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.

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).

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.


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)!


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.

MPIB Run 2014 – Running Clinics

The MPIB Run is a well-run 8km and 12km event, on a very hilly course, which in 2013 gave out some great prizes including New Balance vouchers, Sworke sunglasses, cases of isotonic drinks and very shiny trophies. Trophies and New Balance vouchers will once again be awarded to next year’s Top-10 finishers in each category.

My first and only podium appearance (far right) at the MPIB 12 km 2013. I came tenth. I wore the visor to hide a ginormous zit on my forehead and ended up carrying it for the whole race as it kept slipping. At least I had it on-hand – literally – for the photo op. The sunglasses were a prize.

The countdown – only 79 days! – has already begun for the 2014 event on January 5 and the organisers are providing Saturday morning running clinics aimed specifically at people who are new to running. Here’s the info:


For details: MPIB Run 2014

I really hope I get to run this, and finally achieve my goal of running an event twice, something which my PTT has so far prevented. I got lucky with the trophy last year but improving my 62 min 12 km time will be next year’s goal.


IMG_1974The holy grail of running for me right now is speed. And optimum fuelling of course. But today I’ll stick to the topic of speed, as the whole what to eat and drink and at what points in a run or race to consume fuel is a minefield across which I have yet to cross without experiencing nausea, hunger or empty legs.
So speed. I’ve done a few races – two 21km, one 16km, one 15.5km, two 12km and a 10km – in the past 17 months and other than the 10km that I ran with a chest infection that bordered on pneumonia (not advisable), my pace has improved with each. But still, I want to go faster.
I’ve asked several seasoned (and fast) runners: How can I run faster? I’ve googled: How can I run faster? I’ve skimmed through magazine articles on running looking for tips. Every single answer has come back as a variation of: Interval Training.
So, over the past few months I have incorporated at least one interval training session into my routine, either repeat 400s or repeat 800s. And I think I’ve seen some benefits as a result. However, racing with yourself is hardly ideal. At least for me it’s not. Once during our vacation in Denmark, my husband ran 400s with me. At 6’4″, and with an innate fitness bolstered by a road cycling obsession, he definitely has at least two advantages over me when it comes to speed. Three actually, as he’s male which makes him faster too. Running with a gazelle made me run faster than I ever would on my own. Running with a gazelle in a Danish forest (fresh, dry air) made me run even faster than I ever would it hot, humid KL, alone or otherwise.
The point is, that speed work is best done in company. There’s nothing like a little competition to bolster your pace. So, last week I joined a weekly running clinic which, over the next 6 weeks, will not only provide me with expert coaching from a very experienced, successful runner, but also the opportunity to train intervals with others at a time when I’m normally too weary to even thinking of lacing up my trainers (the sessions are in the evening).
The first session was a 5km time trial which will be used as each runner’s bench mark for the coming weeks. It will also allow us to assess our progress when it is compared to another time trial at the end of the course. I ran my 5 km at an average pace of 4:50 min/km which is far, far faster than I’ve ever run 5 km before. The truth I have discovered is that I haven’t been doing my fast runs fast enough. I haven’t been pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.
Based on the 5km Time Trial, the coach has advised that when tackling 6-8 km Tempo Runs, my pace should be between 4:55 and 5:10 min. That for me is fast. On Thursday I managed this with 6 km. Just about! Still, I felt I’d made progress.
Of course my hilly 21 km run yesterday was a bit of a disaster compared to usual so I clearly have to commit to speed training in the long run to see results in the long run 🙂 Mind you, I think the heaviness in my legs for my last 5km might have been a result of running on empty. Yes, that darn fuel issue. I still haven’t got the answers on managing that.