Thursday, February 9, 2012

Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2012

Two weeks ago, when I slipped my left foot into the work shoe after a 20 km run, my sole felt sore. It was bad enough to keep me agitated throughout the day. I convinced myself that the pain was temporary, like how my thighs would strain or ankles sprained after a long run, and that they would self-heal in a matter of days. By the following week, which was only 6 days to the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, the pain worsened. I tried every common treatment that I could think of - including icing the foot. The numbness caused by the cold did temporarily hide the pain but would return to haunt me the next morning. It was depressing waking up to this. Despite the pain, I still managed to complete the obligatory pre-marathon long distance run, 4 days before the race. The pain was most excruciating in the final 10 km. Maybe it was the new pair of insoles that somehow changed my pronation and caused the pressurized ligament to inflame or tear. It could also be caused by my new lightweight racers, since there were less cushioning. Or that I’d simply overtrained this month, in preparation for my first Hong Kong Marathon. In January, I’d upped my running mileage to 322 km (that’s about 10 km daily), which might have been more than my body could handle. But there were no signs of resistance, so I assumed that it was already adapting to longer, more frequent runs. How unfortunate that it had to happen now, at the time when I was in the final preparation stage for my first marathon abroad.

I’d kept the injury to myself because at that point, I thought no one would be able to help. And it was too minor (and expensive) to seek professional help. On one of the tapering days, as I filled a pail of water with ice, XLB asked if I was going to soak my clothes in it. I explained that it was to dip my injured foot. She then asked if I had plantar fasciitis (an inflammation near the heel area) and shared her experience on this condition, which really did put my injury into perspective. Perhaps I did inflame my plantar fascia, given some of the symptoms that she’d described. Her miraculous Korean plaster had significantly minimized the pain for a whole day. But I knew that it wasn’t the best long-term solution. The next day, I tried scanning as many websites and forums as I could on plantar fasciitis and its treatment, mostly in form of physiotherapy. In the next 2 days before departing for Hong Kong, I began a set of self-treatment – taping, stretching, rolling, wearing heel cups, etc. The technique of holding/releasing a towel with my toes was rather effective. The pain had gradually reduced. At night, I would tape my left foot to restrain movement and prevent it from drooping when I sleep.

By the time I boarded the plane to Hong Kong, I was still unsure if I could complete the race. The pain on my left foot had subsided, but when I start pounding the pavement on Sunday, the inflammation may return and for worse, tear completely whatever that’s left of my plantar fascia. But it was too late to pull out now. I just had to be more cautious on race day.

Arriving on Friday afternoon, I proceeded to Victoria Park at Causeway Bay to collect my race pack. It's always the same for me - seeing my name printed on the runner's tag heightens the excitement that will follow me to the starting line. That made me forget about the injury for a while.

It was 12 hours before the race and I began to pack the essentials into the recyclable race bag. As I tied the timing chip to my shoe, I was contemplating on removing the insoles that I'd suspected of causing the injury and replaced them with the GT-2160's (which I'd just bought from Sogo Causeway Bay at an amazingly low price). I tried walking in them around Mongkok that night. My left foot felt more comfortable now but I reminded myself that this new combination of insoles and shoes was untried. In the end, I'd decided to take the risk.

Race day. I had a sound sleep the night before. Of course I did. I'd walked around Kowloon and Central for hours, only stopping for some good old local food. The feet were behaving rather well and that really lifted my spirit. The light shower was cooling and the temperature was around 16 deg C. It was the best weather condition that I'd ever had on any given race day so far.

At the waiting pane, the paparazzi were surrounding one of the full marathoners - not an elite runner but local celebrity, Edison Chen. I think he was running to raise fund for charity. For myself, I decided to participate in the Hong Kong Marathon after reading some very positive feedbacks on the organization and weather, and that it's only a 4-hour flight from Singapore. Since receiving the acceptance letter, I'd been looking forward to experiencing this world-class marathon that attracts many runners from this region. I'd also kept in mind the much discussed hilly, impeding terrain.

Starting from the 2nd km, we ascended about 70 m to reach the peak of the Stonecutter's Bridge before turning onto the iconic Tsing Ma Bridge. The next and last bridge to cross before returning to Kowloon was Ting Kau, the highest point of the race at an elevation of about 90 m. This trinity of bridges route made up almost half the marathon distance and many runners were seen struggling from one bridge to another, given the challenging elevations. Words of encouragement were exchanged (mostly in Cantonese) and I found that to be rather inspiring. Reaching the top of Ting Kau, I was still doing alright, with a painless left foot and regulated breathing.

According to the elevation chart, we should enjoy the descend from the top of the final bridge onwards, as we make our way back to the city. That was the reason I'd decided to channel my energy on the first half of the race, knowing that the last half would be relatively easier. But that was not the case. In general, the Cheung Tsing Tunnel - Tsing Kwai Higway - West Kowloon Highway - Western Harbour Tunnel route was a 90 m drop spanning 16 km, but the intermediate slopes at around the 29th, 31st and 33rd km added significant resistance to this second half of the race. Some runners would walk to rest before resuming to climb these slopes. The merging of the full and half marathon routes at the West Kowloon Highway, which caused a small congestion, was another obstacle to overcome. To say that I was not losing focus at that stretch would be a lie. I kept reciting a simple mantra in my mind to vacuum off the strain on every inch of my legs. And by the 32nd km, I'd turned on my MP3 player.

More stopped to stretch and apply ointment on their tired legs in the Western Harbour Tunnel. This is the tunnel that connects Kowloon to the Hong Kong island and in this course, the final stretch before running on the milder roads of Central. It was time to push the hardest.

Reaching the end of the tunnel, I KNEW the struggle was over as I'd studied the course elevation. The last 4 km would be easy, just like my usual morning runs, I told myself. The gel bars were still untouched. But right in front of me was a high flyover, filled with a sea of slowed runners. Was it my imagination? How was that possible? A closer look at the chart later revealed that there were indeed more erratic elevations leading to the finish line.

Back to the last 4 km. From my few experiences, I'd learnt that I should run at a constant pace in the final few kms, in order to not lose steam in the midst of the excitement and euphoria of being close to completing a marathon. So, I ran patiently, steadily, crossing one flyover after another, towards Victoria Park.

Rapturous supporters filled both sides of the route from Lockhard Road onwards. It's a sign that we were nearing the end of the race. The surrounding of classic shophouses and colourful signboards that fill many postcards of Hong Kong was beautiful. This was the moment that I'd been waiting for in the Hong Kong Marathon.

The finish line was about a hundred meters ahead. As I ran towards it, I started to recall the 2 weeks leading to this point, feeling ever grateful for this injury-free, enjoyable race.

I missed the sub 4-hour mark by 52 seconds but managed to achieve a new personal record by shedding about 28 minutes off my previous best timing at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.


Kenny Mah said...

Bravo, bro, bravo!

And you kept me on the edge of my seat every step of the run/story. :D

xiu long bao said...

congrats, take a rest n' dun stress the heel further k.

UnkaLeong said...

So is it plantar fasciitis? Congrats on the superb timing bro :)

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

Beautiful and inspiring writing. Makes me almost want to start running. :-) Congratulations on the excellent time achieved!!

HairyBerry said...

kenny, thanks so much, bro! glad you liked the story. to be honest, i had a good time writing this, recalling the short but memorable trip to hong kong. i haven't been back for 7 years! haha.

xlb, thanks! i started running again, as you can tell...hehe. but am starting short and slow again.

unkaleong, since the sole is not giving me any problem now (fingers crossed!), i guess it's not plantar fasciitis...cos that will take a long time to heal, i think. thanks for the encouragement, bro. let's do a run together this year!

lyrical lemongrass, thanks so much! i guess i've told you the real reason why i didn't achieve a sub 4 hr, right? haha...will write about that in my next post! ;D jom go running! ;D