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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MWM Training Session 4

I must be getting used to this early morning running lark. Today, I woke at 4:30AM, twenty minutes before my alarm. Only a special occasion will get me out of bed that insanely early and today’s event was the Malaysia Women Marathon training clinic at Universiti Malaya.

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The plan was to run and discuss pace management under the guidance of Race Director Karen Loh  and guest speaker, Ironman Richard Tang. The plan was to run two 5 km loops, one as a warm-up and one as a time trial. As often happens, we deviated from the plan. I wasn’t going to do the time trial as I’d already put in a lot of miles this week and my legs certainly felt it. My body was saying ‘no’, so I replied ‘That’s ok, I’m exhausted too. You’ve done the warm-up so why don’t you sit your weary self down on the kerb and watch everyone else running their asses off’.
After the 5 km loop in the dark, which I and two others stretched to 6 km by getting lost, Richard and MWM mentor Lorna Wong, led some interval training work on a hill. The hill, which had featured in the 5 (6!) km loop, was over 1 km long with a gradient that went as high as 15 %. I think most runners did three intervals up and down. On the final interval, Richard allowed the slower runners to start off up the hill first, then the faster paced, and he followed behind. The idea, he explained, was that all should reach the top at the same time as they maximized their efforts to try to catch up on the person in front of them.
Now Race Director Karen always sports very pretty running skirts and the Full Marathon finishers at MWM will receive a finisher skirt, so the skirt has become an emblem of the MWM event. We bet Richard that if he didn’t make it to the top of the hill with or before Lorna Wong, the second last runner to head up, he had to wear a skirt. Here is Richard being very sporting and rather fetching in said skirt. (He’s the one with the Ironman tattoo on his left leg in case you can’t tell).
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I met several new runners today. The first question from one was ‘How old are you?’ I will never get used to such direct questions no matter how long I live in Asia! Since turning 40, I haven’t got used to the answer either; I feel like I’m speaking about someone else when I say ‘almost 43’. Another lady asked me if I was The Expat Runner. That’s the kind of direct question I’d love to hear more of. Lisa, you made my day.
Participants at the third MWM Training Clinic
Participants at the third MWM Training Clinic
ImageFinally, as unexpectedly I didn’t get lost on the way to Universiti Malaya this morning – I did get lost going home though – I turned up early enough to receive this lovely MWM notebook, which Karen offered to first arrivals at the clinic. They say the early bird catches the worm; this morning I didn’t see any worms (nor snakes nor monkeys thankfully), but I did what I am now calling a ‘lazy girl’s recovery run’, I encouraged a man to wear a skirt AND I got a notebook 😉
The next MWM clinic is scheduled to take place at Stadium Universiti Malaya. However, the venue has been booked for another event, so MWM will run the training clinic at an alternative location, yet to be decided.
All photos courtesy of Karen Loh.

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.

mwm

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.