Friday, March 28, 2014

The Fun Run

I had an interesting conversation with a friend shortly after the Borneo International Marathon last year. He was, and still is, a member of the organising committee. I meant to write something about that little conversation, but I eventually forgot to do so!

Then a chance remark a member of the Kota Kinabalu Running Club made when we were discussing about hydration station. I said the first station is about 5km from the start, and he responded that he didn't think that the first water station is a big deal. He added that at 3am in the morning, if you need water that badly after having run only 3km, you've got bigger problems to sort out!

I couldn't help but smile and shake my head when reading his comment, and I'm reminded once again of that conversation I had with my friend from the organising committee.

Now in most running events, there will be several categories to account for the different distances. Generally speaking, the main crowd puller will be the shorter races such as 5km or 10km. Those distances seem very, very doable even for people who hardly ever run in their lives. However, the shortest category in the BIM is the 10km, not the 5km.

Although the 10km is a race of its own, many people register for it not to race, but rather to simply finish the distance. It is to them just a "fun run". If necessary, they will just walk the whole distance and they might still finish it within the cutoff time of 2 hours. To walk a distance of 5km per hour doesn't seem like a very difficult thing to do and at least on paper almost anybody can do it! With that in mind, many people who enter the 10km race are not very serious in preparing for the day. As mentioned earlier, it is just a fun run to them. Maybe some people don't prepare at all!

But last year during the BIM, my friend received a distress call from one of the marshals stationed at the Perkasa Roundabout in KK. That is approximately 4km from the Likas Sports Complex where all the categories started. 2 of the runners were suffering severe leg cramps and could no longer continue with their race. They requested for an ambulance to be despatched as soon as possible.

One would imagine that perhaps it's reasonable if one of the full marathoners got into trouble at say Km30. Or maybe one of the half marathoners got a cramp at Km15. But in this case it's 2 runners running in the 10km category. They had severe cramps and couldn't continue after having run only 4km. I was like, "What were they thinking?"

This is not about me trying to belittle people who can't run 5km or 10km. No, the point I'm trying to make here is that it's too easy to underestimate the kind of stress we put our bodies to. That is one way how things can go horribly wrong in some of these events. It's not too bad if it's just a case of severe cramp, but people can just suddenly drop dead! Surely that is not a fun way to end a fun run?

So please do yourselves a big favour by training for whatever event you want to run, however short the distance. It may be a life and death matter.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Borneo International Marathon—The Full Marathon Route

The Borneo International Marathon (BIM) will be held in about 5 weeks' time on 04 May 2014, and there will be some participants running it for the first time. The vast majority of those who run the marathon are people doing it for the sake of conquering the distance, but not overly concerned with how fast they can do it. They're happy as long as they can do it within the cut off time set by the organiser.

However, there will be some runners who will want to finish the race as quickly as possible. They train hard for a few months leading up to the event, and they will try to gather as much information as possible to help them come up with a racing strategy. I am one of those who'd like to challenge myself to keep improving on my time even though I'm aware that there is just no way I can win anything! I very rarely run races just for the sake of finishing, although last year was an exception as reported here.

There is a brief description of the full marathon route as well as a downloadable map in the official website, but there is no mention of the terrain. I thought it might be a good idea to share with my readers what to expect in the BIM full marathon route, and hopefully you can use the information to achieve good timing.

But let me deal with some minor issues first. I was talking to a member of the organising committee just recently, and I was informed that there is a possibility that all the categories will start outside the stadium, although still within the Likas Sports Complex. This may or may not result in a slight adjustment in terms of distances, but we're getting some qualified persons to officially measure the distances again to make sure that they conform to the so-called international standard.

Now the full marathon route brings the runners into the Kota Kinabalu city centre first starting at 3am, and it will be a flat surface for about 6.5km. After that, there will be an approximate 300m of gentle climb to Bulatan Nenas (Nenas Roundabout), followed by a short distance of flat surface before descending on the other side for about 100m to Jalan Tuaran. It may interest some of you that the first hydration station is about 5km from the start.

I don't foresee the 300m of gentle climb mentioned above will be of much trouble to most runners, as it's still fairly early in the race and just shortly after the hydration station. But it's still worthwhile keeping it in mind. An even milder gradual climb between Km7 and Km8, which is hardly noticeable to most people. Beyond that it will be almost fully flat again throughout up to a complete loop to reach the Likas Sports Complex again. That complete loop is about 11km.

Runners then head out to the coastal highway once again, but this time upon reaching the roundabout they will turn north, away from the Kota Kinabalu city centre. All this will be on generally flat surface up to approximately Km16 when runners make their way up the arched bridge across Sungai Likas. However, it's not a very long distance. Down the other side again to a flat road, and it will be quite a pleasant run until approximately Km17.5 where there will be a hydration station (it's a good idea to consume an energy gel at this station in anticipation of the coming hills) followed by a slightly undulating portion of about 500m.

Runners will then find themselves at the traffic lights at the main entrance of the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS). A few hundred metres straight road into the UMS compound before reaching a huge roundabout and then turning to 3 o'clock the climb of about 700m-800m. Now bear in mind that this is almost halfway of the 42km for the full marathon, so it will be quite a challenge for many runners. But the good news is that there will be a long descent on the other side and runners can therefore run faster. Then a short while later the climb from the other side to the top of the hill once again before descending back to the huge roundabout and exiting UMS to the main road. I would say if you need to apply a bit of caution in this race, the UMS loop is where you should do it. Cramps and injuries are just waiting to happen there! But once you've survived the UMS loop, you will know that you've conquered the worst of the BIM route.

Upon emerging on the main road once again, turn towards 1Borneo and that portion is generally gentle, but becoming slightly undulating later on when nearing the turning point. I won't be unduly worried about the undulating terrain along that road though, as they are not as bad as the UMS loop.

Once you come to the 1Borneo again on your return leg, you should know that you've survived most of the hillwork, except for the crossing of the Likas bridge again, but that is just for a short distance. Beyond that bridge, it will be almost fully flat all the way to the finish line, and this is the portion where one is able to run faster if he has paced his race correctly.

Those of you who're not familiar with Kota Kinabalu will find the above a little confusing, but I'd suggest that you keep referring to the route map provided in the official website.

I've been neglecting my speed over the last half a year when preparing for the Ironman New Zealand, but now I'm throwing in some speed training into my routine in the hope of achieving a sub-4hr marathon in the BIM; and beyond that I'm trying to achieve a PB in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon on the first Sunday of July.

Good luck with your training and see you on 04 May!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Disassembling A Jigsaw Puzzle

I’ve had in the past many discussions with my friends about religions—mostly about them trying to “prove” to me the existence of God and why the god of a particular religion is the true one. I shall refrain from going into the specific points of their arguments in this post. Suffice to say that none of them have been successful in convincing me. 

The trouble with me is that I’m rather too rigid in my approach when investigating into something to find an answer. Of course I’m also human and can’t escape from the tendency of speculating on the result of my investigation, but most of the time I’m able to keep an open mind. 

My approach—which is the scientific and logical one—is to find all the jigsaw pieces and then assemble them one by one into their respective rightful places to form the complete picture. There will be some confusion along the way, of course, such as mistaking the tip of a tail for the black cat, because there is a white spot on that jigsaw piece, only to find out later that that cat had an awkward white spot on its tail. Therefore, there is the reluctance to try that piece on the cat, but upon trying anyway, it fits perfectly! So one by one the jigsaw pieces go into forming the complete picture, and only then can one appreciate what that whole picture is all about. 

But religions don’t really work like that. Instead, they work quite the opposite way. One sees the whole picture in the mind first, and then by disassembling the jigsaw pieces, tries to see where they fit in the holy book. If there is any part in the holy book that doesn’t seem to agree with the final picture, why then that part must be interpreted in a way that can agree with the final conclusion anyway! 

If God is said to be a loving being that tells us that we should not kill, but then suddenly loses his temper and goes on a killing spree on a grand scale by drowning the entire human race except for only a few people, then that should be interpreted as only He knows best, and He must have had a good reason for doing that! If the holy book allows slavery, then we will interpret that that was allowed only during those good old days, but not these modern days. If the holy book says a man can beat his wife, then we will say that that comes with some strict conditions. Even if the holy book tells us to be a murderer, that will be interpreted to mean something in a good way somehow. All of this is because the person seeking the answer has already made up his mind the kind of picture he wishes to see in the end! 

Here's the thing about religions—it's mainly about faith, and therefore can't be approached in a scientific way. One believes in the end result first, and is absolutely convinced that that is the truth before even seeking the whole explanation to arrive at that conclusion. It is no more no less the opposite of the scientific approach.

In much the same way, many people have already made up their minds on the complete picture of flight MH370, even if the case calls for a scientific approach. If, at all, there were initial doubts in their minds about that picture, then they would have been assisted to be fully convinced by articles written by some people who’ve suddenly become aviation experts overnight. They have in their minds the fully assembled jigsaw puzzle even if they don't really have all the relevant information to arrive at the conclusion. All that’s left to do is the reverse process of disassembling those jigsaws and then try to match those with the little available information to prove themselves right. 

In their minds, it was a big cover-up by the Malaysian government; a conspiracy of Hollywood proportion. Whatever information available out there will be twisted and interpreted in a way that will somehow arrive at the conclusion of a big cover-up. If no debris had been retrieved from the Indian Ocean, that must have meant that the plane did not crash. The plane must have been flown to Pakistan or Iran instead. If the pilot was suicidal, he could have crashed the plane even without switching off the transponder; so that must have meant he had brought the plane somewhere else to land. So, you see, it is possible to interpret whatever information to force-fit into the picture that one had decided to believe. 

There are so many other possibilities propounded by so many "aviation experts" out there whom obviously know the present exact location of MH370 and aware of all the details of the case simply by analysing data from the confines of their homes and offices. Some of these theories are mind-boggling, some are outrageously ridiculous, if not entertaining. Out of this world theories that are all more probable than the over-simplistic conclusion that the plane had crashed in the Indian Ocean.

Not the logical approach of assembling the jigsaws to form the picture like how it should be done; rather, the process of disassembling the jigsaws from a complete (fictional) picture to fit the source of the loose pieces. 


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ironman New Zealand

I had an approximate 3 months serious training for my first attempt of the Ironman New Zealand on 01 March 2014, but that was hardly enough. Many people attempting the race for the first time would train anything for 9 months up to a year. I think I would have been OK if I had 6 months of serious training because I have had sufficient foundation in running marathons. But I was seriously lacking in cycling and swimming. On hindsight, I should have focused my training totally on the Ironman instead of joining other non-triathlon races during the earlier part of 2013.

Cycling just once a week on a Saturday, even if it's a long ride, is hardly enough for the Ironman. I started cycling long, i.e. over 100km, in January this year. Before that, although I cycled once a week, I did not go up to 100km. My longest ride before the race was for a distance of 165km, and that was the only one time that I reached that distance. I'm thinking if I have had a few more rides of say 150km, that would have helped me a great deal. By the time I boarded the plane for New Zealand, I was quite worried that I was facing 180km in the race.

Then there was the swimming leg of 3.8km I had to reckon with. The trouble with swimming was that I'm not even a good swimmer to start with, so "training" in this case included learning how to swim too! I'm only an average swimmer in the breaststrokes, but my freestyle sucks big time. Each time I get into the pool, I would struggle after only a few laps. The longest swim I had before the race was just 1km, and it's the swim that I dreaded the most in the actual race. Furthermore, I had no open water training at all. It seemed like almost an impossible task. The only consolation was that I had the breaststrokes that I could fall back to.

Well, on the morning of the race, I felt a little awkward in my wetsuit, and as I stepped into the lake, I could feel the cold water seeping into my suit. I stayed clear of the crowd. I was perhaps about 50m from the starting line. At the start it was so chaotic; everybody was climbing on to of each other. Arms and legs were all over the place—I received a few blows to my body and legs. It was just awful. But I kept my cool. I started my swim very slowly and tried to ignore everybody else. Within a few minutes the faster swimmers were already building up the gap. The rest of us novice swimmers were struggling at the back, and it was rather amusing that I wasn't the only lousy swimmer after all. I had intended to swim with the freestyle all the way even if it would take me almost the entire 2:20 cutoff time, but after a few hundred metres, I realised that I could hardly swim in a straight line. Even after 20 to 30 strokes, I would go off course by quite a distance, and I had to use a lot of energy for course correction. I guess I should have spent more efforts learning how to sight!

That went on for a long time until I lost my patience. In the end I had to fall back to Plan B. I alternated between freestyle and breaststrokes every few strokes so that although I can't swim straight with the freestyle, I could mitigate with the breaststrokes by sighting that way. In the end it took me 1:43 minutes, an embarrassingly long time, but I wasn't expecting to finish with the elites anyway! I emerged from the lake still feeling OK, but that was just the warming up part of the race. 

Now I had to worry about the 180km bike leg. But first I had to run approximately 400m uphill to the transition area. As I was running up the hill, I tried to work my way out of my wetsuit. At that point, I was at the verge of suffocation—wetsuits are extremely tight outfit, you see. I took my time at the transition though, spending up to 10 minutes, and by the time I got onto my bike, 2hours had already elapsed.

The air was cold that morning and I started gaining momentum on my bike. It was a pleasant ride at first, and I was actually enjoying the ride.

But not for very long. Just a few minutes after I left the transition area, I had to climb a hill; a ridiculous hill and within no time I could feel my quads burning. As I was struggling up the hill, I had to remind myself that I have to do 180km of this!
I had a bad feeling about the bike leg. My main concern before the race was that I would have some sort of mechanical problem that I couldn't fix. Maybe the chain would snap; or perhaps I would crash into another participant. But now that I was already in the race, I was beginning to wonder if I could even survive the bike leg. From that early in the race, I decided to change my game plan. This race will be a mission to finish, not trying to be a hero racing for time! I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I fail to finish, but more importantly I knew that my friend Teo Chen Lung would tease me for a long, long time to come!

I had expected a rough time on the bike, but I did not expect what I went through that day. The hills, the headwind, the cold. Each time I felt a little tired, I would slow down. I had to make sure that I won't get any cramps, because if I got it that early, that would be the end.

By about 100km, I was already feeling exhausted, and it was a matter of survival from that point onwards. It was mentally challenging knowing that I still had 80km to go, and beyond that I had to run a full marathon. It seemed such an uphill task, and of course it was! What I did was to focus on a block of 10km each, because focusing on the entire distance would just break me mentally! I took my time and stopped at almost every aid station to visit the toilet.

It was late afternoon when I finally reached the transition area again. And again I took my time to change into my running shoes. By then both my legs were gone. Starting a marathon on a empty tank was quite a new experience for me. I have never tried it before; I have never even attempted a half Ironman. All the time I was worried that if I pushed myself, I would get a cramp. I had to run and walk alternately. Even after I had reached the half way point, I was still careful not to push it, as there's still 21km to run! The day became night, and the temperature dropped quickly. As I endured the pain in both legs, and braved the cold, I started running strong again about 10km to the finish. My confidence grew as I knew that even if I got a cramp, I could walk those few km with time to spare.

The final homestretch was the most exciting moment in the entire race. About 50m from the finish line, while I made the last dash, it was announced loudly through the speakers—Cornelius, YOU-ARE-AN-IRONMAN!

I still think almost anybody can finish an Ironman, but the most challenging part is the training. I just don't have that much time to train. Training for a marathon would be just nice; training for a duathlon a little more challenging; but training for the Ironman would take up almost all the time you have away from the office!

Although I felt a little stupid for doing the Ironman during the race, at the end of it all, I guess it was worth it when I get this medal in my collection.

I took 15:33 to finish, such a slow Ironman, but I wasn't gonna take chances of failing to finish—not after all the trouble I went through! I said to myself that I wanted to finish an Ironman before I'm 50, and then I can scale down to just a normal marathon or duathlon, or maybe just a half Ironman. But dammit, I'm gonna be 49 this July. That is still not 50 yet—maybe there is still time to pursue a sub-14hrs finish, I wonder...