A Tourist in Thailand

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They say only mad dogs and Englishman brave the midday sun, but today, I joined them. Having grown bored of my usual routes in KL, this trip to Thailand has after only one run left me feeling rejuvenated and exhilarated. There’s nothing like only having a vague idea of where you are heading, based on a cursory glance at Google Maps, to fill you with a sense of adventure. As you can see from the photos, the road I chose was wide with some spectacular cliffs visible in the distance. I’m sure every car and bike that passed thought me a crazy white woman running in the midday heat, but as my husband pointed out, I need to do such training to get prepared for my 21km leg of the Half Ironman we’ve signed up for in April. Thankfully, a Gatorade bought at 9km sustained me back to the hotel and though I spotted many an Englishman, there were no mad dogs chasing my heels today.

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

Speed Vs Aerobic Endurance

An article from the Competitor Running website showed up in my Facebook feed today and I thought I’d share it as it’s something that resonated more than the other 50 running things I’ve glanced at today. I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a problem with endurance. I find 21 km races very challenging and am a long way from attempting a marathon. Yet, since I returned from injury in October I’ve been doing weekly speed workouts with the F1 Running Club and I’m faster than I thought. I’m fast for very short distances. My 12 km race last weekend went well and I ran at my best race pace yet, though for the last 2 km I felt nauseous, though I was only maintaining my pace not increasing it. In previous long races I’ve blamed the nausea at 10km onwards on gels, but I’ve given up gels so what caused the nausea on Sunday? Well, after reading this article, my latest theory is that the nausea is an indication of my poor aerobic endurance. The solution I think is to do more frequent and longer tempo runs. I think. I have until mid-March until I attempt another half marathon so I’m going to work hard in the next two months on pushing up my aerobic endurance. Tonight though, I’m off to my running club to do 5 x 1km. Yep, that can make me feel nauseous too. If only I could run without my belly!

Here’s the link to the Competitor Running article: Speed Vs Aerobic Endurance

MPIB 12km 2014

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For once, everything went right, nothing went wrong, and I had a good race! Hilly and hot, and 500m longer than last year’s route, I shaved over a minute off my time and clinched 4th place. Training aside, I was mentally stronger this year. Whenever I felt like slowing down, I repeated the mantra ‘I love to run’ in time with my cadence. It still wasn’t easy to keep going but despite nausea on the final 2 km, I did it. I had no clue where I was placed until I received the 4 th place tag at the finish line. What a nice surprise! I wandered around dehydrated but too nauseous to eat while waiting for the prize-giving ceremony, wearing that tag with tremendous pride, meeting old friends and new. All in all, MPIB 2014 was a blast. Take that Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis (PTT), your ass just got kicked!

Strava to the Rescue (of my ego)

My husband is a very keen and competitive road cyclist who spends most Sunday mornings dragging himself and his hideously expensive (to a non-cyclist) bike up hills on the outskirts of KL. After each ride, he usually sits in front of a computer and analyses his ride data, and tells me that he’s just been declared King of the Hill, or fifth fastest ever on a stretch of road, that kind of thing. The ride data is assessed on a website called Strava. I will admit that my eyes have frequently glazed over at the sight of Strava, spotted over my husband’s shoulder. Until yesterday, that is, when it attracted my full attention for the first time.

Yesterday, being a holiday, the routine went as usual. My husband was on Strava, looking at the data from our run the previous day in Bukit Tunku. The website collates running data as well as riding. ‘You’d probably be Queen of the Hill on some of these route segments here,’ my husband said.

Whoa! Hold up a second? What!? Faster than it takes to set up a Facebook page, I registered on Strava, uploaded over 400 runs from my Garmin watch, and found that yes indeed, I had set course records (CR), personal records (PR), and even Queen of the Hill records on a variety of run segments that are popular locally. I received a deluge of virtual medals and trophies.

My Strava accolades
My Strava accolades

Now I’m not getting carried away with the glory of all this virtual ego-boosting as none of the fast runners I know are on Strava, but still. If you’ve read my previous post – no? – then off you go and do that now here and please come back.

Back? OK. Where was I? Race anxiety, that’s where I was, setting PBs in training but failing to come up with the goods on race day. Strava means that my training runs are recorded and visible so that when I do manage to run my fastest, the results are visible online, and if they are good enough, I receive a little virtual trophy for a course record, or a medal for a personal record. As someone who tends to run fast for short distances, way shorter than most races, it means I can still get recognition for my short, sharp bursts of speed. Unfortunately my happiness is a bit too dependent on recognition – other INFJs will understand 🙂

Strava is really a social networking site for people who love to run and ride, a place where it’s perfectly acceptable – indeed it’s de rigeur –  to advertise your latest athletic accomplishment, be it a 150m hill, or a 7km loop, without fear of alienating your sedentary friends. You can also comment on people’s training sessions and Like (give Kudos to) friends’ runs or rides.

Stravaprofile

I’m thinking too that it’s probably a great way of discovering new running routes too, something I’ll be facing when we relocate mid-year. The site is free, though Premium membership – my husband has it – provides lots of extras such as pace analysis and goal setting. I’m not quite ready to commit the money just yet but I suspect that like joining Facebook and Twitter, it’s probably inevitable now that I’ve discovered the site.

Here’s a link to my Strava profile if you want to follow me there, and I will return the favour. At the moment, I only have one Follower. My husband, of course 🙂

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

 

 

Happy Christmas

It is exactly two years ago today that I started taking running seriously enough to measure my pace and distances. In 2011, Santa brought me a Garmin Forerunner 610 and on Christmas morning, I took it out for a very slow, though it didn’t feel so at the time, 5km. We’ve been through a lot together since: my first consecutive 10 kilometres without walking, my first race, my first half marathon, followed by two more in Singapore and Cambodia, my first prize, and of course my first three falls, the first of which on New Year’s Day 2013 in Siem Reap left its mark on us both. Thankfully my own scars have healed better than the watch’s!
In total I’ve run almost 2900 km on the road since Christmas Day 2011. That’s about 2850 km more than in the previous 40 years. I can’t imagine my life without running now, and am grateful to have come back from my PTT injury feeling stronger and wiser.

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Happy Christmas!

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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.

A New Challenge

There are many challenges facing a runner but up until now personal hygiene has not been one of them. Sure, I smell bad after a 10km in 100% humidity and 30 degrees C but a shower and a deodorant stick – and of course a washing machine- usually fix the odour problem pretty fast. Ah yes – showers, washing machines, flushing toilets – the cornerstones of civilised, fragrant society. I am fortunate enough to have easy access to all such modern conventions. Except, from tomorrow, our water – and that of around 1 million residents – is to be cut off for a day or two.

It’s very unclear, even after reading thisarticle three times, how long the water will be switched off.

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I’ve lived through blackouts and brown outs (in Manila) but never have I lived anywhere with widespread water disruption, and for maintenance purposes too. This isn’t even due to an ‘Act of God’! I will still run of course but the question is – will there be enough water in the tank to shower afterwards? How long will my running gear lie damp and rancid in the laundry basket? Will my son refuse to pee in the garden to save on toilet flushing, even if I pay him? Of course, he will!

Fingers crossed for some torrential rain:)

My running club’s new kit – a very impromptu modelling session with my friend KK on Wednesday night. The kit came with red Mizuno shorts but the shorts are, well,a bit too short!

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