Since August I’ve had the privilege of coaching a group of new runners once a week. We’re all 40-50ish. Not that this matters but I think it is important. It’s important because I firmly believe that it’s never too late to start something new, especially if it brings you joy, friendship, and better physical and mental health.
While there are days when I can’t remember what I had for dinner the previous evening, I never have trouble remembering my first race. It also helps to have a timeline post on Facebook to jog the memory.
The point is, that one’s first race, no matter how long, or where, is special. And for two members of my Monday morning running group, this Sunday shall be seared on their brains, and shared to friends worldwide on Facebook, as they are heading to a start line for the first time to run an 8km race. So ladies, here are a few words of wisdom, which I will try to heed myself, as they are probably valid for every race whether it’s your first or your 110th:
decide on your racing outfit the night before and lay it out ready for your early start. Do not decide to debut your new shiny runners or pushup sports bra. Only wear gear that has been tried and tested several times.
don’t worry if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep before the race – adrenaline will more than make up for it.
get to the race location with plenty of time to spare especially as you may have to wait in line to collect your bib.
also allow time for a loo visit. Some of the nicest chats with strangers I’ve ever had sober have been at race start lines and in queues for portaloos.
listen to the race director’s instructions before the race.
it’s a small race, but since it’s your first, keep to the back at the start line so you don’t get trampled over by the herd of PB-chasers.
no matter what pace you do, it will be a PB, so don’t worry about your speed.
don’t go out too fast as you will certainly regret it. If anything err on the side of caution and take it easy for the first couple of kilometers, letting your nerves settle down, finding your rhythm. You’ll enjoy sailing past the runners who ran out too fast.
don’t worry about people running past you. Run your own race and enjoy it. A race doesn’t have to be serious business. Smile, even if inside you’re crying. It will look better on the photographs. If you don’t take off too fast, you’ll most likely feel and look great!
chin up, eyes forward, take it all in – the other runners, the scenery, the sound of your breath – you are racing and you are amazing.
if you do start to struggle with the little demon voice that says you can’t do it, banish it by counting 1-2-3-4 with the beat of your cadence, or use a mantra such as I-love-to-run. This may feel strictly true at kilometre 7 but the little demon voice in your head doesn’t need to know that.
use the water stations even if it’s only to swish some fluid around your dry mouth.
try to finish strong, sprinting across the finish line but if you feel like wretching, that’s ok too. Be sure to smile, even while wretching (!), in case your coach has recovered from her own race in time to grab an iPhone and aim it at you.
enjoy the euphoria of finishing while walking and stretching for a few minutes after you finish.
did I mention that you are to enjoy yourself? Joy is the true essence of nailing it.
And I dear runners, will do my best to practice what I preach!
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There’s so much I want to say about Perth Marathon but travel and jetlag have delayed my race report a tad. The short version is that the race went so much better than I had hoped and turned out to be more enjoyable than most of the twelve half marathons I’ve run since October 2012. Crossing the line in 3:55:07 rendered me a sobbing mess in the arms of my husband and daughters who had managed the logistics of cheering me on, at various stages along the course, around a soccer match.
I learned a lot from this marathon, the biggest lesson being about pacing. And determination. At a certain point, around 34km, determination overcame fatigue, a headwind, and a sore ITB. I will write more in detail at some point in the future. In the meantime, here are some photos🏃🏻🏅😀
Tears of joy, relief and disbelief.
The finish chute
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We’ve moved out of our house, the kids are on school holidays, the weather is cold, frequently wet and windy, and apparently my training is done. I won’t go on about the ridiculous position of being a tenant in Australia whereby one is expected to improve a property and return it cleaner than when it was received. No I’ve left those rants ringing in the ears of every person unfortunate enough to meet me last week. Now it’s time to look forward (to the next time I have to move out of a WA house, not!), but also to more pleasurable things. First though I have to do my marathon – this weekend!
I’m torn between being grateful that I completed a marathon training program without getting injured (the niggle in my left quad does not indicate an injury, no it does not) and wondering if perhaps I didn’t train hard enough. Or maybe the latter thought is tapering crazy thinking. To be honest, I really don’t know what to expect on Sunday. And that I think has got to be the one of the best things – besides fitting into skinny jeans a size smaller than last year – about this experience at this point. I have never done a marathon before so the only thing to do, having done the training apparently, is to get philosophical.
If it was easy to run a marathon, everyone would do one, wouldn’t they? Okay, I can think of a few of you who wouldn’t but you know what I mean. It is designed to be hard. I read somewhere that only 20% of marathoners run 42.2km in under 4 hours and that statistic does not take advanced age into consideration. So a sub-4 hour marathon is a big deal. And there is a big chance that I won’t achieve that, as much as I’d like to. And you know what? That’s going to be fine. More than fine.
I hope I can make this run a celebration of good health, of freedom, of friendships – there will be many familiar faces both on and around the course – and of simply being. Running 42.2km is a silly think to do really. And I know for a fact that there will be a number of hours this Sunday when I will wonder why the hell I have chosen to do it. I oscillate between calm acceptance of what will be will be and oh my gawd this is going to be wretched and I’ll be lucky to finish.
Finishing will do though. I still remember finishing my first half marathon in 2012, crying with joy as I crossed the line in 1:59, the lady presenting me with my medal trying to console me, telling me not to be sad, that I’d win the race next year. I fully expect to bawl my eyes out on Sunday too. I just hope it’s not until after I’ve finished!
We are currently living in temporary accommodation in a building inhabited mostly by octogenarians. The decor has a certain 19th century vibe to it but hidden amongst the trinkets was this little gem of wisdom. Words to abide by even when running a race:)
We are currently living in temporary accommodation in a building inhabited mostly by octogenarians. The decor has a certain 20th century vibe to it but hidden amongst the trinkets was this little gem of wisdom. Words to abide by even when running a race:)
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So now that all the hooha has died down over the change of date and re-change of date for the SCKL Marathon, the countdown to the race has begun. Only four weeks to go! Coincidentally I am going to be in KL with a friend that weekend as it’s school holidays and our respective spouses are taking our six children camping and we would rather pull our teeth out than sleep in a tent that doesn’t have ensuite facilities. In fact what we’d really rather do is stay at a five star hotel with ensuite facilities, and toilets where there are no snakes or deadly spiders lurking, and staff that open doors, and pour coffee, and carry your bags. We’d also rather have much-needed pedicures, and eyebrow threading, do no cooking or cleaning – well you get the picture. We’re going to KL for a taste of the good life and now it turns out, I’m going to race.
Last week, I was offered a media bib at SCKLM and it took me exactly zero seconds to say ‘yes please’ and only another few seconds to allow sense to prevail and choose the 10km race. Given the temperature and humidity, trying to race any further could be a disaster. Even when I lived and trained in Malaysia, the heat and humidity ruined many a race attempt so 10km on Oct 4th will be more than plenty thank you very much. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be returning to my old stomping ground, the place where I first fell in love with running, and to hopefully get to see many familiar, friendly faces in the KL running community.
So, this morning, in preparation for this tropical race which is no big deal, no big deal at all, I ran a local 10km race here in Perth. When I say in preparation I mean mental prep rather than physical. Bar running while wrapped in cling film and a heated body suit, there is little I can do to prepare for the conditions in KL. But I need to train my brain to push though the 5-6km mark slump and stay strong to the finish line, so this morning’s race was a stab at cognitive therapy if you like.
It was the West Australian Marathon Club (WAMC) Lake Gwelup 10km. It was 7ºC when I left the house and only a few degrees warmer at the start line. So, it was totally unlike any start line in Malaysia ever! It also turned out to be a multi-terrain course which was more challenging than I had expected but at least it wasn’t as hilly as last weekend’s City to Surf 12km for which my legs are still not thanking me.
I think I was the 9th female across the line which was very pleasing as the standard is really high here and I’m pretty old. Yes, I am. The winner of the 5km race this morning is 12 years old.12! Not even a teenager! She ran the course in sub-20. To be fair, she has probably been running longer than I have but I don’t think that’s the reason she’s so much faster! Bar placing little rockets in my shoes, I will never attain the racing speed of a fast teenager. Oh, that’s a bit depressing. Still, I should be grateful to be able to run at all I suppose, and I am! And I’m even more grateful to be able to return to KL, have an affordable pedicure, and run there. (Though perhaps I should run, then have the pedi?).
Now, I wonder where I can bulk buy cling film and find a heated body suit…
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I knew that running in Perth would be different than in Kuala Lumpur but when I went to put on my running shoes yesterday for the Chevron City to Surf event, I realised just how different. I had to warm the shoes with a hairdryer as they had been outside all night and felt too damp and cold for my still tropical feet. It was nice not to have to get up pre-dawn as the race started at the very civilised hour of 9:05. Not so nice was the discovery that the possum that had been squatting in our roof space had found an alternative to the entrance we’d had blocked up and was doing its morning yoga over our heads as we headed out the door. The spider – biggest I’ve ever seen outside a zoo – on the gatepost of our back gate got very upset as we disturbed its morning lie in. Thankfully, once we made it out onto the street, and left the wildlife behind, everything went smoothly.
The Chevron City to Surf event which had almost 50,000 registered entrants in a Marathon, Half Marathon, 12km Run and Walk, and 4km Run and Walk, was as well organised as expected. The trains into town were free for race bib wearers. There were plenty of portaloos near the start, and signs directed participants to their correct assembly points. Despite the the fact that there were over 11,000 doing the 12km run, we found several of our friends from KL both at the start and finish lines, so the sense of camaraderie we had in KL wasn’t missing yesterday. It was great! (For the record, I saw no selfie-taking or twitter feed updating on the course but the route was tightly packed with runners so there was a lot I couldn’t see).
The start line wasn’t quite as chilly as I expected thanks to the warm bodies radiating heat all around us. The 12km event was divided up into four start waves which was a smart way of avoiding chaos! The atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant, and the race started on time. This is a real community event attracting non-runners, families and people who like to wear costumes. My favourite was the guy in the hind legs of a horse, holding the head and fore legs in his hands. Running 12km in that can’t have been easy!
The race went well, the route was lovely though a bit more undulating than my ITB rehab would strictly allow. Though it hurt from about 6km, my ITB didn’t get sharply sore until the last 1 km, probably because of the hills at the end and fatigue of course. My tendon is a bit annoyed with me today too, but I’m hoping that another day and it will have forgiven me my race folly.
There were lots of booths with food and drinks at the finishing site in City Beach but thanks to a text telling me that my daughter had gone AWOL during the 12km walk, I couldn’t tell you much about it. I had to return to the finish line to find her. Her excuse for running off, despite having emphatically been told to stick with the adult under whose care she started, was that she wanted to impress me. Well once my anger had died down she certainly succeeded in doing that. With no training whatsoever she ran 12km in 80 mins (I did 62). I had been worried that she mightn’t have been able for the 12km walk so the fact that she ran it faster than half the adults who signed up to run, is astounding. We ruined her imagined finish line triumph mind you as we were so upset with the fact that she’d left her group, worried and concerned for her welfare, but as she feels the tug of her overworked muscles and tendons today, I bet she’s already dreaming of her next race. She’s 11. I was 41 when I crossed my first finish line. I’ve a feeling her trajectory as a runner is going to be very different. I’m trying not to be jealous.
The spider was still at the gate when we got back but the possum had presumably gone out for his Sunday walk. Maybe I’ll turn the hairdryer thing into a ritual, blowing away any critters stupid enough to enter my Brooks and get cosy. Or maybe it’s time to take the running shoes inside. Either way, I just glad to be able to wear them again and hope to participate in many Australian races in future. The fact that it sometimes might be Expat Runner & Daughter has come a something of a surprise!
If you love hills, you’d have loved the NM Galaxy 15km race route yesterday. The last time I did that route (Padang Merbok – Bukit Tunku) was my first race post-injury back in November, the 2XU Compression Run. Yesterday’s event deviated, confusingly, near the end so that the 15km route turned into a mere 14km but more of that later. During 2XU, I walked up the hills, mindful of my PPT-afflicted foot and my low fitness level. Those hills are long! Yesterday I ran up them no problem thanks to some hill-training and the fact that I seem to have a new injury! Yes a route bracketed by injury. Running uphill offered some relief from the pain so I’m guessing that I was probably the only person running NM Galaxy yesterday who was dreading the downhill portions during which I experienced some sort of spasm sensation on my outer left knee which radiated from my buttock. I had to stop and stretch several times. Uphill was fine, flat was fine, downhill was hell! So, instead of the mantra ‘I love these hills’ which I’ve tended to use lately, I found myself chanting ‘I will run through the pain’ over and over. I tried to run this morning but the pain in my hip was too intense. Yes, running through the pain is rarely a good idea but it earned me enough prize money to pay for a couple of sessions of physio, so it was worth it. Maybe. Hopefully. Lets see what my phsyio says today. I suspect he’s going to tell me that I have a tight ass after doing that buns of steel video I found on YouTube. My tight ass is upsetting my ITB. Back to yesterday…
The upside of running with what felt like a sore wooden leg – a peg leg if you like – was that I couldn’t really go very fast, especially downhill. So I didn’t feel nauseous – major victory – and quite enjoyed myself, peg leg aside. There was plenty of fuel left in my tank – and my belt bottles too – near the end so I was able to race to the finish and overtake a lady to come in fourth in the over-40s category. I was surprised to see 1:14 on the clock at the finish line but once I realised that I’d run 14 not 15km, that made sense. It wasn’t a PB but it certainly was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve run, tight ass issues aside.
Overall, this race was a big improvement on the first NM Galaxy race, which is no surprise as the organisers really were very open to criticism back in February and promised to do better. I’m glad to report that they did.
A prompt start. There was no loudspeaker or fanfare but if you turn up for a race, you need to take responsibility for getting to the start line on time without requiring that the organisers herd you to the start. I really appreciated starting on time at 6:20 and not hanging about nervously waiting for runners to assemble.
Bi-gender: Thank you for allowing the men and women start together. It was so nice not to have to run through all the male walkers.
Toilets: There were plenty of toilets at the Padang Merbok start area. In fact, the public restrooms, which have recently been nicely refurbished, were open. For 20 sen you could avoid any queues. I always carry 20 sen in my belt just in case; at times such as yesterday at 6AM it pays off. There were also portaloos at each of the four water stations I think. Thankfully, just knowing that they were there, meant that I didn’t need to use them 🙂
Water stations: Four water stations in 15km race is great. The distance markers on the ground in front of the water stations were very nice too.
Route: I love this route, even with the hills, as there is minimum traffic by KL standards and the city views, amid jungle foliage, are spectacular. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done a lot of races and uttered many an expletive aloud in the Bukit Tunku area but I’ve grown to appreciate the hills and the relative calm amid chaos and concrete that running in this area offers. Mind you, I could have done without the monkeys tight-rope walking across a telephone line over my head but that was hardly the organisers fault!
Clock: Thank you for having a working clock over the finish line. Not all races in KL do this but I think it really is a great idea to see your time as you finish. If nothing else, it reminds you to switch off your timer on your watch (something I have often forgotten to do in the relief of crossing the line).
Organisation: Race-kit collection, baggage drop-off, medal hand-out, banana distribution, prizewinner reporting, all went very well. A massive improvement on Series 1!
Prizewinners: Placing-tags at the finish line, fairly prompt prize-giving ceremony with cash prices in envelopes. Another big improvement on Series 1.
Results: The results for all runners were available online last night. Results. Well done NM Galaxy!
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
Directions: I remembered the route pretty well from November so I knew where to go but I can’t say that this was obvious to the uninitiated. I think there were marshals at most of the junctions however at the point where the route deviated from the 2XU route, there was some confusion with runners, both in the 10km and 15km races, shouting at the traffic police, asking which way they should go. If there was a signpost, I couldn’t see it. I also heard complaints from 10km runners about the absence of course markers. Visible, clear signposts next time would be appreciated.
Distance: NM Galaxy is not alone in getting the distance wrong on a race. In fact, in my experience, it is very rare for a race here to measure what it is supposed to measure. If you don’t know the route well, an under-distance race is frustrating as you hold off on your final sprint – if you’ve got any puff left in you-only to find you’re over the finish line with a medal around your neck before you’ve even hit your top pace. That’s what happened me in Series 1. This time I knew where the finish line was, and wasn’t really paying attention to the distance reading on my watch – without glasses checking my watch has started to become a challenge – ageing I hate thee! – so I was able to ‘go for it’ at the end knowing where the end was. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the frustration of an over-distance race. It’s kind of similar except you fall across the line, cursing under your heavy breathing about distance deception.
Water Stations: It was impossible to tell on approaching a water station whether the little paper cups contained water or isotonic drinks. Asking the volunteers, which was which, elicited nothing but blank looks and mute stares. I’ll admit I got audibly irritated with this but as I was using the water to pour down my back, I really didn’t want to take Gatorade by mistake!
Water: There was no water at the end of the race. None! I appreciate the banana but the lychee-flavoured drink you can keep next time. Ninety minutes after I crossed the finish line, I still hadn’t had any water. If you can’t afford to give it away, please at least let somebody sell it.
I’ve under four weeks left in Malaysia so I won’t be here for NM Galaxy Series 3 (18km). Unfortunately. I wish I was. I don’t know what racing will be like in Perth but I suspect it won’t be as good-humoured and relaxed as here. I certainly won’t be earning any money at it nor, I suspect, will I have access to free race photographs online. Of some things though I am certain.
I will really, really miss the running and racing scene in Malaysia. I’ll miss the warmth, the smiles, the inclusiveness of runners. I may even miss the hills. I said, may. And then there are the monkeys doing high-wire acts over my head. Australia, how are you going to top that for a race experience. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Thank you to the total stranger who took the photos for me as I was on my own.
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For the past two days I’ve been more Angry Runner than Expat Runner, thought technically I guess I’ve been an Angry Expat Runner. I think I gained some insight into how my seven-year-old son feels when he doesn’t get to play on the iPad and he is frustrated that he has no control over a situation. So I’ve been a Childish Angry Expat Runner then.
The source of my frustration? I had a lousy race on Sunday, the kind of race that renders all your training redundant, the sort of race that make you actually hate running (a first for me), the sort of race that leaves you wanting to scream like a seven-year-old: “It’s – not – fair!’ No kids, the world isn’t fair, but mommy lives such a pampered life that she usually does get treated fairly, gets to feel in control sometimes, and usually does get her way.
At Borneo International Half Marathon I most certainly did not get my way. I had great first 8 kilometres. The best I’ve ever had in a race. After two days rest, my legs were ready to go, my often-sore foot felt great, and I hit my target pace from the start line and felt strong and able to keep to it. I had managed to keep my nerves at bay too. I started to think that this might be my race. This might the one in which I break the 1:50 barrier and perhaps even make it to the podium.
Oh how fast things changed. A little heart flutter then the nausea hit. What?! No! Nausea and I are not strangers in races. Indeed in May/June last year we were bedfellows. During a half marathon and a 16km, I did 8-10 great kilometres, before what can be best described as puke syndrome hit. Puke syndrome feels like morning sickness. Yeah, try run through that! I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. At least I thought I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. I dropped my pre-race oatmeal too in case that made me feel sick. I ran on sports drinks alone. And I thought it worked. Sure, the 12km I did in January caused a nausea issue at 10km but wasn’t that caused by the salt capsule I swallowed at the last drink station? I thought so for months. Then there was the MWM Half Marathon. No nausea there. The lack of nausea alone made the run a triumph. Only three weeks ago, I did a PB in 39 degrees C at Putrajaya Half Ironman. No nausea despite the midday sun. I had put this niggling nausea issue behind me. I could run on Acclerade and a sip of something at the odd water station and I was finally going to be able to reap the rewards of my training.
Wrong! I can see that my pace at Borneo was only marginally faster in the first 8km than at Putrajaya so it wasn’t a case of going off too fast. The big differences were: I had breakfast several hours before Putrajaya; for Borneo I was up at 2:30 am and basically ran on a few ginger cookies at 5 am. Though the temp at Putrajaya was a good 10-14 degrees C higher than at Borneo, the humidity at 67% was 22% lower. The humidity (89% at the start) and lack of food were probably the dream killers. On Sunday, I was running so well, that I didn’t want to break my stride to take any 100Plus at a water station. Add a few sips of Accelerade, one Gu Chew, a crazy early start, mild dehydration before the start, and 8 sweaty, though blissful, kilometres together and what did I get? Puke syndrome. Except there was nothing in my stomach so I couldn’t in fact puke or eat or drink – just suffer the urge to vomit for the next few hours. I know no one else who suffers from puke syndrome, certainly none of the four women who passed me as I jog-walked through the last five km of the race, the four women who took the top five spots together with the winner who was in a different pace league altogether. Certainly no one else I know here in KL. I am unique but not in a good way. Unique in a way that forced me to change my running mantra from ‘I love to Run’ to a far slower ‘I must not give up’. What I really, really wanted to do was lie down on the side of the road in a foetal position until the nausea passed. I saw my PB and podium position slip away before my eyes but there was nothing I could do as much as I kept trying to move forward. It was a miserable, miserable feeling that had nothing to do with running as I know it.
I limped over the line sixth, in a personal worst (PW!) time that was almost the same as my first half marathon in Oct 2012 before I’d ever heard the words tempo, threshold or speed training. I may have felt like I’d come so far travelling to Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, but really by Sunday lunchtime, back at the airport, I felt like I’d gone nowhere and it hadn’t felt very pleasant either. All my training had been useless. My legs were fresh enough yesterday to do a 7km run as if it was just a normal Monday after a sunday 21km long run. In fact, I have done LSDs faster than I ran Borneo Half Marathon!
Anyway, that’s the story. I am almost over it. This morning I figured out why this episode of puke syndrome pissed me off so much more than the others. It’s because this time it robbed me of an opportunity to stand on a podium grinning while holding a fake cardboard cheque. It’s the kind of thing you really normally only get to see top runners do but in Malaysia, where walking for much of a race can still get you sixth place, such a thing was within my reach. And again no big deal. It’s only a photo op. So what if slower runners than me got their moment in the spotlight this past weekend. Why should I begrudge them their piece of cardboard?!
It’s because I realised this morning that too much of my self-esteem is wrapped up in running achievements. I’ve come to rely on running for external validation. I want people to think I’m good at something and to respect my hard work – which is supposed to pay off, right? Well this time it didn’t – and dammit I did work hard! As clichéed as it is to say, I realise that you learn more from failure than you do from success. I learned that I need to diversify my ego-boosting endeavours. Or as I try to teach my children, learn to be happy in my own skin and not rely on external validation from others to bolster my self-esteem. The other lesson is that some times things are just not within your control, and as my family enters a phase of tumultuous change, it’s easy to feel the ground shifting beneath our feet. I thought I could rely on running to get me through the next few months of not knowing where our home will be, who our friends will be, how we will feel in our new lives in Perth, and for the past two days, I felt that running had let me down.
But guess where I figured all this out? Why out running of course. I left the house this morning at 6:30 am an angry, frustrated runner who felt they had not got their due, but 10km later (in 92% humidity) I felt the metaphorical clouds clear. Running hadn’t let me down after all I realised. I had let myself down by placing too much of my self-worth on the outcome of a race. But I’m 43-years-old godammit, not seven, so I’ve got to be better than that. It shouldn’t matter what strangers think. I have good supportive friends whose opinions I value and who’ve been very forthcoming in offering their commiserations, suggestions and advice on what went wrong on Sunday. Emotional lesson learned. Now if only I could find a solution to puke syndrome (besides moving to Perth which may sort the whole thing out anyway)!
P.S. For anyone who arrived here looking for information on Borneo International Marathon, I do apologise for this bout of naval-gazing. For what it’s worth, the early start not withstanding, the event seemed very well run, the race flagged off on time, the route was mostly flat except for a couple of challenging long hills, and the traffic was well controlled. There were plenty of portaloos en route and the water stations provided water and 100 Plus in paper cups. Near the end, where the half marathon and marathon routes merged, there were also bananas and watermelons on offer. The finish line was inside Likas Stadium which if you had a good race was probably a great way to finish. I stayed at Horizon Hotel which was 10 minutes by taxi from the start point outside the stadium. The service was excellent, the room was very inexpensive when booked months in advance through Agoda.com, and my carbo-loading lunch on Saturday was delicious. A taxi to Kota Kinabalu Airport, which is very bright and modern, cost Rm 30 and took around 15-20 minutes.
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Thank you to Ironman for these wonderful trophies, two of which will be proudly displayed wherever we set up home and will always remind us of our fabulous time in Malaysia. My husband is already talking about registering to do Ironman 70.3 in Western Australia. It looks like I’ll have to find new team mates though as he wants to do the whole event himself. That’s the thanks I get 😉
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One of the best ways to cheer yourself up, besides going for a run, is to convince yourself that it could always be worse. All ten of your toenails could have fallen off, instead of only one, for instance. Or, you could have broken your wrist when you fell face-first on the pavement instead of only your pride and a few inches of skin. I found this ‘could be worse’ philosophy very useful on Sunday during the Putrajaya 70.3 Ironman triathlon competition. It could have been a LOT worse. I could have been a triathlete and not a mere runner.
A triathlete is a person who doesn’t understand that one sport is hard enough. This is a definition I saw posted on Facebook before the event. After Sunday’s competition held in sizzling temperatures that edged up to 40 degrees C, I have come to the conclusion that it takes a certain level of insanity combineded with masochistic tendencies to attempt to swim, cycle and run any distance in succession.
Putrajaya 70.3 was ONLY a Half Ironman which is the shorter version of the suffering in lycra known as the Ironman. 70.3 is the total distance (in miles) covered: a 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km cycle, topped off by a half marathon, 21.1.km which must obliterate all hope of walking normally for at least a week afterwards. Several of my husband’s cycling buddies signed up for the full event and suggested that my husband and I form a team with a swimmer to compete in the Mixed Relay. He loves cycling, I love running. Why not? Team PJJ Express was formed – the name was my husband’s doing, a play on our initials, the name of an area here referred to as PJ, and the need for speed. He’s an engineer so logic reigns supreme.
Putrajaya for those who have never been there is a modern, purpose-built city 30 km south of Kuala Lumpur that serves as the federal administrative centre of Malaysia. It is new, clean and uninhabited at the weekend except for water-skiers, runners and cyclists. It has wide boulevards, a lake, lots of well-paved footpaths and is an ideal venue for races, especially on Sundays, when traffic is minimal.
But Putrajaya is hot! It’s like a sponge, sucking heat from the sun, radiating it back at you, so that running there at midday is akin to running while being roasted in a massive oven. When you’re wilting after just strolling from the car to the start-line, you know you’ve got 21.1 very challenging kilometres ahead.
The strange thing about running a relay is that you don’t have an exact start time but must wait on the return of your team mate, in this case my husband. I thought this hanging about at the transition area would be tortuous but it helped to have friends to chat with – the hot weather was the main topic of conversation – and lots of portaloos with no lines. There wasn’t the usual stress of timing a trip to the loo just right to make it to the start line on time. A major plus for toilet-obsessed moi.
My husband hobbled into the transition area after his cycle and parked his bike before passing the timing chip to me. On hindsight, I realise that he was one of the first team cyclists to arrive, but I wasn’t really thinking about placing and prizes. I didn’t think we had a chance; we were just there to have fun. So I was less nervous than in any previous race. Once the timing chip was secured around my left ankle – as instructed in the very comprehensive Athlete’s Guide – I was off. At midday! Fun?! After 500 metres I realised that I’d been deluded.
What followed was the hottest 21.1km of my life, two loops of a very pleasant course, much of it waterside, with absolutely no traffic to worry about. There were numerous water stations which were well laid out with warm water, isotonic drinks, food, flat cola, iced water and ice – always in the same order so you could sip some water or 100Plus, grab a gel/watermelon/candy then finish with some ice as you passed through each station. Normally I wouldn’t stop at fuel stations but the heat made it a necessity. At every station, I poured iced water over my head – though by the end of the second loop the water was almost warm enough to make a cup of tea – and managed a fast kilometre half way through the race with the help of a cube of ice which I rolled over my neck until it melted. Unfortunately the ice cubes ran out after 9km.
This was not an event to try and push the pace for fear of total heat exhaustion. And, despite the conditions, I couldn’t complain; I knew it could most definitely have been a lot worse, I could have been a triathlete out under the scorching sun for six hours plus! It’s the least complaining I’ve done in my five half marathons and, in the process, I learned a lot about the importance of psychology in completing a tough run. No matter how bad I felt in the heat, almost every single person I passed, felt a hell of lot worse so I had no excuse not to keep going. In fact, as I ran past participants who had been racing since before my leisurely breakfast in an air-conditioned room, I called out encouragement to a few, and felt like apologising to all. That, and telling them what crazy fools they were for doing this triathlon lark.
I did my 21.1km in 1:53 which was fine given the temperature and all the stops I made to throw water over my head. I had hoped to do 1:50 and was ahead of this pace for the first 10 kilometres but I knew I risked not finishing at all, if I tried to keep it up. Crossing the finish line, I was wrapped in an ice cold towel which felt sublime, and bestowed with three medals – one for each of my team members. Not fair I know; we only did a third of the event yet got a full medal each. The towel provided welcome shelter for my poor shoulders which despite the SPF110 slathered on a few hours before, were starting to feel the sting of the sun. I wandered about, medals jangling like a bell on a cow, finding my husband and friends, waiting for others to cross the line, congratulating the crazy men and women, half made of Iron who had miraculously not melted in the sun. There was plenty of fruit, water and isotonic drinks available in the recovery area and many people availed of the sports massage on offer. Medical facilities seemed plentiful, and well used, too.
Out of interest, I asked at the finish line how my team had placed, and was told by a Norwegian lady manning a laptop that we had come fourth. We were surprised and delighted as we had no expectations of making it into the Top-5. At least I certainly hadn’t. Our team time was 5 hrs 15 mins which wasn’t too shabby but just a little bit slower than the winning pro athletes. Ok, a lot slower. Australian Brad Kahlefeldt (34) won the men’s division in 3:55 and Czech triathlete Radka Vodickova (29) was the first lady over the line in 4:23.What amazing achievements!
Only later, did I discover that PJJ Express had come third in the Mixed Relay, the highest ranked team with two females. A combination of misinformation, hurrying to get home to the kids, and the total non-expectation of winning anything, meant we missed a photo opportunity on the podium. Forget the photo, we missed a unique chance to be on a podium and to hang out with the fastest triathletes on the planet! Unlike the individual athletes, the team competitors weren’t provided with live online tracking so I still can’t see our official timings, though a friend sent me a photo of the results posted at the prize-giving ceremony. We’re listed here as second but I know that this is a mistake; according to the runner on the team that came second, who happens to be my running coach, we came third. Their swimmer swam in 31 not 1:31, hence the ranking mistake.
I’m still trying to chase down our trophies before they are shipped back to Ironman headquarters in Australia but my calls and emails have so far gone un-answered. Given how well organised the whole event was, I’m hopeful that the trophy issue can be resolved without having to pay for them to be shipped back to Malaysia, to no doubt arrive after we leave. I’m not really too bothered about the trophies though it would be nice to have a couple for the kids to fight over when they’ve sent us off to nursing homes or the great running/cycling track in the sky. Look what Mum and Dad won before they started to use adult nappies! Back when we lived in Malaysia.
So I’ve done one-sixth of an Ironman which is more than I ever anticipated and about as much a I’m ever going to try. Kudos to those who pushed their endurance in all three disciplines; I am in awe of your drive and stamina. You totally rock, whether you managed to finish the course on Sunday or not. It was inspiring (but not tempting) to run amongst you, to watch you suffer (though the vomiting was tough to watch) yet still push on forward to the finish line. My next event is the Borneo Half Marathon in just under three weeks time. Already I’m thinking it could be worse. I could be running the Full!
P.S. Thanks to DK for directing me to the results here. We definitely came 3rd in the Mixed category and were the 5th team overall (out of 52 teams). Amazeballs!
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Have you ever got dressed up and gone out with friends then, faced with the option of going on to a smoky nightclub to have fun or heading home at a sensible hour, you throw caution and the certainty that you will regret your decision in the morning to the wind, and choose to dance in bad air until the small hours of the morning?
Well that’s what the decision to run the Malaysia Women Half Marathon (MWM) was like yesterday morning. Except I didn’t get a hangover.
There I was, at 5 AM, having jogged to the start line, race kit on, bottle filled with electrolyte drinks, the acrid smell of smoke in my nostrils and throat, faced with the dilemma of heading home full of carbs and adrenaline or running in air that was so polluted that I would absolutely have forbidden my children to stand outside for a minute, not to mention run for the best part of two hours. Of course, I ran. I am happy to report that unlike many a night out in my now distant past, I remember the whole occasion very vividly, despite the dark, hazy conditions, and as a French person might say, je ne regrette rien.
A little background for those not living in Kuala Lumpur. For the past week, the city and the wider environs of Klang Valley have been experiencing pollution due to burning. On Friday, in Shah Alam where MWM was to take place, and several other areas, air quality levels were well into the unhealthy range. Sporting activities throughout the city were cancelled/postponed and many schools were closed. MWM organisers were faced with a dilemma on whether to go ahead with the race on Sunday, not knowing whether the haze would clear by race day. It was announced that a decision on the race would be take on Saturday evening based on the published pollution levels. Runners were understandably agitated over whether to cancel their babysitters and put away their bowls of pasta. Just in case I didn’t get to run, I bought two running skirts in honour of the event. Then, Saturday morning, KL residents awoke to clear blue skies and a refreshing breeze. The news from Shah Alam was that it was clearing there too. The race would go ahead as planned.
I bought the skirts from Skirt Sports who lugged their wears from Australia to sell at the MWM Race Kit Collection & Expo at Shah Alam Theatre which took place on Friday and Saturday. As well as offering a platform for vendors and running event promoters, the Expo provided inspirational talks, including one from MWM2014’s Guest of Honour, Catherine Ndereba. Catherine’s marathon achievements have earned her the moniker, the Marathon Queen, and she has been described as the greatest women’s marathoner of all time. In short, this lady is a legendary athlete.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Shah Alam in time to catch Catherine’s Friday presentation on balancing motherhood and a career. But by the power of serendipity, I did get to, not only meet her, but speak to her (and watch her eat pasta). Having decided to stay in a hotel in Shah Alam on Saturday night to avoid pre-race stress and travel, my friends and I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner to find Catherine sitting with two runners I know, Elvin and Wai-Yee. Catherine was so gracious not only to pose for a photo but to spend time talking to us. Having done a whirlwind of press, meet-and-greets, and goodness knows how many photo opportunities in the previous three days, combined with jet lag after her trip from Kenya, I’m sure Catherine was exhausted. Yet she was friendly, generous with her time, and recommended ice baths and massage for post-race recovery. The next time we saw her was at 5 AM Sunday morning, returning from the race start venue, having flagged off the Full Marathon, in a break before running a 5km later with Race Director Karen Loh. I haven’t mentioned Karen up to now, but MWM now in its second year, is her vision and how she has implemented it here in Malaysia, deserves a post of its own. Today I will stick with the event itself.
As my friends and I drove out to check into our hotel around 5PM on Saturday, we could see a wall of haze ahead. Had it not retreated after all we wondered, or was this a case of the haze returning? Unfortunataly, despite some rain on Saturday night, it was the latter. The haze returned with a vengeance over night.
Early Sunday morning, with so many runners at the start line already, the organisers decided that the runs would no longer be competitive, that the prize money would go to charity, and if runners wanted to run for fun they were free to choose to do so. A large group of us who know each other, were assembled near the start line, prevaricating over what to do. I wasn’t going to run. I couldn’t defend it to my family if it made me sick, I said. I spent so long standing around saying that I didn’t think I should run, that I forgot to go to the loo and I didn’t stretch. Well, I wasn’t running so why would I do either! Then, I realised that the people I was with were going to do an easy run that wouldn’t tax the lungs, and as I had to wait around anyway, I decided to run with them.
We started slowly, at 5:45 AM, no rush, chatting away as if it was our usual weekend LSD. The relief of not having to race was palpable. It was great! I stopped at a portaloo at 8km and my unstretched leg muscles loosened up around that time too. I managed to catch up with my friends again after my pitstop and stayed with two of them the rest of the way. I wasn’t focussing on my pace, just on keeping moving forward. Even without the pressure to achieve a PR, I still didn’t find running a half marathon easy but it wasn’t unpleasant either. Having company made all the difference, as did having a friend, a very accomplished runner, offer encouragement and pacing all the way. My legs felt heavy from about 13km onwards but my lungs felt fine, and the desire to stay with my buddies kept me going even when my brain was starting to regret having set off at all.
To their credit, despite the haze, volunteers stayed to man the water stations which were well stocked, regularly spaced out at 2km intervals, and each with a portaloo. Others cheered us on. Inspirational signs appeared along the route. I think one said: ‘I have mascara that runs faster than that’ which was less of an inspiration, more of a rebuke. Or was I hallucinating in the haze? I loved the route, in that the roads were wide and the hills were manageable. My only criticism was that the street lights were out for long stretches which made me glad that I was running with a group as it was pitch dark. There were plenty of traffic cops on duty and many more volunteers offering directions, though a few more directional signs at junctions would have been nice. There were plenty of distance markers. The fire truck spraying its hose over the road was a fantastic surprise and very well received, as were the volunteers with their water spray bottles. I get emotional when I think of the people who get up to support and take photos of runners in the middle of the night. You guys and gals are nothing short of amazing and really made this race (or non-race) experience something special.
The route turned out to be more than 500m too long and as I upped my pace at the end, Strava calculated a PR of 1:50 for 21.1.km, by lopping off the first half kilometre which was very slow as we were just jogging and talking. As the many photos cropping up on Facebook are showing, despite the conditions, and the disappointments of the Marathon runners who had their runs cut short, MWM brought together a diverse community of runners with spirit and enthusiasm, all aspiring to Karen Loh’s suggestion to ‘Dream, Believe, Become.’ The weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the volunteers who did magnificent jobs in what I think was a very well-organised event.
So finally a Half Marathon during which I did not feel nauseous, did not get a stitch, nor did I stop to walk. Finally, after three miserable experiences, it seems I’ve figured out my fuelling strategy. Yay! For me, running with friends, not competing with them (or even against myself), made MWM an even more positive experience than I could have imagined. The camaraderie of yesterday morning is what running is all about and I would not have missed that for the world. That said, I respect the decision of the people who chose not to run, which was the sensible thing to do. Believe me, I’ve gone home to bed early many, many nights while friends have partied on. For once, I took a risk, and I don’t regret it. Ultimately, we each had the freedom to make a choice, which after all is what empowerment is about.
As well as great memories of MWM2014, I’ll always have these photos of my meeting with a running legend. I’ve no idea what I was saying, it was probably something like, ‘You are amazing. How do you do it?!’ but of course my friends and I have had a lot of fun adding funny captions of me offering Catherine Ndereba advice on everything from cable-laying to achieving a PR. Catherine told us that she doesn’t know how to stop running, as she loves it so much. I know how she feels, though obviously on a far less legendary (and slower-paced) level. Run, sisters, run!
Photos on this post courtesy of: Nik Fahusnaza, Elvin Tan Chye Guan, Wai-Yee Chan & The Expat Runner.
More #MWM2014 photos are available at:
WARNING: Be prepared to see photos of men in wigs and skirts 😉