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🏃🏻🏅😀
Tears of joy, relief and disbelief.
The finish chute
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At the start line of this year’s Angkor Wat Half Marathon, rather than worrying about the 21.1km ahead, my mind was preoccupied with the issue of gender inequality. Lofty thoughts however they were not. I was eyeing the back of a runner, a male runner, who was peeing against a tree. Not fair! I needed the loo too, despite having just been to the portaloo, but with only minutes to go to the starting gun, I wasn’t going to risk missing the start of the race. Been there, done that! While I was feeling hard done by, other runners were climbing a mound of rocks to view Angkor Wat temple in all its sunrising glory. There can’t be many start lines to match this one but as ever my mind was (wishing I was) in the toilet.
Blinking bladder aside, the race went very well. I got stuck behind a thousand runners at the start, but managed to weave through so that by the second kilometre I was doing a comfortable pace. I wasn’t going to risk ruining the race by racing; this was my chance to exorcise the misery of the previous year and savour the delight of running in such a special, and thankfully flat, place. Unfortunately after much mithering, I had opted not to take along my phone to take photos as I was already carrying a fuel belt. I sort of hoped I’d meet lots of people who’d take pictures and share them but that didn’t happen so here I am writing about running in a beautiful, special place with little photographic evidence. The photos I do have are from a family trip back in December 2012.
As usual, crowds of locals cheered on runners. I high fived as many kids as I could. My eight-year-old’s index finger spends a lot of time tucked into his right nostril but I put thoughts of hygiene aside; these kids probably had better manner’s than mine anyhow. Water stations provided small water bottles which is a waste really as most runners ditched the bottles after only a few sips. The volunteers were excellent at opening the caps and handing the bottles over and there was no issue of crowding at water stops as the route is wide and the runners were well spread out after a few kilometres. Kids collected the bottles for recycling all along the route so at least someone was benefiting from the excess of plastic.
I didn’t stop. I counted my steps to distract me from negative thoughts and worries. I barely looked at my watch. And until about 17km, all was going really well. I dared to think that I was actually enjoying myself. Then I started to feel a bit whoozy, a bit like motion sickness, a too familiar feeling from previous half marathon races. At least this time, the race was almost done when discomfort hit. I kept going, a little slower, but determined that I wasn’t going ruin yet another race. I can see from the official race photos that I must have been hurting by the end as my head is hanging and I’m staring at the ground, willing one foot in front of the other. At this stage, the 21.1km runners had merged with the 10km runners/walkers so more and more supporters – friends, family and fellow runners – stood along the verge, cheering people on. I seriously could have given one particular cheering American lady a big hug for telling me I was ‘awesome’ – I felt like sh*t – but that would have meant stopping and that wasn’t an option if I wanted to finish. Around the same time, I spotted monkeys hanging out of a tree. After all my years in Asia, monkeys are still a novelty and they served as a timely reminder that for an Irish ‘girl’ who discovered running mid-life, running around 12th century temples in Cambodia is a freakin’ amazing experience even with a nauseous stomach and heavy legs. Such thoughts got me to the end.
And I finished, happy for once. It was the fastest half marathon I had run but more than anything I was relieved that I hadn’t had a miserable race experience, only one that got mildly miserable near the end. When the official race results came out, my chip time was 1:50:59, a few seconds under what I had on my Garmin. I cared but I didn’t. I’d done such a good job of telling myself that my time didn’t matter that I had come to really believe it. I never run my fastest on race days but at least on this race day I had managed to run faster than on others without totally losing the gut plot (as I did last year at Angkor Wat and back in May at Borneo International Marathon.) I think the problem is low fuel and hydration which next time I will try remedy with a second gel at 14km.
I’m still injured of course. My ITB hurt from 9km but I could run. It hurt a hellava lot more once I crossed the finish line. I was limping for the rest of the day. But it was worth it because for the first time in 7 half marathons, I didn’t wish I was somewhere – anywhere! – else. You could say that I took the endure out of endurance. The phrase ‘never again’ did not even enter my mind; that certainly was a first!
As for the bladder? Well I showed it who was boss. After bargaining with it that I would stop behind a tree – as I saw numerous men do along the route – it gave up nagging at about 10km. In fact it went into a coma and didn’t bother me for another six hours. If I ever run in Cambodia again – it really is a long trip from Perth but this year it was certainly worth it – I’ll make the effort to climb up and gaze at Angkor Wat as the sun rises. I might even take my phone along to take photos. For the record, I don’t really have any desire to be a man, though on my arrival in Cambodia, my wish was momentarily granted.
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Given my enthusiasm for registering for races, I’m a pretty lousy racer. Every single time I have crossed a finish line, I have complained about at least one (but usually two or three) of the following:
I got a stitch.
I had shin splints for the first 5 km.
I felt like vomiting for half the race though I was barely jogging.
I needed the loo for the entire race.
I used the loo during the race.
I ran out of fuel.
My back/leg/foot hurt.
It was too bloody hot.
After Angkor Wat Half Marathon last December, I crossed the finish line shivering from low blood sugar, complaining about every single one of the above. Which is of course why I’m travelling all the way back to Angkor Wat this weekend, via Malaysia, to try again. I need to exorcise the ghost of Dec 2013 by which I mean make it through the 21.1km without a dash to the loo.
Lately, I had given up on running a decent race, you know one that reflected my training, and not my sensitive gut, performance anxiety, tight calves, inflamed ITB, pissy posterior tibialias, and the dodgy caps on my fuel bottles. Then when I least expected it, it finally happened. At the Western Australia Marathon Club (WAMC)’s 10km Peninsula Run last sunday, I crossed the finish line not only happy but astounded. I could not think of a single thing to complain about. I had run strong and consistently without a stitch, nausea or shin splint, faster than I had ever run before (48:28 according to Strava) – faster than I had ever thought that I could. Unfortunately there was no one I knew there as I crossed the line to witness this miracle so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Besides the obvious fact that a 10km distance is probably a much better distance for me (and my still tender ITB) than 21.1km, I thought about what I had done this time to see if I could possibly replicate it.
My race recipe:
I ate steak and drank three glasses of champagne the night before. I doubt this is in the elite handbook.
I slept terribly. Nothing new there.
I got up at 5AM (it was already bright which made it easier than those dark early starts in KL).
I ate a toasted English muffin with butter and jam two hours before the race. No more pre-race oatmeal. I think that may have been last year’s big mistake.
I ran 1km slowly then stretched before the race. I reckon this was a big factor in avoiding shin splint pain for the first half or the race.
I did not look at my pace while I ran but focussed on my cadence and form whilst doing short sprints to pass people all along the route. At the rate my eyesight is deteriorating, looking at my watch and actually seeing numbers will not be an option for much longer anyway.
I didn’t stop at the water stations as I was carrying enough in a handheld bottle. I know that if I had slowed or stopped I wouldn’t have been able to resume my running ryhthm.
I ate three jellybeans during the race as I’d run out of GU chews.
I spent 48 minutes thinking ‘I’m so glad that this is only 10km. I couldn’t run a further 11.1km’.
This unexpected PB that has given me a little morale boost after about six months of rehabilitation and self-doubt. In a way, I feel that it gives me license to relax a bit (yeah like pass the personality transplant!) and try and enjoy this year’s Angkor Wat Half Marathon.
The champagne and steak maybe hard to come by in Siem Reap, and the toasted English muffin at some godawful hour may also be unattainable, but I will attempt to warm up and stretch, have jellybeans and working fuel caps at the ready, and not look at my watch as I run. In addition to my multi-excuses last year, the fact that I didn’t make it to the start line in time for the starter gun as the race started 5 minutes early was a bit of a bummer, especially having travelled all the way from Malaysia and making it as far as the portaloo queue with time to spare, or so I thought. The race is starting 20 minutes earlier this year, presumably to allow runners to fall over each other in the dark before watching the sun rise over the temple at the end of their first kilometre. (Yes I’m that anal that I’ve checked the sunrise time for Sunday. Normal, right?). The bonus will be that there are so many people I know travelling from KL for the race that there will be plenty of familiar faces at the finish line. Feel free to start placing bets on which complaint I spout first – I’m thinking it will be: ‘I’m going to stick to 10km races in future’. Let’s see.
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Have you ever got dressed up and gone out with friends then, faced with the option of going on to a smoky nightclub to have fun or heading home at a sensible hour, you throw caution and the certainty that you will regret your decision in the morning to the wind, and choose to dance in bad air until the small hours of the morning?
Well that’s what the decision to run the Malaysia Women Half Marathon (MWM) was like yesterday morning. Except I didn’t get a hangover.
There I was, at 5 AM, having jogged to the start line, race kit on, bottle filled with electrolyte drinks, the acrid smell of smoke in my nostrils and throat, faced with the dilemma of heading home full of carbs and adrenaline or running in air that was so polluted that I would absolutely have forbidden my children to stand outside for a minute, not to mention run for the best part of two hours. Of course, I ran. I am happy to report that unlike many a night out in my now distant past, I remember the whole occasion very vividly, despite the dark, hazy conditions, and as a French person might say, je ne regrette rien.
A little background for those not living in Kuala Lumpur. For the past week, the city and the wider environs of Klang Valley have been experiencing pollution due to burning. On Friday, in Shah Alam where MWM was to take place, and several other areas, air quality levels were well into the unhealthy range. Sporting activities throughout the city were cancelled/postponed and many schools were closed. MWM organisers were faced with a dilemma on whether to go ahead with the race on Sunday, not knowing whether the haze would clear by race day. It was announced that a decision on the race would be take on Saturday evening based on the published pollution levels. Runners were understandably agitated over whether to cancel their babysitters and put away their bowls of pasta. Just in case I didn’t get to run, I bought two running skirts in honour of the event. Then, Saturday morning, KL residents awoke to clear blue skies and a refreshing breeze. The news from Shah Alam was that it was clearing there too. The race would go ahead as planned.
I bought the skirts from Skirt Sports who lugged their wears from Australia to sell at the MWM Race Kit Collection & Expo at Shah Alam Theatre which took place on Friday and Saturday. As well as offering a platform for vendors and running event promoters, the Expo provided inspirational talks, including one from MWM2014’s Guest of Honour, Catherine Ndereba. Catherine’s marathon achievements have earned her the moniker, the Marathon Queen, and she has been described as the greatest women’s marathoner of all time. In short, this lady is a legendary athlete.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Shah Alam in time to catch Catherine’s Friday presentation on balancing motherhood and a career. But by the power of serendipity, I did get to, not only meet her, but speak to her (and watch her eat pasta). Having decided to stay in a hotel in Shah Alam on Saturday night to avoid pre-race stress and travel, my friends and I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner to find Catherine sitting with two runners I know, Elvin and Wai-Yee. Catherine was so gracious not only to pose for a photo but to spend time talking to us. Having done a whirlwind of press, meet-and-greets, and goodness knows how many photo opportunities in the previous three days, combined with jet lag after her trip from Kenya, I’m sure Catherine was exhausted. Yet she was friendly, generous with her time, and recommended ice baths and massage for post-race recovery. The next time we saw her was at 5 AM Sunday morning, returning from the race start venue, having flagged off the Full Marathon, in a break before running a 5km later with Race Director Karen Loh. I haven’t mentioned Karen up to now, but MWM now in its second year, is her vision and how she has implemented it here in Malaysia, deserves a post of its own. Today I will stick with the event itself.
As my friends and I drove out to check into our hotel around 5PM on Saturday, we could see a wall of haze ahead. Had it not retreated after all we wondered, or was this a case of the haze returning? Unfortunataly, despite some rain on Saturday night, it was the latter. The haze returned with a vengeance over night.
Early Sunday morning, with so many runners at the start line already, the organisers decided that the runs would no longer be competitive, that the prize money would go to charity, and if runners wanted to run for fun they were free to choose to do so. A large group of us who know each other, were assembled near the start line, prevaricating over what to do. I wasn’t going to run. I couldn’t defend it to my family if it made me sick, I said. I spent so long standing around saying that I didn’t think I should run, that I forgot to go to the loo and I didn’t stretch. Well, I wasn’t running so why would I do either! Then, I realised that the people I was with were going to do an easy run that wouldn’t tax the lungs, and as I had to wait around anyway, I decided to run with them.
We started slowly, at 5:45 AM, no rush, chatting away as if it was our usual weekend LSD. The relief of not having to race was palpable. It was great! I stopped at a portaloo at 8km and my unstretched leg muscles loosened up around that time too. I managed to catch up with my friends again after my pitstop and stayed with two of them the rest of the way. I wasn’t focussing on my pace, just on keeping moving forward. Even without the pressure to achieve a PR, I still didn’t find running a half marathon easy but it wasn’t unpleasant either. Having company made all the difference, as did having a friend, a very accomplished runner, offer encouragement and pacing all the way. My legs felt heavy from about 13km onwards but my lungs felt fine, and the desire to stay with my buddies kept me going even when my brain was starting to regret having set off at all.
To their credit, despite the haze, volunteers stayed to man the water stations which were well stocked, regularly spaced out at 2km intervals, and each with a portaloo. Others cheered us on. Inspirational signs appeared along the route. I think one said: ‘I have mascara that runs faster than that’ which was less of an inspiration, more of a rebuke. Or was I hallucinating in the haze? I loved the route, in that the roads were wide and the hills were manageable. My only criticism was that the street lights were out for long stretches which made me glad that I was running with a group as it was pitch dark. There were plenty of traffic cops on duty and many more volunteers offering directions, though a few more directional signs at junctions would have been nice. There were plenty of distance markers. The fire truck spraying its hose over the road was a fantastic surprise and very well received, as were the volunteers with their water spray bottles. I get emotional when I think of the people who get up to support and take photos of runners in the middle of the night. You guys and gals are nothing short of amazing and really made this race (or non-race) experience something special.
The route turned out to be more than 500m too long and as I upped my pace at the end, Strava calculated a PR of 1:50 for 21.1.km, by lopping off the first half kilometre which was very slow as we were just jogging and talking. As the many photos cropping up on Facebook are showing, despite the conditions, and the disappointments of the Marathon runners who had their runs cut short, MWM brought together a diverse community of runners with spirit and enthusiasm, all aspiring to Karen Loh’s suggestion to ‘Dream, Believe, Become.’ The weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the volunteers who did magnificent jobs in what I think was a very well-organised event.
So finally a Half Marathon during which I did not feel nauseous, did not get a stitch, nor did I stop to walk. Finally, after three miserable experiences, it seems I’ve figured out my fuelling strategy. Yay! For me, running with friends, not competing with them (or even against myself), made MWM an even more positive experience than I could have imagined. The camaraderie of yesterday morning is what running is all about and I would not have missed that for the world. That said, I respect the decision of the people who chose not to run, which was the sensible thing to do. Believe me, I’ve gone home to bed early many, many nights while friends have partied on. For once, I took a risk, and I don’t regret it. Ultimately, we each had the freedom to make a choice, which after all is what empowerment is about.
As well as great memories of MWM2014, I’ll always have these photos of my meeting with a running legend. I’ve no idea what I was saying, it was probably something like, ‘You are amazing. How do you do it?!’ but of course my friends and I have had a lot of fun adding funny captions of me offering Catherine Ndereba advice on everything from cable-laying to achieving a PR. Catherine told us that she doesn’t know how to stop running, as she loves it so much. I know how she feels, though obviously on a far less legendary (and slower-paced) level. Run, sisters, run!
Photos on this post courtesy of: Nik Fahusnaza, Elvin Tan Chye Guan, Wai-Yee Chan & The Expat Runner.
More #MWM2014 photos are available at:
WARNING: Be prepared to see photos of men in wigs and skirts 😉
I wasn’t even racing, just training, so I’m astounded to discover that I ranked 14th by gun time out of 928 women in Sunday’s race. What a great morale boost! My net time was 1:25:44. You can see that it took me almost 2 mins to reach the start line after the gun went off.
Rain and hills were the order of the day – though I’m not sure 6 AM is technically day as it’s before sunrise here! As it was my first race since early June, and my longest run since late August due to my PTT problem, I kept my expectations low for yesterday’s 2XU Compression 15km Race. There was no question of aiming for a personal best; yesterday was about running, simply because I was able.
My goals were to:
Find a parking spot not too far from the Start line.
Make one last dash to the portaloo before race start.
Finish (perhaps not joyously, but in one piece).
Well, tick, tick, tick, tick and tick!
The race started 10 minutes late due to rain. Being Irish the rain didn’t bother me, and anyway after a few kilometers running in the Tropics, even at night, your clothes are sodden so the rain was a good thing – it kept the temperature down to a nice, chilly 25 Degrees Celsius. Yes, I know that’s a heatwave in Ireland but I’ve made some adjustments to my thermostat after 8 years in South East Asia.
I felt no pressure to be near the front to start, because I wasn’t racing right? Mind you when you find yourself standing beside a girl who is carrying a rucksack and updating her Facebook status on an iPad Mini, it’s probably a good idea to try push a little forward if you have any intention of actually running. So, next time, I will be ballsy, and try squeeze forward nearer the Start line. Though I wasn’t truly racing, I still regret the 2-3 minutes of my life lost trying to get to the Start mat after the gun went off and then through the tight-knit crowd in the first 1.5 km. The good thing I suppose about starting in the middle of the pack is that you get to pass lots of people throughout the race 🙂
I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I had problems with feeling nauseous at my last two runs – a 21km and a 16km. In fact I felt so sick that I slowed to a halt at the Singapore Sundown Half Marathon at 20 km thinking I couldn’t go on without throwing up. I continued to feel sick for at least 15 minutes after both these races finished. On both occasions, I had taken a gel around the 9 km mark. Yesterday, I went gel-less, and instead relied on a 8oz Nathan hand-held bottle containing Accelerade. I also sipped water at every water station. And, no nausea! For the first time in a long time, I actually passed people in the final kilometres and my 15th kilometer was my fastest. Instead, of going over the line, holding my guts and moaning, I sprinted with a guy who challenged me to do so for the final 50m. In the excitement, by the way, I forgot to stop my watch- yet again – but think that my time was 1:26, well down on my 16km with nausea in June (1:19) but the difference this time was that I felt good finishing, and this route was super hilly. And, I wasn’t pushing for a personal best, just a good time (get it?!)
If there is one word that will forever be synonymous with yesterday’s race it is HILLS! I wish I had a photo to show non-KL people what I mean but suffice it to say that one of the two KILLER hills is referred to as ‘La Mur’ – according to my cyclist husband. That’s The Wall in case you’ve forgotten your French. Have a look at the elevation profile if you think I’m exaggerating. The second steep incline was equally challenging and very, very long. I walked up most of both these; though I like a nice hill or two, and ran well on the more moderate inclines yesterday, I wasn’t going to tear my Achilles Tendon or burn myself out on these babies. My goal was to finish (joyously), remember? I ran pretty fast downhill. In fact, my pace was all over the place!
I paid no attention to my watch the whole way around, instead I tried to focus on my rhythm of my stride, the view – spectacular sunrise with a view of the Petronas Towers – and the sense of collective effort that surrounded me. The guy who belched very loudly on the first long incline also served as a brief distraction. Whenever my mind started to give me a bit of grief, as it always tends to, especially near the end of a race irrespective of whether it’s a 10km or a 21 km, I repeated the mantra ‘I Love Running’ to match my cadence. It’s true and it worked. I love running and my recent forced absence, has given me a new appreciation for just how deep that passion is.
I doubt I’ll be in Malaysia next year, but if I was, I’d definitely register for the 2XU Compression 15km run (and do some hill-training in preparation). Plenty of portaloos, well-organised and frequent water stops, excellent route markers, enthusiastic volunteers giving directions and support, nice wide roads throughout the route and some amazing views of KL. The medal is pretty cool too.
Killer hills, rain, 4 AM breakfast, belching runners? Bring it on!
p.s. For those interested in my PTT (right foot) recovery, my foot felt good throughout the race though the Achilles Tendon on the left leg was not happy. As soon as I finished, I felt pain in my right arch and left Achilles, and iced them both before heading home. I’ve been stretching and rolling the arch with a tennis ball in the 24 hours since, as well as icing and elevating as much as possible. This morning, I did a slow recovery 5km. The arch still ached but there wasn’t a murmur from the Achilles so hopefully it has forgiven me yesterday’s folly exertion.
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Come closer, I need to tell you something. I am going to whisper something in your ear. Are you close enough? Here it is…
I’m running again..sh!
I’m not whispering because it’s a secret, or because my physiotherapist told me not to run and I am defying orders. (Hi Akmal!) No, the injury to my Posterior Tibilialis Tendon responded really well to both Shock Wave Therapy and physio so that last week I was, after almost six weeks off the road, given permission to do some light jogging. My foot still hurt a bit, though not at the injury site, and Akmal was happy that this was to be expected as my foot adjusted to knew shoes, hopefully better running form and the strengthening exercises I have been doing. I iced after each run, and my foot felt great. So why the whisper? Why am I not shouting from the rooftops that I’m back!
The thing is, I am in no way back and it all feels sort of tentative. You’ve heard of muscle memory? Well my legs and back are suffering from muscle amnesia, despite staying active and doing all sorts of cross-training while off the road. My core is stronger than it has been in the past 12 months. My hips and ankles are stronger too. Yet, I remember why, when I first started, I found running hard. I ran 8 km this morning at nothing near my ‘usual’ pace and it was harder than running 21 km with hills two months ago. My stamina was never as good as it needed to be. Now it’s dreadful! Still, on the bright side, I am running again.
Next weekend, I had planned to run the BSN Putrajaya Night Half Marathon, in the hope of bettering my time and placing from last year, my very first half marathon. I wrote about last year’s race here, and still get emotional when I think about it as it was by far the most pleasant race I have run. The pleasure was increased a thousand-fold by winning a prize. I have the t-shirt for 2013, I have the bib and timing chip, but I couldn’t even run a 10 km next weekend not to mention 21 km. I have very happy memories of last year though so they will now not be sullied by attempts to do better. Sigh.
There are 20 days to go before the 2XU Compression 15km Run. I only signed up for this race after I got injured, once I realised that I would be missing three events in September. I may or may not make it to the Start line. I am very concerned I may not make it to the Finish! Realistically, I don’t think I will be back on racing form – such as it was – until 2014.
In the meantime, I need to jog – excuse the pun – the memories of these darn leg muscles that feel like they’re filled with lead. And I need to keep doing strengthening exercises and cross-training. My muscle memory may be poor but the one in my brain isn’t going to forget this whole injury period in a hurry. And that’s why I’m whispering.
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Yes, it’s so long since I last posted, that it’s already time for another Live Great Run. Now to be fair, the 2012 run was in November while this year’s event is on Sep 15th, so it hasn’t been a full year. Just a very large portion of one! I have very fond memories of last year’s race – race memories, quite like recollections on childbirth, always grow fonder with time – and I did blog about it at my Irish Nomad in Malaysia blog if you want to take a peek. Over there, I also wrote up my experience of my first Half Marathon, the BSN Putrajaya Half Marathon, which was last October.
Alas, while my running has improved, my blogging has not. Whether it’s pure perception or an actual fact, there does seem to have been an upsurge in the incidence of both petty and violent crime in KL to the point that protecting oneself against thieves it is a major consideration in daily life. It would be dishonest of me to blog about life in KL without mentioning crime, but as I like to keep my blogs humourous, friendly and totally non-offensive, I’ve decided to wimp out and write about running instead. Here I can moan about sore muscles and blistered feet without upsetting anyone. Here I can celebrate an aspect of life in KL that I adore – running, and the people who run. Here I can talk to myself without worrying about who’s listening.
I’ll leave you with a photo of something that arrived this morning:
Already, I’m worried that the bib is a bit crumpled, so the timing tag might be damaged. Fingers crossed, eh? Registration has closed for this race – Men’s Health/Shape 12km Night Run – but for anyone hesitant about joining an event, I can highly recommend Putrajaya as a venue – wide, well-lit roads, very little traffic, no parked cars, yet plenty of parking, and a relatively flat route. Registration is still open for 21km and 10 km races at the BSN Putrajaya Night Marathon which will take place on October 19th. It will be my first opportunity to re-visit an event – the Live Great Run has changed its route so technically that will be a whole different race – in the hope of bettering my time. Of course, I’ll keep you posted 🙂
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