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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Restoran O & S

Since the last post, I've been running (what's new, HairyBerry?) and more importantly, training for a few races in the coming months. I've progressively increased my mileage and discovered some new running routes around the neighbourhood. The cool evening breeze during this rainy season has been a great motivator too.

September and October mark the most auspicious period for Chinese couples to tie the knot. Besides the wedding invitation, I was also roped into becoming a best man, performer and emcee for a good friend's wedding just two weeks ago. Stressful, well, a bit. And that's because I had to memorise a Bublé number, which was something new to me. But it was really good meeting my primary and secondary school classmates there.

So, despite the inactivity here, no, I'm not dead. In fact, I've never felt more alive.

At the recent pool party, Sushi said that I'm now 1/3 of my previous size. Some friends and colleagues even asked if I've contracted any fatal disease that has caused the shrinkage. Definitely not. I'm just running longer and farther.

Therefore, I need to eat a lot too, to refuel. Weekdays are pretty much the same - bread, fried noodles, soups, savoury cakes, cookies, fruits and a few cups of good old Milo. I look forward to the weekends, usually after a Saturday morning run, when I would spend time catching up with family and friends over brunch. Big brunches, mostly. There was nothing atas about these eateries but that's cool. These are some of the most common hawker centers and coffee shops in KL that serve good food. I'm excited to blog about them all.

For a start, there's Restoran O&S. The main reason that has kept me away from this coffee shop is the crowd. But this time, the parents insisted on revisiting. Arriving at the unGodly late hour of 10 am (because I had to complete my weekend run earlier), I thought we'd have to shed blood and tears to secure a table. Well, we did have to wait but the patrons have been very considerate. They would leave after finishing their meal and not stay put to chat. Or was I just plain lucky that Saturday?

I had to try the infamous assam laksa. Beneath the golden broth were chunks of mackerel and that, to me, was worth waiting for. The more expensive versions served at the local coffee chains don't come close to offering this much of meat, really. I was expecting intense sourness but it turned out rather sweet, perhaps due to the generous loading of ripe pineapple. I like mine sour and hot, but that's just me. We've also had, among others; popiah, beef noodles and char kway teow. Nothing mind-blowing, but they were all good.

Perhaps quality is more definitive, as compared to good. The ingredients used were fresh, the portions seemed consistent and reasonable, and most of all, tasty. The sellers were very friendly too. For less than RM10 (or RM5, even), what more can you ask for these days?

I'd observed other stalls at O&S that had also attracted a stream of patient customers. The food must be good. Hmmm, looks like I'll have to return to try them all. And to beat the crowd, I guess I'll just have to run earlier...or faster.

Restoran O & S
1, Jalan 20/14
Paramound Garden
Petaling Jaya, Selangor.