Perth Marathon 2016

There’s so much I want to say about Perth Marathon but travel and jetlag have delayed my race report a tad. The short version is that the race went so much better than I had hoped and turned out to be more enjoyable than most of the twelve half marathons I’ve run since October 2012. Crossing the line in 3:55:07  rendered me a sobbing mess in the arms of my husband and daughters who had managed the logistics of cheering me on, at various stages along the course, around a soccer match.

I learned a lot from this marathon, the biggest lesson being about pacing. And determination. At a certain point, around 34km, determination overcame fatigue, a headwind, and a sore ITB. I will write more in detail at some point in the future. In the meantime, here are some photos🏃🏻🏅😀

 

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:)

 

Moving & marathoning

Several of the thousands of people I’ve informed about my upcoming marathon aspirations have wondered why, if I’m only going to do one, I haven’t opted for an iconic event such as the Melbourne or London Marathons. I want to play it safe, I’ve said. I want to keep the stakes (and costs) as low as possible lest I don’t make it to the start line due to illness or injury. And I want to sleep in my own bed, eat in my own kitchen, minimise the variables (and stress) as best I can if I make it to race day intact. Best laid plans, as they say.

Just over three weeks to race day and one thing I know for certain. I will not be sleeping in my own bed the night before. My bed, and the rest of our furniture, will be in storage in Welshpool and our family of five will be living out of a couple of Samsonites and a few cardboard boxes. Our landlord is not renewing our lease and thanks to a shortage of decent properties in the rental market and the glacial pace of productivity of those tasked to ‘help’ us relocate, we have not secured a new lease before the expiry of the old. Hence the storage and the suitcases, and as yet booked temporary accommodation. In two weeks time the packers will be let loose with their rolls of brown tape and cardboard boxes, while I double and triple check that all my race gear (and the three kids) stay out of their reach. So it seems that I will end up having to plan marathon day accommodation and travel, and make a race weekend packing list after all. It will be like having the excitement of an out-of-town race experience without actually leaving town. Best laid plans indeed.

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.

training plan day 1

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.

 

Running Ambitions for 2016

In 2015, I sucked. As a blogger, I sucked. Fifteen posts. Hardly enough to to qualify as a blogger. AMBITION #1. Write weekly. Not because the running world needs me to, but because when I’m not being creative, I’m miserable. Except when running, but given that it’s physiologically impossible to run constantly, a blog post or so every week about running, seems like a more viable recipe for joy.

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In 2015, I had a fantastic running year, with many great races, most of which surpassed my expectations in terms of experience and results. I also avoided injury despite running 2355km, and achieving personal best times in 10km and 21.1km races. As my love affair with running has deepened (one November blip in the romance aside), so has my desire to spread that love. I want everyone in the entire universe (with functioning legs) to experience the joys of running. I want everyone to speak the language of pace, Strava, and blackened toe nails. Running is a journey that nurtures both my brain and my ageing body; it has also introduced me to many fantastic people who are equally in the thrall of placing one foot in front of the other for swathes of time every week. Running makes me feel alive, and powerful in the face of my inevitable mortality. In September, I qualified as an Accredited Athletics Coach Level 1. Basically, this means that I can coach kids at Little Athletics. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to coach adults who want to take up running, resume running, or attain a particular running goal.  AMBITION#2 Qualify as a Recreational Running Coach Level 2.

Then there’s the biggie. I have never had any desire to run a marathon. I’ve found each of my eleven half marathons challenging enough. I’ve been of the opinion, since starting running four years ago, that training for a 42.195km race would be too arduous, too time consuming, too likely to leave me injured and unable to run at all. It would also place too much pressure to succeed at one event. Basically, I haven’t wanted to take the risk. But now, suddenly, I do. I absolutely do want to take the risk of training for and running for my first (possibly only) marathon in 2016, aged 45. Of course, I do. Having warded off injury for 18 months, why not antagonise the Gods of tendons, muscles and ligaments? Why be grateful when you can say I want to do even more?! I happened to be out running by the sea,  feeling strong and happy, when this new resolve to test my body to its limits hit me. Unlike many of the ideas I’ve had while pounding the pavement, this one didn’t lose its lustre once I’d showered. In fact, several weeks on, and I’m pretty excited about the idea – which of course makes sense as I haven’t actually started training, and my targeted event – Perth Marathon – is over five months away. Loadsa time yet to get real. And scared. AMBITION #3 Train for Perth Marathon 2016 (see what I did there? Train, not run? I’m not even assuming I’ll make it to the start line. Best keep expectations low!) Of course, this means that for another year, there isn’t a hope in hell of being able to have a professional pedicure but big ambitions require tough choices – and having ten healthy toe nails simultaneously is an ambition too far.

IMG_2838Finally, I’ve become a parkrun enthusiast. I’ve met so many great people at parkrun, and I once again feel that I’ve found my tribe (having tearfully bid farewell to the previous one in KL in 2014). I’ve run in five different parkrun locations, including my home town Kilkenny, Ireland, and I’ve brought my three children into the parkrun family both as runners and volunteers. AMBITION#4 Run my 50th parkrun in 2016 (only 28x5km more to go!) and earn my volunteer shirt (16 more vollie stints to go). All this is a tad over-ambitious, more so even that the marathon, but hey if you don’t set goals, you can’t hope to attain them, so let’s see how this goes.

So, there it is. Running ambitions for 2016, above and beyond staying healthy and injury-free, something one should never take for granted, at any age. Ultimately, it won’t matter if I achieve any of these lofty ambitions. The true achievement will be in trying. How about you? Ready for 2016?

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.

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.

Dream, Believe, Become

Yesterday I learned something surprising about running in Malaysia – according to Karen Loh, Race Director, for the Malaysia Women Marathon, only 12% of marathon runners in this country are women*. The numbers are around 23% and 45% for the 21km and 10 km distances respectively. These figures go a long way in explaining why a women-only event such as the Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM) is needed to inspire and encourage women to take up this life-affirming activity. As someone who didn’t take up running until the wrong side of 40, and then only did so with encouragement (cajoling more like) from my sisters, I can attest to the power of community in promoting this very individual activity.

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Yesterday, not only did I get to meet new people in the Malaysian running community, but I also met Kathrine Switzer, at the first MWM 2014 running clinic. Ms Switzer is a legend amongst women runners as not only was she the first woman to register for and run the Boston Marathon in 1967, amid much resistance, not least from the Race Director, but she was also instrumental in promoting women’s marathon running to the point of getting it included in the Olympics for the first time in Los Angeles, 1984.

Yesterday in Shah Alam, Kathrine spoke passionately about the sisterhood of running (including the men who encourage our habit) which she described as ‘women everywhere who become fearless for what they do… who are discovering their bodies, and their own capabilities and their own invicibility that they can do anything.’

‘It’s strange that just putting one foot in front of the other will give you that but it will’. I loved this comment as it really does acknowledge that we runners are aware that our obsession with something as simple as moving our feet might seem OTT (to non-runners) , but the empowerment of that repetitive act is potent.

Kathrine described running as ‘a universal language’ just like music that will make you friends wherever you go. She then spoke about her Boston Marathon experience, which transformed the trajectory of her life, as well as her years working with the Avon corporation to promote women’s races worldwide and put long-distance running on the map as a sport worthy of both genders. Kathrine Switzer’s life mission is to encourage and inspire, which she does by traveling the world speaking and writing, and organising and supporting events such as the MWM.

‘Talent is everywhere, it only requires an opportuntity’ was one of the many nuggets of wisdom Katherine shared during her speech before attendees were given the opportunity to do a short run around the public gardens. We were paced by the MWM mentors who will be providing running clinics in the months leading up to March 16, 2014.

After the run, Ms Switzer very graciously did a photo opp and autograph session with sweaty runners before a short question and answer session. She joked that we could ask anything except seek advice on injuries. The first question was one I wanted to ask myself, given my recent issues – in all her decades running, had Ms Switzer been injured? Only three times in over 50 years was the answer, something she credited to having the good sense to stop running as soon as something started to hurt. Taking a few days off at such times was the the best advice. Cross-training was another point of interest. Ms Switzer said that she does yoga, pilates, and weight work at home with hand weights, as well as a lot of planks and sit-ups to strengthen the core. A very impressive demo of a squat against the wall followed – it’s essential for strengthening the quadriceps, and thus protecting the knees apparently. I’ve done it twice already though couldn’t manage it for anything near as long as the Pro (who was running marathons several years before I was born)!

Switzer

Something else Kathrine Switzer said really resonated with me. When the Boston Marathon Race Director tried to physically remove her from the race back in 1967, she got angry. Of course she did! But she couldn’t remain angry for the next 20 miles. It’s simply not possible to run and be angry. The magic of putting one foot in front of the other is not merely the positive impact it has on the body, but the transformative effect it has on the mind.

Hopefully, events like the MWM will encourage more women in Malaysia to discover the magic of running. Come on ladies – 12%? You don’t know what you’re missing!

Want to know more about the Malaysia Women Marathon 2014? Click here.

* around 12% of Full Marathon registrants for the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur are women.

BSN Putrajaya Marathon

 

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There are only eight days left to register for the BSN Putrajaya Half Marathon and 10 km races on the night of Oct 19th. Sorry if you were hoping to do the marathon-all the spots have been taken. It’s a great event, very well run, on a relatively flat, spacious course. Last year I won 400rm, which really sweetened the experience of competing my first 21 km race. Here’s the link for revisit ion and information. http://home.hooha.asia/bsnpnm-2013.aspx.