Taper Madness

We’ve moved out of our house, the kids are on school holidays, the weather is cold, frequently wet and windy, and apparently my training is done. I won’t go on about the ridiculous position of being a tenant in Australia whereby one is expected to improve a property and return it cleaner than when it was received. No I’ve left those rants ringing in the ears of every person unfortunate enough to meet me last week. Now it’s time to look forward (to the next time I have to move out of a WA house, not!), but also to more pleasurable things. First though I have to do my marathon – this weekend!

I’m torn between being grateful that I completed a marathon training program without getting injured (the niggle in my left quad does not indicate an injury, no it does not) and wondering if perhaps I didn’t train hard enough. Or maybe the latter thought is tapering crazy thinking. To be honest, I really don’t know what to expect on Sunday. And that I think has got to be the one of the best things – besides fitting into skinny jeans a size smaller than last year – about this experience at this point. I have never done a marathon before so the only thing to do, having done the training apparently, is to get philosophical.

If it was easy to run a marathon, everyone would do one, wouldn’t they? Okay, I can think of a few of you who wouldn’t but you know what I mean. It is designed to be hard. I read somewhere that only 20% of marathoners run 42.2km in under 4 hours and that statistic does not take advanced age into consideration. So a sub-4 hour marathon is a big deal. And there is a big chance that I won’t achieve that, as much as I’d like to. And you know what? That’s going to be fine. More than fine.

I hope I can make this run a celebration of good health, of freedom, of friendships – there will be many familiar faces both on and around the course – and of simply being. Running 42.2km is a silly think to do really. And I know for a fact that there will be a number of hours this Sunday when I will wonder why the hell I have chosen to do it. I oscillate between calm acceptance of what will be will be and oh my gawd this is going to be wretched and I’ll be lucky to finish.

Finishing will do though. I still remember finishing my first half marathon in 2012, crying with joy as I crossed the line in 1:59, the lady presenting me with my medal trying to console me, telling me not to be sad, that I’d win the race next year. I fully expect to bawl my eyes out on Sunday too. I just hope it’s not until after I’ve finished!

We are currently living in temporary accommodation in a building inhabited mostly by octogenarians. The decor has a certain 19th century vibe to it but hidden amongst the trinkets was this little gem of wisdom. Words to abide by even when running a race:)

 

Marathon Training – Day 1

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Swanbourne Beach

I’m pretty sure that I’ve told ever single person I’ve met in the past two months that I’m running a marathon in June. Yet, until today, I hadn’t technically started training for the event. (I won’t call it a race as my stomach churns at the mention of the word.) I’ve been plodding along doing my usual 45-50km per week – a tempoish (5km) parkrun, a slowish long run, various 8-12km runs in between, and the odd, very odd, interval session. And it’s been nice, not following a training plan.

But now, sixteen weeks to M-Day (June 12), and it’s time to dust off (or open the app) containing my chosen training plan and get down to serious business. I’ve opted for a Training Peaks plan with a goal time of 4 hours (more about that in future posts). I used similar plans for two half marathons last year and the combination of speed work and long runs worked well. And I took six minutes off my half marathon time.

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My plan designates Mondays as rest days (assuming Sundays are long run days), so I’ve started my marathon training today by having a rest from running. After the WAMC Point Walter 16km Race yesterday – I’m ok with referring to events as races after the fact by the way – a rest day was in order.  A walk on Swanbourne beach to stretch out my calves, hamstrings and hip flexors, pretending not to see the naked man letting it all hang out as he walked towards me, was as active as I got today. It was very windy but I guess nudists don’t feel the sea chill like the rest of us, though parts of their anatomy must. It could have been worse I guess. He could have been running. Come to think of it, the naked rambler is probably the only person in Western Australia whom I haven’t managed to tell in passing that I’ve registered for Perth marathon. These things happen when you don’t make eye contact.

 

When love goes sour

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Dear Running

There’s no easy way of saying this so I’ll be blunt – I think we need a break from each other. Just for a little while. I imagine this comes as a bit of a shock. At least, I didn’t see it coming. Yet, today, I know that if our relationship is to survive for the long-term – and I hope it does- some time apart is essential. I need time. Time to recover from yesterday’s race, time for my glutes, hips and back to relax, time away from you to rekindle what really has been an amazing mid-life romance.

We’ve had a great year! No injuries, ten joyous races, and PBs in 5km, 10km and 21.1.km distances. Until last week, things had never been better between us. Maybe it was the effort of that 5km PB at Champion Lakes parkrun last weekend, or it might have been the half marathon PR I inadvertently set at the WAMC Fremantle Half four weeks back. Or maybe I’m just too old and tired for a full-time commitment. It was probably a combination of these things that turned last week’s short, easy taper runs into drudgery on legs that felt like steel (as in stiff, not strong). Yet, despite these poor training efforts, I thought we’d get through yesterday’s Ironman 70.3 Mandurah race with our love intact. I believed in us. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

The first 10km went according to plan – 49 mins. Then, something went wrong. My legs turned to lead, and took my heavy heart with them. We let each other down. And you know, these things happen. I get that. After all, I’ve been married 17 years, so I know that you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, but did you have to let me down on such an important event? Did our bust-up have to be the only race where my family stood by the sidelines cheering me on, telling me they loved me and that I was doing really great (when I really, really wasn’t)? Did it have to be the team event where my poor performance cost us a place in the rankings? I know, I know, 5th place is still pretty amazing when you show up vaguely hoping to make the Top 15, and my swimmer and cyclist really couldn’t have been more supportive, but still. Your timing was off – excuse the pun. And telling me that my time (1:52) wasn’t that bad is missing the point too so please stop saying that.

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The point is that I hated you for 11km yesterday. I hated you enough to walk a little bit. Yes, walk! Every step I took was miserable. All those cardio workouts were for nothing; my legs wouldn’t move fast enough to get me out of breath. By the end, I was running slower than an easy training run, and I loathed every step. I watched so many other runners, their mojo intact, their legs springing them across the finish line, and couldn’t help feeling slighted. What had I done wrong? All the time and energy I had invested in our relationship, and for what? To be grateful that at least the ice cubes at every fuel station kept my nausea at bay and I didn’t need to stop at the portaloo? I really thought we’d moved beyond that stage.

I’m going to take a few days rest. I might go for a walk or two. I will probably try a gym session to revive my weary muscles. I will analyse over and over what went wrong between us without much hope of an answer. I will avoid uploading yesterday’s run to my Strava profile until I feel resilient enough to review the graphic representation of our first major argument since we moved to Australia. Today, I honestly feel too fragile.

This morning, for the first time in three and a half years, I actually looked at runners, and felt meh, as if they belonged to another tribe. Ok, so I did go for walk. You can’t expect someone as passionate as I to turn into a total couch potato whatever our difficulties. A girl has her needs. I’m flying to Singapore on thursday for the weekend. I’m hopeful that I’ll feel like taking my Garmin with me. I’m guessing that by Friday, I’ll be checking out Active Wear in Under Armour. Maybe by Saturday, I’ll be missing you enough to get up at 5:30am and do a tropical parkrun, though to be honest, the way I’m feeling today, I think that’s highly unlikely. My Facebook feed (where I won’t change my relationship status – it’s just a break – honest!), so cluttered with running advice and anecdotes, has given me a headache – though this may also be due to dehydration. Today, I will tend to what are left of my toenails (don’t take this as a criticism!) and try make them look less repulsive – assuming I can bend down far enough to brandish tea tree oil and nail polish. I hope you understand that I need time to reassess our relationship and my expectations, to work through my fatigue and ennui (and bruised ego), and do the laundry created by five people going to Mandurah for one night. Be patient. I know we’ll get through this.

Best regards,

Jo

Suck it Up Runners or #SCKLM4October

I have never participated in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon event though I do have one unused half marathon bib (due to injury) from 2013. I no longer live in Kuala Lumpur and I have not registered for this year’s marathon. All of this makes me perfectly qualified to post a detached and well-reasoned post on the decision, announced yesterday, to move the race day back a week to Oct 10, 2015. Yet, I can’t, because even here in Perth, I find myself getting angry over the obvious disdain this decision shows towards runners, towards 35,000 runners who have committed their money, time and training to an event long-scheduled for Oct 4.

The change of date (and day, from Sunday to Saturday) is a political one, to allow the international event to coincide with the newly conceived National Sports Day run by the Malaysian Ministry of Youth & Sport. The National Sports Day has amongst its objectives: ‘promoting unity, stimulating economic growth, growing sporting knowledge and recognising sporting talent.’ Well congratulations, Dirigo Events, you’ve certainly managed to promote unity; unity of anger of thousands of SCKLM registrants who have taken to Facebook, Twitter and blogs to voice their outrage over the mixing of sport with politics with little apparent consideration for the people without whom the event couldn’t exist.

I’m astounded that Standard Chartered Bank would allow their brand to be tarnished by such shoddy treatment of race registrants, surprised that event organisers Dirigo didn’t anticipate the backlash, and very glad that I personally didn’t book flights and accommodation for KL for the race. I feel very bad for those that did.

There have been many reasoned comments made online about the consequences for overseas runners, including many Malaysians who have already booked travel from Sabah and Sarawak. Many commentators have also rightly voiced their dismay over allowing a politically-neutral sporting event to be hijacked for political purposes. There’s also the worrying issue of staging such a major event on a Saturday, a working day in KL, and the fact that the new date clashes with several other running events. How any of this serves to promote ‘economic growth, growing sporting knowledge and recognising sporting talent’ is beyond me!

What bugs me most is the apparent disdain SCKLM organisers have for the commitment made by runners to their event. It’s like organising a secular wedding then, once thousands of loyal friends have bought their outfits, booked their hotels and organised a babysitter, changing the date to suit one wealthy, but distant, acquaintance who is insisting on a Church service to help promote their parish. Well, stuff your wedding I’d say – and don’t bother inviting me at all next time!

There are plenty of races in Asia for those who want to travel. Plenty of races in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam that, as far as I am aware, value their runners and don’t flip flop over things as fundamental as race dates. There are plenty of races around KL for those who don’t travel too. Since 2009, SCKLM has been considered the premier running event in Malaysia, adhering to international standards that runners could rely on, and other event organisers could aspire to. Dismissing the commitment of 35,000 runners to keep politicians happy, as SCKLM has done this week, was a misguided move and one from which the event’s (and main sponsor’s) reputation will fail to fully recover. Unless of course, thousands of runners voicing their opinions online get their way and the original date is restored. Everyone can mistakes. The trick is in recognising and rectifying them.

UPDATE: July 16, 2015

Over the past three days there has been no statement from the organisers of SCKLM while runners continued to lobby on social media for the marathon to be returned to its original date of Oct 4. This afternoon, the Malaysian Minister for Youth & Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, released a statement on his Facebook page announcing that the event would indeed revert to Oct 4. So, common sense prevails, the power of social media seem unassailable and Dirigo Events have been peculiarly mute throughout the whole debacle. Perhaps, silence in this case, speaks a thousand words.

HBF Run for a Reason 2015

The HBF Run for a Reason mascot wearing the event t-shirt.
The HBF Run for a Reason mascot wearing the event t-shirt.

I’m pretty sure that the first time I ran in Perth, some time last winter (summer if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere), I ran past at least one person wearing an HBF Run for a Reason t-shirt. It seems that over the past nine months, those blue t-shirts have been EVERYWHERE (on runners). I haven’t yet spotted them in a shopping mall. Well, since Sunday, there are a further 31,700 HBF Run for a Reason t-shirts in circulation. Even I now have one.

IMG_0004The HBF Run for a Reason is one of Perth’s largest fundraising community runs which attracts runners, walkers, strollers and the odd elite. This year there were three distances on offer: 4km, 12km, and the new 21.1km. I opted for the 12km as I’d already registered for a half marathon in May and I’m trying to be sensible in my old age. This also meant an extra 90 minutes in bed which is not to be sniffed at at any age.

IMG_0817I have nothing but good to say about this year’s Run for a Reason. Over $1,257,466 was raised through runner fundraising and donations at registration for charities such as the Cancer Council, Diabetes WA, Lifeline WA, and the Heart Foundation WA. Many runners had specific reasons for running such as raising money in memory of a loved one or for a charity for which they had a close affinity. My reasons were fun, celebrating the Yes victory in the Irish marriage Equality Referendum, and gratitude for being healthy enough, and having the freedom, to run in this great city. Crossing the line in under 60 mins was a vague hope but not a deal breaker.

As with many major events in Perth, extra public transport services were provided, free of charge to participants. There were plenty of clean empty, portaloos in the CBD near the race start site which in my book is a kind of victory in itself. The start line was very well managed, with lots of clear signage for different start waves depending on participants anticipated race time. The atmosphere before, during and after the run was fabulous – Perth was teaming with happy people on Sunday morning. The 12km race started bang on time. The route was populated by enthusiastic volunteers and music and well-wishers. My shins were killing me for the first 8km but I soldiered on and crossed the line in 58:11 mins, dry-heaving over the line. Next time, I’ll take a gel 40 mins into the race to stave off this inglorious race finish action. IMG_0002

Finishers received isotonic drinks, water and bananas as they completed their run/walk in Gloucester Park. A timing mat on the way to the exit allowed runners to check their chip race time, something I’ve never seen at any other race but which really is a great idea. Bags dropped off the previous day at Perth Arena were ready for collection after the run, an essential for those like me who are totally intolerant of the cold. Shuttle buses worked efficiently in ferrying finishers back to the CBD to catch free public transport home again. Or in my case to a soccer game.

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The Finish area at Gloucester Park. A sea of blue t-shirts.

The only quibble I’d have is that it would be nice to give all finishers, not just the 21.1km runners, a medal. I’d much rather a medal than a t-shirt I’ll never wear as I only run in singlets. Still, from the main sponsor, HBF’s, point of view, I can see that the t-shirt is a better marketing tool. Did I mention that they are EVERYWHERE?

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Race timings as published in the West Australian newspaper on Monday.
Race timings as published in the West Australian newspaper on Monday.

Busselton 70.3 Relay 2015

Finally I ran a half marathon in which I felt undefeated by the distance. That’s HM:9-Me:1 Yay! It was the run leg of the Busselton Half Ironman Relay and it finally put to bed the threat of my headstone reading: Here lies the Expat Runner who never ran a half marathon without a tonne of excuses for why she should have done better. 

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Last saturday, not only did I put one foot in front of the other without stopping for 21.1km, but I didn’t complain about doing so either. For once, I was not swearing ‘never again’ under my breath – or worse, aloud. I didn’t stop to go to the toilet either which alone merits a medal. I shouted out ‘so far so good’ to my team mate around the 15km mark which I can absolutely, categorically say never occurred to me to even think, not to mention say, during any other race ever before. Her reply, by the way was ‘remember the roos’ referring to the fact that we needed to get on the road for the three-hour journey back to Perth before twilight to avoid colliding with kangaroos, several of which we’d seen in the form of roadkill on the journey to Busselton. I laughed and ran on with renewed, roo-avoiding, determination. Love my team!

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Finish line HAPPY!

The course was very flat which helped. The weather conditions were also perfect – sunny, with a breeze, and low humidity. Our team name, ‘I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in KL Anymore’ couldn’t have been more apt. Unlike the other two Half Ironman team events I have done, the Busselton race holds the teams back from starting until most of the triathletes have finished the course. I anticipated this as a negative as I’d previously loved running amongst tough  – and slightly insane- triathletes. On saturday, most of these guys and gals were knocking back a beer or two by time I started running, turning the team event into a team race. Which worked out pretty well in the end as it obliterated the guilt over being a lightweight and not attempting the full triathlon. The fact that the course was three loops turned out to be mental bonus rather than a challenge too as once one 7km loop was complete, you knew exactly what lay ahead.

And so finally, I ran a half marathon that felt like a celebration of my training, that relied on my legs, lungs and mind without being undermined by a miserable digestive system.  I crossed the finish line happy, even before looking at my watch. The fact that I knocked over 2 minutes of my previous HM time was a bonus though it really felt like it was my due. I was capable of running that time – 1:47:45 – a year ago at Borneo International Half Marathon in much higher temperatures and humidity but my stomach let me down, I suspect because of dehydration, leaving me limping over the line at the end.

At Busselton, I was very, very diligent with my hydration. Perhaps starting at 13:45 helped too as I had hours of fuel – and nervous waiting – in me as I started which is never the case for a morning race. And of course it wasn’t really hot or humid.

I actually could have run faster but didn’t want to risk it lest it backfire in my intestines. I finished strong, passing a guy only a few hundred metres from the finish chute. I managed the same at the ASICS Bridges 10km a few weeks ago, passing people on the home Busso_finish2straight whose butts I’d been eyeing up for several kilometers. Mind you, at Busso, a girl half my age if even, ran past me 200m from the finish line, robbing my all-female team of a top-10 finish by 9s so I can’t be smug. Still, to get 11th out of almost 70 teams for three women in their mid-forties, with seven children between them, in an environment as competitive as Western Australia, racing against ‘kids’ in their twenties and thirties, was astounding. I’m certain we got first place for the team, irrespective of gender, with the longest team name. I was lucky to have a really supportive, sporty and good-humoured team.

So, the easy course and weather and the mid-day start aside, why I am feeling stronger than before towards the end of a race, when I have a history of flagging, and flagging badly at that?  I certainly didn’t train any harder for this event than for previous races though I was free of the ITB injury that affected my previous two half marathons. Essentially, I think I trained smarter.

Running 80% of my runs slowly, and 20% fast seems to be paying off. Besides giving me the ability to run faster on race day, the 80:20 system has improved my fatigue resistance and kept me injury-free. I’m also doing one or two gym sessions a week to build up my core, upper body, and glute strength.

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Will I be trying to run faster next time? Of course I will try but I won’t be disappointed if I don’t achieve another PB. If I run a good race that reflects my training efforts, that doesn’t upset my stomach, that allows my legs to do their best, I’ll be happy. If I run another 21.1km without saying ‘never again’ at the 14km mark, I’ll consider that an achievement. If I cross the finish line smiling, instead of grimacing and complaining, I’ll be feeling like it’s a personal best, irrespective of the numbers on my watch. Roll on Perth Half Marathon in August.

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Running Slow to Get Faster

Yesterday I started a Training Peaks Half Marathon plan designed to get me across the finish line at the Busselton Half Ironman relay in 1:45. Well, I signed up for the plan two months ago when May seemed a long way off and I still believed in miracles! The schedule for Monday said 8km easy, so I ran 8km maybe not easy but strong, but not pushing too hard. It was one of the best training runs I had done in weeks. My Garmin watch, which is still under warranty, is out of action at the moment. I had to send the faulty charging cable to Garmin Australia in NSW for repair/replacement. So yesterday, I couldn’t actually see my pace as I ran. I was running purely by feel, recording the run using the Strava App. I felt great! My average pace turned out to be 5:10min/km. My last kilometre was sub 5mins. I guess I got a bit carried away with myself but it felt so good!

When I got home I checked the training plan again and noticed for the first time that the pace indicated for the run was just under 6min/km. Not only that but this pace doesn’t increase for any of the non-interval runs throughout the 10-week plan. Surely this must be a mistake. How can you go out and run 21.1km at 5min/km pace or faster when most of your training runs are done at a minute slower per kilometre!? I dismissed the plan as lightweight.

As Monday progressed, my energy levels did the opposite. I was zonked. Today’s planned interval session didn’t happen at all. It’s almost 3PM and I’m still dressed to run but the only run I’m doing soon is the school run, in a car. So as fabulous as I felt in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s 8km, I’m not feeling somewhat deflated. Day two of a plan and I’ve already skived. Day 1 and I’ve already over-trained. So what to do?

Well, buy a book of course! And finish a novel. I should slip that in too that instead of running today, I had a little nap then finished a novel I’ve been working on for three years. No one has read it yet so it could be complete tosh but at least it is completed tosh.

Back to my purchase. It’s called 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. Its main message is that in order to run faster, runners need to train slower. Yes, its counter-intuitive but the premise is based on scientific studies and analyses of athletic performance. I’m still sceptical but I think it’s worth a read. Certainly, the press coverage for the book has been very positive.

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It’s hard to run slow when you feel you can run faster. It’s also hard on the ego to deliberately run slower that you are capable of 80% of the time, then display the fact on Strava. Well it is for me! That said, my constant attempts to run every run as fast as is comfortable without pushing too hard isn’t paying dividends other than in measures of frustration as I’m not actually getting any faster. I’m feeling tired and heavy legged a lot of the time, and I am developing new aches and pains on a weekly basis.

So, I’m ready to try something new, ready to slow down if it really means I’ll stay injury-free and run faster in the long run. I’ll let you know what I think of the book. I’ll let you know too how long it takes Garmin to return my cable!

The Art of Finishing

I’m getting lazy. Not about running but about blogging. I half wrote a post about the Mandurah Half Ironman which I ran a few weeks back but I didn’t finish it. The blog post, not the race. I finished the race, despite the heat which matched that of the other Half Ironman run I did in Putrajaya back in April. It was a freakishly hot day, and only the second day during which I can honestly say that I have felt warm since moving to Perth.

IMG_8241I’ve never been a good finisher which is possibly one of the reasons why I like racing – it forces me to finish something that I usually regret starting. Crossing the finish line is like waving a magic wand – ‘what was I thinking?’ and ‘OMG I can’t run another step. I want to stop!’ transforms into ‘Wow. I did it. I feel fantastic!’. And so it was at Mandurah. I spent 1hr 54 minutes thinking ‘This is crazy! How do people swim, bike and run without dying?!’ but once I crossed the line, and limped, medal in hand, with my outraged ITB screaming at me, to meet my husband and kids, I felt euphoric. I hadn’t done a personal best but I had finished! I don’t think the power of finishing a race will ever diminish, even though I rarely perform as well as I’d like. I’ve decided I won’t die disappointed if I don’t break the 1:50 Half Marathon barrier but I will keep trying.

As I often have things to say about running but I don’t always have the time to finish blog posts, I’ve set up a Facebook page to which I can post shorter snippets, as well as links to running articles and information about running events. It will also allow people to comment on Facebook and the comments will appear here on the blog. I’m still very disconnected from the running community in Perth but instead of just pining for my running buddies back in KL, I’m hoping that this new page will allow me to connect to new runners as well as old, until I figure out how to get my butt to a gathering of real runners as opposed to the virtual kind.

Please like The Expat Runner Facebook page 🙂

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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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The One Where I Admit That I’ve been Foolish

One of the many things I love about running is how strong and powerful it makes me feel, and the fact that that I always feel better after a run than before one. Or nearly always. Today, for the first time running since my Angkor Wat Half Marathon on Dec 1, I neither felt strong nor powerful, and I finished my run 1km short of my 21 km target feeling sore, worried and annoyed. Annoyed with myself because over the past week I had pushed my pace so hard on three 13, 10 and 10km runs that not only are my legs tired even after a rest day, my foot hurts at the site of my PTT (Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis) injury. Annoyed that I may have been a bit foolhardy. This isn’t good news two weeks before my first Half Marathon of the year, the Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM).

My training program has been flexible to say the least though I do try to alternate easy and hard days and run no more than 60km a week. I love to run every day, and rarely think of it in terms of race preparation but rather as a wonderful experience in itself. The trouble is that in the past two weeks I’ve developed a taste for pushing my pace far more than I ever dreamed possible and this need for speed has become addictive. It’s hubris really, and a desire to feel good about myself, that pushes me to run faster – and of course those little crowns on Strava are also very addictive! And to be honest running fast (for me) felt good!

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But my foot is complaining now so my ego has to take a back seat and I have to rest. I had physio on Friday and though my hamstrings were soft, the muscles in my calves, ankles and shins were very tight and my left Achilles Tendon was screaming (actually it was I who screamed when my PT touched it). The Achilles feels ok today but the right Posterior Tibialis is sore to walk on.

I didn’t write this post to bore you with my injury niggles, nor to entertain foot fetishists, but to serve as a warning against doing too much, too fast. I hated the way I felt running this morning – heavy legged, and ultimately sore footed – and it means I can’t run tomorrow unless my foot feels significantly better in the morning and even then it can only be a short, slow recovery run. I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t run, even if it does feel better.

Exactly four weeks ago, I ran a personal best 21km which inspired hope of repeating the effort at MWM. After today, I am concerned that I may not be able to run the race at all. Another of the great things about running is that you learn a lot of things  – humility, resilience, respect for your body’s power and limitations, and how sometimes if you get carried away, as I have done (a few times!), that a price must be paid. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Tips:

  • So, runners, remember rest days are very, very important so find some low-impact activity to do on these days if you can’t bear not doing any exercise at all.
  • Alternate easy and hard workouts. Hard workouts would be tempo runs, long runs, interval training, hills etc.
  • Strength and stability training of ankles, calves, quads, and glutes is a no-brainer (yeah, I’ve been lax on that one too). The core and upper body should not be neglected either.
  • Stretching out those tight leg muscles after a run is essential to aid recovery and prepare your body for your next run. Not doing so will lead to the formation of adhesions and scar tissue which will ultimately lead to pain. I’ve got into the habit of stretching my calves while I’m waiting for the coffee machine, microwave and brushing my teeth. I assume I’d be even worse off today if I hadn’t.
  • Listen to your body, preferably before it starts shouting abuse at you as mine is doing now.
  • No matter what your race goals are, if any, ultimate responsibility for your health lies with self. Running isn’t bad for you (it’s the best thing evva!), running irresponsibly, as I have done recently, can be.
  • Do as I say, and not as I have done.