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Friday, July 18, 2014

BOH Highlands Run 2014

"I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date!" You'd probably be muttering the very same words of the white rabbit if you wait too long to sign up for the BOH Highlands Run.

The first ever BOH Highlands run, slated for the 28th of September is a non-competitive 5km charity fun run that takes you through the lush greenery of the Sungei Palas BOH plantation trail in Cameron Highlands. I've run trails before but not in a tea plantation so this is kinda exciting for me. It also gives you the opportunity to appreciate the beauty and cool (with the average lows hovering around 12C or so) setting of the highlands.

Running amidst the lush greenery of a tea plantation ...
To make the event even more exciting, the run has a theme called 'Mad Hatter Tea Party' where participants are encouraged to don the wackiest hats they can find for the run and then proceed to a tea party (but of course) after the run hosted by BOH. I'm not really sure where I'm going to find a whacky looking hat that will top the Mad Hatters but heck, I aim to find one!

The BOH Highlands run is officially endorsed by the Pahang State Tourism Board and all proceeds from the the run will will be channeled to the Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) to help with an environmental conservation project in Cameron Highlands. The event is also supported by Fitness First Malaysia with Copthorne Hotel and Hotel Titiwangsa being the official hotels.

The route map
Registration fees are priced at RM55 for adults (aged 13 and above) and RM35 for the children (aged 8-12 years). Pretty reasonable for a charity event in a cool (pun intended) and green setting if you ask me. Registration is limited to 500 entries though and will be open for sign up on Monday, 21st July 2014 on MYraceonline so don't wait too long to sign up.

An event tee is included and light refreshments will await you after the run. You can also pre-register your interest in the event with before the 21st July 2014 though it's limited to only 50 early birds. Visit Tea for more information on this.

The lovely trail but be aware of the steep edges
As beautiful as the trail will be, parts of the route will have rocky and uneven terrain with steep edges. This is after all a trail run. So families participating in the event with children are advised to keep an eye on their precious little ones safety. While we're all out to have a great time, safety is of paramount importance.

So start looking for your hat now and see you all at the BOH Highlands Run bright and early on the 28th September 2014!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Next Up!

Now that the euphoria of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon is slowly ebbing away, it's time to focus on my next challenge. I wouldn't really call it a challenge, stupidity would be a more apt description. In a little more than a month, I'll be attempting to run around the not-so-little island of Penang trying to see if I can survive 84 kilometers of pounding the streets of the pearl of the orient.

To this very day, I have no idea why I really signed up for the Starlight Ultra. To say I was possessed by some evil ultra spirit would be an easy explanation but I'll just put it down to blaming a few people and their poisoning ways. No names will be mentioned cos the guilty know who they are :D

Originally scheduled for the 24th-25th of May, the Starlight Ultra was postponed to a later date due to the by-elections that was needed to fill Karpal Singh's seat after his untimely passing. It was bitter-sweet cos on one hand, with the postponement, that meant I could fully concentrate of my GC training without having to modify my training plan. GC was a priority back then. The thoughts of DNSing Starlight was very high. On the other hand, with the new dates slated for the 23rd-24th August, I now have no excuse to skip the event. Sigh!

A route that practically circumvents the entire island.
Pic courtesy of Starlight Ultra
That said, I'm not really sure I'm up for the challenge. My training has been geared towards a marathon plan and having just one month or so, throw some tapering time into the equation, that hardly leave any time for switching to ultra training mode. I really don't see how I can do anything about it except to wing it all the way and make sure I'm seen running every time I pass a camera ... hahaha! But that doesn't mean I'm not going to try. I'll definitely dig deep and give it my all. If I fail, so be it. The experience will be a good thing though I would prefer it came without too much pain.

The only consolation I have is that I've had a small sample of what to expect on the streets of Penang during my road trip there with Jamie, CY and Foo back in May. Since we had already booked our lodging and air tickets, we decided to turn the postponement into a run holiday to run an LSD and go on a food binge instead. It turned out to be quite fun and it also gave me an indication of what to expect during the daylight hours of the run, where I'll be the most fatigued and begging to be put out of my misery.

In hindsight, I don't think I'm really cut out to run ultras. I'm just a pretender trying to delve into the world of ultra running. I don't have the time to put in the humongous amount of commitment it requires. Finding the time to train for a marathon is hard enough let alone an ultra. Work, family commitments and the threat of being thrown out the house are enough to dissuade me from wanting to explore ultra running too much. Maybe in a different life.

Right now, I'm just counting the days for it to arrive so I can get it over and done with and move on to other things, namely get back to proper marathon training again. That's at least something I can realistically achieve a little success with. Besides, call me a sadist or whatever, I actually enjoy training for a marathon. That said, I still have another ultra in November to prepare for. Why do I keep doing these things?

Sadly, Foo the group's entertainer is nursing an injury 
and won't be with us to provide much needed entertainment ...
My regular training buddies have been hard at work training for the Starlight Ultra and I can only dream of trying to keep up with them. In fact, I expect them to ace through the route with ease and am hoping they'll have a nice plate of Pasembur or Mee Rebus Sotong waiting for me when I finally crawl through the finish line.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014: Race Review

Surreal. One word that I would best use to describe my experience at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014. Remember that word cos you'll hear it more than once throughout this post. A word of warning for those one or two readers that I still have, make yourself a strong mug of coffee or a bowl of instant noodles cos this might be a long one.

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) marks my first ever marathon away from home, a long way from home at that. I really didn't know what to expect once I signed up for it many months ago. From the planning stages, down to the flight, the culture and finally running the event was really foreign to me. Most of my marathon (well, what little of them anyway) were all done at home. This would be the first time I stepped on foreign soil to run and I must say I came away with an experience that will last a lifetime.

After months of training, the day finally came for both the wife and me to board the plane for that long flight to the Gold Coast of Australia. The flight bit was my least favourite part of the entire journey. I've never flown as far away as Australia and sitting on my butt for close to 8 hours or so really left a bitter taste in my mouth, literally since I didn't manage to brush my teeth almost the entire day after we landed ... hahaha!

The wife and me met up with Jamie at the new KLIA2 airport, checked in, grabbed some dinner and started our long journey to the Gold Coast around 8.40pm. We touched down in Gold Coast around 7 plus in the morning, local time and upon checking our baggage out, we were picked up by the tour company people to head to the race expo to pick up our bibs.

The drive to the race expo had me looking in awe like some backwater neanderthal at the lovely houses along the streets to the expo. The race expo itself was on an entirely different level for me. It had to be the biggest one I've ever been to and was told by Jamie that I ain't seen nothing yet cos there are even bigger ones. Since we were not due to check in yet, we took our time strolling around the expo checking out the various products on offer.

I had earlier on decided not to bring any fueling such as gels from KL and would just buy it here, which was in hindsight not such a brilliant idea. I'll come to that at a later stage of this post. Spotted a booth selling GU, and though I'm used to GU and have taken them before, my gel of choice is Horleys but unfortunately none was to be found so GU it would have to be.

We scoured the place and the Comrades marathon booth caught my eye since the Malaysian Ambassador for Comrades has been actively trying to poison me to sign up. Chatted for a bit with the people at the booth, bought a few stuff from another exhibitor and we all headed back to the tour bus to head to the Wyndham Apartments to store our luggage since we had a long way to go before we could check in.

Jamie harbouring thoughts of Comrades ...
There were six of us on the same flight group, Jamie, Max, Tan, Aya, the wife and me. After meeting up with CY and wife, we all headed out to experience the atmosphere and hospitality of Gold Coast, besides we were hungry as hell! The place was chilling even at that hour of the day, which was close to lunch time. I totally loved it. Makes a vast change to the heat and haze we're experiencing back home. Lunch consisted of Japanese food with entertainment.

Then a stroll to the Surfers Paradise beach it was and once again it dawned on me how surreal all this was. Here I was, thousands of miles away from home just to run a marathon, something I never thought I'd ever do. The scene of the beach flanked by the architecture of the place was simply breathtaking. I wanted to just stay here forever. We spent some time camwhoring and then headed to get some prepacked food for dinner later tonight before heading back to check in to our respective apartments but not before Jamie and me made plans for a short evening shakedown run after a quick nap.

With Jamie and Max.
The short shakedown run gave me a small taste of what to expect on race morning. The temps were really low and even a 6k run saw hardly any sweat on me. Jamie said it would be even colder in the morning before race start, which was not a very comforting thought. But the short run was welcomed and the view was spectacular. Headed back to the apartment after the run and both of us went our separate ways. Dinner was a microwaved prepacked pasta and bacon, something easy on the stomach to cater for race day.

Harbouring secret thoughts of being a pole dancer ...
All the race gear had been laid out way in advance and both the wife and me called it an early night since our pick up was due to arrive at 4.30am the next morning. I had a feeling it was going to be cold but just how cold was something I didn't expect. When the alarm went to signalling the start of race day, I just wanted to curl into a ball under the covers. It was so bloody cold, I was actually shivering. A quick run to the bathroom, which had ice cold tiles and a toilet bowl seat cover that was like sitting on ice block wasn't a good way to start the day. How I wished for the hot, humid air of Malaysia at that time.

They don't call me King Arthur for nothing, you know.
Nevertheless, both of us got ready, bundled ourselves in warm clothes and jackets, camwhored a little and headed down to the pick up bus to be driven to the race start location. During the drive to the race location I was quivering inside and it wasn't cos of the cold. I was feeling a little nervous about the race. It was made even more so when we arrived at our destination. The place was packed with runners.

I've been to run events before but this was nothing like what I was used to. The atmosphere was sizzling with a different kind of excitement. Here I was, a foreigner for a change, in an event where I hardly knew anyone apart for the people I came with, bundled up and shivering in the cold waiting to run my first ever overseas marathon event. It was so damn surreal (hey, I did warn you about that word). I could hardly believe it.

The breathtaking view that has me wanting to stay here forever.
The wife's event, the half marathon was due to start an hour and 20 minutes before mine. I accompanied her to her start zone, kissed and wished her good luck and headed back to meet up with Jamie and CY. The wife was also a little nervous as well. She's been training really hard for this event and I had every bit of confidence that she'll do well in the half.

Our abode for the weekend.
Soon enough, time for my race was just around the corner. Dropped off everything and was left with minimal gear to keep warm since I opted to run as light as possible for the race. I was shivering as I headed to my start zone. I found the most sunniest part of the zone and rooted myself firmly to enjoy what little warmth the sun provided. I said a little prayer just before the gun off and then it was showtime. Time to make the hard work pay.

I was in start zone C, with the 4:30 group and it was a slow 3 plus minutes before I passed the start. I took off at a conservative pace. The legs and body were still tight from the cold. The start was electrifying, loads of cheers urging everyone on. My nervousness was gone once I crossed the start and I started settling into race mode. Of all the tips I got from Jamie, the one I remembered the most was to start slow and watch the pace cos the cold could easily have you running too fast and screw your entire race. That kept playing in my mind the first 2km.

All bundled up against the cold, chilly morning ...
By the time I got past the 2km mark, I was beginning to get into groove, the legs were loosening out, the mindset was changing and I was feeling good. None of the pain that was plaguing my left quad prior to arriving here was evident. Cruising along while enjoying the sights saw me catching up with the 4:15 pacers slightly after the 2km mark. I had already set 4:15 as my target goal and catching up with them had me smiling. I was smiling even more when I realized one of the pacers for the 4:15 group was Digger (Bruce Hargreaves) himself, the Ambassador for Comrades. It had me immediately thinking of Frank and his poisoning back home :D

With Digger at the 30km mark
I decided that I'd stick with him like glue since he was going at pace I could sustain easily. Now let me tell you something. Being a pacer is not that simple. Not just any Tom, Dick and Harry can be a pacer, if you ask me. You need to motivate and keep your charges going, take their minds off the pain, at the same time trying to maintain your pace to bring your chargers to their 4:15 finish.

Now Digger was simply astounding as a pacer. He kept talking, telling stories and kept motivating everyone all the way that had me wondering just how he does it considering he's 60 plus in age. I was in awe. He was so inspirational that I hardly felt the miles slip away. Things were easy. I slowed down when he said so and sped up when he did. In fact I was actually surprised that I wasn't facing any issues at all and was running like as it if was a training run with the guys. Things were looking up.

Just so you know, I bought all my pictures legally ...
One thing about the Gold Coast Airport Marathon that stood out from the races back home is the fantastic crowd along the route cheering you on. There was really never a lonely stretch without supporters on hand to urge you forward. From kids in their jammies standing and high fiving you to teenage girls singing by the roads really had me smiling as I returned the high fives and waves as much as I could. Oh, another thing that was really evident was the total lack of anyone honking away or trying to run down runners for spoiling their Sunday mornings, unlike the pesky,  impatient and utterly moronic drivers back home.

Back to the race. Hydration and water stations were spaced out every 2k or so. I stopped at most of them under Diggers advice that the later part of the stages would be hot and we'd need all the hydration we can get. I was feeling fine. Legs were good, breathing was easy, heart rate was in the 150's, the scenery was breathtaking and with Digger keeping a running commentary on his past exploits, things couldn't be better. My pace was consistently in the 5:50 - 6:00 throughout, just where I wanted it.

The finish in sight ...
As we headed up the bridge on the Gold Coast Highway where Digger gave a friendly warning that incline on the bridge wasn't as easy it it looked, I was still running strongly. We hit the 30k mark right on the bridge and it took us past the start finish in the opposite direction. It was kinda hard having to pass the start/finish and hearing the music and cheering crowd but knowing you still had at least 12k to negotiate.

This was basically one of the best stretches of the entire route. This was where almost the entire 12k was littered with enthusiastic and vocal supporters cheering you on. This was where you just didn't want to be walking but unfortunately, this was where my race took a dip. Just as I hit the 38k mark, cramps hit me in both my calves. I had to slow down my pace to practically a trot to ease the pain. I also couldn't keep up with Digger anymore and lost my pacer. 'F@@K' I uttered. Why now? Just 4km to go. I was cursing. This wasn't the wall, this was bloody bad fueling plans. I opted for less gels thinking the cool weather would help. That was a really lousy call and was my biggest blunder.

Finally, the finish!
Did some quick calculations in my head. Knowing with a run/walk routine I wouldn't hit 4:15 even though I had some extra minutes in the pocket and instead opted to cross the finish before 4:25 which was doable. So, I trudged along in pain running and walking as fast as I could. This stretch was simply fantastic though. The sheer support from the folks by the side of the road could bring you to tears. They kept shouting 'Go Nick Arthur, Go Nick Arthur' (I had my name printed on my bib), that it had me digging deep inside to keep moving. Screw the pain. I was going to do this.

The last 1.5k to the finish was the most I've ever heard my name called out by supporters urging me on. It was all so surreal (okay, I promise, that's the last). The last 500m was within sight. There was this runner behind me who kept nudging me to keep going every time I felt like stopping. He kept saying, 'keep going mate, just a few metres to go'. I was clearly in awe of him. He was clearly in as much pain as I was and he was nudging me to keep going. We ran together and the final 250m signage came to view.

With a last turn into the final finish stretch I picked up the pace, put on a more confident face (obviously for the cameras) and ran across the finish like a champion. I looked at my watch and it show 4:23. I had made it to my secondary target. I was a little disappointed not to hit my 4:15 target but I was ecstatic nonetheless at having achieved a new personal best shaving off 13 minutes from my previous best. I wasn't going to take anything away from me. I deserve this moment.

The officials were urging me off to the medal collection area but I stood my ground and waited for that kindly soul who nudged me along. It was the least I could do to thank him. He came in about 30-40 seconds later and I shook his hand and thanked him for his gesture. And only then did I head to pick up my first ever gold label road race finisher medal and tee.

I headed to the post race wait area and was greeted by news from the wife about her half marathon personal best. I never doubted she would do it. I was damn happy for her. More good news followed with Jamie hitting his sub 4 and CY grabbing his sub 5 on his first marathon attempt. A commendable job by the wife and a fantastic effort by the two of them. We all came and got our personal best here so it was worth the trip.

After some photo sessions, we took the shuttle and headed back to wash up and have a late lunch. I don't know about the rest but I was hungry as hell. A quick change and a quick celebratory lunch, we all headed our own way to do our own things. Now that the hard work has been done, it was time to chill a little.

In a nutshell, the experience is something I can never forget. The atmosphere of race day is nothing like I've ever experienced before and having the wife and the company of good friends to share it with makes it all the more exciting. I have no regrets about not achieving my actual time goal. I had a blast and will strive to do better next time. Yes, there will be a next time, that's for sure. After all, I have to set a higher goal, right?

One of the lovely views at the finish area.
But what I achieved wouldn't have been possible without the support of my lovely wife, who had to endure countless weekends of me out of the house running somewhere. Our usual conversation every weekend was like 'what's plans for the weekend?'...  my answer would be 'Errr, I'm doing a 20/30k with Jamie and CY'. The things she had to put up to accommodate my passion for running. Thank god she's a runner too so at least she does understand my need to constantly run. Thanks also to Jamie and CY for all the times you guys ran along with me urging me on during training.

It would be totally unfair if I didn't mention a few others personally who helped me with what I have achieved at GCAM14. A big thanks goes out to the GCAM Training Alumni gang, Kew, Foo, Julia, Zane, Yan Leng, Piew, YeeHoo, Calvin and Yvonne (for her quiet support). You guys helped a great deal with the training.

Thank you Gold Coast for the great time and be rest assured, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I'll be back!