Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Standard Chartered KL Marathon 2012

It is strange that although I've been running races since 2008, I have never run a full marathon in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM). I have run quite a number of races in KL, of course, but for shorter distances. If I'm not mistaken, before this, the longest race I've joined in KL was for 30km only. Last year, I ran a half marathon in the SCKLM. But this year, I decided to join the full marathon in the SCKLM. The main reason was because this year I did not run the Borneo International Marathon in May, because I was a member of the organising committee.

About a month ago, I ran the Sundown Marathon in Singapore and I finished in 4:33 in spite of my target to achieve 4:20. I'm not sure why I failed. Maybe it was because of the heavy rain; maybe it was because I couldn't get enough sleep before the race. But it made me think that perhaps I'm just not destined to achieve anywhere near 4 hours for the full marathon within Malaysia or Singapore. So my mission going into the SCKLM was to achieve a 4:20 finish. My personal best (PB) is 4:07. But that was set in Hong Kong at a temperature of about 18C.

My game plan for SCKLM was to run a steady pace throughout the race. However, from my past marathons, I knew that I would slow down significantly beyond the 30km point. So I had planned to run an average pace of 5:40-5:45 mins/km for the first 30km. After that I had expected to slow down to perhaps 6 mins/km or even 7 mins/km, especially since I was aware of the hilly route within the last 6-7km.

I found myself at the starting line at Dataran Merdeka at about 4:15am. It was a huge crowd. But since I was just targetting for a 4:20 finish, I decided that there was not much point to squeeze myself through to the front of the pack.

At the sound of the start horn, it took a minute or two to finally cross the starting line. And even after I've crossed that line, it was still difficult to run. But a few metres later, I was able to start jogging. I think that was a blessing in disguise, as I was able to gradually build up my speed. According to my Garmin, I ran that first km at about 6.5 min/km. But beyond that I was able to maintain about 5:40 mins/km. I felt strong and fresh even after 7-8km, and I had to suppress my inclination to run faster.

It must have been about 5km into the race when I realised that my friend, Judy Liew, was running ahead. She was running beside her boyfriend. Knowing that she's running close to the 4 hour marathon pace, I carefully refrained from overtaking her.

I maintained that pace until 24km - 25km when suddenly Judy stopped at a water station, and I just continued running. A little later, perhaps at Km27, I saw Dr Liaw ahead. As I approached closer to him, I realised that he was slowing down. I overtook him, and a few hundred metres later, when I stopped to drink at a hydration station, I saw him seeking help to nurse his cramps.

As I had expected, I began to feel a bit tired when I was approaching 30km. Just as I was about to turn into the hills, Judy came from behind. As I began to climb the slope, I could feel that my legs were beginning to seize up. Fearing that it would develop into a full-fledged cramp, I had to slow down. At that point, Judy went ahead, and I merely watched her building up the gap between us.

A few kilometres later, at about Km36, I saw my friend Khadeeja cheering from the roadside. She took this photo of me.

For the most part, I try my best to prevent heel striking when I run. In fact, I still do at this point, even though it appears very much like I was heel-striking. But no, when my weight fully came to rest on that foot, it's completely flat on the ground—honest!

That hilly portion of the route was so punishing that I had to slow down to a briskwalk. If I had forced myself to run, I'm sure my legs would have seized up and I would be in big trouble. Judy, however, pushed on bravely over the hills. A short while later, it was time to descend, and I was able to build up speed again.

As we approached the last few kilometres of the race, we merged into the 10km runners and it became quite congested. And then upon turning into the final stretch, we merged with the half marathoners. But the road was wide enough, and I was able to squeeze my way through without much difficulty.

And then to my surprise, my friend, KK Chai, called out my name. I slowed down just a bit for him to take this photo.

Judy was still ahead of me, but I could see she was already very slow. After the race, she told me that she suffered cramps towards the end of the race. But she was still steady as she approached the finish line.

Courtesy of Tey Eng Tiong

I ran the remaining few hundred metres, gaining speed and finishing just a few metres behind Judy. It doesn't really matter how many marathons one had conquered; the ending of a race is always very exhausting! I'm happy that I've managed to do better than 4:20, but unfortunately, I was unable to improve on my PB. Perhaps reason enough to return for another attempt next year?

After collecting my finisher medal and finisher T, I limped slowly to my hotel. And on my way there, I bumped into KK Chai again for the second time that morning. He took this photo of me.

The SCKLM was a well-organised event. The volunteers did a good job. But I stayed at a nearby hotel, so I did not experience the shuttle buses or car park. Neither did I deposit any bags while I run. But I have no reason to doubt that the organiser must have done a good job.

As always, we come to that funny moment after the race. Spending weeks training for the race; spending hard-earned money for the flights, hotel and other expenses; plus the torture of running 42km in the wee hours of the morning with absolutely no chance whatsoever of winning the race, I come home with sore legs and this medal.

Here are the net times of some of my fellow runners from KK:

Full Marathon:
Cornelius: 4:09:22
Judy Liew: 4:10:37
Liaw Yun Haw: 4:30:35
Victoria Jingulam: 6:14:08
Jainuddin Malik: 5:27:41

Half Marathon:
Audrey Tuzan: 2:32:59
Erlinda R B: 2:18:33
Harry Koh: 2:41:35
Nur Abidah Ramlan: 2:37:24
Md Jumat Md Tahir: 2:22:27
Darren Jee: 2:10
Esther Sim: 2:20:56
Patricia Ratnam: 1:58:36

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Sadistic Inclination

It's been a long time since the last time I went up Mount Kinabalu. I've been up there 11 times, and it's highly unlikely that I will ever attempt it again. Some time in my late thirties, I developed the altitude sickness, and whenever I went up the mountain, I would suffer terribly, and would take a few days to recover.

It's interesting, however, that whenever I climbed the mountain on my way up to Laban Rata, I'd bump into other mountain climbers who were on their way down. Pretending to be a first-timer mountain climber, I'd ask them how much further to reach Laban Rata. In most cases they would say something like "Almost there!"; or "Just a little bit more", even if it was in fact very much further still to go!

Since I started running races a couple of years ago, I have noticed an interesting tendency about people in general. I run races of varying distances; and more recently, I have done ultra trail marathons up to 100km. In some of those races, when I was exhausted and hoping for the torture to end as soon as possible, I took the trouble to ask the Marshals "How much further?".

The strange reality about asking Route Marshals about remaining distances is that an overwhelming majority of them would deliberately tell you a much shorter distance than it really is. From what I've been through, I'd say easily 80% of them would purposely give you the wrong information—saying something like "Oh! about 3km to go...", when they know that there's actually 5km to go.

In the recent Borneo International Marathon, of which I was involved in overseeing the race routes, I found myself at the tail end of the race route, ie about 1.5km to go to the finish line. And I took the trouble to announce to the runners that they had 1.5km to go. That was the truth. A fellow Route Marshal who stood beside me then said that I should have told the runners that they had only 500 metres to go.

I turned to him and asked why would I lie about the distance? He smiled as if embarrassed by my question, and seemed lost for ideas. But after a while, he said he would lie because he wanted the runners to be encouraged to run faster.

However, in most cases, when these runners run the subsequent 500 metres much faster, they would end up even more exhausted; yet they'd still have 1km to go thereafter. The pain would be even more. In fact, in all likelihood, they may even end up walking to the finish line. I'm convinced that my fellow Route Marshal knew this for a fact, yet he chose to lie about the distance anyway. Immediately we ask ourselves—Why?

Sometimes when faced with a difficult question, there is a tendency to offer the easiest and most logical answer. But the easiest and most logical answer is not necessarily the truth.

There is a psychological significance to this.

Some people do it consciously; others do it sub-consciously. But the truth is that somewhere in all of us there is that sadistic inclination, whether you want to admit it or not. There is that strange craving for seeing or causing pain and suffering upon others. The only question is to what degree. We derive some sort of strange pleasure of seeing others suffer the disappointment and torment of having to continue yet another 1km when they had expected the torture to end.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A New Toy—Garmin 910XT

I have a Polar watch which comes together with a footpod and a heart rate monitor (HRM). I used it for some months for training. But after a while I stopped using it. I have come to realise that footpods are inaccurate. In fact, very inaccurate; even when worn by the same runner. For a distance of say 25km to 30km, the margin of errors may be up to a few kilometres. So in the end, I bought a cheap CASIO digital watch.

Then recently I came to know that my friend, Judy Liew, had a Garmin sports watch—the 910XT. Judy is also an avid runner, you see. But for a long time, I noticed that she had a weakness in controlling her starting pace whenever she runs marathons. She had the tendency to run too fast at the beginning, only to burn out too soon and then suffer the consequences at the tail end of the race. This is of course a common problem in many runners. I happen to know a number of runners who can run the half marathon in under 2 hours quite easily, yet when they run the full marathon, they can't do any better than 5 hours!

Well, the 910XT helped Judy during the recent Borneo International Marathon (BIM). She wore it to gauge her pace throughout the race. With it she was able to constantly check her pace. She ended up achieving a new personal best in the BIM and got second in her category.

I didn't really think very much of the Garmin 910XT, until a few weeks ago when I was running together with Judy on a Sunday morning. She wore the 910XT and was able to keep track of our pace. She was also able to tell me the distance covered. Having been through that same route many times before, I realised that the distance recorded by the 910XT was quite accurate. After all, it's relying on the GPS technology.

However, it is kinda bulky, especially when worn by women. Even on a man's hand, it is kinda bulky, but at least it's not too bad, since men's hands are generally bigger than women's. According to Judy, she's not a big fan of all these gadgets for running; she's only using it for the time being. She said in the long run, once she's learned how to control her racing pace, she won't wear anything when running marathons!

"Goodness gracious, Judy!", I exclaimed, "at least have the decency to wear a pair of panties and bras!"

Anyway, to make the long story short—even if that seems to be an impossible thing when it comes to me—I ended up buying a Garmin 910XT myself. It arrived yesterday afternoon by courier service. It came with a chest strap for a heart rate monitor, as well as a bunch of daunting user's manual in many languages. Then other accessories, e.g. the charger, pendrive and some other stuff which I haven't figured out what they are. I think I'll just put them all away in the original box, and one of these days when I have the time, maybe I'll investigate what they're all about.

This morning, I charged the battery and then tried to play around with it a bit. Learned a thing or two, but for the most part, I haven't a clue what more it can do. This evening, I tried it out at the Likas jogging track for a short run. Generally, I'm quite happy with it—it recorded the distance very accurately; and consistently. There was a mention of a "virtual partner", which I'm going to explore in the coming days—or weeks—but it seems very interesting.

According to the information on the box, the 910XT is designed for triathlons. Which means apart from running, it could also be used for swimming and cycling. Maybe by a stroke of miracle I would eventually learn how to use it for the other disciplines, but I doubt that it will be very soon. You see, I had originally planned to complete a triathlon this year, but I have developed a bit of problem with my ears which has rendered swimming out of the question for now. Then again, I've never been any good in swimming as reported here. So it seems like I will save 910XT's feature for swimming for later. But of course I can still explore its use for cycling since that has nothing to do with water getting into my ears.

Incidentally, I will be running the Standard Chartered KL Marathon next Sunday. So I'm gonna run with a new bulky toy on my hand for a change. Of course I won't be able to run as fast as Judy, so I guess I will miss the opportunity to see her running without wearing anything. 

Another week to go, bring it on!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Time To Tell About Telling Time

About 2 months ago, a friend of mine introduced to me an Indonesian woman who was looking for a job as a maid. I was kinda desperate for one, and I did not quite bother about the interviewing part of the process. She's not young—in fact, she's in her fifties. She had no working experience in her entire life. All these years she's been raising her children in her village in Indonesia; and now that they're all grown up, she reckoned that perhaps she could use her remaining years to earn some money.

She knows a bit of A-B-C, but of course she's not a highly educated woman. The day she arrived at my house, I had to teach her how to lock the doors and how to use the padlocks. She had a curious phobia of my cooking stove. She'd light the stove by reaching out her hand and trying to keep her distance as far as possible, as if afraid that the stove would explode. She said in her village she had never used modern cooking stoves; that she has always been using firewood in her kitchen. That first night, she threw chicken bones into my kitchen sink and I had a tough time to unclog the drain pipe.

Over the next few weeks, we managed to teach her how to use the cooking stove; that frozen stuff should go into the freezer, whereas the vegetables and fruits should go into the lower compartment of the fridge. She also learned how to use the electric kettle. She has even learned how to use the phone. After about a million reminders, she has managed to program her brain to lock all the doors before going to bed at night. She is still essentially a forgetful person, but I suppose I can't expect her to be perfect. However, even if she's not perfect, I'm expecting at least a minimal standard.

She is always having stomach ache, and although I'm not a doctor, I believe it has a lot to do with her inconsistent eating habit. She doesn't really eat at the same time each day. Sometimes she'd eat her breakfast very early; sometimes late; sometimes none at all. Same goes for lunch and dinner. So I've been reminding her to eat her meals at around the same time every day. That, I think, may help to solve her problem. But I'm disappointed that she doesn't heed my advice. She would sometimes eat her lunch at 2pm or even 3pm. She has no sense of time, you see.

Oh well, I guess if that has been her lifestyle in her village, I can't expect her to change overnight just because I tell her to. But then I'm not happy when her ignorance to time is affecting my family. Time and again when we told her to cook lunch or dinner at specific times, she would disobey. At first, I thought she did not understand the instructions. But even after we repeated several times, and in fact we asked her to repeat the instructions, we were satisfied that she understood our instructions. Yet, when it's time for lunch or dinner, she's always either cooking too early or late.

Each time when we ask her why she hasn't started cooking at the specific times according to our instructions, she'd say something like "I forgot", or "I was confused" or "I thought you said...". During her off days, too—when she visits her relatives—she can never get her time right. And I find that very annoying because I'm the one who's supposed to fetch her from the bus stop in the city. She would be either too early or too late.

How should I deal with the problem?

Well, this is a bit ambitious, but I've dug up my digital clock which comes with a time stamp (I usually use it when I'm clerking a treasure hunt). I'm putting this clock in the kitchen and told her to refer to it; for the moment forget about the clock on the wall which is the type with the hour, minute and second hands on it.

Knowledge, as we all know it, is very powerful. But sometimes, we tend to take things for granted. Things such as knowing how to tell the time by looking at the hands of a clock is almost expected of everybody! It's almost embarrassing to admit that we don't know how to do something which the vast majority of the human race knows how to do it. But would you believe it, there may be some people out there who don't know how to tell the time! I know she will never admit it, but let's see if she can remember our instructions with the help of this digital clock.