NM Galaxy 15km Series 2

IMG_6307If you love hills, you’d have loved the NM Galaxy 15km race route yesterday. The last time I did that route (Padang Merbok – Bukit Tunku) was my first race post-injury back in November, the 2XU Compression Run.  Yesterday’s event deviated, confusingly, near the end so that the 15km route turned into a mere 14km but more of that later. During 2XU, I walked up the hills, mindful of my PPT-afflicted foot and my low fitness level. Those hills are long! Yesterday I ran up them no problem thanks to some hill-training and the fact that I seem to have a new injury! Yes a route bracketed by injury. Running uphill offered some relief from the pain so I’m guessing that I was probably the only person running NM Galaxy yesterday who was dreading the downhill portions during which I experienced some sort of spasm sensation on my outer left knee which radiated from my buttock. I had to stop and stretch several times. Uphill was fine, flat was fine, downhill was hell! So, instead of the mantra ‘I love these hills’ which I’ve tended to use lately, I found myself chanting ‘I will run through the pain’ over and over. I tried to run this morning but the pain in my hip was too intense. Yes, running through the pain is rarely a good idea but it earned me enough prize money to pay for a couple of sessions of physio, so it was worth it. Maybe. Hopefully. Lets see what my phsyio says today. I suspect he’s going to tell me that I have a tight ass after doing that buns of steel video I found on YouTube. My tight ass is upsetting my ITB. Back to yesterday…

galaxy2prizeThe upside of running with what felt like a sore wooden leg – a peg leg if you like – was that I couldn’t really go very fast, especially downhill. So I didn’t feel nauseous – major victory – and quite enjoyed myself, peg leg aside. There was plenty of fuel left in my tank – and my belt bottles too – near the end so I was able to race to the finish and overtake a lady to come in fourth in the over-40s category. I was surprised to see 1:14 on the clock at the finish line but once I realised that I’d run 14 not 15km, that made sense. It wasn’t a PB but it certainly was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve run, tight ass issues aside.

Overall, this race was a big improvement on the first NM Galaxy race, which is no surprise as the organisers really were very open to criticism back in February and promised to do better. I’m glad to report that they did.

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POSITIVES:

A prompt start. There was no loudspeaker or fanfare but if you turn up for a race, you need to take responsibility for getting to the start line on time without requiring that the organisers herd you to the start. I really appreciated starting on time at 6:20 and not hanging about nervously waiting for runners to assemble.

Bi-gender: Thank you for allowing the men and women start together. It was so nice not to have to run through all the male walkers.

Toilets: There were plenty of toilets at the Padang Merbok start area. In fact, the public restrooms, which have recently been nicely refurbished, were open. For 20 sen you could avoid any queues. I always carry 20 sen in my belt just in case; at times such as yesterday at 6AM it pays off. There were also portaloos at each of the four water stations I think. Thankfully, just knowing that they were there, meant that I didn’t need to use them 🙂

Water stations: Four water stations in 15km race is great. The distance markers on the ground in front of the water stations were very nice too.

Route: I love this route, even with the hills, as there is minimum traffic by KL standards and the city views, amid jungle foliage, are spectacular. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done a lot of races and uttered many an expletive aloud in the Bukit Tunku area but I’ve grown to appreciate the hills and the relative calm amid chaos and concrete that running in this area offers. Mind you, I could have done without the monkeys tight-rope walking across a telephone line over my head but that was hardly the organisers fault!

Clock: Thank you for having a working clock over the finish line. Not all races in KL do this but I think it really is a great idea to see your time as you finish. If nothing else, it reminds you to switch off your timer on your watch (something I have often forgotten to do in the relief of crossing the line).

Organisation: Race-kit collection, baggage drop-off, medal hand-out, banana distribution, prizewinner reporting, all went very well. A massive improvement on Series 1!

Prizewinners: Placing-tags at the finish line, fairly prompt prize-giving ceremony with cash prices in envelopes. Another big improvement on Series 1.

Results: The results for all runners were available online last night. Results. Well done NM Galaxy!

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ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:

Directions: I remembered the route pretty well from November so I knew where to go but I can’t say that this was obvious to the uninitiated. I think there were marshals at most of the junctions however at the point where the route deviated from the 2XU route, there was some confusion with runners, both in the 10km and 15km races, shouting at the traffic police, asking which way they should go. If there was a signpost, I couldn’t see it. I also heard complaints from 10km runners about the absence of course markers. Visible, clear signposts next time would be appreciated.

Distance: NM Galaxy is not alone in getting the distance wrong on a race. In fact, in my experience, it is very rare for a race here to measure what it is supposed to measure. If you don’t know the route well, an under-distance race is frustrating as you hold off on your final sprint – if you’ve got any puff left in you-only to find you’re over the finish line with a medal around your neck before you’ve even hit your top pace. That’s what happened me in Series 1. This time I knew where the finish line was, and wasn’t really paying attention to the distance reading on my watch –  without glasses checking my watch has started to become a challenge – ageing I hate thee! – so I was able to ‘go for it’ at the end knowing where the end was. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the frustration of an over-distance race. It’s kind of similar except you fall across the line, cursing under your heavy breathing about distance deception.

Water Stations: It was impossible to tell on approaching a water station whether the little paper cups contained water or isotonic drinks. Asking the volunteers, which was which, elicited nothing but blank looks and mute stares. I’ll admit I got audibly irritated with this but as I was using the water to pour down my back, I really didn’t want to take Gatorade by mistake!

Water: There was no water at the end of the race. None! I appreciate the banana but the lychee-flavoured drink you can keep next time. Ninety minutes after I crossed the finish line, I still hadn’t had any water. If you can’t afford to give it away, please at least let somebody sell it.

I’ve under four weeks left in Malaysia so I won’t be here for NM Galaxy Series 3 (18km). Unfortunately. I wish I was. I don’t know what racing will be like in Perth but I suspect it won’t be as good-humoured and relaxed as here. I certainly won’t be earning any money at it nor, I suspect, will I have access to free race photographs online. Of some things though I am certain.

I will really, really miss the running and racing scene in Malaysia. I’ll miss the warmth, the smiles, the inclusiveness of runners. I may even miss the hills. I said, may. And then there are the monkeys doing high-wire acts over my head. Australia, how are you going to top that for a race experience. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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

Lessons Learned While Running

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For the past two days I’ve been more Angry Runner than Expat Runner, thought technically I guess I’ve been an Angry Expat Runner. I think I gained some insight into how my seven-year-old son feels when he doesn’t get to play on the iPad and he is frustrated that he has no control over a situation. So I’ve been a Childish Angry Expat Runner then.

The source of my frustration? I had a lousy race on Sunday, the kind of race that renders all your training redundant, the sort of race that make you actually hate running (a first for me), the sort of race that leaves you wanting to scream like a seven-year-old: “It’s – not – fair!’ No kids, the world isn’t fair, but mommy lives such a pampered life that she usually does get treated fairly, gets to feel in control sometimes, and usually does get her way.

With my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat - in the heat!
The night before the race, with my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat anywhere – in the heat it’s doubly amazing!

At Borneo International Half Marathon I most certainly did not get my way. I had great first 8 kilometres. The best I’ve ever had in a race. After two days rest, my legs were ready to go, my often-sore foot felt great, and I hit my target pace from the start line and felt strong and able to keep to it. I had managed to keep my nerves at bay too. I started to think that this might be my race. This might the one in which I break the 1:50 barrier and perhaps even make it to the podium.

Oh how fast things changed. A little heart flutter then the nausea hit. What?! No! Nausea and I are not strangers in races. Indeed in May/June last year we were bedfellows. During a half marathon and a 16km, I did 8-10 great kilometres, before what can be best described as puke syndrome hit. Puke syndrome feels like morning sickness. Yeah, try run through that! I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. At least I thought I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. I dropped my pre-race oatmeal too in case that made me feel sick. I ran on sports drinks alone. And I thought it worked. Sure, the 12km I did in January caused a nausea issue at 10km but wasn’t that caused by the salt capsule I swallowed at the last drink station? I thought so for months. Then there was the MWM Half Marathon. No nausea there. The lack of nausea alone made the run a triumph. Only three weeks ago, I did a PB in 39 degrees C at Putrajaya Half Ironman. No nausea despite the midday sun. I had put this niggling nausea issue behind me. I could run on Acclerade and a sip of something at the odd water station and I was finally going to be able to reap the rewards of my training.

I thought I was prepared...
I thought I was prepared…

Wrong! I can see that my pace at Borneo was only marginally faster in the first 8km than at Putrajaya so it wasn’t a case of going off too fast. The big differences were: I had breakfast several hours before Putrajaya; for Borneo I was up at 2:30 am and basically ran on a few ginger cookies at 5 am. Though the temp at Putrajaya was a good 10-14 degrees C higher than at Borneo, the humidity at 67% was 22% lower. The humidity (89% at the start) and lack of food were probably the dream killers. On Sunday, I was running so well, that I didn’t want to break my stride to take any 100Plus at a water station. Add a few sips of Accelerade, one Gu Chew, a crazy early start, mild dehydration before the start, and 8 sweaty, though blissful, kilometres together and what did I get? Puke syndrome. Except there was nothing in my stomach so I couldn’t in fact puke or eat or drink – just suffer the urge to vomit for the next few hours. I know no one else who suffers from puke syndrome, certainly none of the four women who passed me as I jog-walked through the last five km of the race, the four women who took the top five spots together with the winner who was in a different pace league altogether. Certainly no one else I know here in KL. I am unique but not in a good way. Unique in a way that forced me to change my running mantra from ‘I love to Run’ to a far slower ‘I must not give up’. What I really, really wanted to do was lie down on the side of the road in a foetal position until the nausea passed. I saw my PB and podium position slip away before my eyes but there was nothing I could do as much as I kept trying to move forward. It was a miserable, miserable feeling that had nothing to do with running as I know it.

I limped over the line sixth, in a personal worst (PW!) time that was almost the same as my first half marathon in Oct 2012 before I’d ever heard the words tempo, threshold or speed training. I may have felt like I’d come so far travelling to Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, but really by Sunday lunchtime, back at the airport, I felt like I’d gone nowhere and it hadn’t felt very pleasant either. All my training had been useless. My legs were fresh enough yesterday to do a 7km run as if it was just a normal Monday after a sunday 21km long run. In fact, I have done LSDs faster than I ran Borneo Half Marathon!

I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.
I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.

Anyway, that’s the story. I am almost over it. This morning I figured out why this episode of puke syndrome pissed me off so much more than the others. It’s because this time it robbed me of an opportunity to stand on a podium grinning while holding a fake cardboard cheque. It’s the kind of thing you really normally only get to see top runners do but in Malaysia, where walking for much of a race can still get you sixth place, such a thing was within my reach. And again no big deal. It’s only a photo op. So what if slower runners than me got their moment in the spotlight this past weekend. Why should I begrudge them their piece of cardboard?!

It’s because I realised this morning that too much of my self-esteem is wrapped up in running achievements. I’ve come to rely on running for external validation. I want people to think I’m good at something and to respect my hard work – which is supposed to pay off, right? Well this time it didn’t – and dammit I did work hard! As clichéed as it is to say, I realise that you learn more from failure than you do from success. I learned that I need to diversify my ego-boosting endeavours. Or as I try to teach my children, learn to be happy in my own skin and not rely on external validation from others to bolster my self-esteem. The other lesson is that some times things are just not within your control, and as my family enters a phase of tumultuous change, it’s easy to feel the ground shifting beneath our feet. I thought I could rely on running to get me through the next few months of not knowing where our home will be, who our friends will be, how we will feel in our new lives in Perth, and for the past two days, I felt that running had let me down.

But guess where I figured all this out? Why out running of course. I left the house this morning at 6:30 am an angry, frustrated runner who felt they had not got their due, but 10km later (in 92% humidity) I felt the metaphorical clouds clear. Running hadn’t let me down after all I realised. I had let myself down by placing too much of my self-worth on the outcome of a race. But I’m 43-years-old godammit, not seven, so I’ve got to be better than that. It shouldn’t matter what strangers think. I have good supportive friends whose opinions I value and who’ve been very forthcoming in offering their commiserations, suggestions and advice on what went wrong on Sunday. Emotional lesson learned. Now if only I could find a solution to puke syndrome (besides moving to Perth which may sort the whole thing out anyway)!

My friend KK, who'd did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?
My friend KK, who’d did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?

P.S. For anyone who arrived here looking for information on Borneo International Marathon, I do apologise for this bout of naval-gazing. For what it’s worth, the early start not withstanding, the event seemed very well run, the race flagged off on time, the route was mostly flat except for a couple of challenging long hills, and the traffic was well controlled. There were plenty of portaloos en route and the water stations provided water and 100 Plus in paper cups. Near the end, where the half marathon and marathon routes merged, there were also bananas and watermelons on offer. The finish line was inside Likas Stadium which if you had a good race was probably a great way to finish. I stayed at Horizon Hotel which was 10 minutes by taxi from the start point outside the stadium. The service was excellent, the room was very inexpensive when booked months in advance through Agoda.com, and my carbo-loading lunch on Saturday was delicious. A taxi to Kota Kinabalu Airport, which is very bright and modern, cost Rm 30 and took around 15-20 minutes.