At about 7:33am near tHe Spring Mall in Kuching today, a female monk in a green running vest was tearing down the street to the finish line of the Live Active Run. She caused something of a stir as she was producing a medley of odd-sounding noisesperhaps something akin to that of a police siren, if you like. Everyone was stunned, and duly made way for her to come through, all the time gaping in horror and disbelief. It was a personal best (PB) in the making, and although it was a record that's nothing to shout about when thinking of the Olympics and World times, it was nevertheless an achievement of epic proportion all the same! But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me start the story from the beginning.
My friend, Hana Sue Harun, is no stranger to the marathon scene. She has several 42km and 100km road and trail races under her belt so far. She won the women's category in the Beaufort Ultra 60km last year; and she was one of the approximate one-third finishers of the gruesome TMBT Ultra Trail Marathon last year. She is an endurance runner to be reckoned with. Ironically, however, she hasn't achieved a sub-2hour half marathon yet.
A few weeks before running a half marathon in Brunei last year as reported here, I agreed to pace her for that race in the hope of achieving a sub-2 finish. In the end, although she achieved a PB that day, it was still 8 minutes adrift of the elusive sub-2. During that Brunei race, I noticed some peculiar tendencies in Hana's running technique. Without going into a detailed description, let me just say that it was somewhat inefficient.
Then about 3 months ago, we started working on her running technique, and I actually spent a bit of time going into very detailed explanations and then ran together with her on several weekends too. I also came up with a training programme to include some work on her speed, as well as 2 "time trial" weekend runsa 15km race and 21km race at 4 weeks and 2 weeks respectively before today's race in Kuching.
Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, however, let me hasten to say that I had nothing to do with her shaving her head. That was not my desperate attempt as a coach to shed a few grams of weight to achieve the sub-2 target. She shaved her head to raise RM12,000 for the Pink Ribbon during a fund-raising event about a month ago.
4 weeks ago, I was pacing Hana for a 15km race over a weekend, but she was unable to endure a 5:30 min/km pace (she surrendered at about 7.5km), something that is required for a sub-2 half marathon. I realised then that sub-2 would be quite a tall order, but it's still possible for a PB. Then 2 weeks ago, we did a half marathon on a Sunday, and she achieved a PB of about 2:05:49. I told Hana that a more realistic target for tHe Spring was 2:03. We may be able to do a little better than that, but sub-2 seemed too far-fetched.
We started the race this morning with a decent 5:44 min/km for the first km, and then gradually eased to an average 5:48 min/km. I kept track of the splits and regularly updated Hana on how we were doing. Contrary to what I thought before the race, the course was not exactly flat after all; it had a good dose of undulating terrain, but mercifully, they weren't very steep.
About 7km into the race, we were running abreast with a local chap who had apparently run the BIM recently. He said the hills in Kuching are not as steep as those in UMS of the BIM route. Then later on we turned into a narrower road, passing through a huge residential area. We were perhaps about halfway into the race when we were passing a roadside restaurant with the Italy vs England match showing live on tv. Suddenly there was a loud yell, and Hana felt obliged to tell me that England had scored a goal. I was, like, "Do I look like I'm in the least interested in football?"
It was basically a well-executed game plan throughout up to approximately the 14km mark. We were still averaging 5:48 min/km up to that point. Soon after, I told Hana to consume her second energy gel to prepare for the final push. When we reached 16km, I asked Hana over my shoulder if I could gradually increase my pace for a possible sub-2:03 finish. She said "NO", but it sounded like "GO!", so I ran a little faster. After a few metres however, I noticed that Hana wasn't following my pace. I repeated the question a few times throughout those last few km, but each time got a "NO!".
With just 1km to go, I increased my pace again, hoping that this time Hana would keep up, but it was not meant to be; she was obviously struggling to keep running. I maintained my pace, however, until I reached about 10m from the finish line where I stopped and called out to Hana. It's amazing that within that last 1km as she was approaching nearer and nearer to the finish line, the noises she was producing were also getting louder and louder all the time. It was a mixture of a grunt, a groan, and even a moan, although admittedly perhaps the moaning part was probably just my imagination. In the end, she crossed the finish line and my Garmin showed a 2:03:20Hana has achieved her PB and edged painfully closer to the 2-hour mark. I must find a way on how to convert all the energy in the shouting and making noises during the last km into kinetic energy rather than sound energy.
I don't have to tell you how thrilled Hana was (and she still is) for her hard-earned PByou can see it for yourself on her face. It was an enjoyable run, a short workout before I peak next weekend in my preparation for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.
It was a well-organised event, except that perhaps more volunteers at the water stations would be good. There were some stations where the volunteers were unable to pour drinking water into cups fast enough, eventually opting to just give out the entire 500ml bottles to the runners. Slower runners also had to endure a bit of thirst as some water stations ran out of water. More marshals would also be necessary to direct runners, as road signs were insufficient. Overall it was a good event, and I don't mind to do this race again next year if it doesn't clash with other races.