Thursday, October 29, 2015

Road To Busselton

A little over one-and-a-half years ago, I was out cycling with my friend, Teo Chen Lung, on a weekend as part of my training for the Ironman New Zealand (IMNZ). We were supposed to race the IMNZ together, but on that fateful day, we had a nasty bike crash as reported here. Although I sustained some bruises, I nevertheless escaped serious injuries. However, Teo broke his collar bone. He had to undergo an operation to install a titanium brace to realign his bone into place. In the end he had to withdraw from the race, and I eventually went ahead for the challenge alone.

It was a sad and lonely trip, and even during the race, I kept thinking about Teo whom I knew was tracking me online from the start to the end. Being my first ever Ironman, I was determined to finish the race, not taking any chances of getting cramps etc. Accordingly, I stopped at every water station during the bike leg (15km apart) to grab drinks, bananas as well as make visits to the toilet. But although I took my time, when I finally got to the run leg of the race, I was exhausted anyway. I can still remember the epic exhaustion towards the end of the race. This was how I finished the final few metres towards the finish arch. 

It's amazing how the body can suddenly spring into action after it ran out of energy hours before that, just because of the cheers from the crowd as well as hearing the announcement through the loudspeaker: "CORNELIUS, YOU - ARE - AN - IRONMAN!"

I was exchanging private messages with a facebook friend just a few days ago, and I said to her that even if I've conquered an Ironman before, I would still have that fear when attempting another Ironman. It seems like no amount of training can guarantee that one will definitely finish the race.

Teo had of course recovered from his broken collar bone and had since registered for the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA). Although I said IMNZ was to be my first and last Ironman, I decided to register for IMWA too, not just because I felt I owe it to Teo for a chance to race together with me, but also because I wanted to achieve better than what I did in New Zealand. 

Registering for the race is the easiest part of the game. Then came the painful part, which was the training for the challenge. In the last couple of months, I've been gradually building up mileage in my training, and right now I'm feeling very tired. I haven't reached the peak of my training yet, and already I'm feeling like my body can't handle very much more. I wake up on Monday mornings feeling like wanting to stay in bed for the rest of the day. This old body of mine can't handle a full Ironman training programme, so I guess I will just do what I can. While Teo is training two sessions per day, I'm limiting my workouts to just once a day, and if I'm feeling tired on some days, I'd give it a miss altogether. I try very hard not to cheat on the long workouts over the weekends, because I feel that the long workouts are the key elements to the whole challenge.

The swim is still my biggest weakness up to now. On an average session at the pool, I'd probably swim a total of 1km. Sometimes I would swim a bit more than that, but always with lots of breaks in between. I'm not overly worried about drowning, as I have the breast strokes to fall back to if emergency arises. But although I'm still not very good in swimming, I feel like I've improved quite a lot since IMNZ.

I swam so slow during IMNZ, I think I did it in 1:43, and it felt like forever! But I'm not too worried about my swim as far as IMWA is concerned, at least not as worried about the great white sharks which Australia is famous for. I'm not even sure if I could swim the whole course with the freestyle. If not, then I will pretend to have misunderstood the term "freestyle"; I can always say that I thought "freestyle" means free to use any style to swim, including the breast strokes.

As for my bike, I've upgraded my wheels from the no-brand China-made 60mm carbon aero wheels to Zipp 404/303 combination. I have worked on my strength and endurance, but perhaps still lacking midweek bike workouts. It would be ideal, I think, if I could have at least 3 bike sessions per week like Teo, but I just don't have the time to do it. In the end, I can only afford a midweek "spinning" session of about 45mins-60mins, plus a long bike ride of over 100km each on Saturdays. On a flat surface, I can maintain 33-35kph fairly easily without burning my quads these days, but when including slopes and slowing down (or even stopping) at junctions, it usually goes down to about 30-31kph average. I reckon that my average would be around 28kph at IMWA this December, because I was told that they'd be strong head winds at some sections, especially when taking into account the total bike distance of 180km.

As for the run, I only have 2 sessions per week; once usually on Tuesdays at approximately 10km each, and on Sunday morning a minimum of 21km each. Because there is not enough time for full training, my focus is on endurance, and not so much on speed.

In the next couple of weeks, the weekend workouts will be increased rather substantially, although this coming weekend is my "stepback" week. But even on a stepback week, I will need to bike at least 120km and run 21km. Teo is also planning an open water swim on Saturday afternoon. As I said, my training is hardly enough for the preparation of the Ironman, but this is all that I can do. The madness continues...

So roughly another month to go before the ultimate challenge of 2015. I'm sure the Ironman this time will be much more fun because Teo will be there with me. I know he can't wait to finally give this old man a good kick in the butt, and looking at the way he trains, I think he will certainly achieve it in this race. But of course I will try my best to prevent it!

Both Teo and I are getting increasingly paranoid as we get closer to the date. Although we use the same training ground for cycling, we make sure that we don't get within 50 metres of each other, just in case we would provoke the collarbone-breaking jinx. So we would occasionally see each other cycling from a distance, acknowledge each other by waving of hands, but we always make sure that we keep our distance! Let me tell you that paranoia is a terrible disease!

A few more weeks to go of self-imposed tortures before finally tapering for the race. Excitement is mounting, as is the fear of the race! Keeping my fingers crossed...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

First Impression

I once knew a man who's down on his luck. He dropped out of secondary school and was jobless for some years. Then one day there was a job vacancy at a KFC outlet, inviting applicants for a "walk-in" interview. He went for the interview, but his application was rejected. He came home grumbling. 

Some people are like that—they lack common sense, and have a hard time progressing beyond the first chapter in the book of life. You see, he attended the interview at KFC wearing a shabby T-shirt and in flip-flops, unruly long hair and had multiple earrings in both earlobes. I remember thinking that if I were the interviewer at KFC, I would have done exactly the same thing too. The harsh reality is that the first impression does count.

Quite often we meet and get to know people for the first time, and how they appear during that first encounter is the impression that remains in the mind. That may be a good thing, or it may also be a bad thing. If say a person is seen as a fatherly figure, that impression has the tendency to stick in the mind until perhaps such time when one gets to know him a little better. He may turn out to be a totally different person than that of the first few encounters.

I'm a member of a running group in Kota Kinabalu on facebook, and I have come to be known for my tendency to post articles that include topics other than running; in fact they are like an old man rambling aloud. For example, this is one of the many articles that I've posted in that group. It is written in Malay, and what's more, it is in the style of Sabahan Malay. That, then, is the general impression of the members of this old man, or Angkol (uncle). Many of the members of the group have never met me in person although some of them have since been accepted as my friends on facebook.

Yesterday, I attended a formal meeting at the Dewan Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu (DBKK), and in the course of that meeting, I had to fill up an attendance list, providing details including my email address. Of course I dressed differently than how I would usually dress for running, and I dare say that for those who only know me as that Angkol who's famous for his ramblings on facebook and in this blog, I may appear like a totally different person.

Not surprisingly, therefore, I received an email after the meeting yesterday afternoon from a DBKK staff, entitled "Confirmation Enquiries". She said:

"Hi Sir, I just need to confirm...hehe...Are you the "angkol" Cornelious Koh? The Great Marathoner?"

That email made my day, because now I know that there is at least one person out there who has the impression that I am a "Great Marathoner". The truth is that I'm not that great a marathoner, of course. I'm not sure how she got that impression of me, but I could live with it. However, I would have been even happier if she had been able to spell my name correctly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Striving To Become Connor MacLeod

My daughter, JJ, loves to eat chicken sausages. She loves chocolate-flavoured ice cream and Kit Kat too. I bet if I take the trouble to research a bit more about the foods that JJ loves to eat, I'm bound to discover a lot of dangerous stuff in them; in fact, dangerous enough to cause very serious illnesses such as cancer.

JJ sometimes eat instant noodles and chicken sausages. Perhaps she's overdoing it with ice cream and Kit Kat. Heck! maybe some dreadful diseases are developing in her body as I'm typing this! I guess I will never know until it's too late. I bought some chicken sausages last Sunday, and last night my maid served them for dinner. As I had expected, Mia commented that it's not good to eat sausages too frequently. The last time we had chicken sausages was perhaps a few weeks ago. Yet that still satisfied Mia's definition of "frequently".

The truth is that if one were to think of it, the best way to avoid ingesting "dangerous chemicals" is to not eat anything at all. All too often there is a lot of emphasis on the danger of chemicals contained in ordinary foods; so much so that it's almost impossible to avoid consuming those chemicals.

I find it interesting that a recent study has found that processed meat causes cancer. Smoking has been found to cause cancer too. Some vegetables are also dangerous because of the effects of pesticides. Water may contain contaminants. So almost everything around us can be credited, one way or another, with some sort of dangerous chemicals that can cause a lot of harm to the body. But it is very easy to forget that these foods contain some good things for our bodies too.

Unfortunately, humans are mortal beings. We all have a beginning, and sooner or later, we will all die. Whatever happens between the beginning and ending is entirely up to personal preferences. But make no mistake about it, we will all die in the end. Maybe some people are trying too hard to become Connor MacLeod, but it's not gonna happen—I'm so sorry for that.

I happen to know some doctors who are heavy smokers; and some of them are obese people too. These are people who are well aware of the dangers of smoking and obesity, yet they choose to indulge in those very things that can harm their bodies. Strange, isn't it?

The thing about life is that in the end it's all about striking a balance. You win some, and you lose some; sometimes you win a bit more, or you may lose a bit more. But you can't have it all! People who love smoking so much are willing to trade a few years of their lives for the enjoyment of smoking. The same goes to people who love eating, or love sitting idle on the couch just watching TV. You do more of something that you love so much that the satisfaction you get out of doing it is worth the risk of losing a few years of your life! Every single one of us is constantly striking a balance between the good and bad things for our health, and each one of us has his or her own equilibrium.

I suppose I can have a healthier body if I become a vegetarian, consume no simple sugar, drink just plain water, sleep at least 8 hours per day, do a minimum of 30 minutes of physical exercise daily, and refrain from all the things I like to eat and do because of their harmful effects. Maybe that way I can squeeze a few more years of my life and live to be 100. Yes, that might be possible, but it's gonna be a miserable 100 years! I will have to forego most, if not all, of the things I enjoy in life!

Way too many people are telling me to drink Kangen alkaline water, consume spirulina "grade AAA", vitamins that can protect my liver and heart. The list goes on and on. But actually, if one really wants to be healthy, there is never enough things that he can do to achieve it. So I say I'm quite happy with my equilibrium. I'm sure they have their respective equilibriums too. I will continue eating red meat and chicken sausages moderately. I shall try to live with the consequences.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sarawak International Triathlon 2015

Just a few years ago, I would never have imagined racing a triathlon. It seemed such a far-fetched thing for me. I've never been any good at swimming, and it doesn't seem like I will ever become any better than how I swim now. It's a long story, but I eventually did my first Sprint Triathlon in Miri anyway in late 2011 as reported here.

I then went back to Miri again the following year as reported here, with the intention of racing an Olympic Distance (OD), but the organiser changed it to a so-called "modified-distance triathlon", which was a little longer than the OD. After that, I made up my mind to never again return to Miri for the triathlon. I found the event wasn't well-organised. Even seemingly simple things like providing a proper shower for triathletes to pass through after the swim was just awful.

I had bad experiences—particularly in the bike legs—in both the Putrajaya 70.3 as well as the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah in recent months, so I was desperate to find an event to redeem myself. But I would prefer to do at least a half Ironman distance. I could find no such distance within Malaysia before December, and I had to narrow down my choices to either the Port Dickson International Triathlon or the Sarawak International Triathlon, which were just a week apart. In the end, I decided to do Miri. Who knows, maybe I would do Port Dickson next year.

It turned out that there was quite a big group of us from Sabah doing the Miri triathlon, and it was quite exciting to see some of the big names in the sport fighting it out in Miri. Famous names in the sport such as Ahmadul Tahir and Stephanie Chok from Sabah were also in the fray. Not to forget big names from the west such as Richard Tang and Chris Ka Krang (even the names rhyme, don't they?), although I can't quite decide in the case of Chris Ka Krang, whether it's her excellence in sports that I admire or her wickedly sexy figure that most men can just spend the whole day drooling and fantasizing about. I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table as hers during dinner on Saturday night, but I had to refrain from staring for fear of being labelled a dirty old man!

Anyway, I joined the race this year for the sake of training, and wasn't really thinking about prizes, let alone fighting for the win, because after all I did not think that I had it in me to win even if I tried! I wasn't planning on very sophisticated transition technique; I merely took my time changing shoes etc at the transitions. I just wanted a decent finish to redeem my pride and gain back my confidence after disastrous races in Putrajaya and Bukit Merah this year.

Before I proceed with the report though, let's quickly deal with the customary "safety nets" first. I will just mention some of the more significant ones here. Stephanie Chok was of course tired from the Royal Belum Ironbound Challenge the week before (which her team won), so she wasn't having very high hopes for the race in Miri. Yet she decided to race Miri anyway "for training". Amelia, of course was still exhausted (probably still suffering from jetleg) from the long flight from Melbourne. Claire had a fever coming into this race, and Teo was exhausted—"gone case", according to him—having driven from KK to Miri up to over 12 hours the day before the race, Sandi did not really prepare for this race. I suppose if I had asked the rest of them, everyone would have some sort of safety net nicely prepared for the Sarawak International Triathlon! In other words, we had an exciting race of which everybody was totally unprepared for!

Apparently, there was a race briefing on Saturday evening, which I did not attend, though I was in time for dinner after that briefing was over. I was unaware that the swim leg had been cancelled due to rough sea and replaced with an approximate 2km run instead. I prepared for the swim as usual and made my way to the transition area to set up my bike. On the way there, however, I stumbled upon Sandi at the hotel lobby, and she informed me—with a disappointed face—about the cancellation of the swim leg. The supposed triathlon had become a duathlon. So anyway, there was nothing I could do about it.

After setting up our bikes, all of us walked to the sea shore where we were flagged off a few minutes after 8am. I felt somewhat sluggish, and took a bit of time to fire up my legs. I was amazed seeing the front pack running like this was just a 100-metre sprint event. I ran at perhaps a little under 5:30mins/km pace, and by the time I finished that 2km run, many of the bikes at the transition had disappeared. Teo had trained for a quick transition; as soon as he took off his running shoes and putting on his helmet, he was off to the bike mount line where he started cycling, putting on his bike shoes while in motion. I took my time at the transition, drinking some sport concoction, and changed from my running to bike shoes. All in all, perhaps 2 minutes behind Teo by the time I started cycling.

As I hit the main road, I started worrying about punctures. My rear tyre wasn't cooperative in Putrajaya and Bukit Merah, and by this race, I've developed a kind of phobia of punctures! After making the U-turn, I started to build up my speed. I knew that there's a steep hill to climb shortly later. I took my time climbing that hill, and once I went down the other side, I started getting into my rhythm, and building up my speed to about 36-37 kph. Although this was a drafting bike leg, I was too slow for the fast cyclists, and too fast for the slow cyclists, so I just kept going at my comfortable speed on my own. 

After making the final U-turn, on  my way back, I saw Amelia, Sandi, Claire, Aldillah, Symus and Mia on the opposite side of the raod. They were all spread quite well apart. As I was approaching the last few km of the bike leg, it started to pour; I mean really pour tigers and wolves! The wind was blowing, and thunder in the sky. Visibility became a little poor, and I had to slow down to about 32kph. Then I came to the massive traffic jam because there was a fallen cable post across the road. I slowly made my way in between the long stretch of vehicles until I passed the fallen post. Then a few more km before reaching the hill again. Climbing that hill, I was worried of the going down on the other side. As I was descending the hill, I hit my brakes, as I was a little scared of losing control of my bike in the wet condition. My bad experience in Bukit Merah a few weeks ago was still fresh in my mind. But eventually I arrived at T2 safely, and I could breathe a big sigh of relief.

I took my time once again at T2, and changed back to my running shoes. At the start of the final run leg I just maintained a slow pace to fire up my running muscles. But after a few hundred metres, I began to build up my pace to a comfortable 5:30mins/km. It was perhaps 4 or 5km into the run leg when I felt a little exhausted, so I slowed down my pace to about 5:45mins/km. By then the rain had stopped, though the roads were still wet. In the end I crossed the finish line in about 2:07. Actually, if the swim leg was in play, I had expected to finish between 2:30-2:45, but I guess I will only find out if I can really achieve that timing in Port Dickson next year.

One by one the rest of my friends crossed the finish line. Amelia, Sandi and the rest. Then the surprise—I'm not sure how, but I somehow got 4th in my category worth RM300 in cash. Of course it's never been about the cash prize, and it's not even close to covering the cost of the trip. But the thrill of winning cash felt a lot like a child winning a bag of candies. Come to think of it now, I bet I would have felt exactly the same had I won just RM30. I fancy that my 4th place finish probably had a lot to do with the small number of participants in my category, but I'm not complaining! Stephanie Chok was declared champion in her category, as was Amelia in her category. Ahmadul and Sandi both achieved podium finishes; and the rest from Sabah all did well to finish the race. Mia wasn't happy though, as the organiser ran out of finisher medals, and she was left with none!

The finisher medal has improved by leaps and bounds when compared to a few years ago, which is a good thing. Of the organisation of the race as a whole, however, I'd say there is a huge room for improvement still! Perhaps next year, I will finally join the Port Dickson International Triathlon, but I will only think about that after the Ironman race this December.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Old Flame

A friend shared an interesting question on her facebook wall; she had heard the question on the radio this morning:

"If your friend's other half is hitting on you, would you tell your friend?"

I responded to her post like this:

"The answer depends on circumstances. My guess is that when answering that question on radio, or any public forum, one would say YES, he would tell the friend, simply because that is "expected" of a friend, and that's the "decent" thing to do. Anything other than a "YES" would most probably be in danger of inviting criticisms.

Then there is the other side of the story—the story of REALITY. In some cases, believe it or not, one is also interested in the person hitting on him or her. And the harsh reality is that SOMETIMES, one responds with encouragement, just to see how far it would go; and he or she may then decide to delay telling the friend, until it's too late. When feelings develop too far, it becomes too late. Overpowering passion ensues, and one becomes all the terrible things that one can imagine. It's so easy to criticize him or her as a traitor, but truth be told, one will only know what it's really like if he or she experiences it for him- or herself!"

I know what you must be thinking right now, but to respond to your thoughts even before you raise them here, let me just say that it's my habit to be long-winded when I comment. I'm cursed with this habit! It is very rare that I'd comment with just one sentence!

Anyway, it's almost human nature to judge others. A fit and sexy person, for example, may find it impossible to understand obese people who seem to have no control over their appetite. It's very easy to judge them for being lazy, or have no discipline and will power to deal with their weight issues. But actually, one will never understand until—and only until— he himself is obese and faced with an overwhelming craving for food. Only then will he be able to appreciate the struggle that these obese people have to go through on a daily basis.

In a similar way, it is very easy to criticize people who fall in love with their own friends' spouses, until they themselves experience the same predicament. Always, the tendency to judge overrides the tendency to understand.

Having read my comment on the facebook post above, another friend replied that my comment seemed to have come from my personal experience. I responded that, unfortunately, my life has been rather dull and devoid of the excitement of falling in love with my friend's wife. I was just commenting from the general point of view about people's behavior. But the whole thing did remind me of a different kind of experience.

I was once in love with a girl about a hundred years ago when I was as poor as a church mouse; I had practically nothing to my name, I was not a highly-educated man, and seemed to have no future. I went steady with her for about three years of my life. But fate would have it that we were not meant to last forever. Never mind the details of how it ended, but the experience did make me a stronger and more determined person; it made me reassess my life. When you come to think of it, I guess there is always something positive that can come from what is seemingly the worst of life experiences.

It was perhaps some ten years (or slightly more than that) when I heard from her again. I was by then already married for some years, and one fine day I received a letter from her. Gave me quite a shock it did. It wasn't a very long letter, and I can summarize its contents into 3 main points. The first was that she went through a lot of troubles to get my postal address. The second was that she had been haunted by guilt all those years and wanted to seek my forgiveness. The third was that she wanted us to be friends again.

It was funny, really, because as far as I'm concerned I have long ago closed that chapter of my life. I took whatever lesson(s) I could draw from that relationship and then built on it for, hopefully, a better future. There is really nothing to forgive—if it's not meant to be, it's just not meant to be. Nobody was at fault, we were just too young and naive at the time. Life is short and it can become too stressful to shoulder the burdens of all the bad experiences from the past.

I showed the letter to my wife, and I got another shock when I saw her reaction! To the men out there, let this be a lesson to you all. Sometimes being honest and too transparent may lead to troubles! Women are not always easy to understand—they demand unconditional love, loyalty and honesty, but when you give them those, you may be surprised by their reaction!

Anyway, to make the long story short, I replied the letter and again I can summarize it into 3 main points. The first was to assure her that there's no forgiveness due; and even if there were, I would have long ago forgiven her. The second was that she's always been my friend. The third was that despite the first two points, I would have to make this one letter the first and last from me, because of my unconditional loyalty to my wife. I don't always concede to whatever my wife wants, but I understand why she had reacted in the way she did; and in this special case, I shall oblige her wishes.

So there you go, a bit of my life experience. In all probability, knowing human nature, I will be judged by my readers. The only question is whether that judgement is positive or negative. Let me hasten to say that I'm not perfect; and I just take comfort in knowing that it's impossible to please everybody. That's life I guess.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Language Barrier & Suicidal Determination

The Star reports on "Malay fireman talks man out of suicide in Mandarin". I fancy that if this had happened in other countries, the emphasis of the news would have been on the man attempting the suicide, rather than on the man knowing Mandarin. 

This lately, we've been seeing a number of news articles about Malay folks sending their kids to Chinese schools. Actually, the bumiputeras in Sabah, as opposed to just Malays, have been sending their kids to Chinese schools for a long time now. In fact, it's so common that it's no longer surprising these days. But in the national context, especially in West Malaysia, perhaps it is still rare for Malays to know how to speak Mandarin, so much so that it deserves the emphasis in the news.

I'm reminded of the time when I witnessed a suicide attempt near my office a few years ago, and posted an account in this blog entitled "Survival Instinct & Mattresses". It's interesting to note that there are a few similarities between that incidence and this recent one above. Both cases involved suicide attempts by jumping off a tall building; and in both cases, firemen were sought for help. 

Come to think of it, I have no idea if the fireman in the earlier case spoke Mandarin too, since the person attempting the suicide was also a Chinese. If he did, there was certainly no mention of it in the news that followed the day after that incidence.

Language barrier can be a complicated matter in an emergency; but in Malaysia, it can also be a sensitive issue. All the other races learn to speak Malay, English and Chinese, if they can get the opportunities to do so, without their loyalty or pride of their country and race being called into question. But that is not necessarily the case for the Malays. I saw a facebook posting by a Malay woman recently in English, pleading for help relating to documents lost in a car break-in. The surprising reaction to her post was that she was criticized for not posting in Malay. I'm not sure if that was a bogus facebook account, and the whole thing was just a set-up to create trouble. But I hope even if it's true, it doesn't reflect the mentality of the majority in Malaysia.

My view is that there is absolutely no harm to learn a second or even third language. Having the ability to converse in other languages—other than one's own language—can be useful in many ways; not just in the context of earning a living. I consider myself very well-versed in Malay even though I'm not a Malay, and my pride of being a Chinese is not shaken in the least!

Anyway, coming back to the suicide attempt near my office, although the man was prevented from killing himself on that day, he eventually killed himself anyway a few months later. Which brings to mind that if one is determined to take his own life, there is really not much that others can do to prevent that from happening. At best, they can delay it for a bit, but not prevent it altogether.

While giving due credit for the good job by the Mandarin-speaking fireman, perhaps it's a good idea to follow that up with some sort of counseling for the poor chap, because suicidal determination shouldn't be underestimated. Preventing the suicide now, doesn't mean that it's not gonna happen tomorrow. We need people to get to the bottom of the problem and try to fix it once and for all. Otherwise, the Mandarin-speaking fireman's good job will be in vain; when there is a will, there is always a way—the man will keep trying to kill himself, and what's more, he will most probably succeed sooner or later.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Marathon, A Kidney Transplant & Busted Knees

I was once a member of the Borneo International Marathon Organising Committee and was mainly responsible on matters relating to the marathon route. I dealt with the ins and outs of measuring the route, distance and direction markers, road barriers, deployments of volunteers etc. In the months leading up to the event itself, we had plenty of brain-storming sessions; meeting upon meeting, not only among the committee members, but also with other relevant parties such as the police, folks from the City Hall etc. Approximately 2 days prior to the event, there was practically no time to sleep. It happened that we were operating on a shoestring budget, and in the dying hours as we approached the flag off, everything was in a havoc. Tension ran high. and it was quite a challenge to remain calm.

Here's the thing about organising a big event such as a marathon—it is almost impossible to control everything. There are so many unforeseen circumstances that can arise, quite often at a moment's notice, and it takes a competent event organiser to rise to the occasion in dealing with the problems.

I can imagine the amount of time and effort involved in organising the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM). The flag off was supposed to have been this morning. But last year it made the headlines when it had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the haze situation which has now become an annual phenomenon in Malaysia.

I have run the Standard Chartered KL Marathon before, and I'm not in a big hurry to join it again. Just about a year or two ago, upon my encouragement, my niece, Ramona Jane took up running. I think she started joining 10km runs, and then gradually built up the distance to the half marathon. She's not always able to train properly as she's pursuing a medical degree, so has to give priority to her studies first. She's not a fast runner, I think her best finishing time for the half marathon was just a little over 2:20, but I've been encouraging her to try hard to beat that 2:20 mark.

Fate would have it that she registered for the half marathon in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon today. On Friday afternoon, shortly after lunch hour, she embarked on a journey from Johor to KL to collect her race pack. 

Earlier that day, I received a message through Whatsapp from a friend working in Quick-Sport, informing me that there's now a special promotion for the Garmin Forerunner 15, a GPS sports watch, going at RM475 a piece (normal price is over RM700). It's quite a good deal, and knowing that Mona had been wanting to buy a sports watch for a while now, but couldn't afford it, I thought it would be a good surprise for her. Accordingly, I made arrangements with my friend at Quick-Sport for a red-colour Garmin Forerunner 15 for Mona. I then told Mona to meet my friend at the Expo.

Shortly after collecting the watch, I received a message from Mona, "Uncle thank you so much" she said, "You're so nice" 

I was glad that she liked the surprise. But then she probably thought that she did not make quite sufficient impression of her appreciation. So she added, "One day when you're old and when you need kidney I'll settle it"

Then, perhaps still not satisfied with herself, she went one step further, "I'm going to be a rheumatologist so when you bust your knees with osteoarthritis I'll be there too", she said.

As you can see, doctors have unorthodox way of expressing their "thank yous"; and they're not big fans of using punctuation marks such as commas and fullstops in the sentences too.

She then went on to collect her race pack; and here's the happy face of a half marathon runner with her race pack and her new GPS watch (still in the box).

That was Friday evening. And then yesterday, things began to go wrong. The marathon gods brought the haze back to KL with a vengeance. The air quality changed so fast and visibility dropped dramatically. The API readings went from low, to high, to unhealthy levels within hours. The organiser was left with no choice but to announce the cancellation of the race. Mona was devastated, as were thousands and thousands of runners from all over the region. I can just imagine a fully-charged Garmin Forerunner 15, running gears all set to go, but no race to run!

I pity the organiser and the participants alike. But after all, there was nothing more that could be done. Maybe for future SCKLM it would be worth considering to move the event to the rainy months when it's unlikely that the Indonesians would burn their forests then. I say this because I don't believe they will ever stop burning their forests any time soon.

There will be many more opportunities for Mona to improve her timing; many more opportunities to upgrade to the full marathon, and who knows, maybe even the ultras. But as far as the SCKLM 2015 is concerned, this is the sad conclusion of the event—the inevitable cancellation.

Looking at the bright side, however, I'm thinking maybe the marathon gods are trying to send me a message; maybe they're trying to tell me that my kidneys are safe; that my knees will remain intact for many, many more years to come!