Monday, April 9, 2012

Standard Chartered Brunei Half Marathon 2012

The Standard Chartered Brunei Half Marathon, which was held on 08 April 2012, was a very strange event—in spite of its name, there were only 180 participants in the half marathon (21km) race from all the categories combined. And I'm sure some of those who signed up for this race did not show up on the race day. The rest of the almost 5000 participants were those from the other categories, i.e. 10km, 5km and 2.5km (fun run).

I did not originally plan to join this race, but I somehow found myself at the starting line of the half marathon race last Sunday. It was kinda weird to see such a small crowd, and there were some familiar faces from the KK City Run the week before. Anslem and Amelia were there; and Judy, Hana, John Chin, Fabian, Audrey, Lynda, KD, Jai, Victoria, and some other Sabahan friends. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Ahmadul at the starting line.

The last time I ran a half marathon was almost a year ago in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon, in which I set a personal best (PB) of 1:58. It seemed quite a long time ago, and I have since gone on to longer races, including ultra trail marathons up to 100km long. After I arrived home from the Hong Kong Vibram 100km in February, I had a bit of problem with my right knee; and it took some weeks for recovery. I reduced my long runs substantially, but I worked on my speed during my midweek runs to compensate. However, I approached the Brunei half marathon without much hope of achieving a PB.

At the sound of the start horn, the front runners, led by the elite Kenyans, rushed out and within few seconds there were out of sight at the corner. Based on my training over the last few weeks, I reckoned that I could average about 5mins/km, but when I ran the KK City Run, which was a 10km race, the week before, I finished in 52:40. According to my plan, I wanted to do the first 10km in the Brunei race within 55 minutes. And then hope to finish the remaining 11km within an hour or so.

I took my time to build up my pace. After a few seconds, I caught up with Anslem and Amelia. They were running a steady pace, and it's obvious that they've learnt quite a lot about pacing from the 4 half marathons they've run within the last few months. I overtook them all the same, but kept a steady pace down the long road down to the town centre. However, as I came up to the km4 route marker, I was fairly surprised that I took just 19 minutes to cover that distance—obviously too fast for my plan. So I forced myself to slow down, because knowing that there will be some hills within the second half of the race, I knew that I would get into trouble if I failed to save some energy to deal with that part.

By Km6, I had slowed down to 31 mins. In anticipation of the climb beginning from Km9, I consumed a power gel at the water station at Km6. I carefully reduced my pace a little further, and by the time I arrived at Km9, I saw a 49 mins on my stopwatch. It was quite a punishing climb, but I took it one step at a time. In the end, I achieved my target 10km in exactly 55mins. So the first part of my plan perfectly executed.

Immediately after Km10, which was at the top of the hill, was a long downgoing stretch for about 1km, and I took full advantage by extending my strides, thus building up my pace to perhaps 4.5mins/km. It didn't last very long though; when I reached the flat road again, I resumed my steady pace, but this time I upped it a bit to about 5.5min/km.

It was then about 7am, and the morning sun had begun heating up the asphalt roads. Shortly after I turned the corner, I was somewhat surprised to see John Chin on the other side of the road, as I had expected him to be at least 2km or 3km ahead of me by then. And a little further down that road, I reached the turning point. We merged with the 10km runners, but it wasn't a problem because the entire road had been closed; so we had plenty of room to accommodate all the runners.

More slopes ahead, and as I was approaching the Km14 water station, I noticed John Chin struggling up the slope. It was obvious that he was in trouble, but he braved the hills anyway. I came up behind him and maintained a steady pace for about 50m or so before finally overtaking him.

There were many more slopes ahead, but according to my plan, I consumed my second pack of energy gel at the water station. I struggled up the slopes, but when it was downgoing, I took full advantage by increasing my pace. Finally, we got back to the main road. I could already feel the exhaustion in my quads. At that point, I had about 3km to go. I could feel the sun scorching my back. I turned back for a bit but couldn't see John in the crowd. A little while later, I reached the roundabout, and making a left turn, I knew that we had about 1.5km to go to the finish line.

But suddenly I felt exhausted. I slowed down substantially. Looking at my watch, I was happy to note a 1:50, and I knew that I would be achieving a new PB there and then. But there's no time to daydream. There's still work to do! I ran a bit further before turning back, and to my horror, I saw Anslem and Amelia from afar, running with a steady pace! I was thinking to myself that if it came down to a final sprint, I could be in trouble. I had visualized this moment weeks ago during my preparation for the race. Anslem and Amelia had both achieved a 1:58 for their half marathon in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago. That was my PB which I set in KL at year ago. So I knew that they will be close on my heels in Brunei. I slowed down to a briskwalk for a short "rest". My idea was to prepare my legs for the final homestretch sprint, just in case it became necessary.

As the power couple approached a little closer to me, I started running again. And shortly after that I reached the corner leading to the final homestretch. I wasted no time—stretching my legs into a Kenyan-like fashion gallop, I ran that final 100 metres or so as if I had just started my race! I finally crossed the finish line in 1:55:04.

Anslem and Amelia arrived about a minute later, followed by John shortly after. When it was over, I was ecstatic! Judy was there at the finish line; she had finished in 1:49:21 and got 4th in the Women's Open category. Amelia finished in 1:56:09 in 6th position.

And what of my 1:5504? Well, unfortunately, there were no age categories—everyone had to run in the "Open Category", and I only managed a 48th position in the Men's Open. I'm still very happy with my new PB though. And after some minutes lingering around, it suddenly occurred to me that it will be extremely difficult to improve on that new PB!

One by one the rest of my friends arrived at the finish line. Hana finished in 2:10—also a new PB, having improved from a previous 2:32 in 2010. Needless to say, she was happy with her achievement, and her smile said the rest. She obliged to take a photo with the other ladies in this daring back-breaking pose (she's the one on the left) that would cause Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer to lose their sleep!

Of course I, too, took some photos, and unfortunately I made the mistake of standing beside my friend, Ahmadul Tahir (he finished in 1:35), whose huge muscles made me look like a pathetically small chap! I think I will take a very long time to forgive Hana for forgetting to remind me to stand between her and Amelia. I'm sure I would've appeared much bigger and tougher had I stood between them.

Well, although I did not expect it, the Standard Chartered Brunei Half Marathon turned out to be quite an enjoyable race after all. I won't mind joining again next year!

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