Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sundown Marathon 2012

A friend of mine, Judy Liew, ran the Sundown Ultra Marathon in Singapore last year. It was a 100km race—seemingly an impossible distance for a footrace with a cutoff time of 18 hours. But when Judy finished it in over 16 hours, my running buddy, Dr Peter, was inspired to try running that distance too this year. Initially, I thought it was a ridiculous distance to attempt; I dreaded the kind of commitment required for the training to conquer the feat. But because Peter wanted to do it, I somehow convinced myself to give it a shot too!

We waited for the launch of the race since last year. But unfortunately, as the months passed, there was no news on the status of the Sundown Ultra Marathon. By early this year, there were rumours flying around, that the Sundown Ultra Marathon has been cancelled; and only the usual marathon (42km) and the other shorter distances would be organised for 2012. I did not lose hope though; I think it must have been around March when I was searching for the Sundown Ultra Marathon online when I stumbled upon the Sundown Marathon instead. Well, it was fast approaching the closing date for registration, so I thought I'd just register first to keep my options open for the time being. And if I should decide to withdraw at the last minute, then at least I would arrange for someone to collect my running vest.

But then after I had registered for the marathon, I felt it would be a waste not to actually run it!

And so, last Friday I arrived in Singapore to run the Sundown Marathon shortly after midnight on Sunday morning. I had of course run quite a number of marathons by now. But I've never been any good at running night marathons. I have run 2 other night races before this, i.e. the Energizer Night Race in March 2010, and the Penang Bridge International Marathon in November 2010. The former (of which I only ran the half marathon) started shortly after sundown, whereas the latter started at 2am. And in both cases, I struggled to finish, let alone achieving personal best (PB) times. Therefore, I approached the Sundown Marathon expecting not to do very well. I have achieved a PB of 4:07:30 for the full marathon in Hong Kong last year. Then in December I did a 4:11 in Macau. Yet I had only targeted a 4:20 for the Sundown Marathon, thinking that that was a modest expectation.

Actually, the Sundown Marathon can be quite misleading—I think it should have been named the Sunrise Marathon as opposed to Sundown. The race was flagged off at 12:30am. I tried to catch some sleep in the afternoon, but my body clock wasn't cooperating. So I spent my time walking to the race venue from my hotel. It turned out that a leisurely walk took up to 20 minutes one way. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon watching reruns on tv in the hotel room.

At about 11:30pm I started out from the hotel to the race venue. As I was approaching the starting line, I was surprised to see the size of the crowd from the overhead bridge above—a sea of people! It reminded me why I don't enjoy the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.

After the flag off, I took a few minutes before I finally crossed the starting line. It was so difficult to run in such a crowd. And it took a long time to disperse too. But eventually, at about Km5, the crowd began to thin out a bit, and I was able to run more comfortably. So I started to build up some speed to make up for lost time. But still it wasn't very fast—I did the first 10km in an hour or so; and then the 21km mark in 2:05, which was quite slow considering that I just did a 1:55 half marathon (21km) in Brunei a few weeks ago. I thought I was on target for a 4:20 full marathon. But it wasn't meant to be.

Singapore is warm and humid at night, much the same as in Malaysia. It's strange that I started feeling tired shortly after the halfway mark. In my mind, I knew that it would be a struggle from then on. I kept my pace steady, however, up to about 25km when suddenly it started to drizzle. I was still in the East Coast Park then. I thought the drizzle was quite a relief as I could at least cool down my body. Unfortunately, it developed into a torrential rain with strong winds. All the runners were totally wet. My shoes were filled with water and they felt like they weighed a ton!

As I continued running, my legs grew increasingly exhausted, and by about 35km I could already feel the cramps in my left quads. I compensated my weight with my right leg, but eventually both my quads cramped up. And then the rest of the race was mainly a test of mental strength. I walked for a bit when the cramps were too unbearable; and started to run again when I felt better.

I fought on for what seemed to be an eternity (when one is in pain, time seems to pass extremely slowly), between the rains, and braving some uneven running surfaces and dark sectors of the route, I finally turned into the last stretch of Nicoll Highway again. By then I realised that I had failed to achieve my target of 4:20; not even 4:30. In fact, I eventually finished the race in 4:32:58, way adrift of my target!

One of these days, I want to try to run another night marathon. But I doubt that I would attempt the Sundown Marathon again. The crowd was just too ridiculous. I think perhaps the organiser should seriously consider flagging off the half marathon and full marathon categories at different times; say at least 30 minutes apart; perhaps even up to 60 minutes apart. Maybe that can reduce the size of the crowd at the starting line somehow.

But other than that, it was a well-organised race. Sufficient drink stations, and the distribution of finisher medals and finisher T-shirts at the end very efficiently done. For those who have not experienced a night marathon before, the Sundown Marathon is one which they should try.

Well, back to the drawing board! I need to fine tune my training and running strategy for the Standard Chartered KL Marathon in a few weeks from now. Let's see if I can achieve 4:20 for that race!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Politikus Cabbie

Whenever I travel, I have the habit of striking up conversations with strangers in the street, in the coffee shop, at the train station—in fact, almost anywhere I go to. It's quite interesting to talk to people; you'd be surprised at how much you can learn from these conversations. You get to see things from very different perspectives, through the eyes of people from all walks of life.

Therefore, whenever I ride in a cab, especially when it's a long ride, I take every opportunity to start a conversation with the cabbie. The topic can be about the stressful life in the city; about the traffic jams; and everyday stuff. And inevitably, sometimes politics would also crop up, although it's not my favourite subject.

I was in KL last week on a business trip. When it was time to come home to KK, I took a cab from Mid Valley to the airport—a journey that took about an hour. As we left Mid Valley, we started talking about cab fares, traffic jams and general stuff about how to get a taxi permit in KL. 

But soon after, the cabbie started talking about politics. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable topic, but I can't force others to talk only about the things I like to talk about, you see. Unfortunately, little did I know the cabbie got all too excited until our little conversation soon became a lecture. Before long, he was the only one who's talking, while I was reduced to just listening to him talk. Now many of those who really know me well would find that a bit extraordinary, because quite frankly, usually I'm the one who's doing most of the talking!

Apparently, according on his "survey", except for Melaka and Johor, all the other states in West Malaysia will fall to the Opposition Party in the coming General Election! 100% of the Chinese and at least 50% of the Indians will be voting for the Opposition. And at least half of the Malays will also vote for the Opposition. Heck, doesn't sound like it's gonna be very pleasant for the ruling party!

In the excitement of the political lecture, the cabbie suddenly asked me who I would vote for in the coming General Election. Well, looking at his demeanor, I quickly said "Of course I would vote for the Opposition!" (note the "of course"). I mean it's not a pleasant thought to get kicked out of the cab in the middle of nowhere, and then missing my flight home. He sighed a big relief upon hearing my answer—as if satisfied that he had successfully convinced yet another passenger to vote for the Opposition.

The truth is that I still can't make up my mind up to now! And that is very strange, really. I have all the reasons to vote the present government out of office—corruption is still rampant, racial politics is still the order of the day in spite of the "1Malaysia" rubbish, fair election is still a dream; too many reasons to kick all these people out!

The only trouble is that I have a hard time convincing myself that the Opposition can do any better. And I'm not a big fan of the notion of "changing a government for the sake of changing the government, in the hope that the new government can do a better job." I don't find the idea to "keep changing the government until we can get a good one" very amusing. 

If ever I vote for a new government, I must be convinced that that new government can do a better job; but right now, I just can't see anything better than the rotten deal that we've had for over half a century. I'm just unprepared to gamble whatever little that we have at the moment, on someone in the likes of Anwar Ibrahim; and of course most certainly not Jeffrey Kitingan (note that "of course" again).

But I admit that there are many, many people who are like the cabbie—they're convinced that they can get a better deal from the Opposition. Who knows, maybe eventually I will fall off the fence onto the side of the Opposition too?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Borneo International Marathon 2012—Reboot

Shortly after we were shocked by Andrew's sudden death almost a year ago, it dawned on us that the fate of the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) was hanging by the thread. Andrew was running the show almost single-handedly. It was also unfortunate that some parties were all out to kill the show. It was publicized in the local papers that the BIM was an illegal event. The popularity of the BIM was gaining momentum, but that word "illegal" had a curious effect of making potential sponsors shy away from the event. The scenario was gloomy at best, and the BIM seemed destined to die a natural death.

Then one fine day I received a call from some of my friends, calling for a meeting to discuss the fate of the BIM. We duly assembled at the Sutera Pacific Hotel where we were quick to decide in favour of reviving the BIM.

It wasn't smooth-sailing though; no—it was an uphill task. A sports body responsible for promoting sports which was all out to extort astronomical amount of money for a piece of letter containing its endorsement; so many red tapes to pass; financial issues since we had to start from zero! We had no money to pay for the mighty endorsement of the SAAA, let alone to actually finance the running of the event itself. It was clear that we would come to a dead end.

Then someone found a brilliant loophole in the system—we could still organise the event through a legal sports club.Within no time we have established a sports club known as the Kinabalu Running Club. Committee members were quickly chosen; responsibilities assigned. It was amazing how quickly things were put in motion. But money was still an issue. So some of the members contributed personal savings as seed money to get things started. And then suddenly the Borneo International Marathon was born again—still continuing the vision of the late Andrew Voon, but a total reboot in that is it no longer organised by Championship Sports.

Many people who run marathons are not aware of what's going on behind the scene in organising of such events. The thing is, it is not cheap to organise an event of this size. We are all professionals in our respective fields, but none of us are professional event organisers. We had to learn as we go along. Because of the limited funds, we had to be very, very creative on cost-saving. There were times when we arrived at dead ends, and it's amazing how the team members rose to the occasion to solve one problem after another.

The timing chip issue was a major concern, as it was obvious that we could not afford the cost. I had before this thought that it would probably cost something like RM5 per piece, but oh boy, how wrong was I! It was decided that we could provide timing chips for the full marathon and half marathon categories, but not the 10km category. Without sufficient sponsorship, it was impossible to provide timing chips for the 10km category.

Through the months, we had had many meetings with the City Hall; potential sponsors; the police; and so many other parties. The logistics were a nightmare, you won't believe it! This kind of event is typically handled by professional event organisers; yet there we were—people who had no background in organising a marathon, groping in the dark.

We did what we could, however, and promoted the event as best as we could. As we secured more and more sponsors, we were finally able to afford the timing chips for the 10km category too. But it was still not perfect, as we could not afford the cost of the starting mat, a fact that became obvious during the day of the race.

The task became daunting as we got closer to the day. Volunteers, medals, brochures, sponsors, drink stations, route markers and barricades and the timing of their deployment. Oh! so, so many things to do, and so little time to accomplish them all. We had very little or no sleep at all for about 36 hours until the end of the event. Throughout the entire duration of the race, we were all kept on our toes.

When the event finally ended, we all gave a big sigh of relief. Almost nobody had confidence that we could pull it off; and I don't blame them! Looking back at all those months, I'm still amazed and surprised that we actually organised the Borneo International Marathon 2012. It wasn't perfect, of course; I bet there will be many complaints in the days to come. But in spite of all odds, we have increased the participation from 2,200 last year to 3,600 this year. We changed the configuration of the race route and made the police much happier with the traffic condition. Although we were exhausted because of the event, we were rejuvenated when we received kind compliments from the participants.

Andrew, my friend, this is for you!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rotary Hunt 2012—The Apple That Caused The Excitement

The Apple has a strange habit of causing a lot of excitement to the human race. Eons ago, it got Adam and Eve into big trouble which resulted in them getting banished from the Garden of Eden. 

Then many, many generations later, on one fine day, Isaac Newton was inspired when he saw an apple fall to the ground. He then propounded the law of motion in the Principia. His discovery changed the human race forever.

And then many, many generations after Newton, the world was once again excited when Steve Jobs started a company named Apple. He went on to invent and reinvent so many computer gadgets and became a millionaire because of his inventions.

All those people above have long died, and I thought that was the last time we would get excited because of the apple. But I was wrong. Last Sunday, during the answer presentation of the Rotary Club of Kinabalu Sutera Treasure Hunt 2012, the apple once again caused something of a stir.



An interesting idea which involves a magnificent leap through several translations between English and Malay. First, the need to identify the cryptic keys—TEMPATAN and ASING. These are cryptic indicators that signal the translation from English to Malay (TEMPATAN); and from Malay to English (ASING). The idea is to translate "BANYAK KERJA ASING" to JOBS; in which case, the clue can then be simplified to:


That's the first part. JOBS in this case refers to Steve Jobs who created the company named APPLE. And that APPLE is then translated into Malay on account of TEMPATAN to derive EPAL—voila!

This thing about involving translations and adopting synonyms in hunt clues is not new. The idea has been used countless of times in the past, and it has been developed into several styles, especially in West Malaysia where we have so many hunt setters. And all too often, we see the same tendency of translating words in the clue into their synonyms, but eventually arriving at different branches of meanings which are far from the original "instruction" of the clue.

Now it has been said that the setter may not mean what he says; but he must say what he means.

The first part of the rule is quite clear—it is the whole idea of the cryptic clue; the surface reading of the clue is intended to deceive the solver. So the setter can say something and may appear like he means it in a particular way, but actually he means it in another way.

For example:

I love to have dinner after 1 (6)

A typical cryptic clue in which that first letter "I" is the definition part. The rest of the sentence is the cryptic part. Here, LOVE = O; HAVE DINNER = DINE; 1 = I (as a Roman numeral). 

So O + DINE after I = IODINE, which agrees with that definition "I" (chemical symbol of Iodine).

The setter appears to tell a story about having dinner, but his true intention is hidden; he has a different meaning in mind. So he may not mean what he says. He did say what he means, however, as a charade operation, by connecting all the synonyms of the original words in his clue. He did say LOVE = O; he did say HAVE DINNER = DINE; he did say to put those after 1 = I. So he has obeyed both parts of the rule.

In Q8 above, the setter also adopted the same approach, i.e. trying to deceive the solver by saying something that has in fact a different meaning from his true intention. So he has obeyed the first part of the cryptic clueing rule. 

But has he obeyed the second part of the rule? At first glance, it seems like he did. But did he, really? Let us analyse.

BANYAK KERJA ASING = JOBS (one of several other possible synonyms)


JOBS created APPLE (the company)



Therefore, the setter did not say what he means. What actually happened here was that when "BANYAK KERJA ASING" is translated into "JOBS", that intended purpose of "JOBS" has changed from the original meaning of the clue—that is to say the meaning has changed from a common noun to a proper noun, thus rendering the failure to satisfy the second part of the cryptic clueing rule.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rotary Club of Kinabalu Sutera Treasure Hunt 2012

The Rotary Club of Kinabalu Sutera Treasure Hunt 2012 was on last Sunday, 29th April. If I'm not mistaken, it's the first one ever organised by Rotary Club in KK. 29 teams ranging from beginners to regular hunters took part. The Clerk-of-Course for the hunt was Team Kena Tembak.

I had in my team, Claire as the driver, Vivian who recorded the answers, and Christy and myself as the tourists in the back seat. But although it's the first time we hunted together as a team, I still retained my original team name, Megapawns.

Unlike in the past, somehow I wasn't overly excited for this hunt—I don't know why. I slept like a baby the night before; whereas usually the night before any hunt in the past, I would be having trouble sleeping because of the excitement. Well, we assembled at Le Meridien Hotel in Sinsuran, which was the hunt venue, and had sang nyuk mien for breakfast, and was in good time for the final briefing at about 7:45am. We were then duly flagged off at 8am.

The hunt consisted of 40 route questions and 4 treasure questions; and time control was 5 hours plus 30 minutes penalty time. We were pleasantly surprised to note that the questions during the earlier part of the hunt were mainly easy ones—in fact, I'd say mostly give-away type. We swept through the Star City sectors fairly quickly, and soon found ourselves heading for the Sadong sector of which we stumbled upon a though question. I think we must have made several turns, perhaps spending up to 20 minutes or so just for one question. But in the end, we gave up after copying several possible answers. We told ourselves that if we had extra time at the end of the hunt, we would come back to this sector again to make another attempt. Here is that tough question:



The kind of riddle, which many of my West Malaysian (treasure hunter) readers would know by now, that I'm not a big fan of. But I will discuss further later in another post.

We were ahead of the other teams for the most part of the hunt, except that we were held up for quite a long time in Putatan area where we got stuck with this question:



A fairly short sector with comparatively few signboards. Yet, although I used to be a competitive chess player more than 10 years ago, I suffered the tragic blind spot syndrome during the hunt, and therefore failed to see the essence of the riddle for what it's worth. Seeing the clue now, I think it's a brilliant riddle from the CoC, and I'm happy that I had a chance to attempt it—though unfortunately, I failed to solve it.

We were ahead, I think, by at least 70-80 minutes when we finished answering all the questions (except for the one in the Sadong sector) when we arrived at the CKS Supermarket in Millennium Plaza. We had cracked the treasure clue for a pack of biscuits and we found it there. But the queue was so long, and I'd reckoned that it'd probably take us up to 20 minutes before we could clear the cashier. So because of trying to be smart, I told my team mates, we might as well buy the treasure elsewhere, since we had so much time anyway. Bad move!

It turned out that that treasure was extremely difficult to find. I think we must have stopped by at least 10 other places, ranging from convenient stores, petrol stations, supermarkets—zilch! After spending perhaps 45 minutes touring Lintas area up to Luyang, and making a big circle all the way to Jalan Bundusan, it dawned on me that the safest bet was to make the long pilgrimage back all the way to CKS Millennium Plaza. And of course by then every single car on the road was driving at snail's pace. I think I could feel my blood boiling, but I kept my cool. Claire did her part very well as the driver—she drove like it's a matter of life and death, hitting several road curbs along the way, tyres screeching and all. But when we entered Jalan Nosoob, it was obvious that we would incur the time penalty. The only thing we could do was to prevent from losing too many points on penalty.

Well, we finally found our way back to CKS Supermarket again, and bought that forsaken pack of biscuit, and as Claire was tearing down the road heading for KK, I kept looking at my watch like never before. Many roundabouts and traffic lights later, we arrived at the final stretch from Wawasan Plaza towards Le Meridien Hotel. And to our horror, the road was packed with cars bumper-to-bumper. I looked at my watch; we were already 2 minutes late. Claire went in between the road divider, jumping the long, long queue. But she could only go as far as the tiny roundabout next to Warisan Complex. The day before that I had my 30km long run, and my legs were still sore. So Christy had to get down and run that final 200 metres or so to Le Meridien Hotel.

It was a horrible mistake not to buy the biscuits the first time we had the chance to do so. A very costly mistake. Otherwise, we could have won the hunt. I knew that I would kick myself for a long time to come; it was just too silly; what a way to lose the hunt!

Just imagine my surprise when in the end we won the hunt anyway with quite a comfortable margin of 5 points. The score did not do justice to the kind of stress we—or rather, maybe I should say I— suffered during the hunt.

I think Team Kena Tembak did a very good job in setting a very balanced hunt in terms of difficulty. The questions satisfied the appetite of beginners and regular hunters alike. I hope for, and look forward, to a second Rotary Treasure Hunt next year.

Results (Full score 100pts):

1. Claire Andrew, Vivian Cham, Cornelius Koh, Christy Kong (87)
2. Frederick Samson, Teo Chen Lung, Leslie Yew, Dalglish Eugene (82)
3. George Ligunjang, Emmanuel Kissey, Richard Tsen, Liaw Lam Thye (80)
4. Harry William Koh, Buddy Jiliun, Sophia Lai (78)
5. Francis Omamalin, Eileen Yeoh, Lee Tze Jim, Rebecca Liew (74)
6. Ellen Yee, Liaw Yun Haw, Shirley Lim, Mary Lokupi (65)
7. Dominic Lansing, Gregory George, Claire Fabian, Dinah J Molijoh (64)
8. Insan Muslimin, Daisy Mark, Stella Moluntang, Felix Joikon (62)
9. Koh Len Yan, Wendy Voo, Erna Chan (55)
10. Edgar Pong, Richard Gontusan, Gopi Muniandy, Kaori Kawamoto (54)