Lessons Learned While Running

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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.

With my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat - in the heat!
The night before the race, with my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat anywhere – in the heat it’s doubly amazing!

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.

I thought I was prepared...
I thought I was prepared…

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!

I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.
I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.

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)!

My friend KK, who'd did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?
My friend KK, who’d did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?

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.

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya Trophies

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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 😉

 

 

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya

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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.

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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.

(L) Approaching the finish line. (R) Two-thirds of Team PJJ Express
(L) Approaching the finish line. (R) Two-thirds of Team PJJ Express

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.

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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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Malaysia Women Marathon 2014

Coolest medal ever
Coolest medal ever

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.

My first running skirt
My first running skirt with my MWM kit.

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.

MWM Expo
MWM Expo

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.

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Shah Alam Haze

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.

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We love to run!

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!

CatherinePhotos 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 😉

Running Malaysia Magazine 

Chan Wk

Victor Chong

Elvin Tan Chye Guan

ET Tey – provides lots and lots of photos, and a comprehensive list of links to photographers who attended the event.

NM Galaxy Race 12km- Secret Results & Phantom Prizes

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Apology posted on Facebook by the organisers of the NM Galaxy Race Series 12km run which took place this past Sunday at Lake Titiwangsa.

If you ran the race, you’re very much aware of the NM Galaxy 12km run’s deficiencies – lighting, toilets, loudspeaker, legible distance markers, inaccurate route distance, not to mention the endurance event that was race bib collection! Plenty of people have been voicing complaints and suggestions on these issues, an others, on the NM Galaxy Facebook page so if you didn’t run, but are considering joining the next NM Galaxy race in May – there is a planned series of four races with interconnecting medals – or you’re just curious with some time on your hands, pop over there and have a look. (By the way, I’m sick to death of people going on Facebook after races – not just yesterday’s event, it seems to happen after every race here – complaining about goody bags. You sign up for a race to run for goodness sake, not to get free mouthwash samples and cartons of Milo.) That said, most of the online complaints have been very valid. And to give credit where it’s due, the organisers have not been defensive in their response. In fact, they’ve been downright apologetic promising to do better next time (very like a child who knows they’ve done wrong).

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NM Galaxy 12 km (11.5km) route recorded on my Garmin watch.

My biggest reservation in signing up for this race was the route along a very busy highway, Jalan Tun Razak, in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. However, thanks to traffic police and placement of cones, I felt pretty safe throughout the race on a route that proved to be very pleasant with only a few small inclines. I imagine though that as traffic got heavier, this was not the case for all runners. The route doubled back on itself twice which meant that there were runners running on either side of the central reservation which was actually nice as people could cheer friends along when they passed in opposite directions. (And thank you to the people who shouted ‘Go Expat Runner’ – you really spurred me on to keep going).

Now, cheating is unacceptable but a route with two u-turns does lend itself to such behaviour for the deviants who engage in it. At the first u-turn there were volunteers writing down bib numbers of the leading runners, and at the second there was a timing mat. I really hope there weren’t any participants taking shortcuts and then collecting Finisher Medals. At the end of the day, such people are cheating themselves as much as undermining the efforts of the folk who push their limits to complete a race. And to the person on Strava who only ran 8km of the route? Maybe you weren’t registered and just went along for the ride. Hopefully you didn’t collect medal. I’m looking forward to your response 🙂

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Is this the finish line? Confidence in the organisation being a bit low, and my watch being 500m short of 12km, I had to ask.

Back to me. Since coming back from my PTT injury, I’ve aspired to run a 10 or 12 km race at 5 min/km pace and on Sunday I managed 4.58min/km so I am really, really pleased. I’ve come a long way from the person who moaned and complained and cursed their way around a route as I’ve realised that a positive mental attitude when you’re hurting is everything. I can’t blame the shin splints I suffered for the first 3 km or the side stitch I had for the final 8km on the organiser unfortunately; these were all my own fault, but I managed to run through them thankfully. However, the debacle at the finish certainly was the organisers’ fault, and as no one has yet to mention it on Facebook, I would like to suggest improvements here.

Now I know it took a bit of effort to figure out the event rules, regulations and prize details, as no handbook was provided at bib collection, but being a pedant, I had searched out this information on the event’s Facebook page. Clearly, the lady operating the laptop with the timing information at the finish line had not read the handbook. Or maybe she didn’t like the look of me, or perhaps she’s always rude. Whatever. It is the norm here to place tags around the necks of the placed athletes who cross the line. It hasn’t happened to me often, but when it does, I tend to cry. There were no tears this time, because there were no tags. I knew that there weren’t a lot of women in front of me so I thought I might have been placed but I was only guessing. So I approached the laptop lady to politely ask if she could check my placing. I suggested that place tags at the finish line would be useful but was told quite definitively that this is too confusing. Huh? I was certainly confused.

Laptop lady initially refused to check my placing but I explained that I wanted to know whether I could go home or not, so she relented and tapped her keyboard to check. She showed me four fingers. ‘Fourth?’ I clarified. ‘Yes, but I don’t know how many prizes there are,’ she said dismissively. Thanks to the fact that there were several races on Sunday, and some of the ladies who are faster than me took their chances with other events, I had come 4th place in the Women’s Veteran Category. I’d read the information so I knew this meant some sort of prize. I think I came 5th or 6th overall, but as the organiser is so secretive about the results, I can’t tell you that for a fact. Again, I’m only guessing.

Mea Culpa picture posted on Facebook by the NM Galaxy Race Series organisers.
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Two hours after I crossed the finish line, two hours in which no information was provided to participants and no placings were posted, two hours of listening to dodgy music and the results of some prize draw (in Malay so I can’t tell you if I won anything or not, or indeed whether I had even entered), and five hours after I’d got out of bed to come to the event, I was called to the stage to collect my Rm150 prize.

Except it wasn’t my prize; it was a letter telling me to go to some other part of KL to collect my prize! Yes, I ran for 57 minutes on Sunday, faster than it took to collect my bib, way, way faster than it took to not collect my prize, and no doubt faster than it will take me to drive across town and back to find the organisers office to get 150 Rm. God help me but if they give me a cheque that requires that I queue up in the bank, I will lose my cool altogether.

Having started this post endeavouring to keep calm and carry on as they say, I’ve ended up ranting after all. And only because I won something. I know, poor me! Time for a run.

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On the home stretch, running, which is what it is all about.

At the end of the day, no one was hurt that I know of, and the NM Galaxy race series is a welcome addition to the local racing scene. The more people who are encouraged to run and train, the healthier, stronger (and happier) this nation will become. Yes folks, I really do believe that running is that powerful! I personally had a great run and am grateful to the volunteers as always who gave up their time to facilitate that. I’m sure the lighting, toilets, distance markers, start-line loudspeaker, start-line chaos, protracted bib collection, over-sized t-shirts, finish-line logistics, and unpleasant demeanour of stressed personnel at the start and finish line, and other issues now being aired online, will be improved for the next race, a 15km, on May 18. They had better be, as I’ve already signed up!

Race photo links:

Maszuari Muhamad

Running Malaysia Magazine

RFF Team

UPDATE: Tuesday evening: The results of the NM Galaxy 12km Run are now on the event’s Facebook page here.

Race Photographers

Photos from the MPIB 2014  Race taken various by photographers and posted on Facebook
Photos from the MPIB 2014 Race taken by various  photographers (listed below) and posted on Facebook.  

When I recently asked a friend why he thought the number of women signing up for marathons in Malaysia was so low compared to men, he joked that it was because women didn’t want to mess up their hair and makeup. I’m sure the true reason is far more complex, but he was alluding to a very valid point. In running, certainly in this hot and humid climate, there is little place for vanity. Here there is really only one look irrespective of the season and that’s the wet (and sweaty look). Every day is a bad hair day!

How ironic it is then that I’ve never had my photo taken so much as I have since I started running here. I got less attention from photographers at my wedding than I do at a race! The presence of photographers at races, along the route as well as at the start and finish lines, gives one a taste of (make-up free) celebrity life surrounded by the Paparazzi.

After races, these camera guys and gals post albums of thousands of race photos on Facebook, sharing their work for free, encouraging people to tag themselves and their friends. They rise in the dark to lug equipment around after runners, to capture moments of joy and sometimes suffering, shouting encouragement during races and then providing what are essentially free gifts afterwards. The images gifted don’t always tally with the images in one’s memory: how often have I thought I was running with the grace of a gazelle (ok not that often) to have a photo reveal someone with the gait of a hippo. Conversely, a recent set of shots near the finish line of the MPIB 12km shows no hint of the rising tide of nausea I was feeling, but a face grim with determination to cross the line (before dry heaving). Sometimes, you see, a photo can in fact lie.

With the help of a very humble photographer, who doesn’t want the beam of attention shone his way, I have collated a list of local race photographers and links to their Albums on Facebook. Most have posted hundreds of shots of the recent MPIB 2014 run. Be sure to show your appreciation by liking their work, and as they same themselves, feel free to tag your friends 🙂

Victor Chon Hze Hau (Victor & Elaine)

Running Malaysia Magazine (Chris Gan)

Chan Wk

Barefoot Ahfook (Jason Thai)

ET Tey

Runwitme/Celebrunner

Louis Ong

Tristupe

Tristupe’s MPIB Race Report

Leon You

Kahwai Low

When Self-Doubt Takes Hold

Last week I blithely, yet proudly, mentioned to a friend that I had done a PB on the hilly 7km loop from my house through Desa Sri Hartamas/Mont Kiara. My father-in-law had just died suddenly and unexpectedly in Denmark, and my husband had flown home for the funeral, so I guess I was using my legs to blow out some mental cobwebs.

‘Oh I never run PBs in training,’ my friend replied matter-of-factly. A-ha! Of course she doesn’t. Just this past weekend she stood on the podium of a 15km race and received a well-earned trophy for third place. My friend, and probably most runners, keep their best for race day. Most runners, aided by adrenaline and motivation to succeed, can out-perform themselves when there’s a medal to be gained. However, I find that nerves get the better of me so that my adrenaline levels peak before the race begins, and I’m lucky to make it from the portaloo to the start line in time for the gun. For my last race, I didn’t even manage that!

In the run-up to the MPIB 2014 12 km race next Sunday, I have found myself crippled with self-doubt. I have a a severe case of performance anxiety, so bad, that yesterday I was wondering whether it was time to drop this whole racing lark altogether and just run for pleasure. (I’ve had similar anxiety issues about work in the past so it’s not as if my personality isn’t being consistent). Despite my injury, I’ve trained hard in the past 12 months, and I can see from my Garmin logs that my training pace is noticeably higher than it was in December 2012. I’ve also done speed-work since September, something I had never heard of a year ago. So, on paper, anyone would expect that I will run faster in this year’s race than last, when I was unexpectedly awarded 10th place and won some nice prizes and a trophy. This time, I’m terrified that on race day, I won’t be able to come up with the goods, that I will fail to get placed, that I won’t live up to expectations.

The philosophy about running for fun, running to be part of something whether it be a community or a race, has been somewhat overwhelmed by anxiety over whether I can out-perform myself (and others) in this upcoming race. I think it’s safe to say, that even if I’d been born with Paula Radcliffe’s lungs and pre-injury legs, my brain would have sabotaged any chance of World Championship medals. It must take an astounding level of mental toughness to withstand the expectations of a nation on top of one’s own expectations, at a task at which there is only one chance.

This morning, in an attempt at quelling my nerves, I ran much of the MPIB 12 km route with my husband. Last year I remember cursing aloud good-humouredly as I struggled up some of the hills. Despite the physical effort, I enjoyed the absurdity of the situation I had put myself in at sunrise on a Sunday morning. This morning I wasn’t cursing so much but aware that my suffering was self-imposed, I was metaphorically shaking my head at having signed up for a race at all! Darn, but it was hard going. Of course, running hard is similar to childbirth-once home I was hit by a sense of achievement and euphoria, the physical sensations felt en route slightly forgotten.

The route for the MPIB 12 km is very, very challenging with much of the first 5 km uphill. Anyone who completes the race in any time deserves a bloody medal – and should feel a sense of achievement and boost to their self-esteem! Somehow, in realizing this today, I recaptured a sense of why I run, and why I need to push myself through my fear of races. My body is capable of far more than my mind will ever give it credit for and my mind has been doing a fairly decent job lately of sabotaging my running joy. This morning’s run allowed me to stick two rude fingers up at the little voice that keeps undermining me, the voice that continuously tells me that I am never good enough. The endorphin effect was as short-lived as an epidural but strong enough to convince me to try to race on Sunday – with lower expectations. I’ve decided that I don’t need to do a PB on race day – even if I’ve managed to do one today in training – if the pressure to do so takes away every ounce of pleasurable anticipation and replaces it with dread. Who’s pressurizing me anyway, other than my own ego? I’m no Paula Radcliffe after all. Being capable of hauling my ass around a hilly 12km route next Sunday is simply going to have to be good enough, PB or not. Actually, getting to the start line in time, and near the front, will be the bigger achievement! No kidding!

Wherever you are, runner, walker, couch surfer, whether you’re facing a race or other less trivial challenges in your life, whatever your dreams and ambitions, I wish you all the best as we head into a new calendar year. Thanks for reading. Oh, and if you haven’t tried running, I recommend that you try it 🙂

Happy New Year.

Johanna x

 

 

MWM Training Session 2

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As an introvert (who does a good impression of an extrovert), the solitary nature of running appeals to me. But even introverts, and solitary runners, can benefit from company and sometimes they even enjoy it.
Such was the case yesterday at the Malaysia Women Marathon training session, the second in a series of running clinics organised by MWM Race Director Karen Loh in the lead-up to the 10km, 21km, and 42km MWM races on March 16th in Shah Alam.
The meeting point yesterday was Padang Merbok. This is the start and finish location of a number of popular races including the upcoming MPIB 12 km on January 5th. It’s reasonable to expect a car park to be deserted at 6 AM on the last Sunday before Christmas but this place was a hubbub of activity in the dark as runners gathered to embark on their LSDs in the relative cool early morning air. I know – only people who live in the Tropics consider 24 degrees Celsius and 100% humidity to be cool!
Race Director Karen, accompanied by the MWM half marathon mentors, Lorna Wong and Sheela Samivellu, explained that the running session would consist of two 6 km loops along the hilly – very hilly – terrain of Bukit Tunku. For any ladies who had signed up for the MPIB race, this was a great opportunity to check out some of the route.

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Hilly route! Two loops added up to 13.5km on my watch.

After our warm-up,  around 20 ladies and our mentors, took off. We did the first loop, which turned out to be almost 7 km, slow and steady, passing and greeting many other runners en route. Each runner ran at a pace they found comfortable so we ended up breaking into small groups. It was nice to chat and run, and as always happens when I run with company, I marvelled at how much easier it is, than running alone. Just like life I guess.
After refreshments – water, isotonic drinks, mandarin oranges and apples, kindly provided by Karen – we set off a second time, with instructions to try the route at a higher pace. I was a little faster than the leading group and was very fortunate, though somewhat apprehensive, when Sheela, MWM mentor and local champion runner, accompanied me up a hill and started to pace me. We ran the rest, around 4km, of the route together and no kidding it was the fastest I’ve run for anything over 1km – ever. If it had been a race, I’d have slowed or even stopped, but because I was running with Sheela I didn’t want to humiliate myself by showing weakness. There were several lessons learned there, not only about the undiscovered power and speed in my legs, but more importantly I suspect, the importance of the mind in pushing through discomfort in the search for glory (or just a sense of achievement which feels glorious).

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Post-run stretching and mentoring session.

Back at the car park, Karen once again doled out refreshments, before the group gathered to chat, take photos and do a Q&A session with the mentors. Interval workouts and tempo runs were discussed, before I jokingly, but really quite seriously, enquired if the MWM ladies could meet up and run together every week. Karen informed us that there are plans in place to set up an MWM runners club. As soon as more details are available, I will of course post them here.

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L-R: Johanna (The Expat Runner), Sue-Ling (who acted as a sweeper during the run), Karen (Race Director) & Lorna (Mentor)

There were many different levels of runners at yesterday’s session. For some it was about pushing themselves up hills, resisting the urge to slow to a walk; for me it was about pushing past my fear of running fast. Irrespective of what our individual ambitions or self-imposed limitations were, every single person at the clinic had three things in common: each one of us was Dreaming, Believing, and Becoming. That’s what MWM is about.

To register for the Malaysia Women Marathon click here.

Sheela, Half Marathon mentor, champion runner and my personal hero yesterday, is third from the right.
Sheela, Half Marathon mentor, champion runner and my personal hero yesterday, is third from the right.

Thank you to Karen Loh for most of the photos shown in this post.

Kathrine Switzer is coming back to KL

This year I was bummed to miss the inaugural Malaysia Women Marathon as it clashed with a trip to Vietnam. This event, created to inspire and encourage women in Malaysia to run, was supported by the iconic presence of Kathrine Switzer. If you haven’t heard of her, here is more information on Kathrine Switzer.
In a nutshell, Ms Switzer was a trailblazer for women’s running even before I was born (and I’m 42). In 1967, she was the first ever woman to officially register for and run in the Boston Marathon. She went on to win the NYC Marathon in 1974, ran 39 marathons in total and continues to this day to travel the world, speaking and writing, as a fervent advocate for social and cultural change.
And now I’m going to meet her!
Having signed up for next year’s Malaysia Women Marathon, I now have the opportunity to attend a training session with Katherine Switzer on Nov 24. As my kids would say-awesome! Thank you to the fabulous, dynamic Karen Loh for not only creating the race event itself but for also offering runners in Malaysia the opportunity to be inspired by a running icon.

If you want to register for the Malaysia Women Marathon, you can do so here.
Check out the MWM’s Facebook page here:

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2XU Compression Run Results

I wasn’t even racing, just training, so I’m astounded to discover that I ranked 14th by gun time out of 928 women in Sunday’s race. What a great morale boost! My net time was 1:25:44. You can see that it took me almost 2 mins to reach the start line after the gun went off.

Here are the results which can be searched by surname or bib number: 2XU Compression Run Results

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