Doing the Pelvic Tilt

 

injury graphOn tuesday, I ran 12km. It was the furthest I had run in three months. I should have been elated. In just over two weeks I’d moved ‘the maximum distance without much pain’ mark from 5km to 12km. Yet, rather than elation I felt frustration. I’m in the danger zone, the place where the mind starts to get greedy and ambitious, as the legs start to return to some semblance of form. Strangely, when I wasn’t running at all, I was more accepting of my injury. Now I just want it to be gone, and to get back to the level I’d worked up to in May. Having had a taste of running, I want to run full throttle. I’ve started to look longingly at the training plan my coach in KL drew up before I left. I’ve reprinted it, and stared at it several times as if some form of osmosis was going to make me run faster and longer. That’s the training plan that was designed to get me to a PB in the Chevron City to Surf Half Marathon this coming Sunday for which I registered on May 1, just before my ITB decided it had had enough and was off for a summer vacation.

Well I’m months away from being able to adhere to such a plan but I think I may not have lost the chance to do the City to Surf event altogether. I changed my registration to the 12km race over a month ago, not really expecting to be able to participate. And even as I set off on my pre-physio run on Tuesday, I was certain that I wasn’t going to go to the start line in Perth city centre on Sunday. But then, my legs let me go, and I made it to 12, though 13 would have been impossible as my leg had started to hurt after over an hour on the road. I can only make it to 12 by concentrating very hard on fixing the anterior tilt of my pelvis which was most likely at the root of my ITB injury.

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My husband is running on Sunday too, though yesterday he discovered that I’d registered him as a woman, so maybe he’ll get disqualified before he gets to the start line. Oops. My 11-year-old daughter is walking 12km with a friend. Billed as the largest running event in the southern hemisphere, I’m curious to see what an Australian event is like. I’ve never been at a race outside Asia and I’ve a lot of questions that need answering.

For example, will I turn blue at the start line or should I dress warmly and discard old clothes en route? The forecast is for rain so I may be wet and blue before I start. Will I need to take a drink or energy chews – I ran Tuesday with neither – but having never mastered the fuel issue in Tropical climes, I now need to address it here. Do Australians stop to take selfies and update their Facebook statuses only minutes after starting the race?  Will there be long lines for the portaloos? Will I actually make it to the start line? More importantly, will I make it to the finish line?

Hopefully by Monday I’ll have answers to some of these questions, if not all. I will not be racing, no matter how eager my brain may be to do so. My legs (and my lungs) simply aren’t ready. I will try running though, whilst doing a pelvic tilt that hopefully looks less weird than it feels!

London Recap

Well Dick Whittington was wrong – the streets of London are NOT paved with gold. However, I can attest to the fact that the parks – Hyde Park, St James’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – are teeming with runners. Or maybe it’s like that time I was trying to get pregnant without success and it seemed that every single other woman on the streets of Singapore was sporting a baby bump. I couldn’t run but everyone else could, and did. Despite being benched, we had a fabulous time. London really is an easy city to navigate, whether by foot, bus or underground, and there is so much to see and do that you find yourself saying ‘Well, next time..’ a lot.

Me and Mo
Me and Mo

One Direction were strangely absent from Madame Tussauds much to D2’s disappointment. A Twitter search after our visit revealed that the wax versions of the boy band are currently in Amsterdam. I guess Madame Tussauds London are keeping this important fact quiet lest it deter Tweens from visiting. The Natural History Museum was a big hit. In fact, at the end of our second visit I had to send out a mayday call for D1 who had failed to show up at our designated meeting point and the museum was closing. ‘We have found the missing child’ a member of staff relayed back to the exit through his walkie-talkie. As D1 was escorted to the exit, she assumed a case of mistaken identity- she couldn’t possibly be a ‘missing child’ – and worried that she was being kidnapped by some strange family. A few years in KL can make a child paranoid about abduction. Once reunited with her sister and me, her only concern was if the Gift Shop was still open. No, she had not heard any of the multiple tannoy announcements about closing time. So, yes the Natural History Museum is engrossing, and it’s free to visit (donations are encouraged).

We were too late at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for a tour as apparently it’s a working theatre and there are no tours whilst plays are showing. Lesson learned there. ‘Mamma Mia’ was a blast; despite having seen the movie several times, the live show was still entertaining and brimming with talent. The quick visit and lunch at the Victoria & Albert Museum, a dash past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s, a lot of walking in parks (trying to ignore runners) and a rather long visit to Top Shop completed our little trip – until next time.

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Tomorrow we move to Australia. As you do. No big deal at all. I’ve a feeling that the parks in Perth are also teeming with runners; fingers crossed that in another few weeks I’ll be one of them.

ITB Saga continues

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‘She’s chomping at the bit so she is,’ someone said yesterday. I wasn’t anywhere near a racecourse or stables but lying flat on a physiotherapy table. The ‘she’ in question was me; the inference being that I was dying to run again, raring to go as they say (on racecourses). I was near the end of my third physio session in a week and the student physio who had just spent an hour pummelling my ITB and glutes with his elbows was updating the senior physio on my progress. I thought I’d been very good about the whole ‘don’t run for ages thing’ but I guess it’s still obvious that I want to run. Immediately!

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I’ll rewind a bit. Last Monday, I walked the three-minute trip down the road to a physiotherapy clinic I had found online and got an appointment for that afternoon. I don’t know what I expected but I hadn’t really anticipated being told not to run for 6-8 weeks. What?! A week before, in the midst of moving and bidding farewell to friends, pets, and life as I’d known it for four years in KL, I’d cried over the idea of taking a few days off. To be fair, I cried about just about everything that week. But here in Kilkenny, I didn’t shed a tear or even try to appeal the jail sentence. For one thing, the ITB problem had been going on far too long so that even I, obsessive that I am, knew that running wasn’t helping me to get better. It was in fact making the injury worse. The other thing was that the physio’s offer to show me his scar from ITB surgery. Er surgery?! Yikes! OK, a few weeks off didn’t seem so bad after all, even if it did mean missing the half marathon in August and jettisoning all dreams of running in cooler weather, climbing up the Kilkenny Strava ladder. My choice of physio may have been haphazard but I was lucky to end up with someone who not only is a runner himself, but who has also had an ITB injury, though hopefully much more serious than my own.IMG_6540

Unlike in KL, the physios here are not averse to causing pain, and I’ve the bruising to prove it. The idea is to break down the scar tissue on the ITB and promote healing by sending blood to the area through deep tissue massage. There has been no mention of exercises yet though it has been agreed that foam rolling is a great idea. Everyone I mention ITBS to asks if I foam roll. Well I do. And I’ve started to do some body weight exercises on my core, upper body, abductors, and adductors, in the hope of not losing the little strength I had built up, and even perhaps building up some more for when I return to running.

Bruising
Physio-inflicted bruising on my thigh.

Initially I thought the timing terrible – to be injured when home, where I have no access to a bike (it has just arrive in Perth apparently) – but I’ve now committed to a routine of walking a 6km loop in the countryside everyday (see photos), and with the glorious summer weather we’re currently having, it’s impossible to feel sorry for myself. Sure, my cardio fitness is really suffering but I’ll just have to accept that. As long as my ass doesn’t go south, east and west too I’ll be fine.

Before I took up running I was a keen walker so it’s no hardship to return to it once more – temporarily – and enjoy the summer weather without breaking a sweat. The ITB feels sore from the physio but other than that, it’s impossible to know whether it’s healing or not. Any temptation to try run is quickly tempered by the thought of the scar on my physio’s knee, which I didn’t look at by the way. Sure, I’m chomping at the bit to get back out there, clocking up the miles again, but I know I need to be patient – or I might end up in the knacker’s yard! Or worse, be forced to become a cyclist!

 

A little bit back, a little bit forward

We’re in Ireland now, enjoying the cooler weather and eating our way through the tin of Cadbury’s Roses my mother has kept for us since Christmas.  I’ve tried running twice but a week’s break has done nothing to improve my ITB. Sigh.

When I left Oslo in 2010, I regretted not having taken photos of the walking loop I loved so much. My ITB injury, which allows me to walk but not run, offered me the opportunity last week to snap for posterity before we left, or at least until my iCloud implodes, images of the Mont Kiara loop. This was one of my regular KL running routes. Here’s a taster of the cracked pavements, traffic junctions, and urban chaos that I came to love so much:

 

I’m sure if I returned to Oslo today, I’d find my old walking loop unchanged except for an imperceptible heightening of the trees, lengthening of the branches. The Tanum area I loved so much is a development-free zone. The same cannot be said of KL. The cityscape there is constantly changing so I’m glad I managed to capture what was so familiar and make digital copies as a reminder.
Roses
And of course, the trick to moving is to look forward, not back. Today, I’m looking forward to my first visit to see an Irish physiotherapist as a week’s break from running has offered no improvement to my ITB problem. I ran 2.4 km this morning – gloriously fast, thanks to the cool climate – but that was all my ITB would allow before stiffening. I’m also looking forward to the arrival of the foam roller I ordered online as it’s been five days since my Malaysian one was packed up.
Other than that, it seems I’d better start looking forward to doing more walking, as after five weeks, this ITB issue isn’t going to be easily resolved. Pass the chocolates.

Before the packers arrive…

This week, the last in our house, I lost two toenails, sold my car, gave away two guinea pigs, and paid a man to stick needles in my hands and feet. First-world problems I know! Only handing over the guinea pigs made me cry though to be honest, tears are bubbling under the surface constantly, partly because I’m not able to run much, mostly because we are leaving. The reason for my running wIMG_6390oes is that my ass is still tight (see previous post). In fact, I have a spastic gluteus medius, which allows me to run around 4km, gets my hopes up that all the stretching and physio are paying off, then on the fifth loop of the course on which I originally started running three years ago, my butt tightens making my ITB feel rigid and causing pain on the outside of my knee. I haven’t run outside this loop around my house in weeks – it feels like months! I didn’t get to do a final run in any of my favourite places. Yes, yes, I know, first world problems! I missed the Cyberjaya Fireman’s Half Marathon and will miss my final much anticipated race, a 10km, this coming Sunday (my last!). Yet, my physio who is trying to release the pesky, spastic glute, insists that I continue to run through the injury. Rest, he says will not help. I should be glad I suppose, but with a life of 5km races stretching in front of me, I’m only partially relieved that the horrifying words ‘ Do not run for a week’ have not been uttered (other than by well-meaning friends :))

Acupuncture is a new departure, though one I wish I had attempted earlier than my penultimate week in Malaysia. I had my first session today and will squeeze two more in before we fly away next Friday the 13th. I can’t tell yet whether it has helped my butt or not, but it certainly was very pleasant to be taken care of for 45 minutes, needles and all. I think it will help my butt. Yes I do.

Tomorrow the packers arrive. I picture them like locusts descending on the house, eager to pack belongings into boxes before I’ve segregated things I still need (my running shoes(!)), and things that I can live without for the next two months (my television, the piano, a very long list of things). Luckily, I’ve opened a bottle of champagne that’s been in the fridge for two years, waiting for a worthy celebration; it can’t be packed so it’s a question of ‘waste not, want not’. As I said – first world problems:)

The unitard is back – on YouTube at least

I was right. I’m a tight ass. The pain on the outside of my knee experienced when running downhill during the NM Galaxy 15km was (and continues to be caused) by tightness in my buttocks and hips. It’s classic ITB syndrome. I’ve been to physio twice and have been stretched and pummelled which has really helped, and I’m stretching and using a foam roller at home. Hopefully, this will sort the problem out. I doubt I will be able to do the Cyberjaya Half Marathon this coming weekend but I haven’t given up hope yet. Common sense would dictate that I give it a miss. Common what?

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint the origin of this butt problem. I am a victim of my own attempts at strength training. My cross-training was totally lacking despite good intentions and the knowledge that strength training is essential for running injury-free. I’m still a member of a gym but didn’t seem to be able to get my squishy ass in there for classes such as TRX and Body Pump, staples of my pre-running fitness regime. Anyway, who needs a fancy gym when you can do 8-minute videos on YouTube? Well I certainly didn’t.

These videos were not only effective (I thought!) but also are quite amusing. They date from 1988 I think, and so not only are the hairstyles retro, the lycra unitards also hark back to fitness days past (and best forgotten). You’ve got to watch them once just for sheer entertainment. C’mon gang, as the man says, it’s only 8 minutes and it’s worth it.

When I first joined a gym in Aberdeen, Scotland, around 1994, my favourite outfit for aerobics was a red unitard that I wore over black lycra shorts. The unitard sat like dental floss between my oversized buttocks. Think Kim Kardashian but with a lot more wobble.

Thankfully, these were the days before digital photography (and the goddamned scourge of modern society, the selfie) so there is no photographic evidence of this dreadful get-up. I’d totally blocked the image of my 1990s aerobic gear from my memory until I looked at these videos. Now I guess I’m inflicting it on people all over again, but in a different virtual way 😉

The ab video is very, very good – safe and effective as the man says – employing old-fashioned sit-ups to chisel the midriff. According to a friend who is a personal trainer, the butt exercises are considered a ‘no no’ these days due to arching of the back. I did the routine a few times and liked it. What’s not to like in only 8 minutes with such an amusing voiceover for company. ‘What do you want your butt to look like gang?’ I still haven’t come up with an answer to that one. Well I guess I should have stretched afterwards. But nah, didn’t bother, had other stuff to do. You know the way.

Now I’ve discovered that there is a difference between buns of steel and a tight ass. Unfortunately, I currently have the latter. Stretch!!

NM Galaxy 15km Series 2

IMG_6307If 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…

galaxy2prizeThe 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.

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POSITIVES:

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!

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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.

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 Thank you to the total stranger who took the photos for me as I was on my own. 

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

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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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Haze Worsens

 

Tourist expecting to see the Petronas Twin Towers today will be disappointed. They're there, somewhere, honest.
Tourists expecting to see the Petronas Twin Towers today will be disappointed. They’re there, somewhere, honest.

I love Malaysia, Love it! I love the diversity, the vibrancy, the sense of possibilities, the people (when they are not on motorbikes or driving cars). I don’t want to leave. So I feel sorry for anyone visiting right now, or newly arrived. Not only do we have the pall of MH370 hanging over the country, and the debacle of the Anwar Ibrahim scandal, many people have no running water and this morning the air is so polluted that driving the kids to school felt like a scene from Armageddon.

The Royal Palace shrouded in smog
The Royal Palace shrouded in smog

Yesterday, four times Boston Marathon Champion and former World Record holder, Catherine Ndereba, arrived in Kuala Lumpur as guest speaker at the Malaysia Women Marathon event which kicks off tomorrow. The races take place in Shah Alam on Sunday, assuming the air is clear enough. I’m doing the Half Marathon. Tomorrow, I plan to drive out there to hear Catherine speak about balancing her career as world champion and motherhood. Obviously, I’ve left it a bit late to start aspiring to be world champion, or even champion, but I‘m sure her experience will be interesting and relevant nonetheless.

There is no question of running outside today. I’ve had a frog in my throat all week, thanks to the haze. I’ll have to attempt a few easy kilometres on the treadmill.  Yes, I say easy, but there’s no such thing as an easy kilometre on a conveyer belt. Let’s hope the air clears up as fast as it deteriorated yesterday. It’s hard to imagine racing on Sunday if the pollution continues but until we hear otherwise, we must assume that it will.