Honda Half Marathon 2016

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

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2012

Now that the dust is a little settled and I’m coming to terms of resuming the humdrum haze filled days, there’s a wee bit of time to do this race report, and then some. Once I got over the initial disappointment, my 20th turned out rather well, if a little different. It has a lot to do with what the Gold Coast has lined up for visitors, the presence of many familiar faces and meeting of new friends.

Arrival and Day 1
I’ve mentioned more than a few times of my loss of training the 3 weeks prior to taper due to illness so there’s no point in flogging a dead horse. That pretty much left me with insufficient quality long runs when it mattered most. As a result I went into the race with only 1 28K, 5 24Ks, 5-6 21Ks. The flight into Gold Coast was not a good one, sleep-wise. Many passengers were either coughing or sneezing, a testament of the poor air quality in KL. Just before landing, I had my first episode of migraine. Up till that moment, I’ve been migraine-free all my life. There’s always a first time but I’m hoping that was the last too!

Pick your pace band.

As was last year, I was again held up at the immigration when my visa needed some alterations to the First/Family Name data. No big issues, but as long as I visit Australia, this is something I’ve to face unless they update their visa application form. Thanks to Francis who was on the same flight, I’ve enough pain relievers on standby should the attack return. Once all the AirAsia Go (AAG) travelers were through customs, we promptly loaded up and were shuttled to the expo. True to the forecast, the rainy weather had been replaced with sunny days. At the Convention Centre, we still needed to wait a little before the doors opened. There were plenty of time to the 12:30pm shuttle pickup, so the lot of us made full use of the window to sample Endura gels and drinks, getting our feet taped up at the Rock Tape booth (KT had their own too) and I also couldn’t resist a session with the EMS device. Before we left the expo, I had a nice chat with Andrew and Sue O’Brien, of the well known Couple On The Run.

View from my balcony

AAG’s choice of tie-up with Wyndham Hotel was excellent. Located just diagonally across the Q1, the rooms offer very nice amenities, from a fully equipped kitchen to the laundry room (you needn’t even buy your detergents!). Critically, its central location provided excellent start points to the Cavill Mall (8-10 minutes’ walk), to the Islander Apartments (where the Chap Ayam Runners stayed, 6 minutes’ walk) and a block to the beach. All my breakfasts and 2 dinners were eat-ins.

Checking out the Festival stalls

The first evening were spent loitering around the Surfers Paradise beach front, soaking in the Festival activities. There were performances, light shows and stalls. I’d done a bit of grocery shopping earlier and so I was back at the hotel by 9pm after linking up with Lynn and Pat to pass them a couple of event slingbags. Took the cough mixture and nasal spray I bought from Tower Chemist 2 blocks away from the hotel before drifting off to sleep.

Day 2
The plan was for a morning run and to visit the race precinct to witness the 10K race and possibly spot Yuki Kawauchi early next morning but sleep deficiency got the better of me and I slept right through the alarm. The nasal spray worked wonders for the congested sinus but the cough was still bothersome. I’d to jump to the next agenda in the itinerary where I had Vivianne for company (Roy couldn’t be located, presumably out on a training run in preparation for his 100-miler) for the bus ride to Harbour Town. The ride took a long time as a result of road closures due to the 10K race. Bumped into Leslie at the crowded shopping centre where we found Dean Karnazes’ book going for only AUD5 at the TNF outlet. Ralph Lauren was having a 70% storewide sale and most of the other brands had plenty of good buys as well. The damage to my wallet were for a couple of Nautica shirts, 1 really nice yellow Livestrong tee for the wife (AUD30) which she said she’ll need some slimming to squeeze into, 2 white Nike Pro Combat tops, of which 1 is a regular version and the other a Livestrong edition and a pair of red surf shorts. Lunch was chicken and lamb kebab before hopping a ride back to Surfers to catch the fireworks display. The Chap Ayam Runners were there too. Back at the hotel I dug into pasta and soup I’d bought earlier from Woolsworth. A banana completed the meal before I laid out the race gear, with The Simpsons playing on TV.

Race Day
2 alarms woke me up and there was no rush in getting ready. The air was expectedly chilly (but not as cold as last year) before the start. There were many signs that pointed to a hot run. Hence my gear was just the WhyMarathon vest over the Nike We Run KL tee. Bottoms were the Swift tights while a cap and a pair of sunglasses were used for sun protection duty.

With Tay Poh Chye and Chan. The half marathoners have been let off behind us, running right to left.

Sunrise over Broadwater Parklands, Southport.

Together with Chan and his wife, we strolled the race precinct and took some photos and hung around keeping warm. I even had time to join the long queue for the toilet before dropping off our bags.

There were reportedly around 5,700 marathoners yet the area wasn’t congested due to the size of race precinct. The half marathoners had been let off and the marathon start into the opposite direction helped prevent any gridlock. Based on my goal time I was assigned to the B corrall. As I wandered into the section, I saw to my horror that this section were where the 3:30 (5-minute average pace) pace group was! 3:30 was way too fast. I stood there for a moment to consider my options and strategy – do I try this thing out just for the heck of it, knowing that I’d probably crash and burn at the 13K mark or be wise and move deeper into the back. I opted for the conservative option. Located the 4-hour pacers and stood next to the 2nd pacer in that group. Together, we were just in front of the 4:15 pacer, Asian Dude (AD), who led the 4-hour group last year [read my 2011 report]. I’ve high regards for AD and I believe I heard him introduce himself as Steve. Unlike the 4-hour pacers, who were pretty aloof, Steve was rallying his brood and told them that his race plan was even splits while dispensing tips and encouragement. Very interactive and truly my vision of an ideal pacer.

After the singing of the Australian National Anthem, we were off. The start was very relaxed 5:48 pace, and more importantly my breathing was clear and I wasn’t coughing. The sun was up and it was already warming up. Even at this stage it was becoming clear that the 4:00 pacers were really hammering it. By the 2nd K, I’d hit my goal pace of 5:42 yet my pacer was already yards ahead. That’s when I spotted Mohan. The 3 following photos were taken by him.

The gap became wider by the 3rd K and that got me really confused. The Polar was showing that I was hitting the correct pace and I was running really really comfortably, like an easy run despite hitting my goal pace. Yet the dude was pulling away! I even took out the GPS pod from the SPIBelt to validate if it was functioning. There it was, the green LCD still blinking away showing sat lock. Nevermind, I thought to myself, perhaps it turned screwy like the faulty heart rate strap. I gave the pacers my benefit of the doubt and played along to their script, whatever that might be.

By the 7th K the pacers were still way ahead despite upping the pace to 5:30 the last 2Ks and I’d already just ran a 5:23 split. At that point I thought, dammit, to heck with the pacers! I’ll rely on my own breathing and timing. Luckily I was still breathing very very easily. Not a hint of panting. I was enjoying the race so far and spotted Francis in the 3-hour pace group. Nothing to report then as I lapped up and enjoyed the miles past the Burleigh Heads u-turn (15K). Like the crowds, the sun was already making its presence felt and the rim of my cap was constantly slanted to one side to prevent the glare. I checked myself every 5K and I’ve been ticking off the pace goals up to this point. 5K later at the 20K mark, my timing was to the minute, 1:53+. Another kilometre later, it was still to the minute, 1:59+. I’d been restraining and my leg turnovers weren’t even quick. And so it came to a decisive moment for me – to maintain this progress or to slow down and preserve, conserve and shuffle past the 30K. The decision was to just adopt the “come what may and deal with it when it comes”. I was enjoying the race too much and hitting the wall was already a given no matter how much I slow down, since the longest I ran in training wasn’t that long anyway. Might as well see how far I could go in the given fitness condition. I was also especially curious to see if the cramps that hit me running at this pace last year would surface again this year. It was still game on and I kept thinking that it’s only a half marathon left. I thought back to the PJ and Bareno halves and pretended that I was just running the same race.

I covered 6 more Ks when my legs stopped churning. Momentum was lost and I ground to a halt. I wasn’t even panting nor in any pain. And I realized that that was it. That was the end of my race. I wasn’t entirely surprised but it was still a blow and major disappointment. You see, despite steeling one’s mind and preparing to face the blowup, I don’t think one can ever get used to the feeling when the cogs finally stop moving. It was still a gut punch.

Yet, I was strangely relieved because there was no cramp despite the pace. The philosophy behind the FIRST method worked. I’d simply ran out of steam. My body’s energy systems were simply not efficient in managing its fuel consumption. I got to nearly the same longest distance I’d covered in training at that given pace. It was harder for me to hit 5:50 than 5:42 or 5:40 on a training run these days, such was the pace memory in my legs. So, slowing down more than a few seconds wasn’t an option. For me at least, it has come down to 5:40 or nothing.

The 4:00 pacers were long gone and I suspected they were putting in 5:15 splits (3:42 finish) from the 2nd K onwards which if true, was just too fast. I’m sure the 2 of them would’ve no issues finishing according to their timing but it would potentially ruin the runners tagging along. Roy would later inform me that his 3:45 pacers told their group that they too will be running positive splits. In contrast, Steve, the 4:15 pacer, made it clear of his strategy and that his charges would have enough time to drink at all the hydration stations. True to form, he repeated his orders for them to hold back and surge only from 37K onwards if they have enough left.

My race then involved plenty of fast walking. Runners have begun looking for shady parts of the route often taking to the far side of the road. The windless conditions meant there won’t be respite from the searing dry heat. It was at this stage when I started feeling ashamed of representing the WhyMarathon Ambassadors. The vest weighed heavily on my back. I tried looking for reasons that I should still be running marathons. Why has it been so hard to improve? Then I started slinging blames on the haze in KL and my subsequent illness. Legitimate reasons or otherwise, it all began to look like I was looking for excuses. That realization made me snap out of the self pity and to find the little blessings I can scrounge up. I was quite firm, however, that I would step away from the marathon after Osaka to rediscover the joys of training.

Anyways, it was mostly 3K of walking right up to the starting point when Steve and his group pulled up. He was still rallying his team not to dare slow down. Caught up in the energy I shuffled alongside. He grabbed some gummies handed out by spectators and even passed me one. Now that’s one heckuva pacer! But 300m later I had to drop off and watch them go ahead. 2 more K of walking followed and I spotted Tay Poh Chye on the opposite side. A little further back was Karen. They would finish in 4:03 and 4:04 respectively. The Labrador section is always tough with little support but this year was a little better. Still crampless but worn down by the sun, there was nothing more to do but to try to enjoy the cheers of the spectators and volunteers. Approaching the Runaway Bay u-turn (35.6K), I hopped off the route to the loo. Then I jogged a bit more often. I even spotted Adam the One-Arm Runner on the opposite side of the road. It was around here that Lynn and Pat caught up with me. Lynn was pacing Pat for her debut marathon and their clean shaven heads (for charity fund-raising) were already stubbly. It was such a pleasant surprise to see these two, just when I was questioning my reason of running. So we ran together, pulling each other along and I helping to snap a few of their shots.

Secret spy shot by Lynn. I was still unaware that they were tailing me.

It went this way right till the finish when we crossed the line hand in hand. Despite all the misgivings I had of myself, despite all the frustrations of wanting more, despite walking for so long, it was one of the most memorable and happy marathon finishes I’ve had in a long long while. Grinning ear to ear and urging the crowd to cheer for Pat, it’s wonderful to see how much fun one, when unshackled by the burden of timing, can have. If I can find a way to detach myself and like what Donald Sutherland’s Bowerman character said in “Without Limits“, “find the meaning in the running that you do”, perhaps I will discover the joys of training.

Finally some boring stuff i.e. numbers. 4 points stood out.

  1. My 2011 and 2012 timings at the 25K mark were the same to the minute. The splits from the 30K onwards expectedly saw a decline when compared to last year.
  2. The total distance recorded by the Polar is 43.07K. The only explanation I have for this overdistance, as in the case of the 2011 race, is the deviation on the route I took in seeking out the shady sections of the course as well as a short detour for a pee stop. Still, 1K seemed like plenty of yards.
  3. The Weather Channel reported the actual race day temps to be a high of 22 Celcius and low of 12 Celcius.
  4. A mind boggling gap between the number of entrants and finishers (see table at the bottom). The non-finishers for the marathon and half marathon were over 600 and 979 respectively! What gives?

I did mention in my Facebook update that I will take a step back from the marathon after November’s Osaka. I think it’s a good break from the distance. This will allow me to run shorter races. The marathon can be such a heart breaker and just like fishing, perhaps letting go a little will eventually reel in the objectives.

Powerman Duathlon – Team Relay 2012

A typical year-end of a racing calendar is always a busy period. There are always a chockful of races with the large ones like the Penang Bridge, Macau, and Standard Chartered Singapore Marathons already locking in the big crowds the past few months. Then there is the popular but niche event like the Malakoff Powerman Duathlon. Powerman Malaysia is the only a qualifying race in Asia for Powerman Zofingen, the World Cup Finals in Zofingen Switzerland, the most prestigious race in the duathlon world circuit. Understandably, this makes it very popular for athletes in this region.

Before registering under the Team Relay (A 64km bike sandwiched between two 11.4km runs) I briefly toyed with going for the Sprint Event (5.7km run, followed by a 32km bike and a subsequent 5.7km run). However possessing neither a biking acumen and time/resources to familiarize myself with riding, I chose the safer path by tackling both the 11km running legs in the relay. That didn’t mean that I couldn’t ogle at the line-up of bikes at the Marriott Hotel during the race pack collection. There’s something about the relationship about Man and Machine. My plan going into the race was to take the running legs as 2 tempo sessions. I knew it was going to be tough due to the “break” in between the runs. My team-mate, MC, reckoned that he’ll be able to complete the 64km ride in 2.5 hours, which meant that I’d have a very long time to wait. The body would’ve cooled down to a complete rest state by then and more importantly we’re going to be roasted by the sun, what with temps hitting the mid 30s the last few weeks. Our finishing times are not as important as we’re given 5.5 hours to finish and we’re there for the fun and the experience. Our team name “I Bike, You Run” seemed to reflect our casual approach but I still wanted to put in a good performance as part of my marathon tune-up.

Come race morning, I was surprised with how much I’d packed into my duffel and sling bags. And that’s without me biking (or in the case of a triathlon, swimming!). Imagine how much more logistical planning one needs in a multi-sport event! Running is as complicated as I can tolerate for now. A quick breakfast at McD and we were off to the race site. Cars were already streaming in and we found a quiet section to prep up. The sight of cyclists doing their thing can be intimidating. I basically had nothing to do (see, running’s simple!) except to sip on my chia seed-honey mix and sorting out what I need to put in the transition bag. The cyclists were busy fixing their wheels, inflating their tires and spinning around the area. That done, it was time for MC to check his bike in. I followed a little while later when the call went out for the participants to gather up. Lots of familiar faces and the carnival like atmosphere was infectious. Adele from Quick Release, the organizer, did a great job as the emcee as usual. Put a few hundred thousand bucks worth of gear, guys and girls in tight apparels and music together and I can see why multi-sports can be addictive. Of course, there were bound to be lots of bravura-talking going on but generally there was an air of camaraderie and lots of camwhoring around.

With biking team mate, MC.

Next was some warming up and I did the usual striding, pickups and dynamic stretching which was done a few minutes before the full distance athletes were let off. Next flagoff would be the team relay followed by the sprint. I was positioned in the 5th row at the start, and so had the race leaders in my sights within 100 meters ahead. But that gap would increase with every step covered. It would be fast and furious and I kept the pace likewise. The pace took me past a number of runners from the Individual category.

Photo credit: Yvonne Teo

Traffic control was excellent and the drink stations more than adequately stocked with water and Gatorade. I didn’t grab any fluids on my first lap of 5.4K (26:59 split). I’ve no problems at all with the nice course and except for a 300m climb right after the 4K marker, we found ourselves running either on flat terrain or downhill.

Photo credit: Yvonne Teo

The second 5.4K loop (actually a little longer) was just the same thing. No gels taken so far and feeling great, so I pushed a little towards the transition. Upon crossing the timing mat, I messed up a bit and headed into the wrong chute! Realizing the error, I slid back into the correct one and sprinted towards MC, strapped on the chip to his ankle and watched him head off. My run time was 56:28 (11th quickest time for this segment), several seconds lost to the boo-boo.

Finishing my 1st run leg, heading into the chute towards the transition area. Photo credit: Chan WK

After that, there was really nothing to do except to move around the race site, catching up with friends. Chanced upon Yann Khai and had a nice chat with her – she ran an excellent race and appears to be getting back to her former self after some injuries. The weather was just fantastic. Heavy clouds ensuring the scorching sun would not be making an appearance. It even started drizzling!

With Nick waiting out our cyclists to return Photo credit: Yvonne Teo
With Yann Khai, whom I’ve not seen in years since she moved to Hong Kong. Photo credit: Tey

But the longer I waited, the more the body cooled down. The drizzled eased up and to my horror, the skies cleared exposing the sun. I’d be getting my tan then! At the 2-hour mark, I headed back to the transition area and sought some relief in whatever little shade there was, while sipping on my chia-honey mix. Slightly more than 30 minutes later, MC came back (after suffering some quads and hamstring cramps along the way) and I grabbed the chip off him and sprinted off to wrap things up. It was getting hot and so I had my cap on.

Photo credit: Chan WK
Photo credit: Zoe Chan

But almost immediately, I was hit by sidestiches which I’ve not gotten in awhile. I’ve rested a little too long and neglected to warm-up *face palm*. No way I was going to be going as quickly as the first leg. Things started to go downhill from there and though we were baked under the sun, we had the protection of the trees along one long stretch of the course. Walked a little a few times and because of the earlier drizzle, I’d took off my socks prior to starting the run. The GOrun Ride while very comfortable rubbed several areas of both my feet and blisters formed. That still wasn’t as bad as the heat. I was just glad to finish in 1:05 (13th quickest time for this segment, 29:48 for the first loop).

Coming in for the finish. Photo credit: Saza Studios
Photo credit: Nick Arthur
Just after crossing the finish line. Photo credit: Amelia Ang

All in all, it was a very enjoyable outing. I think the team did OK and missed the initial modest target just by a few minutes. With experience under our belts we can only improve. I’m grateful that we were largely spared the harsh weather that only came in effect for a short period of time. Looking at the thousands of photos taken by the many photographers (many thanks to them!) that morning, I was even more amazed some of the participants who biked in foldies and MTBs. Also the always inspiring Sabki. How about the 2 rotund kids among a few pre-teens, who finished ahead of many adults in the Sprint category?

Will I be returning for the 2013 edition? You bet! Great organization by Melody and team, nice atmosphere and challenging disciplines. In which category I’ll be back is another question that I’ll address at a later stage 😉

Osaka Marathon 2012

Note: After giving it some thought, a short report is still appropriate. So here goes.

The days leading up to the race were littered with tell-tale signs that it just wasn’t going to be the race. I’ve ranted on and on about the untimely fever (not that there ever was a timely illness but this takes the cake) I came down with, C2’s rush to the hospital after vomiting for 3 days, the ill-fated but necessary trip to Penang where AirAsia lost our baggage and the return bus ride back to KL turned into a hellish experience of break down and 10-hour journey. It was as if something was pulling all stops to ensure that this wasn’t to be a smooth outing. I’m not a superstitious person but things were so bad that I was starting to believe in the illogical. But I remained defiant and was determined to make sure that whatever bad omens were befalling me and the family, I wasn’t going to abort my race plans. Or I’d be living with the thought of what might have been.

AirAsia X sponsored running vests for Malaysian participants and this group photo was taken at the Expo on Friday. AAX CEO Azran went on to run a fantastic 3:40. That’s the Asahi Zero in my hand – non alcoholic. Photo credit: Vivien Tay.
Breakfast on the WC.

The choice of Weekly Mansion Otemae as the hotel of choice was excellent. Just a short walk to the start and along the Chuo rail line, this would be the same place I’d be holing up the next time I run Osaka. Race morning started at 5:50am and breakfast was half a serving of cup noodles, a Clif bar and coffee. The room was really small and so that I don’t wake my wife up, I ate my breakfast on the WC. It turned out to be unnecessary as she was woken up by my rustling around anyway.

The group gathered at the lobby at 6:45am and we headed out to the race site soon after. The air was crisp but not as cold as Tokyo or New York, but I regaled at the fall colors on the way there – it certainly brought back memories of New York, that which was my only other fall marathon back in 2008. Despite being thousands of miles away from home, it’s marvelous to still be able to run into familiar faces – I bumped into a blog reader (I’ve ashamedly forgotten his name but I remembered he wore the Brooks Half Marathon vest), Abu Power, Rich and Uncle Yee Choi on the way to the baggage truck. I suppose everyone was headed to the same truck. Mine was # 18 which was positioned just about in between the entry to the athletes’ village and the corrals. My minimally packed bag consisted of only a jacket, some cash for the ride back and coffee, iPhone, dry top, an energy bar and wet towelettes and it was promptly checked-in by the cheery volunteers with customary efficiency. Next was some quick toilet business at the door-less porta-johns last seen at the Tokyo Marathon. On the walk in, I spotted a short photo queue and decided to play along. As you can see, I went with compression shorts, arm warmers, long socks, vest over a Nike Pro top and thin gloves. Shoes were the Kinvara ViziPro.

It would be chilly and I found myself shivering in the sparsely occupied E corral – in hindsight I entered the pen a little too early. E corral was unfortunately positioned in the shade and therefore deprived of the warm sunshine enjoyed by those in D up ahead. I cast an envious eyes at those D runners. In any case, I prefer to be leaning towards being colder than warmer as I knew that I’d warm up to a comfortable level once I got going.

45 minutes of shivering later we were let off. The start was a pretty muted affair – an introduction of the elites and some patriotic music. From where I stood, I couldn’t even hear the gun go off. But was I ever so glad to get the race going. Until after passing the start gantry, there was plenty of shuffling but once I hit the first left turn, the road opened up and I was able to move up to my planned pace. It was all effort based at that time and it was so easy – almost like a training run. I felt great and moving effortlessly. First K was 5:49 but by the second K, I was already on secondary goal pace, very easy given that my tempos and intervals were all done way faster than my MP. By the 5th K, I was logging tertiary goal pace. My plan has always been negative splitting, so there’s no hurry to click off a 1:52 first half. As long as I kept loose and relaxed, I knew I could run a strong 12K to close off the race. The GPS reading was accurate up till 10K but the reading on the Polar started deviating from the visual markers from then on. I’m not sure what’s happening as it was the same in Gold Coast as well. I chucked my drink bottle off at the 12K mark.

I made a decision to veer off for a pee at the 19K point (a neat feature of the race was the volunteers flash cards on how far the next pee stop was going to be). As luck would have it, the one I chose to stop would have the most stalls and least runners! 19K split was 7:08 but I knew the benefit of emptying the bladder would outweigh the time wasted at the potty stop. True enough, feeling much lighter, I easily made up the lost time by the next K. Halfway mark was achieved in 1:58 near the Kyocera Dome and I was still aerobic and looking forward to the 30K mark to start some racing. Reminded myself to stay patient and keep things in check. I was so into the zone that I didn’t realize my knee length socks had dropped down to my ankles!

The supporters were plentiful but that’s not what warmed up the race. The sun too were making its presence felt. It was downright warm in the sunshine but at least the course had plenty of shady spots to get some relief. I’d rolled down my arm warmers down to my wrists as my forearms were sweating.

Typical of Japanese marathons, there were a number of switchbacks along the Osaka Marathon route, so there was never a dull moment. I tend not to think too much about when the turning would be as it could be a demoralizing and sapping exercise. Better to focus on the few steps ahead. I hit 30K a little off at 2:57, 7 minutes off my secondary goal. I didn’t think too much of the situation as I knew all the hard running will come after that – I was not too worried about having to chip away at the deficit as my finishing in the recent build-up races have been strong. Alas, it was not happening as I felt a sharp pain shooting up from the inner thighs up to the groin area as I started to open up my stride. That knocked me off my rhythm and there was nothing I could’ve done but to slow down to a jog. Shook my head and started to pick it up again but back came the pain. The sequence of 3 photos below at the 30K mark showed me checking my watch, just about to embark on the final 12K. My leg problems would start just after these photos were taken.

When the pain kicked in the second time, I was strangely calm. I remembered weighing my options and thought what the problems would be. I’d never had such issues before. Perhaps it was for lack of stretching at the start, I wasn’t any wiser. It was bad enough that the only thing I could do was to walk. I tried to jog again but it came back. The walk had sucked away whatever minutes I could’ve salvaged. There was no point in pushing for time now, I thought. Just finish. Walk all the way if I had to. The thought of DNF never crossed my mind. I didn’t come all the way to DNF. It wasn’t like I was only 20 minutes from the cutoff time.

But there’s the buffet line to take care of first. I took whatever the volunteers offered, from zucchini, pickles, candies, gummies, rice balls, bananas, I grabbed and ate them all! At the 35K mark, I even sat down by the road divider. The walk up the ramp at the 37K was tough but I hobbled down the other side. I wasn’t even tired, my energy systems were fine but the legs…

The finishing eventually came and there was to be no glory, no fist pumping in the air. Just an “over and done with” feeling. 4:40 was 45 minutes off my goal. My Polar recorded a distance of 43.4K which was probably messed by certain sections where we ran under flyovers. The consolation was that my baggage section was the 2nd closest to the collection point, allowing me to quickly grab, change into dry shirt and get out of the area. I’m not analyzing anything about the race for now and would just want to rest for the remainder of the year. I’ve no more races for the year and that’s fine as I step back from thinking too much about running. Chilling out is what I need.

The rainbow colored medal is one of the most beautiful I’ve earned. Each color represents a compulsory charity. I selected green – no guesses to what it represents.

Pros:

  • Good size, probably brought about by the clash of events in neighboring Kobe and the Fujisan Marathon
  • A near replica of Tokyo Marathon
  • Scenic athlete’s village
  • Quicker exit from the post-race venue
  • Cold at the start but manageable. Mild temps with the mercury climbing along the way
  • Cheaper than Tokyo
  • Even though the Runner’s Guide didn’t encourage costumed runners, folks still came out garbed in bizarre outfits.
  • Other than the killer climb at the 37K, the route is flat. Any flatter, you’ll have to go to Gold Coast.
  • Fall foliage along Mido-Suji
  • Beautiful medal but smaller finisher’s towel.

Cons:

  • Poorer expo, although the Food Bazaar in Hall 3 were fantastic
  • Got a little hot 10K into the race, though not as warm as 2012 Gold Coast.
  • Polar recorded 43.4K??

Event verdict: Must do and I’d probably return in the near future.

Learnings: Good choice of hotel, good decision on bringing less in the checked-in baggage. Need not enter the corral too early so that proper warming up can be done.

 

Brooks Half Marathon 2013

More a training run than a race, this was perhaps the longest time I spent deliberating on whether I should sign up or opt out. Reason being the somewhat prohibitive entry fees. Eventually the significance of the timing – start of another cycle of marathon training – won out and there I was, at the starting line this morning.

Before I get to the race recap, I need to put a note here that the race pack collection area was pretty well done. Even though there weren’t many booths, the number of brands represented were many. The Marathonshop, Powerbar, Aeco, Key Power, Brooks pretty much covered 80% of sports products in the market. As I was hard pressed for time (when wasn’t I?), it was a touch and go affair for me. In fact I didn’t even park inside The Curve. In and out in 15 minutes (including a brief stopover at a teashop for a takeaway).

So at 4:35am I found myself already parked near Vista Komenwel, wondering what the crap I was doing up so early on a Sunday morning. Calvin arrived soon after and as soon as we kitted out, we made for the stadium grounds.Minutes later we rendezvoused with Yvonne, CY and Nick who had warmed up. Right about then my stomach started to churn. After 10 minutes of trying to control the feeling, I gave in and joined the portaloo queue. The feeling went away thankfully and I rejoined the gang for the start.

The organizers did away with the start inside the National Stadium which was a downer. I reckon they couldn’t get around the crowd control getting into and out of the stadium, or maybe the cost of rental was too prohibitive. Instead, 2 different spots of the expansive car park were to be the starting and ending points of the race. No matter. It was after all going to be a long easy run for me. The plan was a 6-minute pace (this race had better teach me to go slow for my long runs!), keeping things as aerobic as possible which isn’t easy since the route can be treacherous in a few stretches. Good thing I lived around this area for close to 8 years, so I was prepared insofar as race route is concerned. 13,000 runners were rumored to have registered for this event (covering the Half Marathon, 10K and 5K) which was an amazing number. The half marathon alone drew 5,000 according to chatter amongst runners.

Lining somewhere in the middle of the pack at the start definitely gave me the impression of being in a large event. After the starting gun was fired, we didn’t move for awhile. By the time we got going we knew it was going to be a tough day out. The humidity was so high, it was hard not to be affected by it. Not 2K into the run, the stomach issues returned and I thought what with the strategy this morning, I’ve nothing to lose (except the dump) if I stop and take care of business. Asked my fellow pacers to carry on and headed to the row of loos by the side. It turned out to be wasted time as everyone seemed to want to use the loos at the same time. I gave up and by the time I rejoined the hordes of runners, a few hundred have passed me and I found myself in unfamiliar territory, many of whom were already walking not far from the start! It was super tiring zig-zagging the thick crowd I’d otherwise gladly follow had their pace be close to what I was running. Soon after a guy on wheelchair (the hospital, not the racing version!) worked his way through the crowd. I thought it wasn’t a good idea at all. While I was sure many applauded his faith and determination, the roads around the area are very poor. A large section of the route passed through construction sites. A question of safety, for him and other runners, more than anything.

My stomach issues temporarily subsided and I was able to put in some quicker splits – if only walkers, courting couples will let runners past! I called out firmly numerous times for walkers to keep to the left but nearly everyone of had their ear plugged! Sigh… The outing was fast becoming a sore outing for me. Just before the 10K point, I spotted Calvin in front but at that exact moment, my foot pod came loose. So I quickly veered to the side and ripped off the cable ties and chucked the pod into my pocket. Screw timing. From then on, I was running by feel, and I was feeling the hot spots on my soles, the replacement insoles of my shoes being the culprit.

The crowd became exponentially worse when the half marathoners merged with the 10K runners at the narrow turning into Vista Komenwel. The cones laid in the middle of the road separating runners and vehicles became a safety hazard than markers. The crowd was so thick that it was impossible to spot humps, potholes and the said cones – until you run into them. I spotted a runner being given CPR in this section and learnt that he wasn’t successfully resuscitated. After being on the receiving end of 5 elbows, I finally cleared the treacherous mile and tried pushing the remaining distance. I’d ran all the uphills that came before but decided to just walk the last 400m of climb.

Finished in over 2 hours, but that was the plan. The spacious finishing area was a vast difference from what we encountered on the roads. I believe the event has grown too large for this route. Either entries are capped off or a different route be mapped for the 10K category. Hung out for awhile before heading home to poo (twice!). Lots of endurance work to be done and the next one in Bidor will definitely be different.

Photo credit: KH Tang
Photo credit: Elaine
About to execute the leap. Photo credit: Tey ET

Summary: It wasn’t a good outing with the crowd, shoes, foot pod and stomach. Plenty of malfunctions. A good thing the compression gear I was wear-testing worked well. Review of that to come.