a quiet section to rest up.

With Adeline. Her 50D sure beats my 8-year old S3 IS.

Just as I stood up to walk to the car to change into dry clothes, I bumped into Adeline (actually we spotted each other at the same time!). Chatted a bit before hustling to the car. Changed up and I was back to the finish area distributing the race entry forms for the Run For Your Heart and MPIB Run. After that it was time to link up with my pacee whom I thought did well considering the conditions she was running under. As I said she really gutted it out and will have her PR another day (she can take heart in a points I mentioned in a recent post). It’s just the nature of racing. Some days everything comes together, some days despite what you do or how you’ve prepared, things just don’t align themselves. It comes down to how we manage with what we’re dealt with, which was why I thought she did great.

With newly wed Stanley.
Gone but not forgotten. Many ran in memory of Cheah Meei Meei who passed after returning from her winning outing at the Perhentian Island Challenge. Many drove to her wake after the race.

I had a good race – it was more of a training run actually. It needed to be a strong and focused run and I think I nailed that. The legs are strong and the focus is there.I surprisingly found the rolling terrain quite enjoyable, what with the cooperative weather. What counts on Nov 25 would be pace discipline. I’ve a final 32K to go next weekend before the double 11K running legs at the Powerman Duathlon. Need to make those workouts count.

Splits: 5:10 > 5:27 > 5:24 > 5:21 > 5:30 > 5:24 > 5:18 > 5:15 > 5:21 > 5:10 > 5:15 > 5:05 > 5:05 > 5:15 > 5:15 > 4:58 > 5:10 > 5:21
5K – 26:52 | 10K – 53:24 | 15K – 1:19 | 21K – 1:50