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Sunday, October 28, 2012

JW Cameron Highlands Friendship Meet 2012: Race Review

Both the wife and me have never been to Cameron Highlands before so when she saw a post on Facebook promoting a run in Cameron Highlands, she convinced me to sign up along with her. I wasn't too keen initially cos it was a 12K run and having to drive close to 4 hours to get there just wasn't my cup of tea.

But I relented when she said that it would be like a holiday and what holiday can better with a race thrown in. I couldn't argue with that point so I signed up for it. We left the boys and the little dog at home with my mom and off we drove to Cameron yesterday.

She's happy posing today cos she has a trophy too this time ...
The drive there was pretty decent and we took the Simpang Pulai exit and things were going fine until we reached Brinchang where we were stuck in the most horrendous traffic crawl all the way to Century Pines Resort in Tanah Rata where our accommodations were.

I was cursing away. Don't I have enough traffic snarls in Subang and yet, here I am, 200 plus kilometers away and I'm stuck in a jam that's even worse than what I would experience in KL. It took us about 1.5 hours or so to reach Simpang Pulai but it took us nearly three hours or more to reach Tanah Rata from there!

I guess Cameron is everyone's favourite holiday destination. I was fuming and that bittered my first impression of the place. But once we finally reached Tanah Rata and seeing our place of accommodation, the cool, refreshing air and greenery around, my mood changed for the better.

The serene and beautiful night scene just outside our room ...
After getting settled in and getting a short rest, we headed out to scout the place for dinner and some sightseeing before heading back to the resort to wait for Julie (the race organizer) to drop by with the race kits. Called it an early night and curled under the comforters to enjoy the nice, cool natural air-conditioning provided by mother nature.

You can save a heck of a lot on electricity bills staying in Cameron cos you don't need air-conditioning or even a ceiling fan, the place was just like a perpetual icebox and I was sneezing away quite a bit. I have a sensitive nose and too much cold tends to get me into a sneezing fit.

Anyways, this is one race where we didn't have to wake up at the crack of dawn cos the race start was just outside our hotel. Woke up around 6 plus, washed up and headed to the race start all bundled up in my jacket to keep the really cold morning air at bay. I even had to use full bottom compression to keep the legs warm.

The race itself was a small 'boutique' race with a small group of participants. Everyone was pretty cheerful for such a cold morning. Did a couple of warm up loops to get the blood flowing which failed miserably. I was having a tough time getting the body warmed up cos of the biting morning cold.

Totally bundled up prior to race start ...
Before I knew it, Julie Wong called everyone for a briefing about the race and the route. She warned us to go easy at the start cos the first 7K was a gradual incline and that the high altitude would be hard on the unfamiliar. I took no heed of the warning, foolishly, I must say. My game plan was to do a quick run seeing as how it's only a 12K run.

Julie Wong keeping an eye on the runners coming back ...
I mean, I've done hill work training and how bad can high altitude be on running? Oh boy, did I suffer for that bit of cockiness! The race started and off we went on an uphill stretch all the way. Let me tell you something about high altitude running. If you've never done it before, then go slow. By the 1.5K mark, I was gasping for breath, my eyes were tearing from the knife like stabbing cold pain I felt in my lungs. If you've ever seen a fish out of water gasping for breath before, well, that's exactly how I felt!

Running on a high altitude is a whole ball game altogether. I had to slow down to a walk (at the 2KM mark at that!) to take lungs full of air and to regain my composure. Serves me right for being a cocky little bastard and not heeding professional advise. It took me quite a while to get hold of myself before I could start running again.

I lost a lot of time. Even though it was a torturous uphill all the way, the body and legs just weren't warming up fast enough to get into a proper running mode. Finally at the 7KM mark, the legs started to warm up properly and came into play. The breathing was much better now that I knew how to breathe properly and from that point on it was playing catch up.

I upped my turtle powered first half pace and kicked into a steady 5:10-5:20 pace all the way back to the finish coming in with a time of 1:10:52, far off my usual 12K timing but was delighted to be told I was third place in my category, the men's veteran.

My five seconds of fame :P
Even though it was a race with a small number of participants and most of the usual speedier runners from my category weren't there, I was still overjoyed with the third placing. I've never won anything for running in my entire life and getting a third place finish trophy will see me sleeping with a silly grin on my face tonight ... LOL!

But even getting third place cannot beat what this young fellow said to me after the race:

'Bro, you 35 year old guys are all pretty fast one la', he said.

'Urmmm bro, I'm 45 years old la!, I replied.

'Seriously? You don't look 45, you look like you're in your thirties la' was his response.

Man, being mistakenly identified as 10 whole years younger sure beats a third placing anytime. That made my entire morning ... hahaha!

But jokes aside, what I learned from this run today was not to be such an arrogant cocky little guy and heed the advise of the more seasoned runners when they dish it out. After all, that's why they're called seasoned runners, right?

The organization of the run, though on a small scale was handled pretty well, I must say. There was enough signage, static and mobile marshals at critical point of the route to guide you well. It would be pretty difficult to get lost on the run and there was even two water stations for the runners.

Doesn't this tree look like a fish that has just been eaten with  just the bones remaining?
A big thank you goes out to Julie for a race well organized and also to the volunteers, some of them young little children guiding you along the right path that aside from my earlier issues, I thoroughly enjoyed the run. The camaraderie of all the runners was simply fantastic with wild cheering for each and every runner crossing the finish.

After the small medal and trophy presentation, the wife and me headed back to the hotel, rested for a bit and started our long arduous drive back to KL and I really mean arduous cos it took us ages to reach home! While Cameron Highlands is a beautiful place, unless I own a helicopter, I don't think I want to suffer through  the drive up there again!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Putrajaya night Marathon 2012 Race Review

Whatever 'bomohs' (shamans) the organizers engaged for Putrajaya Night Marathon 2012 to keep the rains away definitely earned their keep last night!There was nary a cloud nor breeze in the air after the earlier dark skies with thunder and lightning just an hour before race start. And this after continued evenings and nights of nonstop rains.

Everyone was expecting a wet race but that never came to pass and we all had to run with the 'lovely' heat and humidity of a night run. A windless and moonlit night didn't help matters either.

My ever loyal medal model ...
The thought of not being at the start line crossed my mind quite a lot as I was heading home from work earlier in the morning before the race. I was totally fatigued, hungry and most of all sleepy. Not the most ideal of conditions to be attempting a marathon later at night, especially for a marathon noob like me. The wife was also pretty stern with wanting to evaluate my condition after I wake up from whatever sleep I could muster before even letting me attempt the marathon.

The race atmosphere. Loved the balloons ...
Though hardly enough, I managed to muster close to 3 solid hours of sleep. After guzzling down a bowl of instant noodles (I know, not the best of marathon food either) but at that time I wasn't hungry and forced myself to eat something. Feeling fine, the wife agreed that I would be able to start on the condition I don't push myself too much and to stop completely if I wasn't up to it. She didn't have to worry though cos it wasn't likely that I could push myself much even if I wanted to.

So off we went to Putrajaya and arrived two hours before the race start to get the best parking spot. Lingered around catching up with friends I only meet at race events. Met a few new friends too like Jason (Tan), the oldies (and I don't mean in age) like Neoh, Wilfred, Gus and the highly suspicious non-human, Rayzeef ... LOL!

Bumped in the Skechers team of Ivan and Adeline (who was running the 10K event), chatted for a bit and moved on in search of food cos I started feeling hungry. Managed to find some skewered fish ball like stuff and wolfed the entire three sticks down. Hopefully that would be enough (highly unlikely) to tide me through the distance.

Ivan of Skechers Malaysia and me prior to race start ...
Did a couple of warm up loops, wished the wife all the best for her 21K before heading to the pen to await the start of my second marathon attempt. Being a marathon noob, I felt a little overwhelmed being among the many seasoned marathoners. Thankfully Neoh, a seasoned marathoner himself was there to keep me company. The race started and we took off together keeping a constant pace of 7 minutes. Managed to catch Lina and her hubby along the way walking to the start line for their event start.

Kept pace with Neoh till about the 10K mark and decided to step it up a little since I was feeling pretty good given the circumstances. By this point the route already had the half marathon elites lapping me left, right and centre. Since I left the company of Neoh whom I had a nice time chatting with all the way up to then, I knew it was going to be a little boring and a lot more demanding, especially on a route littered with rolling hills. True enough, I came to the first set of rolling inclines, cursed, kept to the same pace and just trudged up the inclines.

The Orange man and Richard Ng doing their thing ...
By this time I started reeling in quite a bit of the earlier marathoners who started off on a faster pace. I was actually surprised that I still could run without too much issues. I had on the Skechers GObionic, which was a little tough on the feet but wasn't a big issue though I'll be switching back to the GOrun Ride for distances longer than 21K. The legs and lungs were fine and the most surprising of all was the heart rate which was hovering along the 145bpm. Nice, I was expecting it to be hitting the roof!

Those of you who have run this PNM marathon route would know just how challenging and demanding it is with the rolling terrain and the killer incline stretch from KM33 to the finish. Every time I ran up an incline and thought that was it, another was waiting just around the corner. It just didn't let up. I kept my head and grit my teeth and just faced them head on. It wasn't easy. The sleep deprivation started cropping up just around the 21KM mark and I was seriously battling from wanting to just stop and curl up along some quiet corner of the road and just sleep!

By the 27KM mark, I was feeling the fatigue. Slowed the pace a little and kept moving. I was bracing for the the 30KM to see which would come first, the wall or the cramps. Surprisingly neither appeared which was a good sign though I was struggling from fatigue more. The mind was completely numb by this point that if you asked me my name, I wouldn't be able to answer you. A lot of run/walking happened from this point onward, especially from the 33KM killer stretch! I even had time to exchange a text or two with the wife ... hahaha!

Don't be fooled by the Flash like speeds, I was crawling at this point ... LOL!
There was just nothing left in me to tackle the hills and it was the longest 6KM stretch to the finish in my entire life! A big thanks goes out to Jason Tan for his much appreciated support and cheer group at KM36 and for the ice cold coke you provided! It was the most refreshing drink I had the entire distance and the support you and your friends dished out helped me find whatever little reserves left in me to push on to the end.

I was seriously out of it by then and I had to make a conscious effort to keep going. Looked at the Garmin around the 39KM and saw that I could better my SCKLM time and decided to just go for it for the last 3KM. Picked up my pace and crossed the finish line with a time of 5:12:25! I was ecstatic considering the condition I was in. I gratefully accepted my much deserved medal, picked up my goodie bag and went off in search of the wife.

My well deserved medal and finisher tee ...
We didn't hang around long, walked to the car, bought some much deserved dinner on the way home and slept like a baby till noon today! The race organzation was spot on. I have not a single bad thing to say, well maybe some skimpily clad cheerleaders along the lonely and boring full marathon route would have helped ... hahaha! Otherwise the water stations were exactly where they were supposed to be which helped with my gel taking sessions. The transition from getting your medal to collecting the goodie bag was so seamless and hassle-free. A big congrats and thank you, Mr. Organizers for a race well run.

No more marathons for me until next year SCKLM. I've learned a lot more this time around and now know that with the right amount of training, I'm confident of breaking into the sub 5 hour race bracket. I intend to sit out a lot of races next year and spend the time putting in more training and effort in my quest to run a better marathon. The term, quality more than quantity is going to be my mantra for next year.

With that said, good job to each and everyone of you for actually being out there running, walking or crawling instead of just sitting on the couch or partying the night away. You all did awesome!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Number Two

It's less than a week away at my attempt to complete my second ever full marathon at the Putrajaya Night Marathon. Am I ready for it? Well, ready or not, I know I've trained and prepared for it as best as I possibly can given the circumstances. Unless you're a professional runner, life, work and other commitments can get in the way of your preparations no matter how carefully you plan them. We can only work around them to make the best of the time and opportunity given.

Photo credit goes to owner of the picture
At least this time around I don't have the jitters, worries and self doubt that I had prior to the SCKLM, my first full marathon event. So many questions and doubts ran through my mind before that race. I learned a lot from that run. All my weaknesses, the things I need to do to improve and the things I shouldn't be doing were all garnered from that single race. While there's still a lot of things I'll learn about marathon running along the way, the most important thing I took from this was not to bring my self doubt to the starting line.

This time around, I'm much more sure of myself. I have a lot more confidence in my abilities and limits. While I'm not going to be posting any fantastic time, I'll be happy even just taking 30 seconds off my previous (and only) best time, I at least know what to expect from this demanding race. Have self confidence, give the distance the respect it demands and things should work out fine, of course, you've also got to put in the training required for it.

That said and done, barring any (touchwood) injuries, I'm all eager for race day. I remember last year, I was standing on the outside of the barricades and watching with pure envy at all the full marathoners lined up and raring to go. I was doing the half marathon then. I was wondering what was going through the minds of all those runners just before being flagged off. They all looked so confident of themselves. All raring to go. They made it look like running a 42k was something they did everyday (for some of them, it probably was).

This year I'll be in the pen with them and I wonder how I'll look to someone on the other side. I remember during my first full at the StandChart, KF Chong came to me and said,

'Nick, you look so tense, chill a little'

I was so wound up before race start from worry and self doubt that it showed on my face. I guess you couldn't blame me since it as my first time attempting a 42k, something I never thought I would ever do back then. But even though I developed cramps during the race, I came away from it happy, had loads of fun (well, as much fun that one could possibly have from a 42k run) and with much more confidence in my abilities than when I started the race.

All that aside, I plan to run a very conservative race. It's only my second marathon after all. Maybe after I've done 5 or 6 more will I consider trying to make it a little more competitive for myself. I'm out to have fun for now and soak in as much experience from this as possible. I foresee a wet and cool race, judging by the current weather spell, which is a good thing since night races are always pretty humid.

The wife and my best buddy Sean, will be running the half and I'm rooting for both of them to do some good running. I'm especially proud of the wife. For a non runner as of two and a half years ago (in fact she hated running), she's come a very long way since then. She's put in a lot of hard work to improve her running and the improvement shows with the happy look she has on her face after each run. I won't be surprised she'll be lining up with me one day very soon at the start line of a full marathon. I'm looking forward to that day :D

That said, it's going to be a busy week for me next week with loads of work to complete before race day. Though it's pretty late but I've started tapering off for now and might just squeeze in a short easy run (if time permits) somewhere in the middle of the week and that's it. Let's hope all that hard work pays off during the run next week.

All the best to each and every runner for the PNM. Go out and have fun, loads of it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All About The 'Sole' ...

Being a little way over my neck with work at the office, I was kinda surprised that I managed to get home early and squeeze in a short run with the wife just before the rain came down. My mileage the past week has been less than stellar and anytime I get to squeeze in a run is greatly appreciated.

After the run, I was giving my shoe once over. I have this habit of looking at the condition of my shoes after each run to dig out small pebbles and whatnots and also to see the damage I do to them after my runs. It so happened the wife's GObionic which she used earlier was lying next to mine and out of curiosity I checked her shoe out.

That's when I noticed the sole of her shoe has a lot more wear and tear damage than mine. The forefoot section of her she looks pretty scuffed compared to mine, which is a good indication of her change of running styles, from a heavy heel striker to a more forefoot/mid-foot runner. It's a little surprising though cos I would have expected the outsoles to be a little more durable.

The wife is an under pronator which explains the more scuffed lateral side of the shoe. Noticed that the shoe actually lacks a rubber plug there which I thought was odd from the first time I picked the shoe up from Skechers. I guess being a totally flat zero drop shoe, it doesn't really cater for under pronation. 

The wife's GObionic
My GObionic
The wife and me have more both put more than 70km with the GObionic and notice the different wear and tear patterns on our shoes. I guess the wear and tear is also partly due to the fact I'm lighter on my feet than the wife but I seriously believe an additional rubber plug on the lateral side would make a considerable difference to prolonging the wear and tear of the outsole. Something to look into for a future iteration of the shoe, Skechers Performance?

Other than that noticeable difference the wife is simply relishing running in the shoe. It's been her shoe of choice for all her training sessions and races. The shoe has really made her consciously change her running style to a forefoot runner and has done a world of good to her her form and performance. She's simply running much better in them and is even worried that if they one day discontinue the shoe, she'll have problems with her running ... LOL! And the shoe isn't even launched here yet!

She's now looking forward to putting it for her first 21km test at the coming Putrajaya Night Marathon next week while I'm going to be putting mine to a full 42km test. I know it works just fine for a half marathon but we'll see how it goes for a full.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Spanner In The Works

The Putrajaya Night Marathon is in 16 days time and I'm currently going through a spell of downtime from running. I've been ordered by the doctor to stay off the roads for at least a week and the wife is making pretty sure I stick to the doctor's order closely.

I've been having this pain in the left region of my groin for close to 10 days or more. It wasn't really that painful and I kept on running through the pain which normally goes off after a couple of kilometers of running. I even ran the PJ Half and though the pain was evident during the run, it didn't bug me all that much. More like an annoyance than real pain.

But to be honest, it had me worried. After doing some research online, I suspected it to be a hernia. The wife told me not to be a smart aleck and diagnose myself based on what I read from the internet. She forced me to go to a real professional for a check up.

So, off I went to get myself checked out. After going through a series of tests, the doctor said that there were no signs of it being a hernia and that it's probably muscular in nature which honestly was a relief. She also said that I'd have to lay off hitting the roads for at least a week. I was given muscle relaxant tablets and told to take it easy for now.

But the break is seriously putting a huge dent in my preparations for the PNM. All the hard work I've been putting in my training has been showing a lot of positive results and having to rest at this point of time is not a very good feeling. I was intending to better my full marathon timing this time around and believe that I could come in with better results than at the SCKLM. Now I'm not so sure anymore.

By the time I get back to running again, which will be sometime next week, It'll be time to taper for the PNM. Looks like I'll have to take a shorter tapering period and squeeze in as much training as I possibly can once I'm allowed to run again. It sucks being old cos you tend to get injured so much easier.

But I really can't afford anymore injuries cos it's going to be a pretty busy time for me starting from the PNM event cos the following two weekends will see me running the JW Cameron Highlands Run (with the wife) and the Powerman Asian Duathlon Championship (team relay with me doing both the run legs). They're not exactly easy events and I hope no other injuries will crop up during that busy period.

On the bright side, one good advantage I see coming from this forced break is that I will at least have fresh legs for the PNM. The ache in the groin also seems to be subsiding with an occasional dull pull once in a while. It feels much better than the past few days. Let's just hope it's on the road to full recovery. But heck, I really miss running!