Who goes to Paris and doesn’t take the opportunity to run the world’s most romantically-shaped parkrun course which happens to be located in one of the green lungs of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne? Well a lot of people apparently. With an average attendance rate of 33 people, after almost three years, it’s not only tourists who are missing out on this gem of a 5km. The city’s 2.2 million residents, many of whom are presumably runners, have also proved immune to the charms of parkrun of which there are currently two events in the French capital. The second, parkrun Montsouris, started in October 2016 and has an average weekly participant number of 21.5.

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parkrun is a little less popular in France than in England;)

I’m a big fan of small parkruns so low attendance isn’t a complaint just more of a concern. When a parkrun is dominated by tourists, it must be more challenging than usual to fill the volunteer roster. In fact, a couple of weeks after our visit, I saw on Facebook that the event in Bois de Boulogne had been cancelled due to a shortage of volunteers. Looking at the event list, this appears to have been a one-off so kudos to the core event team for that.

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Attendee and volunteer numbers for Bois du Boulogne parkrun April to Sep 2018.

We were staying in the 16th, about 2km from the start line, so I jogged to the Bois Du Boulogne with the aid of Google maps. To be honest, I was fretting all week about making it to the start line, and more importantly making it to the toilet, just before I made it to the start line. There is a public toilet at the entrance to the park at the Porte d’Auteil metro station but I completely bypassed this, unintentionally. The good news for nervous bladder owners is that the Bois du Boulogne being a park, has plenty of shrubbery. Even better, unlike in Australia, you don’t have to worry about dying ignominiously with your pants around your ankles thanks to a poisonous snake lurking in the undergrowth.

Once I found the parkrun flag, I discovered a huddle of excited, fellow tourists. There were two girls from New York doing their first ever parkrun, and an elderly couple and their daughter from the UK. I also spoke briefly to a West Australian on holidays, whose local parkrun I had done on New Year’s day this year.

Our event, on June 30, turned out to be one of the busiest of the year, the weekend of Paris Marathon notwithstanding when numbers swelled to 190 (April 7).

The English gentleman, who was in his seventies, claimed that it was his dream to die while running parkrun. We laughed as if this was a joke but I knew exactly what he meant; parkrun was his happy place and a testament to being active irrespective of age.

In addition to worrying about getting to the start line, I had also spent much time in my hotel frowning at the description of what looked to be a very complicated course. The problem wasn’t my French but my inability to convert the words into an image in my head that made sense of the map on Google. I was oblivious to the heart-shap until I had finished and saw it on my Strava profile!

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The wonky-heart-shaped route of Paris Bois du Boulogne parkrun.

I needn’t have fretted – as is usually the case – as the marshals did a perfect job of keeping runners on track and turning in the right direction. The marshals and the Run Director all spoke English which was very generous of them. They probably knew the chaos that would ensue offering directions in French. The course is flat, with a combination of tarmac roads and trails paths, so it’s a good course for a fast run if you’re in the mood.

A young Australian, one of the small band of regulars at Bois de Boulogne, was celebrating her 100th parkrun and had brought cake but I couldn’t stay as I had a flight to catch to Copenhagen.

I have a number of French running buddies in my Nomad group in Perth so I was aware that to enter any race in France, one has to provide medical clearance. I assume that to avoid being called a race, parkrun in France publishes the results not in order of crossing the finish line but in alphabetical order by first name. It’s quirky, n’est pas? Your parkrun profile will still record your placement as with any other parkrun globally.

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Results in alphabetical order.

In the end, all the worrying was a waste of time – when isn’t it? – and I was very glad that I hadn’t surrendered to the voice that told me to drop this parkrun tourism lark for an easier, more sedentary holiday (as I have done on trips to Singapore and Melbourne). I may not have gone up the Eiffel Tower, nor seen the inside of the Cathedral of Notre Dame since 1985, but in the summer of 2018, I did complete parkrun du Bois du Boulogne in Paris. If you get the chance, I recommend that you do the same.

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🏃🏻🏅😀

 

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.

Reunions (and a bit of stalking) in Paris

When I was nine, my best friends were twin girls, four years my senior, who lived next door. Their dad was a bank manager, so they were Irish nomads who moved house every few years. When I was nine, the twins and their siblings moved to a village in an adjacent county, Wexford, less than 100km from Kilkenny. Other than one visit to stay with them, when I vomited in the back of their dad’s car (from eating too many sweets on the sleepover), I never saw them again. I don’t think my spewing over the car was a contributing factor. The twins’ departure from my life was a major, sad event, one which I recall vividly. Back in the pre-internet days, when a telephone call to Wexford was prohibitively expensive, our friendship hadn’t a chance.

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My own children have bid goodbye to many friends during their short lives. When I chaperone their tearful leave takings, I insist on saying it’s not goodbye forever, it’s until next time. I recall the twins and the vomiting and I vow to do better. I mean it when I say that they will see their friends again even if they are moving to the other side of the planet. All this is a long introduction really into how last week I found myself in Paris with four teenagers, aged 12-15. Selfless mother that I am, I travelled from Dublin with my two daughters, to meet up with my eldest’s two friends who now live in Houston and San Francisco. One of the friends, who is Dutch, lived in Paris for 8 years before relocating to Perth, where we first met and understandably his family love the city so much that they visit annually en route to the Netherlands. Spending time in Paris with people who know where to go, how to get there, and can suggest great places to eat, while also being great company, really makes for a spectacular holiday. I might even go as far as saying that I relaxed and enjoyed myself. I know! Incredible! IMG_1089

After five great days of being tourists with insider guides who didn’t charge a fee we took a taxi to Charles de Gaulle Airport to return to Ireland. Our reunions hadn’t finished yet however. Serendipity meant that another friend of my daughter’s, from our time in Kuala Lumpur, was arriving in Paris from Toronto, and we managed to meet her and her mother for coffee and a catch-up. Yes, my children do think such meetings and international travel are normal, no matter how much I try and explain that they’re not. The Wexford situation is beyond their comprehension in this instant messaging age.

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As we approached the airline check-in desk, I spied the familiar figure of Colm Tóibín, probably Ireland’s most famous living writer, coincidentally from the friend-robbing county of Wexford. I was as excited as a teenager bumping into Harry Styles but managed to keep my rapture under wraps channelling my energy instead into explaining to the check-in lady in Frenglish exactly whom she had just served. She was oblivious to Mr Tóibín’s celebrity status and possibly thought I was slightly mad. I’d met Mr Tóibín a couple of times at Kilkenny Arts Festival a few years back but remarkably he didn’t seem to recognise me (!). I’m pathetically bad at shoving myself forward (while sober) so this particular reunion was wordless and only experienced by one party. Some people might call it stalking but I promise, it was inadvertent. Remarkably no one else appeared to recognise him during all the time we sat in the departure lounge – he on his laptop, me pretending not to be watching him on his laptop, or back in Dublin airport in the line for Passport Control, me admonishing my daughters for staring, lest he actually notice me – for the wrong reasons. I guess not everyone thinks that writers are like rock stars but this brush with multi-Booker-nominated celebrity, whose career I’ve long coveted, topped off what turned out to be one of the best weeks I’ve had in years.

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Race report: Angkor Wat Half Marathon 2014

AngkorWat3At 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.

The outfit. During the first km I saw a woman wearing the same skirt.
The outfit. During the first km I saw a woman wearing the same skirt.

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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.

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Typical road along the route. My socks turned orange from the dust.

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.

The south gate of Angkor Thom at the 19km mark.
The south gate of Angkor Thom at the 19km mark.

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.

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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!

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Finisher medals from 2013 and 2014.

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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For a  Buddhist country, the Cambodians certainly make a massive effort for Christmas. The decorations in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, were also amazing. (I stopped of in KL on my way to and from Siem Reap).
For a Buddhist country, the Cambodians certainly make a massive effort for Christmas. The decorations in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, were also amazing. (I stopped of in KL on my way to and from Siem Reap).

My new race recipe

A 2012 trip to Angkor Wat.
A 2012 trip to Angkor Wat.

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.

Peninsula2014Lately, 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.

My WAMC bib finally got an airing.
My WAMC bib finally got an airing.

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.

First Post from Perth

Right. It’s been a while. Had a few things to do you know with the whole setting up a new life all over again thing. I wonder if there’s any chance of a consultancy post in witness protection for the FBI. I’m really getting rather good at this setting up a new life lark, bureaucratically speaking at least. My other career option at the moment is as an extra for ‘Home & Away’. I now live near a beach and there are always, always surfers doing their thang in the water – and undressing beachside. I’ve been practising walking past over and over looking disinterested and I think I’m ready for camera.

Career progression aside, a month after our arrival in Perth, our lives have taken on some degree of ‘normalcy’. That is if you consider having to weave around a maze of cardboard boxes to get from the kitchen to the bathroom to be normal.

Cottesloe Beach - 1.5km from my door and I get to run here
Cottesloe Beach – 1.5km from my latest door. Sorry no half naked surfer dudes in this shot 😦

The kids are happy at school. I’ve got a new address, a bank account, a phone, a car, a SATNAV (very important!) and of course, I’ve resumed my duties as personal driver to three children. My soccer-obsessed son was welcomed into a local club despite the season being almost finished, and daughter no. 2 is thrilled to have joined a great gymnastics club with lots of cool equipment. She has committed to 5.5 hours of training – and an extra 3 hours driving for me – per week. If only I got paid for mileage. Unfortunately, I’m paying for the mileage and it will take a long time to adjust to the price of petrol here compared to Malaysia. OMG!

Even nearer than the beach, I have the river. Nice :)
Even closer than the beach, the river. Nice 🙂

IMG_7446Speaking of mileage, this summer (and now winter as I’m in the Southern Hemisphere where winter seems disconcertingly like a great Irish summer but with surfers) was definitely the season of a lot of Expat and virtually no Runner for The Expat Runner. But now I think I’ve finally, with the help of a new Australian physio, and a three-pronged approach to Rehab (more on that another day), started to improve my ITBS. Sunday, I ran 5km for the first time in 10 weeks. Two weeks ago, I could barely manage 1.8km before excruciating pain forced me to stop. The cure has involved a lot of Elvis-inspired pelvic thrusting, frequent application of anti-inflammatory gel and, counter to the advice I received in Ireland, running (on alternate days only). I’m a long way from better but I’m on track for a return to racing. For now, I’m grateful for a return to running, even if it’s only 5km. In the meantime, a slower pace along the beach has its perks. Surf’s up mate, or whatever these lovely Ozzies say.

 

London Recap

Well Dick Whittington was wrong – the streets of London are NOT paved with gold. However, I can attest to the fact that the parks – Hyde Park, St James’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – are teeming with runners. Or maybe it’s like that time I was trying to get pregnant without success and it seemed that every single other woman on the streets of Singapore was sporting a baby bump. I couldn’t run but everyone else could, and did. Despite being benched, we had a fabulous time. London really is an easy city to navigate, whether by foot, bus or underground, and there is so much to see and do that you find yourself saying ‘Well, next time..’ a lot.

Me and Mo
Me and Mo

One Direction were strangely absent from Madame Tussauds much to D2’s disappointment. A Twitter search after our visit revealed that the wax versions of the boy band are currently in Amsterdam. I guess Madame Tussauds London are keeping this important fact quiet lest it deter Tweens from visiting. The Natural History Museum was a big hit. In fact, at the end of our second visit I had to send out a mayday call for D1 who had failed to show up at our designated meeting point and the museum was closing. ‘We have found the missing child’ a member of staff relayed back to the exit through his walkie-talkie. As D1 was escorted to the exit, she assumed a case of mistaken identity- she couldn’t possibly be a ‘missing child’ – and worried that she was being kidnapped by some strange family. A few years in KL can make a child paranoid about abduction. Once reunited with her sister and me, her only concern was if the Gift Shop was still open. No, she had not heard any of the multiple tannoy announcements about closing time. So, yes the Natural History Museum is engrossing, and it’s free to visit (donations are encouraged).

We were too late at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for a tour as apparently it’s a working theatre and there are no tours whilst plays are showing. Lesson learned there. ‘Mamma Mia’ was a blast; despite having seen the movie several times, the live show was still entertaining and brimming with talent. The quick visit and lunch at the Victoria & Albert Museum, a dash past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s, a lot of walking in parks (trying to ignore runners) and a rather long visit to Top Shop completed our little trip – until next time.

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Tomorrow we move to Australia. As you do. No big deal at all. I’ve a feeling that the parks in Perth are also teeming with runners; fingers crossed that in another few weeks I’ll be one of them.

London-bound

I was telling the receptionist at my physio’s office a bit about our lives, packing up and moving around the world, and she said that she felt her shoulders stiffen with stress just talking to me. Not quite the effect I like to have on people. She was right though- packing up house, home and heart is stressful, probably more stressful than starting anew- or maybe I’m better at the arriving bit than I am at the leaving. Anyway, I love packing so so much, that I’m embarking today on a short trip to London with my daughters. We’re going to do tourist things and meet up with friends from Malaysia whom we haven’t seen in a whole three weeks!
The thing with packing in this part of the world is that the weather is so changeable and unpredictable. In one day you might a wool onesie, an umbrella, a rain coat, a sun hat, shorts and running shoes. I don’t have a wool onesie by the way though sometimes in the cool evenings I fantasize how cosy one might feel.
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Yesterday, after checking the London weather forecast, I made a strategic gamble to remove my well-folded trench coat from my suitcase and replace it with my foam roller. I may not be able to run around Hyde Park as anticipated at the time of booking a hotel- you guessed it- beside Hyde Park but I am going to keep rolling this damn ITB, yes I am. The running shoes are coming too but only for walking, honest. The thing about physio here is that it makes my leg too sore to allow any delusions about being recovered from injury. Physio makes me feel injured in fact. Let’s hope this strategy of paying for pain pays off. And let’s hope the weather forecast is right and I won’t need the trench coat.

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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.