Saturday, May 28, 2016

Living The Dreams Of Someone Else's

I arrived home this afternoon to find Mia and JJ having a conversation in the bedroom. Well, it wasn't really a conversation—JJ was crying quietly, and Mia was in the midst of lecturing her. Apparently, JJ was not keen to continue taking swimming lessons. She doesn't mind to swim every now and then; just not the swimming lessons. Mia was adamant about the swimming lessons, and was explaining at length why JJ should continue.

I sat there quietly for a while and listened to Mia's justifications on why JJ should continue taking swimming lessons. Some of the reasons were good ones; some not so good. But I remained silent until she's finished.

This reminds me of the time when I was a teenager, a few years after I escaped from the living hell, and was living with my father. My father was—and still is—quite a man. He is blessed with the thought that he is a very clever person, and he can do no wrong. Yet most of the things he does in life would end up in failures. I could easily write a book about his failures, but for this post I just want to talk about his parenting style.

Dad simply hated seeing his sons doing the things that he didn't enjoy doing. When I went jogging, he was fast to say that that's a stupid activity. He preferred his sons to play with catapults (lastik), play with rubber seeds, or go fishing for karuk or jalak in the swamps. In fact, he expected his sons to be exactly the carbon copies of him. It never crossed his mind—and he doesn't get it even up to now—that not everybody likes or enjoys the things that he enjoys.

Now there are some things that I'd impose upon JJ, whether she likes it or not, such as going to school and maintaining decent grades, because I know that that will be very important to her in the later stages of her life. So there is nothing to discuss about as far as education is concerned. The only thing that will be discussed is when it's time for her to choose a career, what field of expertise to go into.

As a kid, many of us might have wanted something so much, but unable to get it; maybe a toy or to learn a skill like playing the piano. There is the tendency to impose upon our children whatever opportunities that we've missed. It's very easy to forget that our children may not like the things that we liked as a kid.

Swimming is an important skill, mainly on grounds of survival. So I imposed upon JJ to learn it. But beyond that, I'm not expecting her to be an elite swimmer, unless of course if that's what she wants to achieve. Whatever she wants to achieve, if I can afford to support her, then by all means.

I have to frequently remind Mia not to force JJ to live her dreams, unless if those are also JJ's own dreams. The kid will be turning 14 soon, and she has her own dreams to pursue, not ours. We need to learn to respect the kid as a person, by letting her grow up, and with very little of her life plans dictated by us. In other words, I'm trying to correct the mistake that my dad made all those years ago.

As a general policy, I very rarely overrule Mia's decision on what JJ should or should not be doing. For I don't want JJ to think that whenever her mommy says NO, she can come running to me in the hope of getting a YES. But sometimes there are exceptions to the general rule. And this case about the swimming lessons is one of them.

I sat there listening carefully to the lawyer explaining to JJ why she MUST continue taking swimming lessons. After the lawyer had finished with her arguments, JJ, still sobbing, said, "Mom, I don't want to continue with the swimming lessons." 

I asked JJ why. She gave me her reasons, and I said, "OK, you don't have to continue with the swimming lessons. It's up to you."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Backyard Monster

My house is located in a well developed neighbourhood within close proximity to the Likas Sports Complex. There are many, many housing estates in the area; and many types of development ranging from commercial estates to schools and churches etc. As a matter of fact if one were to view the area with the Google Earth, there are very few empty pockets of undeveloped lands.

Well, it just so happen that there is a small patch of undeveloped land at the back of my house. It's unlikely that it will be developed anytime soon, if ever, since it's made of an elongated land and probably not viable for development. So this vacant site is now overgrown with wild trees and thick undergrowth. At times, I can see huge monitor lizard roaming just outside the fence from my kitchen window. I have of course told a story about monitor lizard before here

There are many birds too. There are mango trees and a coconut tree, and whenever it's fruiting season, the squirrels would come in huge numbers. In the still of the night, one can hear the sounds of insects; and first thing in the morning, the birds would be chirping nonstop.

I bet there are many other creatures there among the trees, and from time to time, one can hear numerous weird sounds. It's hard to tell which animal is making which sound, but there is one specific sound that is spooking my maid. I suspect it may be the sound of frogs, but I can't be sure—it's hard to describe it, but perhaps it's fair to say that it sounds a lot like the sound one makes when feeling very satisfied with a big delicious meal. It goes something like, MMMMM!

That particular sound has been the subject of discussion with my maid for some weeks now. Of course we've been hearing that sound since a long time ago, but she only brought it up recently. From the way she talks to me, it seems like she's suggesting that there's a monster in our backyard. And me being me, I just can't resist spooking her! I said something like, "Maybe there is a monster there among the trees, just waiting to jump out if it sees you  in the backyard alone!"

I think she's still unsure whether I was serious or just joking. It happens that our washing machine is placed just outside our kitchen window, and of course each morning she'd have to go out there to deal with the laundry. But she's afraid of the "MMMMM" creature, so she would ask my mother-in-law to sit there to watch her while she does the laundry thing.

Now of course some of you would remember that my mother-in-law can hardly walk. She is forgetful; she sometimes wears her skirt nicely tucked into her panties when she dresses up for church. I'm just waiting for the day when she can't even remember her own name. That will be the cue for us to get professional help. I'm not sure what my maid expects my mother-in-law to do when and if the monster does emerge from the woods to grab her. Maybe she's expecting the old woman to do some Karate Kid stuff—you know—wax on, wax off? That is assuming that she won't faint before pulling off the stunt lah.

And then my maid has an even better idea. She told me that instead of using the kitchen door, she'd go through the front door and make her way to the backyard, so that when the monster decides to reveal itself, she can then run back to the front door. I was, like, "How is that gonna increase your chances of escaping the monster when compared to escaping through the kitchen door?"

Hmm...perhaps it's finally time for me to make a visit to Toys 'R Us to find a scary costume. I can then hide just outside the backyard fence and wait for the right moment to strike when it's time for the laundry chores. I guess Halloween will be much earlier this year; and it will be a lot of fun! The only thing that's stopping me is that my maid has hypertension; I suppose it won't be very funny if she suddenly drops dead. Oh well, sometimes my creativity scares me...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Famous Leader

About a week ago, I posted "The Challenge, The Bragging Rights & The Souvenir" in this blog. I thought that was my last post on the Borneo International Marathon 2016. Then a few days ago, someone spotted a cheater when sorting out the tons of photos at the finish line of the BIM. It was the photo of a lady running to the finish line twice, each time with a different bib. The earlier photo was that of the half marathon bib, which was way past the cut off time. The second photo was that of a full marathon bib, and it was within the cut off time. I suppose she eventually got the finisher medal and T-shirt for the full marathon, even though she ran—and DNF-ed—in the half marathon (because of time).

I will admit that it was interesting to know that someone would actually cheat like that, but I didn't think at the time it warranted a post in this blog. I mean, cheating cases in marathon races are not a new thing. There are many of these creatures out there. I saw the excitement on facebook, and people were beginning to criticize her size. As a matter of fact, a friend was also commenting on her size through Whatsapp, but I carefully refrained from participating. 

I'm not blaming the commenters; people are like that, when they are angry and frustrated, they will find any means of attacking the offending person, and the fact that she's fat became a convenient target. That's just human nature. But I will have none of it. I think it is just mean to criticize someone for being fat. All of us would love to be beautiful in every sense of the word, but we are just not perfect—all of us have weaknesses one way or another. Some of us simply can't control ourselves when it comes to cigarettes; others on drugs and sex; and yes, others still on food. If we're not so crazy about food, we may find it hard to understand why some people can't control their craving for food. But we wouldn't know what these fat people are going through each day, fighting perpetual hunger pangs, and seemingly failing all the time. I wish that we can find it in us to be kind and give them a bit of leeway; give them hope to achieve a healthier body.

Well, I thought the story would die off very soon. But then more photos began to surface. I shall not include the photos here, as I'm sure most of you would have seen them anyway by now. Suffice to say that three persons ran with the same full marathon bib that day, and all three ended up getting the medals and T-shirts.

Suddenly, the story became a big thing, and I've decided that I'd blog about it after all. But not because of the cheating; rather because one of the alleged cheaters was a so-called lecturer and coach in sports and fitness.

Before that, let me just share the modus operandi of how these people beat the system as best as I could piece them out. I have received numerous versions from different parties, each one slightly different, of course. 

The half marathoner ran her race. She failed to meet the cut off time by a huge margin, thus arriving at the finish line with no medal to bring home. Then the coach arrived at the finish line of his full marathon race, well within the cut off time. He got his medal and T-shirt. He had carefully put his bib in a clear plastic when he crossed the finish line, so that when the medal and T-shirt were given to him, instead of marking on the bib, the volunteer marked on the surface of the plastic.

Then came the second act. The bib was then taken out of the plastic and transferred into another plastic. Or perhaps the marker did not stick to the surface of the original plastic. So the DNF-ed half marathoner used that bib to go round to the entrance of the stadium, and duly made her way to the finish line again, this time within the cut off time for the full marathon. So she got the finisher medal and T-shirt for the full marathon.

A third runner followed suit. The only difference is that this time the bib was taken out of the plastic, because I suspect bib in plastic passing through the finish line 3 times might have attracted the attention of the volunteers. And so, the third runner (presumably another DNF-ed half marathoner) also got the medal and T-shirt for the full marathon.

Now let me say that as someone who loves puzzles and riddles a great deal, I admire the creative mind of the cheaters. The trick is so simple and beautiful; and in this case it worked wonderfully well to beat the system. These people have brains, I tell you! But what's more disturbing is that we have a leader that is instilling the wrong kind of mentality in his followers.

At this juncture, let me also mention another interesting, if laughable, version of how it happened. The full marathoner arrived at the finish line with his bib in the plastic. He received the medal and T-shirt. He was happy, and he changed into that finisher T-shirt for the photos. Except that in the process of changing shirts, his bib suddenly went missing, and he did not realise it, and probably stolen by the ladies who then took turns to cross the finish line to get their respective medals and T-shirts. A version of the story that not only put a smile to my face, but it quickly made me reconsider my verdict when I said these people have brains!

Shakespeare's Malvolio would probably have said something like this in reaction to this story:

"Some are born famous, some achieve fame, some have fame thrust upon them."

Well, a sports and fitness lecturer suddenly becomes famous—the fame thrust upon him, but for all the wrong reason. He is a famous leader, but not necessarily a great leader. I have always said that respect is earned, not an automatic right. One must behave respectably before he can expect others to respect him.

A Malay proverb goes like this:

"Guru kencing berdiri, murid kencing berlari."

Which basically means that if a teacher or leader does bad things, then his followers will tend to do even worse than him. Some of us who are leaders in whatever we do should revisit the question of what was it that we sought to achieve when we decided to become a leader. Was it because we wanted to help others to achieve excellence in our field of expertise, or was it because we wanted to turn them into nothingness?

As for the argument that "these people just want to run and have fun", my answer is, yes, of course, by all means, go and run and have lots of fun. Go run in the parks or highways. But when you join organised races, I'm afraid they are rules and regulations to adhere to by everybody. Nobody is forcing anybody to join races if the rules are too impossible to obey.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Challenge, The Bragging Rights & The Souvenir

I have always been a loyal supporter of our very own Borneo International Marathon (BIM). For better or worse, it is the only marathon event we've got here in Sabah for many years now. I've witnessed how the event grow from year to year, and I'm glad to say that it is still growing and improving all the time. The 9th edition of the event was last Sunday (1st May 2016), and I thought it was very well-organised. I'm not saying it is perfect, because there is no such thing as a perfectly-organised event!

It is human nature, however, that not everybody can agree to a particular point of view; and at the end of this post, I shall not be surprised if there are some of you who will disagree and even criticize my opinion. I respect the opposing views, and hope that you will just let mine go.

I suppose by now you can already guess from the preceding paragraph that there were some people who were unhappy with the organiser of BIM. These were because of numerous reasons—some were petty issues, some were of substance—but a lot of it revolved around the issue of the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts, especially in respect of the full marathon (42.2km); that is to say, who deserved them? At a glance, that sounds like a no-brainer question, because the answer seems so straightforward. But upon further consideration, it can become quite complicated!

About one-and-a-half years ago, I posted something about medals in this blog entitled "The Prostitution of Running Medals". To get a proper context of this present post, may I suggest that you read that older post first, since I've also mentioned a bit about the BIM in that post. Besides, the other contents in that post also have a bearing of what I'm about to discuss here now.

People run the marathon for numerous reasons. Some do it simply to prove that they can. Others do it because they are curious to know if they can. Others still do it because they are convinced that it is something healthy, though the truth in that remains to be debated. Whatever the reason, running 42.2km is an epic challenge for the vast majority of ordinary folks.

Curiously though, the point that is often forgotten is that anybody at any time and anywhere can run 42.2km if they want to. In some poor countries where motor vehicles are a luxury, some people may walk or run 42.2km almost on a daily basis. There is absolutely no necessity to run that distance only in an organised race like BIM. Yet most people choose to only run 42.2km in an organised race. Immediately we ask ourselves, why?

The simple answer is that humans quite often fall prey to the pathetic cravings for recognition; that they not only want to achieve a seemingly impossible feat, but they also want to brag about it! While they're at it, they may also inspire others to follow suit. That's where the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts come into play. Therefore, it is perhaps fair to say that people join organised races because they're hoping to earn the finisher medals and T-shirts in the end. That is easy enough to understand—one conquers a challenge, and he is duly given the recognition for that achievement.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. People come from all walks of life, in different shapes and sizes, and wide range of physical abilities. Some can finish 42.2km fast; some not so fast; some extremely not so fast.

A race is a race, and as in any other races out there, time is a significant factor. I think the organiser of BIM could afford to be lenient on time during the earlier years, because the size of the participation was very manageable. They had the resources to "babysit" the slow runners along the way after the cut off time, and saw to their safety until they crossed the finish line. However, as the size of participation became larger, it soon became obvious that it's an uphill task to keep an eye on the slow participants after the cut off times, whereupon the roads would be reopened for the public. The only solution was to be strict on the cut off time, because in the end the safety of the participants is paramount. If anything bad happened to the participants while they're out there with the organiser's bibs on them, the organiser will have a lot to answer.

Anyway, my view is that a cut off time is there for a good reason. Finish the race within the cut off time to earn the medals and T-shirts, no questions asked. From what I've gathered, last Sunday, participants that escaped the sweeper buses, but missed the cut off times when they eventually crossed the finish line, were still given the medals and T-shirts because the orgniser decided to be lenient for an extra hour. Why an "injury time" of an hour, that is entirely up to the organiser. Beyond that time, no medals and no T-shirts. I personally think that an hour's "injury time" was very generous.

Then we had the issue of participants whom did not finish the race, because they were "swept up" at the respective locations as per the rules announced before the race. They may have covered the distance of 30km or 37km respectively when the sweeper buses caught up with them. Yet they are convinced that they deserved the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts for 42.2km. I'm not sure what's their basis of entitlement. If you have read the older post that I quoted above, you will know how I felt about this. Well, my opinion has not changed since one-and-a-half years ago. If one did not finish the 42.2km, he does not deserve the finisher medals and T-shirts, period. There is really nothing to argue about!

If one were to sit for a test, of which the passing mark is 50%, it is at the discretion of the examining body to consider if it could grant a pass somehow if the score is 45%. But to expect earning a pass with 30% is just unreasonable. The sooner we change our mentality, the better we would be to understand what the race is all about. The medal is a symbol of achievement, and when earned according to the rules of the race, can also be a souvenir of that achievement. But it can't be a souvenir—and only a souvenir, without first achieving the minimum passing hurdle.

This reminds me of Macau Marathon which I joined a few years ago. They not only had a very tight cut off time, but missing that cut off by even a mere one minute would result in a DNF (Did Not Finish); and runners were not even allowed to enter the stadium leading to the finish line. Instead, they were redirected to an alternative area. So no finisher medals; there was nothing to argue about.

I hope our local runners would be willing to take a step back and consider these points; and what other organisers are doing. Instead of complaining, we should be energized and inspired to train harder. Let's all come back stronger and faster in the 10th edition of Borneo International Marathon 2017.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Borneo International Marathon 2016

As I'm posting this, my legs are still recovering from the torture of the full marathon in the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) last Sunday (1st May). BIM 2016 is the 9th edition of the race, and I can say that it's the best one yet. I'll share my journey from the start to the finish line of the full marathon in this post, and then later I will deal with the other aspects of the organisation of the race in a separate post.

A few months ago, when I registered for the BIM 2016, I had foreseen that I won't be ready for a PB-hunting mission in early May. I've been training regularly, of course, but my training was mainly for the Half Ironman distance (triathlon), of which the run leg was of the half marathon (21km) only. I've raced 2 Half Ironman distance triathlons this year—in March and in April—and to train for a PB in the full marathon in less than a month after the Putrajaya 70.3 was just something that's too tough for me. Running the full marathon, especially if hunting for a PB, is a different ballgame, and requires a slightly different level of training.

Accordingly, I set my mind on a modest target of a 4:30 finish last Sunday. My running buddy, Dr Peter Ong has also agreed to run a 4:30 full marathon, thus treating the BIM as his peak long slow distance (LSD) as a preparation for his race in the Great Wall Marathon in mid May.

Incidentally, I saw a lady friend named Dazeree posted on her facebook that she's aiming for a sub-4:30 full marathon finish in the BIM, having achieved 4:52 in BIM last year. My first reaction was that she was too ambitious, because it's not so easy to shave more than 20 minutes in the full marathon. However, after finding out some of her running credentials, e.g. 10km pace, training patterns etc, I thought that she had enough ingredients for a sub-4:30 full marathon. I offered her my guidance on how to achieve the 4:30 target, including drawing up a basic training programme for her.

My only concern for Dazeree was that she had way too many mid-distance races on her calendar, thus depriving her much-needed LSDs over the weekends. But on the other hand, the good news was that she was also training for the Beaufort 60km Ultra a few months ago, and the LSD from the training for that race was beneficial for the BIM. The only remaining factor was the racing pace, since many fast runners fail to reach their true potential because they run way too fast in the early stages of the full marathon.

I had another 2 lady friends who wanted to join us on the 4:30 FM mission, but they did not quite live up to the training programme that I had drawn up. I also invited members of the Kota Kinabalu Running Club to join us if they're aiming for a 4:30 FM finish.

On the morning of the race, however, Peter and I started on our own. I tried looking for the ladies in the crowd, but my eyes failed me without my glasses. Because we had intended to run slow, we started from the back of the pack. So many people were blocking our way, and we had to run at 8min/km pace for about 1.5km until we reached the coastal highway. In order to achieve the 4:30 finish, we had to average at 6:10min/km-6:15min/km. Peter said he will let me take the lead, and he will just follow. But as soon as we hit the coastal highway, I think he was suddenly overwhelmed by the kiasunisis disease, and he was the one who initiated the "course correction", thus building up his pace to 5:30min/km. I tagged along and felt surprisingly comfortable. However, as soon as I saw my average pace hit 6:10min/km, I eased down a bit, and saw Peter drifting ahead in the dark.

It was such a pathetic experience running as a pacer, but without anybody running along. However, I caught up with Peter again later just as he was about to climb the first hill in UMS. We ran a little, and then he suggested that we shouldn't waste energy, and just walk up that hill. I had accounted for that walking break anyway, so both of us took our time walking uphill. Then a swift downhill run on the other side. Not too long after that we reached the bottom of the hill, and while running the internal loop, I caught up with Ziezye. I heard that she's a fast short-distance runner, and this was her debut full marathon. Seeing her slender body—my guess is she's probably around 42kg-43kg—and the way she was running, I was thinking that I can transform her into a top Sabahan marathoner. Watch out for her name in the years to come!

But there was no time to lose focus. A little further ahead, I finally caught up with Dazeree. She must have started the race in front of the pack, and it took me about 20km to finally catch up! I was worried that she had started too fast. I tailed her for a kilometre or so, and was pleased to note that she was pacing her run extremely well.

It was just about daylight when we emerged from UMS. Peter was running ahead; I was a few metres behind him; and Dazeree was a few metres behind me. Every now and then I had to check on my Garmin to ensure that we're still on target for the 4:30 finish.

Then a pleasant surprise—the organiser had apparently adjusted the location of the turning point a little nearer, thus arriving at a more accurate 42km for the full marathon. Last year the distance was over by more than half a kilometre. With that correction, I was slightly ahead of my target, and I was able to relax a bit by slowing down my pace. Turning to Dazeree, I told her that we're still on target for the 4:30 finish, but she seemed not fully convinced.

It was a very nice slow jog on the return leg. It was bright morning by then, and it was obvious that the temperature would be building up swiftly very soon. I merely maintained a 6:15min/km pace, and I told Dazeree to go ahead if she could run faster. But each time she went ahead, I noticed that she's getting slower after a while. She was obviously getting exhausted, but fighting very hard to keep running. Each time she became slower, I would catch up and encourage her to keep going. That went on and on for a while. With about 3km to go, I knew that she had the sub-4:30 finish in the bag.

The three of us eventually finished sub-4:30, but I thought it's quite a waste that we couldn't tag along a few more runners with us. Peter finished in 4:26:06; Dazeree did it in 4:27:00; and I did it in 4:26:42. I'm sure there must have been several more runners capable of the sub-4:30 finish if they had paced their runs well.

Photo credit: Jessy Roxy
(For those who don't know me, I'm the sexy runner in front!)

Then another big surprise—Dazeree crossed the finish line in 8th position in her category. An awesome performance. I was, like, "Wow!"

Now that the torture of BIM 2016 is over, I will take a short break with a week of recovery workouts before embarking on an approximate 6 weeks serious training for a PB-hunting mission at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in early July. Time to beat is 3:52. It's tough, but trying is a lot of fun!