Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Last and First

4 December 2011 (Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore)

Once again, I’d followed a high, good fats and potassium-rich diet of salmon, avocado and potatoes in preparation for race day.

I was stuck in the human jam along Orchard Road. Under the bright Christmas lights, I was bewildered, frustrated and upset. My pace was negligible. It was painful to look at my stopwatch. Come on, compressing 20,000 marathoners on the compact city roads has got to be a bad idea. And to have just 8 baggage deposit counters was an obvious sign of mismanagement. Still walk-running somewhere between South Bridge Road and Cecil Street (that's 4 km from the starting point), I had a thought that followed me a long, slow distance. Was I missing the point? Shouldn't I be enjoying the run instead of eagerly wanting to better my personal best time for a full marathon? NO! I didn't come untrained. I wanted to hit a new PB. I wanted to cap off this amazing year with a PB. My response made me even more upset. For me, this was the most anticipated run of 2011. After completing the 10 km and 21 km categories in 2009 and 2010 respectively, I'd plucked enough courage to challenge myself to run the marathon distance. The Putrajaya Night Marathon and months of training boosted my confidence further.

The human traffic eased towards the 8th km. So did my mind. Now, I decided, was the time to recover, to compensate for lost time. I began to accelerate.

By the 13th km, I'd entered East Coast Park - the longest stretch (about 20 km) of the full marathon course. Despite the narrow lanes, runners were more dispersed now. The 5-hour pacers were now in sight. I quickened my pace. As I overtook them, I was once again filled with optimism. Earlier disturbances were washed away with the endless flow of sweat. Observing my average pace, I estimated the time needed to reach the 4.30-hour pacers. It wouldn't take too long.

Indeed, I managed to catch up with the pacers and later, overtook them. To achieve a new PB, I must always stay ahead of them until I reach the finish line. As a bonus, the 4:15-hour pacers were not too far in front too!

Besides achieving a PB, I wanted to finish the race injury-free as well. However, I didn't manage to do any pre-race stretching due to the delay at the bag deposit counter. That got me worried. There was nothing that I could do, but to listen to my body with every stride.

At the 34th km, before crossing the bridge to Marina Barrage, I felt a prickle on my right inner thigh (there must be some Latin name for the specific muscle, I'm sure). It's the familiar sensation I get when I do longer runs. Sometimes, it would disappear but unfortunately, on that day, the pain worsened. Who would have thought that a tiny piece of cramped meat like that could affect one's performance? Well, it did. Running, from that point on, felt like driving a car with one locked wheel. I had no choice but to slow down, constantly and rhythmically swinging my right leg to reduce the pain. I gulped two packs of energy gels and had cups of isotonic drinks, hoping to level the amount of potassium in my body, which may (or may not) ease the cramp.

As I was thinking of ways to minimize the pain, I didn't realise that the 4:30-hour pacers had caught up with me. The sight of their bright yellow singlets and grey balloons was unwelcome and alarming. I can't let them overtake me, not at this point. Like a prey running for its life, I pushed on…hard. There was no turning back to check on the pacers or treating the thigh now. I just ran - up the Heartbreak bridge, zig-zagging through the congested Republic Boulevard (I had almost given up there) and struggled through the last 2 km to reach the finish line at the Padang. The pacers reached minutes later.

There was much to be celebrated that morning. Firstly, I'd achieved a new marathon PB by shaving 18 minutes off my previous timing at the Putrajaya Night Marathon. Also, I'd completed all the 10, 21, 42 km categories of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, which begs the question - should I participate again in 2012? My elder cousin, who suffered a major cramp during the race, managed to complete his marathon within the time limit while the younger cousin made his half-marathon debut and finished the equally congested run in a respectable time. Personally, and most importantly, I'd learned to not give excuses. Could I have done better at the SCMS if I had the whole route to myself? I don't know. But I do know that despite being caught in the human traffic, I'd seized every opportunity to catch up, by running faster and smarter. And that's another life lesson learnt....through running.

As I sat on the pavement to rest, I saw many runners, with their finisher's T-shirt in hand, limping their way out of the Padang. I was one of them, of course. It's a funny sight, really.

For me, 2011 was mostly about running (as in the sport, of course). In the last 7 months, I'd done 4 half marathons, 2 King of the Road runs and 2 full marathons. Hey, that's slightly more than 1 official race per month! And that exclude the amount of training poured into improving each run. Ending the last run of the year on a happy note did put me in a cheerful, holiday mood. Two days after the marathon, I visited Beijing. Then, I was back in KL for a week, celebrating Christmas with friends before heading to Ipoh for some really good food. As for the New Year celebration.....

1 January 2012 (Newton New Year Challenge 2012)

This year, I'd observed new year's eve countdown parties being held everywhere in KL; from shopping malls to famous streets to public squares to residential areas! Even the football field in my neighbourhood was used by the current administration to usher in the new year with some stage performances (targeting mainly the older folks), lucky draws and fireworks display. But instead of joining this party (or any other, for that matter), I chose to sleep at 10:00 pm, after a sumptuous pre-race dinner of stir-fried potatoes with pork, fried chicken and ayam masak merah. Understandably, it's unwise to consume oily and spicy food before a race but I was curious to see how my body would react to moderate, not excessive, portions of such food. My friends were unhappy with my decision to sleep early instead of joining them for the countdown. But they've come to terms with my obsession and agreed to celebrate the arrival of 2012 on new year's day instead. And we had a good time enduring a torturous foot massage followed by a dinner of Moroccan lamb shank, among other dishes.

I chose to participate in the Newton Challenge because it's a run that's like no other. And I thought, completing this 25 km course of multiple, erratic elevations would be good motivation to start the brand new year. I’ve read a lot about the Ammah Hills and I still don’t understand the reason behind this moniker. Regardless, this was one steep, fierce mama. Looking at the race map, I was also slightly intimidated by the names of some major points along the route as well, like PUNCAK Jalil and Paragon HEIGHTS. They do sound high. So, the Newton Challenge is not just about conquering the distance, but more significantly, it’s about one’s ability to defy gravity.

Given the distance of 25 km, I didn’t device any special training sessions as I assumed my weekly mileage was sufficient to prepare me for this run, in terms of stamina. As for the elevations, I was just mentally prepared for some tough climbs.

As expected, at midnight, I was awakened by the explosions of fireworks from the football field. But I managed to fall asleep again soon after (surprisingly) and woke up at 3:00 am, all geared up for my first ever new year’s day run. Years ago, this was the time I’d returned home from the clubs.

At the start point, I saw many famous running bloggers and also bumped into my cousin, who took part in the 12 km run. It was as if the whole running community was there! The race started at 5:30 am along the relatively mild (flat) Kinrara Golf Club. A few minutes into the race, my MP3 player died…right after Moves Like Jagger. I didn’t feel right having the mute headphones stuck to my ears and decided to slow down to remove them before resuming my first silent race. But that was okay, really. Throughout the race, I’d seen runners waving and wishing each other a happy new year. I even heard someone saying Gong Hei Fatt Choi. That’s the reason why I like small-scale races like this. They are more intimate and enjoyable.

The first challenge came as we reached the T-junction of Persiaran Puncak Jalil. Turning left, we faced the introductory hill that left many breathless. I also found it a struggle but still launched ahead, body bent forward slightly, with my arms semi-folded, like a praying mantis. I realized that this position works well for me. Ascending one steep slope that measured almost 700 m in length after another was extremely taxing on the heart and legs. At times, I felt my heart was about to pound out of my chest. Runners began distancing from one another. Elites were spearheading at an envious speed, leaving the rest huffing and puffing, wishing the peak was within the next step. I tried to distract myself with trivial thoughts…of Sin Eng Heong’s delicious, crispy kaya puffs and wondering why the streetlights would turn off every time I pass them by. I could still go on, I convinced myself.

Descending the first major hill wasn’t easy too, for me. I didn’t want to switch to free gear, which I assumed would make the next climb more difficult, if I wanted to keep the momentum. I had to control my pace. Returning to the T-junction, we ran straight ahead towards the other direction of the Persiaran, which would ultimately lead us to Puncak Jalil. Here was THE killer slope, which looked frightening, even if one was driving. This was the absolute challenge, I thought. I tried not to look up, and focused on the dividing white lines on the road instead. The killer slope actually consists of a few smaller slopes, which made the climb even more difficult. Reaching the end of the first slope, we had a couple of seconds to catch our breath before continuing to ascend the second slope. And this vicious cycle would continue. After a while, one would lose interest in counting the number of slopes and just wished the race would end soon.

Without the distance markers, runners relied on each other and the traffic marshals for guidance. The marshals were very encouraging. When some runners asked one of the marshals for the distance, the friendly marshal replied, in Cantonese, Aiya, a few kilometers more only. Don’t think too much lah. Just continue to run! I thought that was rather entertaining.

I knew the end was near when I saw the last (and first) Petronas station. The ground was very much flat again, thank goodness. Crossing the finish line, I was still feeling fresh, although the legs were badly stretched, no thanks to Ammah and her children. I didn’t set any goal for this race because there are no other races of the same distance to compare it with. To my understanding, 25 km is a rather unusual distance. But my average pace had improved, in comparison with my best half marathon pace. So, that was an achievement, I thought. Also, I’d completed the course injury-free and without consuming any energy gels.

I lingered around the race site and had a few cups of isotonic drinks and Milo before heading home for a hearty and well-deserved breakfast of fried arrowhead chips and assam laksa. Despite the tough course, I’d enjoyed the race very much.

Many have predicted that 2012 will be a year of slower economy and increased natural disasters. I was also told that the new year would be disastrous for those born under my Chinese zodiac sign. If it’s true, that 2012 will be a struggle as suggested, I hope it’ll still be as fun as the Ammah Hills challenge. Bring it on!

Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2012.


Selba said...

Seriously, I really enjoy reading this post, it's so intriguing :)

Congratulations! So great to know that you've done the 42 km marathon and other distance marathons! :)

I wonder whether I can even walk for 42 km non-stop in a day, hehehe. 2 years ago, I did a morning walk in a walking track park for 6 km in an hour every Sunday for several months. I totally love it but too bad, it stopped because the difficulty to reach the place :( I tried to walk around my neighborhood but it's totally different with all the distractions especially since my neighborhood is got so many traffics and very bad pavement to walk.

Ah.. I still remember the feeling and sensation in my legs after the long walks :) Some curiosity... When you run marathon, can you feel the release of endorphin rush in you? How many hours does it take to run 42 km? How do you overcome the boring feeling when you are running? Just by listening to your mp3?

Let's cross our finger that 2012 will be a great year and not as scary or bad as what people have predicted,ya.. ;)

Xiu Long Bao said...

I can feel that my heart is pounding out of my chest too by reading this running post. Good job on your PB(s).

Kenny Mah said...

That's a lot of running... and I feel like I was there with you, in spirit, every step of the way. Minus the running, of course.

May you have many more successful runs this year... and Zodiac predictions are just challenges for us to defeat, yes? :)

John said...

Great story! For a real 'food' marathon try the Singapore Restaurant Week (coming soon!). Hope you will like it!

HairyBerry said...

selba, glad you liked the post! i enjoyed writing it myself. ;D and thanks for the kind words. i had some really good runs last year. ;D i understand the hassle one has to go through to find a suitable and safe place to run. especially when we're in living in a city, the roads are usually not pedestrian-friendly. so, we are restricted to parks and neighbourhood. i feel that more parks should be built around the city, instead of annual campaigns promoting good health. try using google map to find a place near your home. you'll be surprised to know that there may be a park nearby! good luck. ;D haha, if release of endorphin means feeling happy while running, then YES, i do get it...hehehe. if course, when it's a full marathon, "happy" comes with pain as well but that's just part of the experience...the duration to complete 42 km really depends on each individual. for me, i just hope to do 4+ hrs for now. actually, when it's race day, i don't feel bored at all, because i'm running with a lot of people. but if i'm running alone, yes, i listen to the radio. ;D yeah, i absolutely agree with you...let's pray for a better 2012! ;D

xiu long bao, thanks for the encouragement! u ran well too, in 2011. going sub 1 hr for 10km is an enviable feat. have a faster 2012!

kenny, eh, don't minus the running la. maybe we can gather some friends and join a race in 2012. in fact, it was the scklm that our friends koined that re-ignited my interest in running! thanks for your wishes! and yesssss, defeat 'em -ve's we will! ;D

john, haha, thanks for the info! best of luck in this year's event! ;D

Kenny Mah said...

Hmm, that's actually a good idea... listening to the radio rather than just a setlist of songs... With the radio, it's not fixed (songs and interactions) and therefore we are more alert, no?

Having said that, I mostly do my morning walks/runs without my iPod cos my senses are kinda nosy (even th ones that aren't a nose) and my neighbourhood can provide for all that.

If I ever become a serious runner like you, bro... then my iPod is a must! 4+ hours of running... *shudders*

UnkaLeong said...

Try googling endurolytes. It helps me deal with cramps when I do bike events which last for more than 4 hours.

Respect bro. Respect.

Now that you have done the all 3 race distances of the Singapore Marathon, how about doing a marathon in other parts of SEA?

The deaf one did mention that she was interested in one in Siem Reap. December as well. Weather is cooling.

Apa Macam?

choi yen said...

Happy Dragon Year to you & family! Your box of food looks yummy yet healthy wor...

HairyBerry said...

kenny, yupe, i'll tune in to the radio instead of listening to my mp3 rotation whenever i can. i like the random selection of songs. if they play a song that i like, i'll run faster...hehehe. and yes, the jokes that the djs crack make me lol sometimes..while running! don't you find running without an mp3 player makes you focus better? that's why i try to run without 'em on race day. aiyo, i'm not a serious runner la. and i don't have 4 hours of music in my player. i just repeat some of the songs that i like....hehehehehe

unkaleong, thanks for reminding me about endurolytes! i'll keep a lookout at the next running expo. they do sell some of these stuff there. ;D yupe, am thinking of venturing out of Sg. If you and the deaf one are interested in the angkor wat run, I'm ON! ;D

choi yen, here's wishing you and your family an early happy lunar new year too! may all your wishing come true in the year of the dragon! ;D

Kenny Mah said...

I dun really walk/jog for more than 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, so it's hard to get bored. So far, no mp3 player seems to work better for me. It's also easier to detect dogs chasing me if I can hear them barking ma... :P

HairyBerry said...

kenny, haha, so true about detecting them dogs! for me, it's the on coming cars. that's why i try to reduce the volume...hehe.