Monday, October 24, 2011

Putrajaya Night Marathon 2011

MAKE THAT CHANGE is an online reality show (there must be a more appropriate word than show) held in conjunction with the recent Putrajaya Night Marathon. Every runner participating in this programme aims to win the prize money to make a difference in someone's life. The runner who garners the most support for his/her cause, as quantified by the highest number of online votes, will walk away with RM6000.

Grace Tabitha Lim Clark ran in hope to win RM6000 to help manage the medical expenses of her friend who is suffering from lupus; a cannibalistic, autoimmune disease that attacks, among others, the lungs, kidneys, blood and brain. Grace herself is suffering from a similar disease. Jiana Jimain joined the race for her orphan friend who has cancer, in stage 4 now. The effect of chemotherapy has deprived her friend the chance of attending the convocation for her diploma. Despite the hardship, she continues to pursue her degree and Jiana hoped that the prize money would assist in settling her medical and study fees. By winning the RM6000, Christine Lim would be able to fund her friend Jet, an aspiring business coach, to enroll in a course in Singapore, which would enable him to improve his skills and use them to guide others in achieving their goals. Karen Loh and Yim are two celebrity runners. I've read a lot about them in the local running blogs. They participated in this programme to contribute to the development of the Orang Asli's welfare. Both Karen and Yim ran the full marathon. Prior to that, they'd completed the 100 km North Face duo (each ran 50 km) challenge in Singapore, an ultra endurance trail race, in the morning, before returning to Malaysia for the night marathon. You can say that they've each run almost 100 km in one day. I have great respect for all of them.

Everyone has a reason to run. Mine's frivolous, almost selfish, as compared to these runners. I just wanted to have a full marathon practice before the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon in December. This, the Putrajaya Night Marathon 2011, was my first attempt at 42.195 km.

I did what I could to train for this race. I was inspired by Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors. Like him, I would run 10 km almost daily and sometimes more, but never less. After a few weeks, I increased my mileage to around 14 km per run. I started picking up running tips from the internet and friends. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I was so engrossed in something. Especially after a hard day's work, training seems like a chore. Most of the time, really! But when I step out and start pounding the pavement, there's a sense of rejuvenation and that's always exciting. I have my favourite routes. The best (and most torturous) are those are lined with restaurants, where the roads are filled with delicious aromas of Chinese stir-fries and smoking barbecued meat. At a certain time, I would pass by a construction site and be greeted by an invigorating smell of curry cooked by the foreign workers. I bet the curry tastes as good as it smells. These days, I listen to simple, relaxing tunes on the radio as I run. Upbeat songs are for shorter distances, like 10 km. I tried listening to symphonies too (totally dig Bach's Air) but unfamiliar concertos in all sorts of majors and minors make the runs uncomfortable. And I would lose pace. So, sing-a-long ballads work for me, for now.

The night marathon was to be flagged off at 8.00 pm that Saturday. I came early, as I always do for every run, to check out the facilities. There's not been an affinity between me and this administrative city but I must say it looked stunning. I imagined the night scene, filled with colourful lights as I cross the finish line in front of the Palace of Justice (if I finish, that is). The weather was cooling, thanks to a shower a few hours ago. After applying the usual anti-chaffing gel, talcum powder and blister patches, I had a few sips of water, stretched and walked to the starting line.

In the first 10 km, many runners, young and old, overtook me but that's fine. A marathon is about consistency. There's still an awful distance of 32 km ahead, so it's good to start slow and steady. I was happy to have stayed within my targeted pace. By the way, the cut off time for this marathon is 6 hours. I'd hoped to finish within this period. Of course, a sub 5 hours will be sweet.

21 km. The half marathon distance. And the farthest that I've run in my life so far. Some resorted to walking by now. I lost count of the slopes. There must have been 5 or 6. The atrocious inclines had greatly impeded my pace. But that's just part of the test. Or fun, some might say. Just take a deep breath, loosen your hands, bend forward slightly and launch ahead with a smile. The street performers, traffic marshals and cheerleaders helped to ease the pain. Thank you!

22 km. I had to be careful and listen to my body more from this point onwards. As my body was facing a new, longer, unknown distance, I wouldn't know how it would react. Maybe my legs would cramp. Or I might just have the dreaded runner's diarrhea. Worse, the old painful side stitches would return to kill me. I switched on my MP3 player for some distraction.

During the training months, I had to pay special attention to my diet. It's not as serious as it sounds, really. I just had to eat more regularly and carbo-load myself before each evening run. Tea breaks in the office would be my dinner. To chomp down a big plate of fried meehoon and kway teow with eggs (or radish cake, occasionally) and sambal while all your colleagues sip a tiny paper cup of coffee did feel odd. Running tonight, eh?, they'd ask. During the last 3 days of the tapering week before this marathon, I thought about consuming more good fats for fueling and protein to build muscles. Salmon and avocado sprang to mind instantly. I made some sort of guacamole as a dressing for my salmon flakes, which I'd cooked with lots of onions and garlic. This was the filling for my sandwich. Sides were simply some lettuces, tomatoes and 2 eggs. A few hours before the night marathon, we had a family dinner...that's at 3 pm! At my request, mum had prepared a delicious potato and pork stew, and steamed pomfret to go with rice. I had specifically wanted potatoes for its carbohydrate, sodium and potassium. It was one nutrients-packed and filling dinner!

25 km. My pace was still decent. My legs felt lighter. I was excited and anxious at the same time. Soon, I would cross the 30th km. For many, this is the point when they hit the wall because the amount of carbohydrate, in form of glycogen, stored in the body depletes almost completely. Fats will then be the main source of energy. And fat burning causes fatigue. It would feel like running with bricks tied to the feet. More had stopped running and walked from this point onwards. The next rehydration point was not far ahead. I tore my first pack of PowerGel (strawberry and banana flavour) and slided it down my throat as I continued to anticipation of the wall.

The expressways were hazy at certain points. Humidity was high, but that's to be expected in a night marathon. Since sponges are not offered at every rehydration point, I had kept one in hand and dipped it into the cups before squeezing it on my head. Especially when the water was cold, this was very refreshing.

31 km. Runners were more distant from one another now. I could only see 2 runners in front of me. I didn't want turn behind to check. It's not important. To my surprise, I'd overtaken at least 10 runners in the last 6 km. My breathing was still slow and regulated, so that's a good sign. I told myself that the training had somehow yielded some positive results. My legs were even lighter now.

I didn't know if the lightness was an early sign of cramps, so I was slightly worried. I did learn that cramps can be prevented (or at least minimized) by hydrating oneself with water, to dilute the amount of lactic acid produced. At the same time, the body also needs to maintain a healthy level of minerals such as sodium, so isotonic drinks are essential. At every hydration point after the 10th km, I would take 2 cups of water and 100 Plus each. It may sound too much for seasoned runners but I'd rather bloat than cramp. The organizers had also prepared bananas (peeled!) and watermelon, which was very thoughtful of them.

When I saw the Falun Dafa band, I knew we'd looped and that the finish line was not too far away. Thank goodness the second half of the route was relatively kinder and not as erratic as the first. Pain had kicked in. It's a sign that the body has started to complain. I slowed down a little but trudged on. I began to lose interest in the distance. Instead, I concentrated on finishing the race.

Running is a lonely sport, which may be the reason why I enjoy it so much, especially at night. We all pace differently. No two runners will finish at the same time. So, no matter how many friends you run with, at one point, you will find yourself running alone. That's life.

The last few rehydration points seemed deserted. Many elite runners had passed these stations long ago. The remaining cups were still filled with water and isotonic drinks. I had the whole table to myself. Great! Just when I thought that things would be fine, that I'd have a smooth run to the finish line, I saw a steep slope ahead. There were two more behind it.

It's precisely because of this pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive - or at least a partial sense of it. Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

As I descended the last slope, my watch showed 4:20. I still had approximately 2.5 km to go. A small part of me was disappointed. I had, secretly, hoped for a 4:30 finish. With my current pace, this was definitely unachievable. But a sub 5 finish was guaranteed.

To reach the finish line, runners have to make a full turn from Lebuh Sentosa to the main road that leads directly to the Palace of Justice. This was the final and longest km. Here, the atmosphere was not as energetic as before. The cheerleaders and performers were gone now. But each step was greeted by cheers from those who stayed. It felt good, although the body was starting to hurt again. I dashed towards the finish line, hoping the electronic counter would freeze.

There was no outpour of emotion, no kissing the ground, no out of body experience and no high jumps as I crossed the finish line. I don't know if I'd underacted on my part, but I was thankful to have completed my first marathon injury-free. The official congratulated me as she hung the finisher's medal on my neck. This was followed by more congratulations when I received the snack pack, water and finisher's t-shirt. Thank you, officials.

I walked away from the crowd and sat, for the first time since 6 pm, on the curb. Now, my legs felt really heavy. I called a few friends for drinks at our usual Mamak stall at Hartamas and dragged my heavy body to the car.

The simple, primitive act of running has nurtured me. I've become more tolerant, more patient, and more giving than I ever thought I could be....This is what running has taught me, making me-I hope-a better man. Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man.

They say that running a marathon is a life-changing experience. To a certain extent, I think it's true. For me, it's not solely about completing a 42.195 km race but more importantly, the preparation that has been put in until the start of the race. Throughout the training, despite having to sacrifice a part of my social life, I'd understood myself better, both physically and mentally.

This post serves as a reminder to myself, that nothing's easy in life. But if you respect the distance and make enough effort to overcome the challenge, the reward, be it in any form, is often, almost assured.

Thanks FC, for your guidance, the miraculous anti-chaffing gel and Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man. And to S, the speedy litigator, thanks for sharing your inspiring running experiences.


CUMI & CIKI said...

Oh wow! how inspiring Hairy.. well done! You really sound like Haruki Murakami - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, now! Esp the inspiring bits!
What can i say .. i ran Janda Baik with Cumi over the wkd.. 10KM plus but no where as impressive as you! Great job you!:)

Life for Beginners | Kenny Mah said...

Wow. Ditto what Ciki said, very inspiring, bro. (And kudos to the marathon organisers - details like peeled bananas are a very nice touch!)

"Running is a lonely sport, which may be the reason why I enjoy it so much, especially at night."

Ah, to be alone and in motion, all at the same time. The thoughts we get when we are by ourselves - or does your mind go blank instead? :P

Gretta London said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
choi yen said...


UnkaLeong said...

Worth training for right bro? Sub 5 hours on your first marathon. Really great effort! I've found a cure for cramping, it's in the form of pills called endurolytes. Google it. I swear by them whenever I take part in a biking event that lasts for more than 2 hours.

Alfee said...

Inspiring! I really like how you sum up on the parallels between marathons and life. I'm still fearful of setting out to do a full marathon, so I hope to be able to complete half of that first.

Simona Moves said...

Really well done! I am so inspired!

HairyBerry said...

ciki, woah, you flatter me lah. i'm nowhere near murakami. but he's really an inspiration for me. hey, 10k is quite a distance too. and you run everyday...i only run more frequently when a race is near...hehe. so, you are impressive!

kenny, thanks for the encouragement, bro! and yeah, it was my first time seeing peeled banana given out along the way! interesting question on the thoughts when we are alone. well, if i listen to the radio, i might think of the lyrics of the songs. not seriously analysing them, but just some random thoughts. and yes, it goes blank too, sometimes. like murakami said, it's a void. scary hor? hehehe.

gretta, thanks! but i'm nowhere near the great murakami. so true about running being an expression of freedom. maybe that's why i feel liberated after a run. :)

choi yen, thank you! :)

unkaleong, thanks for the encouragement, bro! ooooh, i never knew about the endurolytes. time to check it out before the next marathon. thanks for the info!

alfee, glad you enjoyed the post! :) yupe, i did run a few half marathons before attempting a full one. it helps to build stamina and confidence definitely. good luck! :)

simona, thanks! glad you liked the post!

Life for Beginners | Kenny Mah said...

I think I wouldn't mind the mind going blank for a bit. Usually when I go for my walks or jogs around my neighbourhood (like I did this morning), my mind is percolating with thoughts, one after another.

Some blankness would be a nice change. :)

babe_kl said...

well done and very inspiring indeed ;-) keep it up

HairyBerry said...

kenny, yeah, i think blankness will do us good sometimes! some sort of nirvana, eh? if you are occupied with thoughts during your runs, perhaps you can invest in an mp3 player. it works for me! :)

babe_kl, thanks so much for the encouragement!!! :)

Max Homes said...

Very inspiring and well written! I enjoyed reading the post a lot! Best Regards!

Selba said...

Aiiihh.. I totally missed reading this post! I was browsing your blog to look for your running posts since your last post is really inspiring to me. Seriously, in one part I really want to exercise again but in another part, I need something/someone that can (and keep) motivate me. Just being a single fighter wont keep me long, based on my experiences. Some of my questions in your last post can be found in here! :)

HairyBerry said...

selba, i understand what you mean. it's always difficult to make the first step. sometimes, i do wonder why on earth do i force myself to wake up at 4.30 am to run when i could have just slept til 7...but all the negativities are gone when i'd completed the runs. take your time and enjoy the runs, when you want to! it's more fun that way. ;D