Let me begin by apologizing to some of my friendsI lied to them; I said I wasn't gonna run the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon (SCHKM) this year. But actually, I had planned to run the race since almost a year ago! You see, I've been doing quite a number of races ranging from duathlon to triathlon to ultra trail marathons, and had no choice but to neglect my road marathon. It's been about 2 years ago since the last time I achieved a personal best (PB) in the full marathon (42.2km) in Hong Kong as reported here. Since then, I've been running a few more full marathons, but was never able to prepare for a PB. So a little over half a year ago, I made up my mind that I must make it a point to achieve a PB in the full marathon in 2013. That's when I decided that my best chance for a PB is the SCHKM. The terrain in Hong Kong is a bit undulating, but the temperature is ideal at about 18C.
When the event opened for registration, I secretly registered after trying for almost 6 hours. But eventually, I made it into the first group, flagging off at 6:40am. I also decided to keep my participation a secret, especially from my friend, Teo. I thought I'd surprise him in Hong Kong. In fact, I pulled off a similar stunt once during a triathlon event in Miri as reported here.
Only a few people knew of my secret mission. But it wasn't easy to expect them all to keep my secret. Of course women are not generally good at keeping secrets, but my friend, Hana, did exceptionally well. Because of what happened in Miri before, Teo and Paul, suspected that I have secretly registered for Hong Kong. But they couldn't confirm it. They tried so hard to investigate. At one point at the height of their obsession to find out, they conspired with another friend, Marjie, to secure my passport numbers which they then tried to check with the SCHKM website to verify my participation, but to no avail.
I was careful to book a different hotel, and also bought the latest possible flight to Hong Kong on the eve of the race. For months leading up to the race, Teo tried so hard to persuade me to participate, but I was apparently adamant with my decision "not to go". Teo wasn't convinced though. So I had to help to convince him a little bit. You see, Teo was on a mission of achieving a sub-2hr half marathon in Hong Kong. He had been training very hard for it. So when he departed KK on the Friday afternoon, I went to the airport to see him off with this placard.
I had to show my face at the airport to indirectly convince Teo that he's not gonna see me welcoming him at Hong Kong airport when he arrived there. Unfortunately, Teo was too excited to achieve his sub-2hr PB that he went into the departure hall about 2 hours before his flight! But I had achieved my purpose of going to the airport anyway. Judy, who was waiting for my placard brought it to Teo in the departure hall.
My plan was going well so far, but little did I know first thing the next morning, when it was my turn to fly to Hong Kong, Anslem and Amy were also on the same flight. I could trust Anslem to keep my secret, but I knew that my plan was in jeopardy because Amy is of the opposite gender! Still, I had hoped that she could endure 24 hours of secret-keeping. Of course that's a long shot when it comes to women, but I kept my fingers crossed.
We duly arrived in Hong Kong, and we parted ways. I went to my hotel near Times Square, whereas Amy and Anslem went to the hotel where the rest of the group was staying, including Teo. In fact the rest of the group had all flown to Hong Kong a day or two earlier.
After checking in to my hotel, I walked to Victoria Park to collect my race pack. There were not many people there by then. But on my way back to the hotel, I had quite a surprise. Of all the places in the world, of all the times, I suddenly noticed the mighty Teo Chen Lung ahead with the rest of the pack! There were many people around, of course, but he would notice me for sure! I ran out of ideas; all I could do was to stoop low in the crowd. I saw Teo walked pass me. What a relief.
They went to Victoria Park where they met Tey Eng Tiong and some other Malaysians. And then of course the inevitable photo-taking, culminating in this jumping photo which has become quite fashionable these days.
I thought they were kinda overdoing the jumping thing, especially Judy (in black). With a spread eagle pose like that, it can give rise to unhealthy thoughts for men. But of course healthy or unhealthy, it all depends on how you look at the matter.
But later on, Judy sent me a text message, and somewhere in that message, she said "...see you later!" together with a smiley at the end, and I knew that's as far as Amy could keep my secret. Still, I was hoping that she didn't tell Teo.
I went around the city hoping to catch a movie, but in the end abandoned the idea. Later I went back to the hotel and finally fell asleep a little past midnight. I woke up at about 4:30am and went through the usual race-day ritual, finally leaving the hotel for the race venue at about 5:30am. The timing was just nice. I reached the starting point about half an hour before the flag off, and after depositing my drop bag, it was just a short wait before the countdown.
The thought that this was supposed to be the "faster group" of runners of 4-hours or less. But actually, after the flag off, the crowd was moving painstakingly slow. It wasn't till about 3km later when I was able to break free. But by then, I was a bit of a "deficit" in terms of time for my sub-4hr target. So I had to put in a bit of effort to regain some lost time. I had originally planned to run a constant 5:30min/km average pace, but because I've lost a bit of time, I had to run between 5:00-5:10min/km. That wasn't in my original plan, but I had no choice if I wanted to keep my sub-4 dream alive.
I eventually arrived at the 10km mark in a little over 55mins just as I had planned. So I was able to relax and eased down to about 5:30min/km pace. I was still feeling fresh at that point, but anyway it was still too early to tell if the 5:00-5:10min/km had an effect on my race.
I maintained that average pace, but when I went downhill, I took the advantage to increase my pace. Well, I reached the 30km point in about 2:40 and was very pleased that I was still feeling great! At that point of the race, I felt like I had a shot at a 3:45 finish. I thought I'd continue running at 5:20-5:30min/km up to around 35km, and then beyond that point if I still felt OK, perhaps I'd increase my pace for a strong finish. Running the remaining 12km within 1:05 seemed very achievable; it wasn't even very fast!
I finally went into that long tunnel under the sea. It's a long down-slope section, and I was happily running until I emerged on the other side when there's a sudden sharp climb. Immediately I could feel both my quads seizing up. I knew then I was in trouble. The thing about cramps is that once you get it, there is really no cure. It won't go away for the rest of the race. You just have to manage it, and hope to endure till the end! For the next 7km or so, I was running at pathetic pace, ranging between 7-8 min/km with occasional walking breaks. Thankfully, however, I had built up a big enough time buffer during the earlier stages of the race that I was still comfortably within the sub-4hr margin. All I had to do was to keep going.
The final few kilometres, as always, was the toughest part of the race. But when I arrived at the 40km mark, in spite of the pain in my legs, I was feeling happyI knew that I've achieved my mission in Hong Kong. I eventually crossed the finish line, and looking at my Garmin, pumped my fist in the air.
Judy was running in the second group, and judging from her pace during training, I thought she should be able to achieve at least a 3:50 finish in Hong Kong.
But as always, she had a bit of trouble controlling her appetiteshe ran too fast in the beginning, and then paid heavily at the tail end of the race, hitting the "wall" after passing the 30km mark. Still, she achieved her PB and finished in 3:56.
Anslem and Amy ran together throughout the race, eventually achieving sub-4 finish too, i.e. 3:57. These are the happy faces at the finish line.
You may wonder what happened to Teo and his sub-2hr mission? Well, he ran his perfect half marathon in Hong Kong and achieved his target to a marvel; he finished in a 1:51 in dramatic fashion, with the final 100m sprint in what appeared like an Usain Bolt Olympics performance. The expression on his face was of course not something to be recommended for small children to seeas it may cause nightmaresbut decidedly it was an expression that was impossible for the photographers to miss!
For the benefit of those who don't know Teo, that's him at the bottom (ignore the photos above).
SCHKM is a historic day for a few others from KK too. Fabian O. Daimon, the top Sabahan runner achieved a PB of 2:41 in the full marathon. Paul, although not very happy with his time, finished his half marathon with a PB in 1:56. Dr Heng made a debut 10km and was obviously very pleased to conquer the distance, though not really concerned about the time. Ah Diong finished yet another half marathon, but although he did not achieve a PB, he was happy nonetheless for the PB he achieved with his drinking sessions. Heng's son, and Paul's wife, Joe, Audrey, Jai Malik and Victoria did very well too.
It was a day of PBs and record breaking affair; quite an outing for our Sabahan group. Congratulations and well done, y'all! But of course none of us could beat Teo's achievement. I'm sure anyone would know by just looking at his expression.
Now I'm trying to convince Teo to run a sub-4hr full marathon next year. But, oh boy, I'm afraid to even imagine his facial expression then!