This is not the end. It's just a change. And change can change. Meanwhile, here's my change. See you on the other side.
IG HANDLE -> @hairyberry
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
There was one more race to go before taking a break in August (the fasting month), when not a major race would be held...except in Singapore. Runners were spoilt for choice in selecting their pre-fasting/resting run in July – the Ipoh International , Feel Good, Men’s Health and Orange runs. And many more across the causeway.
I chose to run the Seremban Half Marathon in July because this is a race that I’ve known for a very long time. Since I started reading the Star, I think. That must have been more than 2 decades ago. Of course, in those inactive years, I’d not shown any interest or perhaps, hadn’t plucked enough courage to sign up for this, or any other run. The SHM was not a redemption run, but it sure felt good standing at the start line that morning on 15 July, albeit 20 years too late.
Running a half (that’s 21 km) after a series of full marathons was comforting, but I had no less respect for the distance this race carried. Training continued right after the Kuala Lumpur Marathon 2012, but I’d decreased my mileage by 30% to suit the race. The body needed some serious recovery as well. I certainly didn’t want to risk busting another ITB or knee.
Besides the run, I thought it would also be fun to rediscover Seremban’s famous eats while I’m in town. That’d make a nice post-race treat too. Honestly, I was more excited studying the route to the Pasar Besar Seremban (for the infamous beef noodles and Hakka mee) than the race course.
The scattering of July runs saw a smaller turnout, especially in the half-marathon category, I overheard while waiting for the Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Naquiyuddin to flag us off. But it was this intimate scale, coupled with the rare pleasure of roaming the quiet town at the break of dawn, that appealed to me. I was looking forward to a fun and fast (I promised to try) race.
There was no special preparation for this race. All I’d planned for was a good pre-race dinner of rice with a few light dishes. I had that at Restoran TC Keong. Serving some good old Chinese stir-fries (loved the steamed pork ribs with dace) in a neighbourhood away from town, I think we’ve found a restaurant locals throng. For supper, I had half a waffle with butter and syrup from the drive-through A&W (a Seremban landmark), and saved the other half for breakfast on race day.
Except for the unending, intermediate climbs around Forest Heights and passing by an old coffee shop named See Fatt, I have not much recollection of the race. I just ran, happy. At some points, especially after the 10th km, I glided at a new fast speed. I was definitely having a good time; the endorphin was at work. It was only during the final few kilometers, when we merged with the massive waves of walking schoolchildren, where we slowed a little to zigzag through this obstacle, that the calves began to pain.
As I entered the final kilometer of this race, a few thoughts ran through my mind; of completing the last race of the season in one piece, how I would spend my resting month, the anticipation of holding the limited edition of finisher’s medal from Royal Selangor Pewter, the gruesome races in the second half of the year and, of course, the awaiting delicious Seremban food. Soon, the sun was up in full force, blessing us with a Vitamin D shower. I was lucky to have crossed the finish line, celebrating a new sub 2-hour personal record, before it started to burn.
Soon after the race, the Pasar Besar Seremban foodcourt was filled with runners, most of them wearing finishers’ tees, especially the 2012 edition of the KL marathon. This busy pasar was quite the obvious choice for runners to refuel after their run because here’s where some of the most famous Seremban hawker stalls are located. While waiting for the legendary beef noodles to be served, I had, firstly, a plate of cuttlefish beehoon that came piping hot and full of wok hei. It was very satisfying. Next, still waiting for the beef noodles, I had Tow Kee’s Hakka mee, which despite its visual modesty, was a toss of well-proportioned egg noodles, minced pork and lard that resulted in a wonderful taste that I believe, can only be achieved through years of experience. The beef noodles finally came...30 minutes later. The gravy wasn’t as sweet and sticky as I’d remembered almost a decade ago. Bordering starchy and almost bland, it was a rather letdown.
A trip to Seremban is never complete (I was being totally touristy, thanks to the runner’s high that lasted the whole afternoon) without packing a few siew bao home. By the way, what’s the English translation for siew bao? Burnt bun? Or baked bun? We bought ours at the very busy Asia Confectionary. And if we had just one more inch-cube of space left in our stomachs, we would have had a bowl of mouse-tail noodle (also more decently called silver needle noodle) at the nearby Yi Poh before leaving this quaint town.
I must confess that it took me 2 months to complete this blog post, not because I had to think hard about its content or direction, but I was just unfocused. When I did get to draft the last few paragraphs about 2 weeks ago, I asked myself if I’d lost interest in blogging and began to re-read some of my other posts (even the earlier, cringing ones). I tried to find, or remember, the passion for blogging that I might have lost before deciding its demise, for good.
Or has it evolved instead?
Well, evolved is a more appropriate word, I think. Evolved applies to the topics that I blog about. Evidently, these days, it’s about running. Is this just a phase? I don’t know. But the journey’s been rewarding so far. More importantly, evolved means I’ve been posting one-liners on Facebook and Instagram, which to me, are similar forms of blogging, only more convenient, instantaneous (pun intended), fun but can also be too frequent, frivolous and forgettable. Here, however, the expression of ideas and thoughts are more expansive, detailed, and therefore, gratifying. Blog posts are to be kept and read over and over again. So, yes, despite the evolution and the pace that it’s going, this blog is staying. And that’s a pretty fine message to celebrate Black Tie White Lie’s 5th anniversary this month.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Will there ever be a perfect marathon race? Hold on. Perhaps I should ask, what IS a perfect marathon race? Prior to SCKLM2012, it’d be, for me, a race that is injury-free, challenging but ends with a new personal best time. It does seem easily achievable but many runners will disagree, I’m sure. In pounding the road for a long distance of 42.195 km, at one point (or more), either the body or mind will or attempts to give up. And usually, it doesn’t take long before the synergy is lost completely, causing the other component to surrender as well. So, perfection is tough. That’s life.
But what if I did run that perfect race? On 24 June 2012, I’d completed the Kuala Lumpur Marathon course of undulating terrains injury-free and even secured my first ever sub 4-hour finish. There’s no denying that I felt triumphant crossing the finish line. To have run that perfect race in my hometown and meeting familiar faces of friends and relatives at the race site made it an even more memorable race. I should be very happy. Yet, I couldn’t shake off a sense of disappointment that felt like a splinter stuck inside the skin.
I thought I’d planned well for this race by consistently keeping a high weekly mileage on the road and even managed to swim a few times. I’m not really interested in swimming, but if cross-training helps to improve my run, then I should do it. More importantly, I’d maintained a light and healthy diet throughout the week. It wasn’t easy, especially on the evening before the race, when the family got together for a feast to celebrate the Rice Dumpling Festival. To avoid another bout of diarrhoea, I’d stuck to steamed potatoes, rice and some lean meat. I managed to sleep for a few hours before waking up at 2 am, feeling rather fresh, to prepare for the race, which would start at 4.30 am at the iconic Dataran Merdeka.
At the race site, I managed to find and greet a few people; including Lyrical Lemongrass and Bald Eagle, Karen and Logan, Jun and Cousin Harry. These meetings of familiar faces added to the joy and comfort of knowing that I was back home again.
I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur. At 18 years old, I moved to Johor to pursue my tertiary education and began my worklife in Singapore 4 years later. But I do return to KL whenever I can, simply because this is home.
Like the other Standard Chartered-sponsored marathons joined previously, the theme for this race was Run For A Reason. My reason was nowhere noble, just nostalgic. As I signed up for this race in February, I’d already imagined what a fantastic experience it’d be, running along the familiar streets, passing shops and restaurants that I’d frequented in the last 30 over years. I was especially excited about the Jalan Ipoh – Jalan Kuching stretch, from the 28th to 35th km. During those childhood days, this was the route I’d take to go to school, the city center, for suppers…well, everywhere!
Studying the marathon course had me thinking of how KL has transformed in the last 30 years. The skyline, though incomparable with New York or Tokyo, is something that all KLites should be proud of. We’ve certainly progressed. Inevitably, the cost of living has also increased, but to what extent? It’s baffling to learn, through friends, of the daily spending on necessities of an average KLite working in the city against his monthly income. Some described it as barely surviving. Well, it is understandable, and acceptable, if a higher cost of living translates to a better quality of life. But before getting into a deeper discussion on this matter, let’s just, for now, focus on cutting down the ridiculous, increasing number of crimes in KL.
At the start line, some runners were happily chatting away while most kept quiet, seemingly focused on the task ahead. Strangely enough, my eyes were fixed on the clock placed high at the tower of the brightly lit, historic Sultan Abdul Samad Building, instead of my own watch. The excitement grew with each tick. We would be flagged off in a few minutes. A decent finishing time would be fine, I told myself. I wanted nothing more than to enjoy this race down memory lane.
Standing freely at the Dataran that morning, I recalled an article on the electoral reforms rally in April, in which the city hall rejected the assembly to be held at Dataran Merdeka, stating events allowed to be held at Dataran Merdeka are only those of a national level. The city mayor clarified that national sporting events are allowed. Placing sports above a national interest and the future of the country is something that concerns me, really. Where are we heading?
It was still dark when the race began. My body was just warming up, so it took more energy and some pain to move those cold muscles and set the right momentum for the rest of the distance. My accelerations were random and my breathing was heavy. At Jalan Travers, near the LeMeridien, I saw the large green balloon about 100 m ahead of me. It means that I was nearing the 4-hour pacer. Without hesitation, I chased after him. Soon, we turned into Brickfields, descending the first major slope. Usually, I’d slow down, to avoid damaging my knees and shins, but in wanting to keep up with the pacer, I sped. My pace, at that point, was still fluctuating. It was just 3.5 km into the race and I’d begun to feel the stretch. I was not running like my usual self. I’d lost control.
The pacer’s name is Kenny Wong, as I found out after the race. He was running at a very fast pace and trailing him was not easy. Somehow, I had to overtake him. Well, for at least 500 m, to secure a sub 4-hour finish. My breathing remained irregular and a side-stitch revisited. My left shoulder felt sore too. I thought of my old car being driven at 120 km/h and shaking violently. That’s how my body was reacting now. I’d never run this fast in my life. My sole focus was to overtake that floating green balloon tied to Kenny Wong.
At the Lebuhraya Kuala Lumpur water station along the old airport runway, I overtook Kenny Wong while he stopped to rehydrate. And we would overtake one another until the 26th km, passing the Istana Negara, Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka, Jalan Loke Yew, Bukit Bintang, the Petronas Twin Towers, Institut Jantung Negara and the National Library. In this (which now seemed to be) a race against the pacer, I realized that I could actually push much harder than I knew. At the risk of destructing my body, of course.
One of the most enlightening, and torturous, moments of the race took place at the Pavilion row along Jalan Bukit Bintang. I’d never realized that this part of the road was so damn steep! And that’s what makes running so interesting; it gives the everyday driver a whole new (and better) perspective of the same road. Time lost in climbing that incline was compensated by speeding down the slope connecting Jalan Raja Chulan to Jalan P. Ramlee. Years ago, at this very same spot, and perhaps same time as well, I was just leaving for home after a loud nightout at the clubs.
At the 27th km, turning into Jalan Ipoh from Jalan Tun Razak, I began to lose sight of the green balloon. But I didn’t give up. Not when I had only 15 km more to go.
Jalan Ipoh wasn’t as easy to run as I’d hoped for. First, there was that invigorating smell of bak kut teh from Ban Lee, at the time when my fuel tank was almost empty. Then, there were the many, though minor, elevations to tackle. My focus was still on the invisible green balloon. Still running at my fastest pace for a marathon, my quads felt like they were ready to give up very soon. I was prepared to cramp.
Leaving Jalan Ipoh, we made our way to the busy Jalan Kuching. Passing each flyover, I was grateful that I didn’t have to climb them. Linking Jalan Kuching to the Segambut roundabout was a steep incline that, to me, was just an introduction to the biggest, final obstacle of the SCKLM – the double hills of Bukit Tunku. I was glad that I’d done some research on the route prior to the race. Some energy has to be reserved for the double hills. I would have, if I hadn’t crazily trailed the green balloon. At the 36th km, I might have hit the wall. And what a great time to do so, at the most difficult part of the route! I composed myself and ran steadily towards Bukit Tunku.
At the start of the climb, I looked at my watch and did a quick mental calculation of my estimated finish time and average pace. With the green balloon out of sight, I’d still be able to finish the race in less than 4 hours, if I’d kept the pace at 6 mins/km. That’s achievable! So I re-strategized. Instead of wasting my entire, limited energy climbing the hills, I should run relatively slower but consistently, and accelerate when descending the hills, all the way to the finish line at Dataran Merdeka. I just had to keep my pace below 6 mins/km.
The double hills climb left me nearly breathless, while the quads and calves were stretched to the limits. Thank goodness for the generous Salonpas volunteers who treated my legs with their pain-relieving spray. Descending the hills, I couldn’t accelerate as planned. By now, my energy level had depleted completely, almost. I maintained my climbing pace, but kept in mind that it had to be within 6 mins/km.
Running on flat surface again at the 40th km was sheer bliss. Here, merging with the shorter distance runners, despite the congestion, brought much needed livelihood to the rather lonely full marathon course. My shoulder still felt sore. The feet were soaking wet, most probably blistered as well, while the legs begged to rest. But I was very, very close to my first sub 4 hour finish. So what’s another 2 km, right? I imagined this being the last 2 km of my usual, easy night runs and the joy of being closer to returning home to a relaxing cold shower and a sound sleep. 10 minutes of this tranquilizing thought later, and after running for 3 hours and 53 minutes that breezy Sunday morning, I crossed the finish line at Dataran Merdeka.
At the rest tent, I met up with Lyrical Lemongrass, who congratulated me on my new personal record. I remember telling her that I could now die a happy man. Later, I was joined by LeCoupleToy. ToyBoy was there to support his friends and ToyGirl, who ran the 10k race. I left the group to use the toilet. I had a major purge but it came at the most welcoming time – at the end of the race. What a relief!
I left the square and made my way to the Masjid Jamek LRT station. Hunger hasn’t gotten to me yet, which was a surprise. Alone, in the train, I began to recall my SCKLM2012 experience. There were many memorable moments during the race; the cooling rain at the 6th km, passing the uncle at the Sri Dhandayuthapani school bus-stop who continuously cheered on the runners, the adorable little girls and their dad holding up cards of encouraging words like Run like you stole something!! and Chuck Norris never ran a marathon at the Segambut roundabout (or Jalan Ipoh, I forgot) and trailing Kenny Wong, the 4-hour pacer, who spurred me on in the first half of the marathon. These moments, though precious, were not what I’d expected from this race. An initially planned nostalgic relaxed run around my hometown had turned into a draining sub 4-hour run mission. Instead of running at my usual pace along the familiar roads, reminiscing and celebrating the parts of town that had shaped me, I forced myself to accelerate, to catch up with the green balloon and was oblivious to my surrounding. In short, I didn’t enjoy my run.
In a post-mortem on SCKLM2012 with a running friend, I expressed my disappointment in failing to enjoy the race as planned, despite having achieved the previously elusive sub 4-hour marathon finish. For my friend, the result outweighs any form of enjoyment. A race, to her, is a time to run faster and improve the previous personal best record. I do agree, partially. Towards the end of our discussion, I concluded that perhaps a perfect marathon race is not that easily defined. It’s not as simple as running an injury-free race and crossing the finish line with a new record, but to find that equilibrium point where result meets pleasure. How can a runner push himself to the brink of extreme pain and still enjoy the process? Perhaps that point is a vacuum, an empty space. A runner’s nirvana. Or simply, when the body produces enough endorphin to suppress pain and simultaneously create an immense sense of happiness – runner’s high. So, SCKLM2012 was not my perfect marathon race. Will I be able to attain that equilibrium point? I don’t know. But I’m hopeful. Maybe, the answer is just another marathon away.
Friday, June 22, 2012
What long-distance running is truly about is measuring ourselves against a challenge that exceeds simple arithmetic....It is about knowing how to cope when the world turns against you. Robin Harvie, Why We Run - A Story Of Obsession.
For the longest time, I’d imagined running in the rain being an exhilarating, more liberating experience. And it’s true, as I’d found out during my last pre-race run. A light shower turned torrential rain had me completing the last few km in thoroughly soaked shoes, accompanied by a concert of roaring thunder. I admit that it was, to a certain extent, an irresponsible and dangerous decision to proceed with my run but it was also undeniably fun; reminiscence of a carefree primary school kid playing in the rain.
The next few days were spent resting, in preparation for my first midnight marathon. Resting, to me, was also an opportunity to stuff myself silly with food, in the name of carbo-loading. I’d been looking forward to this. From indulging in a seminar’s buffet (with free flow of cod fish!) to munching large bags of chips (I needed sodium, I really did!) to carelessly choosing fried noodles for lunch to having mee rebus for supper, it was as if I’d forgotten how dreadful it was to have runner’s diarrhoea.
This was my fifth marathon. By now, I’d learnt to pack my race bag systematically and managed to fully utilise the few hours prior to the race; by taking a short nap and stretching. When I left my house for the race site that night, I felt good. I wasn’t aiming for a sub 4-hour finish given the humidity and odd running hours, but I thought I’d trained enough to complete a 42.195 km run, injury-free. I could have been more excited had the organizer kept its promise to include the west coast highway route.
There were, of course, advantages to the changed route. Looping at the convenient East Coast Park meant that the elevations were minimal, which offers runners an opportunity to achieve a new personal record. Running along the ECP was also undoubtedly safer than on the highway.
I was expecting chaos at the start line as both full and half marathoners were scheduled to begin their respective races on the same road AND at the same time. I’d positioned myself nearest to the start line, to avoid the hassle of untangling myself from the massive middle pack.
And so, my run started off just fine. For the first 10 km, I clocked a sub 1-hour spilt. The supportive bar-goers and cooling air at the Marina Bay Sands made this an absolutely enjoyable stretch. By the 16th km, when the full marathoners headed for the ECP via the newly opened Gardens By The Bay, I still felt fresh although it was already 2 am.
By the 20th km, I was tailing the 4-hour pacers comfortably, hoping to overtake them in the end. That would have been ideal. But sadly, it did not materialise. Before reaching the Bedok Jetty, I was hit by bouts of gastrointestinal discomfort. It was disturbing and frightening at the same time. I had to fix this before it, literally, blows out of proportion. I was also disappointed with myself, for being so gluttonous in the past few days. That must have, somehow, contributed to this disaster. I entered the nearest toilet across the road to unload while watching the pacers sped off.
By the second toilet break (which, like the first one, failed to unload anything), I’d lost sight of the 4-hour pacers completely. Frustration and the continuous discomfort made the run even harder now. The turning point came when I’d reached the 25th km mark, where power gels were distributed. Interestingly, after consuming just one pack, the bowels reacted violently and I knew this time, I would be able to flush it out. And I did.
Exiting the toilet and returning to the marathon course, I felt lighter (obviously) and somehow reenergized. I’d regained the enthusiasm to run this race. I turned on my MP3 player and quickened my pace. There was no room for remorse right now. I should enjoy this - the second half of my first Sundown marathon.
As I ran, strong winds blew from all directions. Branches shook. Leaves started to fall. It didn’t take long before the ECP was hit by a deluge of rain. For me, it started when I reached the 30th km mark. This will not stop me, I’d decided, and assured myself that it’d be more fun than my last pre-race run. Some had resorted to seeking shelter in the nearby tents while volunteers and traffic marshals braved the rain to provide support for the runners. It was inspiring. Thank you!
Exiting ECP and into a few construction sites, the water level was, at the lower points, ankle-deep. There were much fewer runners on the road now. I wasn’t worried about the downpour or fatigued by the additional weight on my shoes and clothes. Rather, I was enjoying the cool it brought, and that I didn’t have to stop at water stations to rehydrate anymore. Water from the sky was aplenty that morning. Titanium by David Guetta (featuring Sia) was playing repetitively on my MP3 player. Even now, when I hear that song, I am reminded of the rainy Sundown 2012. You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium.....
The finish line was near when runners returned to the Nicoll Highway from the new Sports Hub. The rain had reduced now. Crossing the finish line a few minutes later, this time, I’d remembered to flash a smile for the camera.
Many finishers, still wet, stayed in the large tent to avoid the incessant rain. The food stalls inside the tent were doing brisk business. I overheard some stalls ran out of stock! There was also a free massage session for all full marathoners, which was great. I took this opportunity to relieve my recovering ITBs.
The rain finally stopped around 6 am. I didn’t head home right away. Instead, I dropped by the neighbourhood wet market for a hearty bowl of mee siam and some fried beehoon. A few hours ago, the people around me were runners, huffing and puffing their way to the finish line in the rain. Here, families were enjoying their Sunday breakfast at a more relaxed pace. Strangely, I’d found peace amidst the clatters.
At home, I managed to sleep for a good few hours. Later, waking up to a cool, grey late afternoon, I went grocery shopping for the new week ahead, wearing my new Sundown 2012 finisher's tee shirt. As much vanity there was in wearing the smart-looking tee shirt, I was, honestly, also celebrating the joy of having endured what some runners claimed as one of the toughest Sundown marathons ever, given the heavy rain. For me, toughest includes dealing with irritable bowels. Lesson learnt (yet again) - carbo-load, not overeat.
Friday, June 1, 2012
It was one of those days when I wanted to lunch alone, in my cubicle. That lasted 15 minutes, at most. With ample time to spare, and that the flu virus was spreading like wildfire in the office, I decided to catch some fresh air outside the building. As the sky cleared that afternoon, I took the opportunity to walk around the compound and later, circled the outer perimeter of the industrial cluster. I must say that I enjoyed this healthier way of spending my lunch hour. It was a good change from the usual routine of waiting for the bus to reach the food court, queuing to order my usual ban mian and spending extra money on coffee or tea that comes with conversations that do not interest me much.
As I walked on, patches of sweat appearing fast on my shirt, I realized how similar my life is with this circling, repetitive motion. It is dictated by commitments that keep us orbiting the same surrounding, day after day. I grinned when I thought of how this pattern also revealed itself in my usual physical activites - running loops and swimming laps! This is not meant to be a grouse but rather, a gentle reminder of how rewarding will all these commitments be in the end.
Did you manage to catch the supermoon yesterday?, asked a colleague. I didn’t know what it was until I did a quick search on the internet. Wikipedia explained this phenomenon as the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the moon's disk as seen from Earth. Oh, it seems like I’d missed the fun.
Approximately twenty four hours after the moon moved its closest to Singapore, I met an old friend for dinner. The timing was quite unfortunate, really, as I was required to attend a few late night meetings that week. But that particular night, I’d somehow managed to, tactfully, avoid the meeting. Besides enjoying a serious amount of ramen (3 whole bowls on the last count), I had a good time catching up with her. It’s been a long while since we sat down together for a meal. That few hours spent was my supermoon.
Towards the end of my walk that afternoon, I still couldn’t answer the question about rewards that I’d reminded myself earlier. But recalling the supermoon, I guess despite life orbiting the constant surrounding, it is a time like this, when the extraordinary appears, that makes the journey more worthwhile.
Friday, May 4, 2012
A friend with an impressive race record confessed that she’s not a good runner. She explained that if she was, then she wouldn’t have suffered countless, prolonged injuries throughout her running life. If I interpret that correctly, it’s to mean that a good runner should not only be concerned about speed, but he or she must also know how to avoid drills that damage the body. I can’t agree more, but it’s always easier said than done. And do I consider myself a good runner? Definitely not.
February started well with an enjoyable run at the Hong Kong Marathon. I took a week off running after the race, to relax and catch up with friends. When I resumed training for the Brooks Half Marathon in early March, I was confident that I wouldn’t need any special preparation. It was, afterall, only 21 km. My first post-marathon run was the hardest, even though it was done at a leisurely pace and short distance. This is one of the reasons why I try not to rest for too long, because to regain the momentum is hard, naturally. And it was during this run that I’d felt pain on my right knee. A few more runs later, coupled with a change of shoes, the pain had miraculously faded. It was now mid February. BHM was a few weeks away.
Unfortunately, it was also during this time that I’d been down with a bad flu, causing me to stop running for another week, which was also my birthday week. I relied on paracetamol and lots of garlic for containment but left it to my immune system to fight the flu war (I prefer not to take any form of antibiotic unless necessary). When I did almost recover, I decided to start training again. On my first run, as I climbed my favourite slope along the usual route, I felt a sharp pain on the left knee. It was so bad that I had to stop running to stretch and jerk my leg, which didn’t help much. As I tried to continue, the pain would return, as if to tell me to STOP running. There were times when, in pain, I couldn’t even move my leg. And I would have to limp-run back home.
It was now a week before BHM. The knee would only start to annoy after the 10th km. Increasing the distance to 15 km was deadly. So, my earlier statement of only 21 km now seemed unmanageable. Without a proper diagnosis, I wasn’t able start rehabilitating. And I didn’t want to seek professional help, simply because it’s expensive. So I tried everything I knew to minimize the pain; to get me through BHM at least.
Nothing worked. What frustrated me more was that I couldn’t even locate the painful spot. It seemed to be all around the knee. I finally decided to pay a visit to the nearby clinic. The GP that attended to me had only one advice – rest and stop running. She then explained the detriments of the sport, which I thought was inappropriate, especially to a runner. I was given some anti-inflammatory pills that I’d started taking two days before the race. I did complete my first BHM, four minutes short of a new personal record. But not without pain, of course. This time, it started at the 15th km and dragged all the way to the finish line on the track of the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. After the run, it was difficult for me to walk straight. Climbing stairs was a nightmare. BHM came and gone in a blur, but I still remember the happy moments of meeting old and new running friends. There, I was told that pain in the knee is a serious issue and that to ensure a long running life, I should seek opinion of a specialist and keep in mind the possibility of conducting an MRI scan.
The meeting with a specialist went well. He was a runner, so that made me more comfortable. I was diagnosed with ITBS, or Iliotibial Band Syndrome. It’s a common injury among runners and apparently, a stretching routine will fix the problem…if followed strictly, of course. It’s not a permanent injury and no MRI scan was needed. But recovery will be slow. When I informed the doctor that my next marathon was in a month’s time, he suggested that I should start a series of laser treatments to fasten the healing process (well, to minimize the pain, at least). It’s nothing serious, really. A probe is used to beam laser light into the knee, providing analgesia and repairing tissues simultaneously. A few sessions later, I began to train again, with a knee wrap. At the same time, I’d also started to cross-train, alternating between running and swimming.
By race week, I’d managed to do two pain-free 20 km runs, in between shorter distances. At the end of my last laser session, the therapist asked about my next run. I told her that it would take place in a few days. She looked surprised, and asked of the distance that the race would cover. 42 km, I replied. By now, I couldn’t tell if she was surprised or worried. Well, good luck, she said. Yes, luck. I really needed that.
Even before the start of the race, the full-marathoners were already treated like champions. We were given special parking lots just in front of the Sepang International Circuit’s main entrance. The race was to start at 8 pm, but I’d reached at 6 pm, to avoid traffic congestion and do a proper, thorough warm-up. I can’t remember how many ITB stretches that I’d done that evening!
The starting point was on the F1 track. In front of us hung the start light, now in red. When it turns green and the gun is fired, we’ll begin our night Run For A Brighter World (that’s the theme for this race). This time, I wasn’t aiming for a groundbreaking finish, just a pain-free run.
Running along the track wasn’t as easy as I thought. There were moderate inclines, but proved to be a good warm-up before we headed for the paddock access and continued covering 5 loops (of about 6 km each) on the main road outside the circuit. At certain areas, it was completely dark, if not for the organizer who had thoughtfully placed a few human torchlights (cum supporters) to guide the runners. To be fair, we were given headlights to wear but I’m sure many, like myself, wouldn’t like to have extra weight on our heads when we run a full marathon. But out of respect for the organizer, I decided bring along the headlight, but had it strapped to my arm instead.
The undulating terrain was a challenge, but because we ran in loops, we were able to strategize better after each round. Exiting the well-lit Jalan Pekeliling, we’d entered a dark, quiet palm oil estate and here’s where the elevations got more radical. As there were only 500 full-marathoners, at times, I’d run alone for a good 200 to 300 m. At that point, I understood why some past participants described this stretch as being eery. It didn’t bother me much though. I was more afraid of an antagonizing knee, for sure.
My watch died on me by the second loop. I ran without knowing my actual pace. Like many would say, more than anything else, it’s important to run with one’s heart. And so, I did...I think.
By the fourth loop (approximately 28 km on), my calves sored and I could feel my energy depleting fast. I refueled with powergel provided by the sponsor, right before reaching the checkpoint. The climb towards the checkpoint was the hardest, given the steepest (I think) incline. Many would walk, instead of running up to the checkpoint. What motivated me to push harder here was the thought that I’d completed another loop and was moving closer towards the finish line. Despite the relatively small scale, this was the most technologically advanced race that I’d ever participated in. At the checkpoint, a large screen used as a reminder would display my name and the number of loops that I’d completed, when I stepped on the electronic mat. A glance at the screen showed that I was at least one loop ahead of the other runners who stepped on the mat at the same time! To see that I’d so far, outrun many other runners was, unashamedly, a morale booster.
Re-entering the paddock meant that I’d only 5 km more to go. As always, the nearer I got to the finish line, the more torturous the run became. By now, it was solely a mental challenge. However, I think I’d somehow accustomed to this phase. Instead of exerting more pressure onto the tired body and mind, I tried to remain calm and consistent. The MP3 player had Miike Snow’s Silvia and Cult Logic on heavy rotation now, which was awesome...and timely. At the main entrance and nearby carpark, the resting 5 and 15.5 km runners, as well as traffic marshals, cheered us on. What a fantastic feeling. It was also during this time that the sole of my left feet felt warm, as if some blood vessels had just burst. But I kept going.
3 km to the finish line now. I’d entered the F1 track again. Surprisingly, with the limited reserve in me, I was able to overtake another runner and our distance grew with each stride. There was only one more runner ahead, separating me and the finish line. I’d hoped that he would not be the 50th runner to complete the marathon. You see, the organizer had promised a special T-shirt for the first 50 full-marathon finishers. From the beginning, I knew that it would be almost impossible to achieve that kind of ranking, but...oh well, I can be overambitious at times.
I crossed the finish line to the cheers of the other runners, emcee and volunteers. To have stayed for so long (it was already 5 minutes past midnight) and for keeping the spirit high, I have utmost respect for each of them. After the 42.195 km ordeal, I’d stopped running for good that night. I was congratulated by the staff, had the finisher’s medal hung on my neck and was given a goodie bag. NOW, the knee felt more painful as the endorphin thinned. And there’s the usual fatigue on every part of the leg that had me dragging myself to the car park later.
Sitting at the pit stop to catch my breath while still sweating profusely, I began to dig into the goodie bag. I wasn’t hungry, so I’d left the snack pack for later. I was more interested in the finisher T-shirt; to see if there’s a slightest chance that I might be able to own that special edition. And I began to tear the plastic bag.
The back of my T-shirt did have a TOP 50 print (I’d found out later that I was ranked 16th in my category). It was a surreal moment. I was astonished. And doubtful at the same time. But I was mostly happy. Nevermind that I’d missed a new personal record by 5 minutes or that the speakers had to blare a Miami Sound Machine song that moment or that the wounded ITB needed some stretching that very instance. This was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience and I wanted to savour every second of it. I heaved and then, started to laugh out loud.
Reality hit hard the next morning. I woke up to very painful calves, soles and left knee. The visit to my usual masseur left me relaxed, but still broken. I’d planned to rest for a whole week.
For my ITBS, the road to recovery will be long, for I’ve unknowingly done much damage to it in the past year. But as I’m typing this, I’ve begun to run again. My mileage is reduced; in line with my recovery plan. With each run, the ITB still stings but I insist on avoiding the knee wrap. I can’t and shouldn’t depend on it forever. I’m also more aware of injuries now. I’ll stretch before, during and after a run, regardless of the distance. Also, I’m cross-training to strengthen other parts of my body. Diet-wise, I’m taking in more protein to help build muscles.
I didn’t prepare any special meal for the ENR2012, except for the above, which I’d assembled while clearing the fridge on a Wednesday morning – Somen (carbohydrate) cooked in salt water (minerals), served with freshly cracked black pepper, truffle oil (good fat) and eggs (protein).
On a recent visit to the library, I’d found John “The Penguin” Bingham’s acclaimed An Accidental Athlete and decided to give it a read. Towards the end of this biography, he wrote Running has taught me, and continues to teach me, that there is joy in accepting the fact that I am fully human. Reading this, I couldn’t help but kept nodding in agreement, smilingly.
Through running, I’d begun to understand how the human body works, though often in a hard and perhaps unnecessary way. You’ll be surprised to know that sometimes, discovering a suitable stretching method to reduce pain is just as satisfying as finishing a marathon. For me, it’s another one of life’s little mysteries solved.