Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Labuan Duathlon Challenge 2016

I'm supposed to be training hard for Ironman Malaysia in Langkawi in November. Instead, I've had quite a busy racing calendar over the last couple of months. I've actually registered for the  Bukit Merah half Ironman distance triathlon, but I decided to withdraw from the race and do the Challenge Iskandar Puteri instead.

I thought the Iskandar Puteri event would be the last one before I embark on serious training for Langkawi. But a friend, Teo Chen Lung, talked me into registering for the Labuan Duathlon Challenge 2016 about 2 months ago. Regular visitors of this blog would already know about Teo; I have mentioned his name several times in numerous articles in this blog. For example, here and here. Well, this is another post in which I'm sharing an adventure with him!

The Labuan Duathlon Challenge 2016 was for a distance of 5km run, 32km bike, and finally 5km run again. I was reluctant to join at first, because I'm not a big fan of fast and short races. I'm not one of those athletes who're bestowed with plenty of fast-twitch muscles in the body, and I therefore don't have enough speed in my legs. That's why I'd shy away from the many local 10km running events here in KK.

However, if you knew my friend Teo, you'd know how difficult it is to say "NO" to him. That fellow just never let up, and he can go on and on about the subject until you say "YES"! It's a wonder that he didn't choose the law as his profession. I sometimes fancy that he'd make a good lawyer. Well, at the very least he'd make a good loyar buruk!

So anyway, to cut the chase, I found myself in the ferry with Teo, departing Jesselton Point in KK at 8:00am last Saturday, heading for Labuan. I brought my bike along, which was arranged on the deck with the rest of the participants' bikes from KK. The journey to Labuan took about three-and-a-half hours. Don't pay any attention to the 3 hours that they published in the website—that's total rubbish.

Now in order to get the full story of this adventure, you simply must know the story of the 2 months prior to the race. As soon as I registered for the race, Teo started bombarding me with his analysis—almost on a daily basis—of past years' results of the race. He made thorough analysis of the names of past winners, their respective finishing times, as well as his predictions of the possible winners for this year's race. At the end of it all, he tried to gauge his own chances of sneaking into the top 10 finishers of his category. Of course while he was at it, he took the liberty to analyse my category too, including searching high and low through the net for photos of past winners, times etc. He has a curious obsession for that sort of thing, you know. He then came up with strategies on how we're gonna race in order to enhance our chances to be in the top 10 finishers in our respective categories. In fact, he made the whole thing look like a complex and sophisticated project akin to one that NASA would formulate for a human space flight to Mars!

I sometimes find myself in enormous awe when seeing tons of messages from Teo through Whatsapp, mainly on his detailed analysis on the event. The fellow just never fail to amuse me. Whether intentionally or not, he is a good source of daily entertainment, really!

Having made all those daunting analysis, he came up with a PLAN, one that would bring us both glory in Labuan. According to this bombastic plan of  his, we should start the race with a 5-minute-per-km pace during the first leg, which was the 5km run. Then, we should start the bike leg together, and we would take turns to draft each other so that we can save energy. However, if we could find other fast cyclists to draft, then both of us should just tag along for a "free ride". Sounds like a great plan, doesn't it? I won't dwell too much on Plan B, Plan C and Plan D for the sake of sparing my readers from boredom, but rest assured that Teo had plenty of back-up plans too; he always does!

Now Teo typically would challenge me whenever we join the same race, but in the case of the Labuan Duathlon, he decided that we should work together instead. You see, we were in different categories of the race, and he reckoned that we both had a chance to win cash prizes. That's because there were up to 10 cash prizes for the top 10 finishers in each category.

So anyway, we started the race together and we soon realised that we were actually running at around 4:30 mins per km, a pace that's much faster than planned. We both eventually slowed down a bit after about 1km, although he slowed down a bit more than me. Soon, he was already lagging behind, and I began to worry about our little plan to help each other in the bike leg of the race.

When I reached Transition 1 (T1), Teo was no longer in sight. I hesitated for a moment, but seeing other competitors embarking on their bike leg, I reluctantly started pedaling too. I was sure that Teo would be catching up soon with his mighty Cervelo P5.

So I waited...and waited; and still no Teo in sight. I found myself in an unenviable situation of being too slow for the fast cyclists, and too fast for the slow cyclists. I had to work hard on my own for about 20 minutes until a cyclist from Team GP Riders pull along side. He was riding perhaps close to 40kph, and I took the opportunity to draft. It was such a relief, but my legs were already a bit tired from the earlier section of the bike leg. Later, we had to climb hills and then undulating terrains before finally arriving at Transition 2. Teo was still nowhere to be seen. I wondered what was he up to.

After racking up my bike, I started running. As usual, it was tough to suddenly switch to my running muscles again. But I was also feeling tired from the tough ride. I was down to about 5:20 mins per km, but I was gradually getting slower and slower. When we reached the hill, I started walking a bit, and that was when several people overtook me again. I tried to keep up, but I soon gave up as I knew that I couldn't hold the pace. There was nothing left in my legs.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh

After making the turning point and coming back to the finish line, I saw Teo struggling uphill on the other said of the road. He was perhaps close to 10 minutes behind me by then. If you have read previous mentions of Teo—for example here—he has this awesome skill in conjuring up the so-called killer face during his races.; and the Labuan Duathlon was no exception. Check out this killer face photo below.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh

Well, in the end, I finished 6th in my category in about 1 hour 53 minutes, but sad to say Teo was nowhere near the top 10 finishers of his category.

Photo credit: Vachel Voon

I think there is still a lot of room for improvements in the Labuan Duathlon Challenge. For example, they could use bigger pipes to construct the bike racks, so as to be structurally sound to support the weight of the bikes. Even the layout of the transition area was all wrong and needed a thorough overhaul for future events. But there is little doubts that the cash prizes on offer are among the best in Malaysia. So I think it's fair to expect many of our friends from the West would consider joining this race next year.

And as for Teo, I guess this means back to the drawing board to plan again for next year. I can foresee a bigger adventure in 2017, which in turn means even more analysis and racing strategies from him...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Challenge Iskandar Puteri 2016

I had quite an adventure, racing the Challenge Iskandar Puteri in Johor Bahru last Saturday (13 August 2016). It's a half Ironman distance triathlon comprising 1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21km run.

In the months, weeks and days leading up to the race, I experienced a bit of anxiety, not only because I felt that I didn't train sufficiently for the race, but also because the organiser seemed to be in a mess. I have lost count of how many times the race routes were changed, but of course in the end what mattered most was that the event went ahead as planned.

It was the first time I joined a race organised under the Challenge brand, and because it's a world-known brand name, I had high expectation of the event. Let's just say that the event fell short of its reputation, as well as my expectation by a long shot. I'm not suggesting that it was a lousy event; just that I thought it could have been better. But this post is not about criticizing the organiser. After all, under the circumstances, I'd say the organiser did reasonably well.

Being in the 50 - 54 category, I was among the last few participants to start the race that morning. I can still remember grumbling to myself when I did the Putrajaya 70.3 a few months ago when I had to struggle in the crowded swim. Well, the swim leg last Saturday was unusually quiet, and I realised then that that wasn't such a good thing too. Many of my loyal readers would know that I'm not a good swimmer. In fact, I've shared about my swimming ability in this blog, here. I haven't improved very much since then, and having to regularly sight in the open water is something that doesn't come naturally to me. Shortly before the race started, I made new friends with Henry Wong. This wasn't the first time I met him though; I think we met in Miri a few years ago, but then we became friends on facebook, and we finally met in person that morning. Dr Pui San was there and took this photo (Thanks, doc). It's always fun to make new friends.

I found myself swimming alone for the most part, but I'm fairly amused that I was able to catch up with some of the earlier participants. It must have been around 1.5km into the swim when I caught up with Wendy Tan, the sexy creature that you could just spend the whole day drooling and admiring, much the same way you could enjoy watching Kate Beckinsale over and over again in the Underworld series with the sound muted. Her long hair...and those wicked legs... oh! don't let me start on those! I've exchanged messages and comments through facebook with her—I mean Wendy, not Kate Beckinsale—but had never really spoken to her in person. Anyway, as I came up beside her, I had a glimpse of her graceful strokes, and of course my eyes were drawn to her legs for a bit; you can't fight instinct, if you know what I mean? I think I caught her turning her head to look at me for a split second, and that absolutely resulted in an adrenaline rush through my veins. Accordingly, I felt a little stronger and was able to swim just a tad faster.

A few minutes later I arrived at the end of the swim leg, panting as I climbed up the ladder. Damn! I really need to improve my swim! From that point, I had to run approximately 300m up the ramp through the shower, passing a drink station all the way up to my bike. I thought I'd take no more than 2 minutes for the transition, but it's not as smooth sailing as how it seems when seeing the pro athletes do it on telly. In the end, I spent over 6 minutes at T1. Finally I took my bike off the rack and started pushing it towards the mount line, and that in itself was quite a challenge.

There were several other participants at the start of the bike leg, and we were essentially quite close together. I'm not an experienced triathlete, and I wasn't sure if the fact that we were that close together would constitute a breach of the 12m non-drafting rule. Anyway, a short distance later, we began to disperse, and the gaps between us began to build up. In my mind, I thought that the 12m-gap rule was rather overdoing it by the organiser. I mean, I'm not even sure if there is any benefit at all in tailing a front rider at 6m gap, let alone 12m. But what do I know?

Once we hit the main road, I began to work on the pedal. There was this guy in front, perhaps he was riding at around 35kph, and I reckoned I'd just follow him from behind, making sure that I had that 12m gap between us. There were several U-turns in the bike loop, and we had to do 3 loops altogether. But it's strange that I saw no timing mat anywhere throughout the bike route; and neither was there any elastic bands handed out at any of the turning points. Sometime during the bike leg, suddenly there was a freak heavy downpour. But it was just for a mere 2-3 minutes. We also had some nasty headwinds at some sectors. There were ups and downs, but they were generally not very steep. By the end of the second loop, my legs were already a little tired. That's the outcome of insufficient bike training, so I'm blaming nobody but myself! And speaking of legs, did I mention Wendy's legs? Oh! never mind!

Photo credit: Cycling Malaysia Magazine

By the time I returned to the transition, I had been cycling for almost 3 hours. When I got off my bike at the dismount line, my legs felt like jelly. That's not supposed to happen, but, you know, getting old sucks sometimes. I can still remember saying to myself that I'd stop all this nonsense when I'm 50. Yet now, at 51, I'm still torturing myself on a regular basis!

When I reached transition for the second time, there was a bunch of spectators near my bike, making small talks with me. They asked me how far was the bike ride; and I replied that it was about 90km. They responded with some sort of exclamation noises. And I tried my best to look like the 90km ride was no big deal, even though I felt so exhausted already! As I was taking a sip of my Carbopro concoction, one of the guys asked me if I was topping up petrol? I replied in the negative, explaining that I'm a diesel engine. That set them off in a fit of laughter. I think they said something about being in awe of my fighting spirit, and of course the customary "You can do it!", followed by "Run!....Go, Go, Go!". I merely responded that I'll take it slow and steady. Putting on my cap, I told them over my shoulder, that the tortoise beat the hare. And that set them off in a fit of laughter again. Damn! I should charge them for entertainment fee!

So off I went on a slow jog, conscious of the admiration of the spectators. But then, as soon as I made the corner at the end of the carpeted path up a small climb through the arch, I started to walk! I could tell that it was gonna be a long and torturous 21km for me.

A little further down the road, I saw a white man limping. He was obviously injured. As I was overtaking him, I said, "And this is supposed to be fun!"

The sun was up above my head, and although the organiser did keep the promise of tree-lined route for the run, they have forgotten to say that those were very young trees. Oh boy, it was an extremely hot day. I felt like vomitting, and the only logical thing to do was to quit. This was just not worth dying for! But then again, when in a race, sometimes we tend to do things illogically. So I continued torturing myself, jogging and walking alternately while gradually getting roasted in the hot sun. It did not help at all that the water stations were too far apart. It was perhaps about 2 hours 40 minutes later when I was finally approaching the finish line; and as the excitement was building up, so were the cramps that were developing in both my calves. I crossed the finish line in the official time of 6 hours 32 minutes and 22 secs. All the muscles in my body were screaming.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh

Anslem and Dr Shah had finished a few minutes ahead of me. After getting my finisher medal, I found a plastic chair that was positioned immediately in front of the finish arch. I sat there rehydrating myself as I watched other participants arrive one by one. 

Not very long later, I saw from afar Wendy Tan approaching the finish line. I don't know if it was hallucination arising from severe exhaustion, but I think I was hearing the song "Beautiful Girl" in my head, and seeing her running in slow-mo. Then the strangest thing happened. After she had crossed the finish line, she stood there for a minute, as if trying to savour the moment. And then suddenly she smiled at me and said "Hi!". She walked over and extended her hand. I was unfortunately too exhausted to stand, although still managed to muster enough energy to extend my hand to shake hers. After that, I was toying with the idea of wrapping my hand in an air-tight plastic bag and refrain from washing my hand for at least a week. But luckily I managed to shake myself out of that ridiculous idea! Oh! did I mention about her legs? Oh! never mind!

Then the funniest thing happened that evening. At the prize-giving presentation, I was announced as the 2nd runner up in my category. Not sure how that happened, but I'm obviously not complaining! I received a huge medal which caused a bit of a stir at the airport, when the officer saw through the scanner machine what appeared like hand-cuffs! I also received an impressive trophy and a 3-month free membership in a gym in Johor, but for which I have to pay RM49!

I have to admit that I'm thrilled for the trophy, but actually I was rather disappointed with how the event was organised. But keeping an open mind, I will come back for this event again next year if I'm fit enough to do so. And oh boy... those legs...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Heaven, Hell & Happiness

People who know me would know that I don't believe in religions. I'm unsure about God since I have no scientific evidence of his existence, but I'm willing to keep an open mind. However, I'm not saying that I insist on scientific evidence for everything. It's just that I tell myself if God really does exist, then he is very different from that described in many religions. The God of the religions claims that He loves us all. But His love is conditional—that we must love Him first; that we must accept Him in order to be loved by Him. That, to me, is not true love. But that's my own definition of love, and I acknowledge that it may be different from the definition of others.

True love, to me, is like how I love my daughter. Even if she disobeys me, I will still love her, although admittedly I may be angry. My love for my daughter shall not be shaken just because she goes against my wishes. That is the true meaning of free will. Or at least that's how I perceive "free will".

Beyond that, I don't believe in heaven and hell. If indeed there is heaven or hell in the afterlife, then I will leave it entirely up to God where He thinks I belong. But for the moment, while there is still life in me, I'm seeing heaven and hell around me now.

I've seen way too many people with a lot of  money and properties, but they're very unhappy. In fact, they're miserable, and life is hell for them! They're constantly struggling and living a life filled with stress.

On the other hand, I've also seen people with very little money and properties, yet they're very happy. They're unable to live a life of luxury, and in many cases they're unable to get many of the things they'd like to have. They're happy all the same.

Of course there're also many rich people who're happy; and poor people who're unhappy. So actually, there seems to be no clear cut pattern that would equate richness to unhappiness; or poverty to happiness; both rich and poor people may be happy or unhappy.

In the end, I'm forced to the conclusion that happiness and unhappiness, and heaven and hell, all depends on what we make of life. If we choose to be happy, then we shall get happiness; if we choose to make the world around us a heaven, then we shall see the world as a heaven!

This reminds me of a question a friend asked me once. He observed that I've been married for over 20 years, and he was wondering how did I keep it going for that long? I told him that my marriage hasn't always been like what it is today. As a matter of fact, about 4 years into my marriage, things were going through some rough patches. So rough to the extent that they're hanging by a thread, and divorce was a real possibility.

Over the years, I've gone through a gradual change. You see, sometimes it's not a matter of being in heaven or hell; rather, it's what you make of your surrounding, of your life. In the past, I used to fight with my wife because I was convinced that I was in the right. But after a long time, I realised that what's more important to me was to be happy. I therefore chose to be happy. But to be happy doesn't necessarily mean to be proven right. For in the end, there is little point to be victorious in proving myself right, but in the process of achieving that, I lose my happiness. Sometimes in life, you can't get it both ways.

I try my best to live life to the fullest. I'd like to use my mind to achieve whatever the mind can do; I'd like to use my body to achieve its full potential. I may not be rich when compared to so many people, but I'm still happy. I count my blessings for whatever little possessions that I have; and for what I don't have, I keep trying to get them. The challenge of trying to get them is in itself an exciting journey and a rewarding experience. 

I choose to be in heaven, even though it's not the heaven of the religions.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Living The Dreams Of Someone Else's

I arrived home this afternoon to find Mia and JJ having a conversation in the bedroom. Well, it wasn't really a conversation—JJ was crying quietly, and Mia was in the midst of lecturing her. Apparently, JJ was not keen to continue taking swimming lessons. She doesn't mind to swim every now and then; just not the swimming lessons. Mia was adamant about the swimming lessons, and was explaining at length why JJ should continue.

I sat there quietly for a while and listened to Mia's justifications on why JJ should continue taking swimming lessons. Some of the reasons were good ones; some not so good. But I remained silent until she's finished.

This reminds me of the time when I was a teenager, a few years after I escaped from the living hell, and was living with my father. My father was—and still is—quite a man. He is blessed with the thought that he is a very clever person, and he can do no wrong. Yet most of the things he does in life would end up in failures. I could easily write a book about his failures, but for this post I just want to talk about his parenting style.

Dad simply hated seeing his sons doing the things that he didn't enjoy doing. When I went jogging, he was fast to say that that's a stupid activity. He preferred his sons to play with catapults (lastik), play with rubber seeds, or go fishing for karuk or jalak in the swamps. In fact, he expected his sons to be exactly the carbon copies of him. It never crossed his mind—and he doesn't get it even up to now—that not everybody likes or enjoys the things that he enjoys.

Now there are some things that I'd impose upon JJ, whether she likes it or not, such as going to school and maintaining decent grades, because I know that that will be very important to her in the later stages of her life. So there is nothing to discuss about as far as education is concerned. The only thing that will be discussed is when it's time for her to choose a career, what field of expertise to go into.

As a kid, many of us might have wanted something so much, but unable to get it; maybe a toy or to learn a skill like playing the piano. There is the tendency to impose upon our children whatever opportunities that we've missed. It's very easy to forget that our children may not like the things that we liked as a kid.

Swimming is an important skill, mainly on grounds of survival. So I imposed upon JJ to learn it. But beyond that, I'm not expecting her to be an elite swimmer, unless of course if that's what she wants to achieve. Whatever she wants to achieve, if I can afford to support her, then by all means.

I have to frequently remind Mia not to force JJ to live her dreams, unless if those are also JJ's own dreams. The kid will be turning 14 soon, and she has her own dreams to pursue, not ours. We need to learn to respect the kid as a person, by letting her grow up, and with very little of her life plans dictated by us. In other words, I'm trying to correct the mistake that my dad made all those years ago.

As a general policy, I very rarely overrule Mia's decision on what JJ should or should not be doing. For I don't want JJ to think that whenever her mommy says NO, she can come running to me in the hope of getting a YES. But sometimes there are exceptions to the general rule. And this case about the swimming lessons is one of them.

I sat there listening carefully to the lawyer explaining to JJ why she MUST continue taking swimming lessons. After the lawyer had finished with her arguments, JJ, still sobbing, said, "Mom, I don't want to continue with the swimming lessons." 

I asked JJ why. She gave me her reasons, and I said, "OK, you don't have to continue with the swimming lessons. It's up to you."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Backyard Monster

My house is located in a well developed neighbourhood within close proximity to the Likas Sports Complex. There are many, many housing estates in the area; and many types of development ranging from commercial estates to schools and churches etc. As a matter of fact if one were to view the area with the Google Earth, there are very few empty pockets of undeveloped lands.

Well, it just so happen that there is a small patch of undeveloped land at the back of my house. It's unlikely that it will be developed anytime soon, if ever, since it's made of an elongated land and probably not viable for development. So this vacant site is now overgrown with wild trees and thick undergrowth. At times, I can see huge monitor lizard roaming just outside the fence from my kitchen window. I have of course told a story about monitor lizard before here

There are many birds too. There are mango trees and a coconut tree, and whenever it's fruiting season, the squirrels would come in huge numbers. In the still of the night, one can hear the sounds of insects; and first thing in the morning, the birds would be chirping nonstop.

I bet there are many other creatures there among the trees, and from time to time, one can hear numerous weird sounds. It's hard to tell which animal is making which sound, but there is one specific sound that is spooking my maid. I suspect it may be the sound of frogs, but I can't be sure—it's hard to describe it, but perhaps it's fair to say that it sounds a lot like the sound one makes when feeling very satisfied with a big delicious meal. It goes something like, MMMMM!

That particular sound has been the subject of discussion with my maid for some weeks now. Of course we've been hearing that sound since a long time ago, but she only brought it up recently. From the way she talks to me, it seems like she's suggesting that there's a monster in our backyard. And me being me, I just can't resist spooking her! I said something like, "Maybe there is a monster there among the trees, just waiting to jump out if it sees you  in the backyard alone!"

I think she's still unsure whether I was serious or just joking. It happens that our washing machine is placed just outside our kitchen window, and of course each morning she'd have to go out there to deal with the laundry. But she's afraid of the "MMMMM" creature, so she would ask my mother-in-law to sit there to watch her while she does the laundry thing.

Now of course some of you would remember that my mother-in-law can hardly walk. She is forgetful; she sometimes wears her skirt nicely tucked into her panties when she dresses up for church. I'm just waiting for the day when she can't even remember her own name. That will be the cue for us to get professional help. I'm not sure what my maid expects my mother-in-law to do when and if the monster does emerge from the woods to grab her. Maybe she's expecting the old woman to do some Karate Kid stuff—you know—wax on, wax off? That is assuming that she won't faint before pulling off the stunt lah.

And then my maid has an even better idea. She told me that instead of using the kitchen door, she'd go through the front door and make her way to the backyard, so that when the monster decides to reveal itself, she can then run back to the front door. I was, like, "How is that gonna increase your chances of escaping the monster when compared to escaping through the kitchen door?"

Hmm...perhaps it's finally time for me to make a visit to Toys 'R Us to find a scary costume. I can then hide just outside the backyard fence and wait for the right moment to strike when it's time for the laundry chores. I guess Halloween will be much earlier this year; and it will be a lot of fun! The only thing that's stopping me is that my maid has hypertension; I suppose it won't be very funny if she suddenly drops dead. Oh well, sometimes my creativity scares me...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Famous Leader

About a week ago, I posted "The Challenge, The Bragging Rights & The Souvenir" in this blog. I thought that was my last post on the Borneo International Marathon 2016. Then a few days ago, someone spotted a cheater when sorting out the tons of photos at the finish line of the BIM. It was the photo of a lady running to the finish line twice, each time with a different bib. The earlier photo was that of the half marathon bib, which was way past the cut off time. The second photo was that of a full marathon bib, and it was within the cut off time. I suppose she eventually got the finisher medal and T-shirt for the full marathon, even though she ran—and DNF-ed—in the half marathon (because of time).

I will admit that it was interesting to know that someone would actually cheat like that, but I didn't think at the time it warranted a post in this blog. I mean, cheating cases in marathon races are not a new thing. There are many of these creatures out there. I saw the excitement on facebook, and people were beginning to criticize her size. As a matter of fact, a friend was also commenting on her size through Whatsapp, but I carefully refrained from participating. 

I'm not blaming the commenters; people are like that, when they are angry and frustrated, they will find any means of attacking the offending person, and the fact that she's fat became a convenient target. That's just human nature. But I will have none of it. I think it is just mean to criticize someone for being fat. All of us would love to be beautiful in every sense of the word, but we are just not perfect—all of us have weaknesses one way or another. Some of us simply can't control ourselves when it comes to cigarettes; others on drugs and sex; and yes, others still on food. If we're not so crazy about food, we may find it hard to understand why some people can't control their craving for food. But we wouldn't know what these fat people are going through each day, fighting perpetual hunger pangs, and seemingly failing all the time. I wish that we can find it in us to be kind and give them a bit of leeway; give them hope to achieve a healthier body.

Well, I thought the story would die off very soon. But then more photos began to surface. I shall not include the photos here, as I'm sure most of you would have seen them anyway by now. Suffice to say that three persons ran with the same full marathon bib that day, and all three ended up getting the medals and T-shirts.

Suddenly, the story became a big thing, and I've decided that I'd blog about it after all. But not because of the cheating; rather because one of the alleged cheaters was a so-called lecturer and coach in sports and fitness.

Before that, let me just share the modus operandi of how these people beat the system as best as I could piece them out. I have received numerous versions from different parties, each one slightly different, of course. 

The half marathoner ran her race. She failed to meet the cut off time by a huge margin, thus arriving at the finish line with no medal to bring home. Then the coach arrived at the finish line of his full marathon race, well within the cut off time. He got his medal and T-shirt. He had carefully put his bib in a clear plastic when he crossed the finish line, so that when the medal and T-shirt were given to him, instead of marking on the bib, the volunteer marked on the surface of the plastic.

Then came the second act. The bib was then taken out of the plastic and transferred into another plastic. Or perhaps the marker did not stick to the surface of the original plastic. So the DNF-ed half marathoner used that bib to go round to the entrance of the stadium, and duly made her way to the finish line again, this time within the cut off time for the full marathon. So she got the finisher medal and T-shirt for the full marathon.

A third runner followed suit. The only difference is that this time the bib was taken out of the plastic, because I suspect bib in plastic passing through the finish line 3 times might have attracted the attention of the volunteers. And so, the third runner (presumably another DNF-ed half marathoner) also got the medal and T-shirt for the full marathon.

Now let me say that as someone who loves puzzles and riddles a great deal, I admire the creative mind of the cheaters. The trick is so simple and beautiful; and in this case it worked wonderfully well to beat the system. These people have brains, I tell you! But what's more disturbing is that we have a leader that is instilling the wrong kind of mentality in his followers.

At this juncture, let me also mention another interesting, if laughable, version of how it happened. The full marathoner arrived at the finish line with his bib in the plastic. He received the medal and T-shirt. He was happy, and he changed into that finisher T-shirt for the photos. Except that in the process of changing shirts, his bib suddenly went missing, and he did not realise it, and probably stolen by the ladies who then took turns to cross the finish line to get their respective medals and T-shirts. A version of the story that not only put a smile to my face, but it quickly made me reconsider my verdict when I said these people have brains!

Shakespeare's Malvolio would probably have said something like this in reaction to this story:

"Some are born famous, some achieve fame, some have fame thrust upon them."

Well, a sports and fitness lecturer suddenly becomes famous—the fame thrust upon him, but for all the wrong reason. He is a famous leader, but not necessarily a great leader. I have always said that respect is earned, not an automatic right. One must behave respectably before he can expect others to respect him.

A Malay proverb goes like this:

"Guru kencing berdiri, murid kencing berlari."

Which basically means that if a teacher or leader does bad things, then his followers will tend to do even worse than him. Some of us who are leaders in whatever we do should revisit the question of what was it that we sought to achieve when we decided to become a leader. Was it because we wanted to help others to achieve excellence in our field of expertise, or was it because we wanted to turn them into nothingness?

As for the argument that "these people just want to run and have fun", my answer is, yes, of course, by all means, go and run and have lots of fun. Go run in the parks or highways. But when you join organised races, I'm afraid they are rules and regulations to adhere to by everybody. Nobody is forcing anybody to join races if the rules are too impossible to obey.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Challenge, The Bragging Rights & The Souvenir

I have always been a loyal supporter of our very own Borneo International Marathon (BIM). For better or worse, it is the only marathon event we've got here in Sabah for many years now. I've witnessed how the event grow from year to year, and I'm glad to say that it is still growing and improving all the time. The 9th edition of the event was last Sunday (1st May 2016), and I thought it was very well-organised. I'm not saying it is perfect, because there is no such thing as a perfectly-organised event!

It is human nature, however, that not everybody can agree to a particular point of view; and at the end of this post, I shall not be surprised if there are some of you who will disagree and even criticize my opinion. I respect the opposing views, and hope that you will just let mine go.

I suppose by now you can already guess from the preceding paragraph that there were some people who were unhappy with the organiser of BIM. These were because of numerous reasons—some were petty issues, some were of substance—but a lot of it revolved around the issue of the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts, especially in respect of the full marathon (42.2km); that is to say, who deserved them? At a glance, that sounds like a no-brainer question, because the answer seems so straightforward. But upon further consideration, it can become quite complicated!

About one-and-a-half years ago, I posted something about medals in this blog entitled "The Prostitution of Running Medals". To get a proper context of this present post, may I suggest that you read that older post first, since I've also mentioned a bit about the BIM in that post. Besides, the other contents in that post also have a bearing of what I'm about to discuss here now.

People run the marathon for numerous reasons. Some do it simply to prove that they can. Others do it because they are curious to know if they can. Others still do it because they are convinced that it is something healthy, though the truth in that remains to be debated. Whatever the reason, running 42.2km is an epic challenge for the vast majority of ordinary folks.

Curiously though, the point that is often forgotten is that anybody at any time and anywhere can run 42.2km if they want to. In some poor countries where motor vehicles are a luxury, some people may walk or run 42.2km almost on a daily basis. There is absolutely no necessity to run that distance only in an organised race like BIM. Yet most people choose to only run 42.2km in an organised race. Immediately we ask ourselves, why?

The simple answer is that humans quite often fall prey to the pathetic cravings for recognition; that they not only want to achieve a seemingly impossible feat, but they also want to brag about it! While they're at it, they may also inspire others to follow suit. That's where the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts come into play. Therefore, it is perhaps fair to say that people join organised races because they're hoping to earn the finisher medals and T-shirts in the end. That is easy enough to understand—one conquers a challenge, and he is duly given the recognition for that achievement.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. People come from all walks of life, in different shapes and sizes, and wide range of physical abilities. Some can finish 42.2km fast; some not so fast; some extremely not so fast.

A race is a race, and as in any other races out there, time is a significant factor. I think the organiser of BIM could afford to be lenient on time during the earlier years, because the size of the participation was very manageable. They had the resources to "babysit" the slow runners along the way after the cut off time, and saw to their safety until they crossed the finish line. However, as the size of participation became larger, it soon became obvious that it's an uphill task to keep an eye on the slow participants after the cut off times, whereupon the roads would be reopened for the public. The only solution was to be strict on the cut off time, because in the end the safety of the participants is paramount. If anything bad happened to the participants while they're out there with the organiser's bibs on them, the organiser will have a lot to answer.

Anyway, my view is that a cut off time is there for a good reason. Finish the race within the cut off time to earn the medals and T-shirts, no questions asked. From what I've gathered, last Sunday, participants that escaped the sweeper buses, but missed the cut off times when they eventually crossed the finish line, were still given the medals and T-shirts because the orgniser decided to be lenient for an extra hour. Why an "injury time" of an hour, that is entirely up to the organiser. Beyond that time, no medals and no T-shirts. I personally think that an hour's "injury time" was very generous.

Then we had the issue of participants whom did not finish the race, because they were "swept up" at the respective locations as per the rules announced before the race. They may have covered the distance of 30km or 37km respectively when the sweeper buses caught up with them. Yet they are convinced that they deserved the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts for 42.2km. I'm not sure what's their basis of entitlement. If you have read the older post that I quoted above, you will know how I felt about this. Well, my opinion has not changed since one-and-a-half years ago. If one did not finish the 42.2km, he does not deserve the finisher medals and T-shirts, period. There is really nothing to argue about!

If one were to sit for a test, of which the passing mark is 50%, it is at the discretion of the examining body to consider if it could grant a pass somehow if the score is 45%. But to expect earning a pass with 30% is just unreasonable. The sooner we change our mentality, the better we would be to understand what the race is all about. The medal is a symbol of achievement, and when earned according to the rules of the race, can also be a souvenir of that achievement. But it can't be a souvenir—and only a souvenir, without first achieving the minimum passing hurdle.

This reminds me of Macau Marathon which I joined a few years ago. They not only had a very tight cut off time, but missing that cut off by even a mere one minute would result in a DNF (Did Not Finish); and runners were not even allowed to enter the stadium leading to the finish line. Instead, they were redirected to an alternative area. So no finisher medals; there was nothing to argue about.

I hope our local runners would be willing to take a step back and consider these points; and what other organisers are doing. Instead of complaining, we should be energized and inspired to train harder. Let's all come back stronger and faster in the 10th edition of Borneo International Marathon 2017.