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Monday, March 29, 2010

My Third Marathon

Here I am, staring blankly in front of my laptop thinking of another episode of ramblings to blog about. Without any photos to refer to (unlike my previous few events), I find it hard to recall what I went through during the Energizer Night Marathon last Saturday. So, this entry might be short, boring, and hmmm.. pale.

Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that in the previous entry where I said I wanted to target for a 4:30 pace (i.e. 4hrs 30minutes to cover 42.195km), that was my number three goal for the race. My number one goal was to cross the finish line, injury free, and smiling. Goal number two was to accomplish goal number one, with a decent timing. A PB would be a bonus drive.

That goal number three was just a gimmick. A gimmick so that I push myself harder.

Anyway, I only collected my race kit the Saturday late morning itself. A strategy I planned out since Cyberjaya is an alien place to me. So having to go there in the morning allowed me to jampi sikit glance the race start area, and check for parking locations. As experienced by some runners, I was also handed a triple XL size vest, which I requested for a change with a female M size. At least my wife can wear it.

I took a heavy but early lunch. I had a plate of fried rice accompanied by a chicken chop with mushroom sauce, topped off with another plate of white rice. After completed my race kit set up, I only had about half an hour to lie down and tried to get a nap, which I failed big time.

I arrived at race site with more than enough time to do another full set of errands. For the first time, I did not feel any jitters or nervousness for the marathon. Gathering up with fellow runners that I know mostly from their beautiful blogs, we approached the starting line under the burning heat of 5.45pm sun. As I tried to do some warm up run, I forgot that I haven’t stretched my legs. Too much of being calm, huh? Luckily I still got some spare time.

It was so fun to be at the start line among friends, under the tree shades some more. Catching up on latest updates, introducing new friends from near and far. It was like a gathering of an old school or some sort, minus the good foods. We didn’t even bother what was going on at the start line gantry.

Few minutes past 6pm, we were released to begin our long run journey. Some were doing it for the first time, some were doing it for many many times. Everybody came with their own intentions and targets of a marathon run.

I started the run together with Ian. To be frank, I didn’t know what my starting pace was. I just ran with feelings. Breathing felt good, legs felt good, stamina felt good, and I continued plodding. My hydration strategy was to drink at every 10 minutes, which I set my stopwatch (timer) to remind me (the reason why I always run with Fuel Belt, so that I can drink at anytime I set or have to). And my nutritional strategy was to take one gel at each 10km. I also brought along one Nuun tablet, which I regretted a little bit. Oh yeah, the other critical strategy was to try and run as much as possible, which doesn’t necessarily means fast.

Comparing to the 4:30 pace band which I brought along, I clocked negative splits for the first 5km and 10km. My overall body system was still in green, didn’t even feel like I was pushing that hard, yet. With minimal distance marker, I finally lost track of my pacing from then onwards. However, I was still feeling good, running alongside Ian. There was one instance where suddenly Ian ran far ahead of me. I started to wonder whether my engine was slowly getting rusty that early, or Ian just upgraded into a new turbo engine.

Oh yeah, now I know. He might have got the ‘gas leaking’ issues during that time. Ahaha.

Anyway, just as the calling of adzan that we heard from afar was about to finish, we reached the make shift surau at 15km water station. I quickly grabbed a bottle of mineral water for ablution and then spent few minutes for Maghrib. Ian joined me shortly, and as we both finished, I grabbed another few shots of drinks and cool myself down by pouring water all over my body (the reason why I didn’t bring my camera), and continued with my run.

“Go get your 4:30, Nik!”, Ian shouted from behind as I left him who was busy putting on his running socks and shoes. I ran sockless and with quick lace, so I had a little advantage there. But that big shout from Ian did boost up my spirit. Thanks bro.

From then on, I was running alone. Once or twice I turned back to see whether Ian was catching up with me as I didn’t want to feel boring running alone. At this point of time I felt good not to have to spend more time at the water stations to crunch the thirst. My hydration strategy worked well this time. Something I should continue doing in future races.

I tried my best to keep the pace I was having, the comfortable pace. Having that little target focused in my mind, I tried my best to keep up with the pace I was doing, for as much as I could hold. The sky was getting darker with every minute, but the temperature wasn’t getting any much lower.

I was not sure whether I’ve started to run slower, or the water stations were placed further apart. It didn’t feel like 2.5km, not even felt like 3km to get to another sight of water or sponging stations. It felt far. Although water supply was more than enough at each station, what I wanted badly was to cool myself down. I was eyeing more for the icy cool sponging stations, rather than the warm Gatorade they served.

I even stopped at the fire engine for a moment and asked the helpful fire brigade to shower me on with the sprinkler, from top to bottom, front and back. I should have shouted at them, “Help me … I’m burning!!”.

One thing I realized, after I cooled myself down, I felt fresh and strong to increase my pace for a minute or two. And once things dried up and some form of heat started to take over, I can’t push any further and my pace reset itself to the previous value. And the way I cooled myself down at each water or sponging stations might be quite a surprise for the volunteers there.

Getting to the turnaround point (21km mark), I was still clocking a negative split as compared to the pace band. My spirit was elated, but somehow I started to feel that I won’t be able to make it in time. I didn’t know why, but I could sense some ugly cramps were about to pay me a visit. I began to take the Nuun tablet that I bring along, the one and only.

My energy was still considerably in a tip top condition. I did not feel fatigued, or that much tired, yet. As I plodded along past the half way, I was enjoying the view of seeing the runners on the opposite side and cheering for those that I know. Surely enough, my pace has to be reduced bit by bit, as I tried to avoid the cramp from building even bigger.

Wham, kaboom!!! Right there at the spot of 24km distance marker, I had a big cramp on my right calf. Followed suit almost immediately by another big cramp on my left calf. If I were to look down at my calves, I knew I could see my calf muscles being sucked inwards. It was painful, it was nasty. I was not sure whether the brand new 2XU compression calf supports I was wearing contributed to it, or they have helped to keep the cramps at bay prior to that point of time. Whatever it was, 24km distance was not the point I wanted to start walking.

“It’s too early to start walking”, I told myself.

So I continued some form or running, and my pace had long gone. The 4:30 target was already in 50:50 state. It all depended on whether the cramp went away totally and I get back to my pace, or if the cramps decided to stay and developed itself larger.

After a while forcing my self to run with the painful cramps, I was surprised to see that the cramps disappeared. I can’t wait to get to the next sponging station to cool my body and legs down, so as to keep the cramps from re-developing. The journey was still far, and I was hoping so much for the PowerBar gel to do some magic inside of me.

All hope went loose. Regardless of how much drinks I took, or how much I showered myself at every water and sponging stations, the cramps kept on redeveloping and attacking my calves, back thighs and lastly front thighs. Perhaps, next time I should remember to bring more Nuun tablets, or ORS sachets.

Two options came up my mind, to give up, or not to give up.

I haven’t hit the wall yet and I know I can continue running much further. It was just the pain in the leg muscles that were going against me.

The fact that hit me hard in that situation of realizing that a 4:30 target was no longer achievable, did cut my heart into pieces. Yes, although it was only a gimmick target or my number three goal of the event, I felt down for not being able to prepare myself well to fight the cramps even before they decided to attack me.

OK, fine. I changed myself into survival mode, and reset my goal. Now, it was time to go for goal number two.

With the massive cramps over the whole both legs pushing up to my pain threshold, I was forced to take some walk breaks. Certain times the walk breaks helped to reduce the pain, but certain times it just caused the cramps to go crazy on my muscles. And when that happened, I had no other choice other than to continue plodding with the pain. Stopping was never in my choice list. And during previous races where I got similar cramps and tried to stretch it out, well, it didn’t work well for me. My sodium level must have been very low for quite some times, I guess.

Cooling the legs and body with icy cold water did help a lot. The only problem was, they were located pretty much far apart. At least, that’s how I felt.

I wonder why I couldn’t find or see any distance markers after 25 or 26th km. The only point where I could tell the distance was the 29km mark, where they have the water station with PowerBar gel being distributed to all runners under the flyover. I know I couldn’t swallow the chocolate flavored gel, so I just said “no thanks” to the guys there. Another glance at my watch, I knew I have to work hard if I were to at least get a better timing than my previous marathon.

I don’t want to blubber much about the importance of knowing how much further we need to run before reaching the finishing line, especially after running for 30km. This is the point where we runners normally do our final evaluation on whether we can continue pushing and surviving, or give it up to our already-zombie-liked condition. It’s a point where what else remain in any marathon runners is the mental strength. The strength to keep us moving forward.

And having some “verbal distance announcers” was even worse. Sometimes they (the volunteers at road intersections or water stations) mentioned “3km to go”, then at the next point somebody else shouted that we had 5km to go, then it get back to “4km to go”, then it became “7km to go”, then “4km to go” (again?), then “2km to 3km to go”, then “less than 4km to go” (pulak dah!), then “2km to go”. Aiyoh, sakit hati betul lah!!!

With the lack of distance markers, my only survival method (and trying to get a PB) was to try not to walk for as much as I could. Having that much of cramps, I can’t help to ease them up with some short walk breaks. I didn’t allow myself to walk for anything more than a minute at each time because as I know that would jeopardize my already bad timing. I was running very slowly, just to compensate the pain.

With my stopwatch showing 4hrs 44 minutes, I was at the last kilometer stretch. I really wanted to get a PB this time (my last marathon was done in 4hrs53minutes). That last km was among the most painful run I’ve ever done, while keeping myself intact and avoiding any collision with other thousands runners who were happily flooding the finishing gateway area. I had to head up and look around for the finishing gate from afar in the middle of the crowd, just to make sure I could step back on the timing mat before making it to the finish.

My stopwatch was clicked to freeze at the time of 4hr 51mins and with that, I crossed the finishing line with a big smile on my face. (Now, I secretly wish that somebody snapped my photo and email it to me.).

Never mind if later on somebody was saying and claiming that the distance was much less than 42.195km, because if anyone wanted to argue, I would challenge them to go and ask the organizers to take back the prize money from the top ten winners, and tell them “Hey, they did not run the full marathon distance accurately lah, so their finishing times were not valid nor can be counted!”. How about that, huh?

And never mind if my timing this time can arguably not be my new PB, but I know I’ve done my PBE – Personal Best Effort.

Oh yeah, only after the run I realized that one portion of my right foot was bleeding, because I saw a blood stain when I wanted to take off my shoes after the run.

No wonder one of my toe felt so much in pain.

The after-race moment was well spent by congratulating many other friends on their achievements crossing the finishing line. We had a good recovery supper afterwards with the usual gang (in fact this was the first time I ever gathered with them after a race), where I managed to gobbled down a full plate of mutton briyani, courtesy of Mr. MacamBagus (thanks a lot Ian). And I think some of them were surprised to see my ‘carboloading’ skills. Hahaha.

And now, I’m limping. All leg muscles, left and right sides, upper and lower legs were still badly sore (I don’t count muscle soreness as injuries though). But, it was a good experience all together, especially when having good friends around at the same ground. I had a great third marathon.

Some quotes were saying something like “Pain is temporary, glory remains forever”. And I want to have more glorious experience in the future.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Going For My Third

I ran my first marathon in order to see whether I can finish the whole 42km on foot. Mind you, I was never a long distance runner, so that was already a big challenge for me.

Then I ran my second marathon to see whether I can improve my previous timing. It was a tough struggle for me.

And for this third time, I’m going to see if I can beat myself with below target.

It is not guaranteed though, as anything can happen during the race.

But the least I could do is, TO TRY MY BEST!

Yes, I will try my best, InsyaAllah.

Good Luck to all Energizer Night Race 2010 participants.
Believe in yourselves, you can do it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bad Romance

I'll try my best not to include too much drama in this entry, as I don't have the luxury of time to do so. In fact, this is the first I'm writing an entry on the bus, on my way back from KL to JB. I know my upcoming working week is going to be another bustling busy one.

Well, if you read my previous entry, I was targeting to attempt running from Kiara Park to Bukit Aman, and make a turnaround there. The total distance would be around 30km-ish.

Having arrived quite late on Friday night from JB, I didn't really get a good sleep prior to Saturday morning. My first alarm went off and I snoozed it. Not until the second alarm went off that I realized I was already slightly late from my intended wake up time. Anyway, by 6.30am I made myself available at Kiara Park.

I wanted to start the run at 6.30am sharp, but had to cancel that intention as few minutes have to be spent in the loo, doing some 'transactions'. Next, had to spend another few minutes plastering up blister prone areas on my both feet as once again, I'm going to run sock-less.

I started my stop watch at 6.50am heading out from Kiara Park with two bottles around my waist on my Fuel Belt, filled with Gatorade. It was still dark and not so many runners around. Just after two minutes running, I knew it would be a tough day for me as I didn't really feel fit for the 31km run. Perhaps the lack of sleep before that played the main reason for me feeling as such.

My journey from Kiara Park to Hartamas felt just like any other LSD I did before, drama-less. I didn't even stop at Petronas Hartamas, and headed directly towards Plaza Damas, and then straight away until the government building complex.

In order to sustain my hydration, I set my timer to beep at every 10 minutes to remind me to take some little sip of Gatorade as I continued running. I was just hoping that my Fuel Belt has sufficient of supply until I reach the next water refill station, which was going to be another 10km away, plus minus.

As it was on Saturday, not so many runners could be seen around the quiet Taman Tunku and Jalan Tun Ismail. I started to feel some degree of fatigue in the whole body system. Everything felt a bit weak, I can't push any harder. Being able to maintain my slow pace was already good enough.

After 1hr36m running, I finally arrived at Bukit Aman parking area. The first thing that came to my mind was, ”Hey, where's my car? I want to drive home now”. I really wished my car was there. I started to doubt that I can run back to Kiara Park from Bukit Aman.

I took a short break and refilled my bottles with two cans of 100plus from the food stall at the car park area. Not so good choice really, because as I started to run again and as my Fuel Belt shakes, the gaseous 100plus burst and the contents were reduced to half. I should have bought another type of drinks next time, non-gaseous type is a must.

I braved the journey back, applying some forced walk breaks strategy at every 10minutes, while re-hydrating. Upon reaching 2hours of running, I downed one PowerBar Gel, and added another plaster at the heel of my left foot. It felt chafed. My pace had reduced considerably and I started walking. I kept telling myself not to walk, not until when the time is due, which is at every 10minutes intervals. It started to feel tough.

The sun has also started to show itself, adding up another challenge into my LSD run. I was running while day dreaming of the icy cool Gatorade which I will down furiously as I arrived Petronas Hartamas later. It was getting harder to keep on running. I was controlling on my re-hydration with the very limited 100plus left. I just wanted to get to that petrol station as fast as I could. I needed to drink and cool down my body so badly.

I didn't waste any seconds once I arrived at that Petronas station, quickly went to grab myself two bottles of Gatorade. Refilled my Fuel Belt, and finished up the balance in split seconds. After 5 minutes, I went to take 'shower' by the tap water before continuing my run. I hoped no one was looking as it surely looked weird to see a man taking a shower by the petrol station, with his cap, and shirts, and shorts, and shoes on.

”Time for my home run”, I told myself. The day was getting hotter and my body and legs were getting weaker with every step I made. Speed or pace was not anymore my target during that moment, I just wanted to finish the grueling run. One step at a time, I continued running. I was always looking forward for the every 10minutes timer beeps where I can slow down to walking, and fueling up with another sips of drinks.

Finally, I reached Kiara Park with a very satisfied feeling that I've made it back. It was tough no doubt, especially because I was not feeling the best for the run. I just had to clock that final long LSD before starting my tapering process (yeay!).

And that was my longest solo LSD run ever. EVER!

31km, in 3hr 20min. It was a sock-less, MP3-less, drama-less, and blister-less (alhamdulillah) run. I was just glad I attempted it.

And if you ask me what was I thinking while running alone for more than 3 hours under the morning sun, my answer would be ”Bad Romance”.

Yeah, the song Bad Romance by Lady Gaga kept on blasting in my head throughout the whole run. Hmm, I wonder why.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kiara - Bukit Aman Project

Ever since I started long distance running, my normal running ground is from Kiara to Hartamas and Masjid Wilayah and then turnaround, which I normally run with my running buddy, Kash. On some other little occasions, I would start my run from Bukit Aman, heading towards Hartamas and then turnaround to Bukit Aman.

Combining those two routes, I always had the intention to run between both extreme ends, i.e. to start from Kiara Park and turnaround at Bukit Aman, heading back to Kiara Park., or vice versa.

I mentioned once or twice about this idea, but some friends said the distance would be close to 40km, which would be a little bit too much to attempt, furthermore with a full marathon race coming up in two weeks time.

Not sure why, the temptation was so high today that I worked up the distance with MapMyRun (www.mapmyrun.com), for a running route from Kiara Park, going pass Hartamas, Taman Tunku, towards Bukit Aman parking lot, and make a turnaround there to get back on the same route to Kiara Park.

If my mapping is correct, the total distance (out and back) will be just about 30.5km.

Surprisingly, I feel that this is very doable.

I think I want to run this route during this weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday, it depends. I’m so looking forward for it. This is weird, because normally I don’t really look forward for any LSD runs.

The only problem I’m seeing here is that, the hydration plan.

Normally if starting from Kiara Park, the normal hydration point is at Petronas Hartamas. However, will there be any other hydration points in between Hartamas and Bukit Aman? I know I can top up my fuel belt bottles at the food stalls at Bukit Aman parking area during the turnaround, but I don’t think my fully loaded fuel belt can last for 10km from Hartamas to Bukit Aman.

Hey, hang on a minute. I think can lah!

Have to struggle a bit though.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Donkey And The Dog

[I got this via email from a friend]

This is an interesting story. Read on.

There was once a washer man who had a donkey and a dog. One night when the whole world was sleeping, a thief broke into the house, the washer man was fast asleep too but the donkey and the dog were awake. The dog decided not to bark since the master did not take good care of him and wanted to teach him a lesson.

The donkey got worried and told the dog that if he didn't bark, the donkey would have to do something himself. The dog did not change his mind and the donkey started braying loudly.

Hearing the donkey bray, the thief ran away, the master woke up and started beating the donkey for braying in the middle of the night for no reason.

Moral of the story "One must not engage in duties other than his own".




OK, now take a new look at the same story...

The washer man was a well educated man from a premier management institute. He had the fund as of looking at the bigger picture and thinking out of the box. He was convinced that there must be some reason for the donkey to bray in the night.

He walked outside a little and did some fact finding, applied a bottom up approach, figured out from the ground realities that there was a thief who broke in and the donkey only wanted to alert him about it. Looking at the donkey's extra initiative and going beyond the call of the duty, he rewarded him with lot of hay and other perks and became his favourite pet.

The dog's life didn't change much, except that now the donkey was more motivated in doing the dog's duties as well. In the annual appraisal the dog managed an "ME" (Met Expectations) grading.

Soon the dog realized that the donkey was taking care of his duties and he could enjoy his life sleeping and lazing around.

The donkey was rated as "Star Performer". The donkey had to live up to his already high performance standards. Soon he was over burdened with work and always under pressure and now is looking for a NEW JOB.




So, which one are you like?

Like the donkey, or like the dog?

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Doesn’t Kill You…

…will make you stronger.

But it can also make you scream your lungs out for having to hold the pain when the water from the shower touches your underarms chafing skins. Ooouuuchhh!!!

The bad thing about not doing a training with a proper training plan is as what they used to say, ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. Scary thoughts, huh?

Well, it’s not that I don’t have any plan at all for my training, but the plan is not being concretely scribbled on any kind of writing material, neither online nor offline. They are jumbled inside my head. I know, this is not good. And sure enough, I will get a proper training plan if I am to participate in more grueling events.

Anyway, apart from executing my planned LSD last weekend (I just needed to run long distance, that was my plan), I also made use of that opportunity to do one experiment. The risk of which if I fail, I may end up not being able to run for few weeks. Thus, I can say bye-bye to Energizer night marathon which is coming in 3 weeks time.

But, the success of such an experiment would bring me one step higher as I climb my pain threshold graph, so to speak. Yeah, I believe that we are able to adapt and accept bigger and larger pains, if we train for it. Our body has a very amazing adaptive capability.

The story started as I went out for my LSD run with my brand new date. Her name is Avi Bolt. No, she’s not a human being, nor she is a Navi (as in Avatar movie).

Amazingly light!

And the experiment I mentioned earlier was, to do long distance run without socks, in a new pair of shoes, in both hot and wet conditions. An experiment not fully done by choice, but also partially by force. Senang cerita, ada unsure-unsur terpaksa jugak la.

My Sunday started early, though I woke up slightly later that the time I intended to. Not sure whether it was going to be a good and strong day for me, but I desperately needed to do the long run as I’ve missed few running slots (i.e. training) recently. Jiwa kacau bilau.

By 6.30am, I prepped up and 10 minutes later, Kash and I rumbled slowly in the darkness making our way for another 3hrs plus time on foot, pounding the tarmac. Initially I was wearing socks, as I always do. But this time, I also put on some plasters at some possible-to-get-blister locations, just in case as I know this Avi Bolt which is half a size smaller than what I normally wear might give me some scars later.

Not long into the run (20 minutes I guess), the heaty and crampy sensations I felt in both feet were beyond comfort. Without many options, I took off my socks and continued running. I did not blame that virgin shoes, not her fault.

So, that’s where my experiment started.

Whether it will be a painful experience or not, that’s another story. “Let see how far I can survive the pain or discomfort”, I told myself. It was my first time running long distance without socks.

Arriving at Petronas Hartamas for refueling, I started to feel more discomfort but not much of pain as yet. Weird enough, it felt great to know that I was able to run sock-less up to this distance.

With the good cloudy morning weather, we opted to try new route. The running time has shown just over 1 hour as we departed after the short break. And instead of attempting for three mentally torturing loops around Matrade and government building complex as we did few weeks ago, Kash and I agreed to do an out-and-back route. I suggested to Kash that we should run into Bukit Tunku towards Bukit Aman, and just make a turnaround when we get to 1.5hours running time. That would give a 3 hours (plus plus) total running time, just as what we needed to.

With both of us still having full water supply (we carry our own hydrations), we plodded on. It has been quite a while since I last ran within the vicinity of peaceful Bukit Tunku. I think I like this place (to run).

Reaching the first T-junction, we made a quick recovery stop. I could sense blisters were trying to emerge at few places. The discomfort-ness has turned into un-easy-ness feeling. The feeling of which I wish I could stop the run and took off the shoes before something bad happens. That kind of feeling.

We then ran back towards Hartamas, and as we reached the government building complex again, I realized Kash’s shades were gone. She was shocked too. We decided to track back to the T-junction with a hope that the shades would still be there, untouched.

Kash’s pace increased tremendously, indicating to me how much she didn’t want to lose the pair. We even tried to hike a cab so that we can get to the T-junction faster, but the driver had something else to do. So, with not much help I can offer her, I told her that I’ll try to run there as fast as my legs can bring me. A short opportunity for some speed work, which I lack a lot.

I felt sad as well when I saw nothing lying on the curb at the T-junction where we stopped earlier. Kash must have had a broken heart when I returned empty handed. Anyway, life goes on, and the run must go on too.

I had to ask for additional plasters from Kash to cover some additional areas of chafing around my feet. The journey back would be slightly challenging as the pain started to tag along my run. It’s time to see how far I can take this pain. In addition to the chafing at the feet, there were also some building up at my underarms, due to the continuous rubbing with the sleeveless shirt I was wearing. Ok, this was purely my bad, as I forgot to apply any BodyGlide there.

When making another refueling stop at Petronas Hartamas, I cooled myself down with the pipe water at the petrol station, from top to bottom. Mandi terus. I increased my pace up a little bit when running from Masjid Wilayah towards Hartamas, and that may have caused my body temperature to raise. Hence, I needed to cool down.

And that really helped to refresh the body and soul, and also my spirit to finish the run strong. However, I was further risking my feet by wetting the shoes. Remember, I was not wearing socks. Not sure how much damage that would cause me.

Kash started to feel the fatigue as we headed back to Kiara from Petronas Hartamas and she decided to slow down to run-walk-run. I felt a bit guilty for leaving her behind alone, but I also wanted to see how much I can hold up the pain by running through it. Anyway, I continued my plodding after excusing myself to Kash. I had this kind of feeling mentally inspired by the memories I get from Langkawi recently.

It felt good to feel this fresh, especially after already ran for more than 20km plus. Very rare I had this kind of situation, seriously. Normally, I would already beg for mercy after doing 20km or so. But this time as I was doing the home run, I was somehow feeling strong.

Different story for the legs though. They were in pain, no doubt about it. If only you can see my facial expressions at that time.

I set my timer to beep every 10 minutes, to tell me when I should start to force walk and hydrate myself. Also, to rest the pain in the feet. With each and every 1 minute walk breaks I took, the legs were begging me to stop but at the same time I really wanted to see how far can I go along with this level of pain.

"Don't become a sissy and just suck it up lah!", I told my self.

Plodding alone with the pain was challenging enough. While monitoring (by feeling) my painful feet so that I won't create any permanent damage to them, I kept on running carefully towards Kiara Park where finally I saw Rais with his son, waiting for Kash.

I finally completed my 30km run that Sunday morning in spite of clocking a slow timing of 3hr 25min. Better than nothing. All I wanted to know at that time was whether there were any serious blisters developed. As I carefully took off the shoes from my painful feet, I was glad to see that my feet survived from any blisters despite all the pain that I felt during the run. And I hope that made me become a little bit stronger, physically and mentally, to battle bigger pains in the future.

Plasters at potential blister prone areas.
My apology for killing your appetite for the day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ironman Langkawi 2010

This was my journey as a spectator and a supporter.

It’s the toughest show on earth, indeed.

My plan to go to Langkawi to support fellow triathlete friends competing in the IM Langkawi 2010 was very much of an add hoc. I didn’t even make any reservations for any accommodations or transportation. I just booked for the flight ticket about three weeks earlier, and I gambled my way to Langkawi on Thursday night, cowboy style. After a few phone calls to some very handsome triathletes arriving few days earlier, I managed to get a place to straighten my back for that night. Luckily I managed to get myself a rental motorbike upon my arrival at the airport. Getting a motorbike is highly recommended in this situation when coming alone to a big event like this where many road blocks were expected here and there. Easy to get around and also easier to get sun burn.

A DAY BEFORE THE RACE

As the sun rises the next morning, I took the opportunity to accompany them for a short run of 4km (2km out, 2km in) along the race course. Some other triathletes were seen either on their bikes, or with their running shoes. They must be doing their final fine tunes.

With Dush, Abu and Ayet for a morning run.

I guess this chute has been used for few years already.

After the run, we grabbed our breakfast and quickly went to the jetty as Ayet wanted to have a swim try run. This was where the race start will take place, and also the bike transition area. The ocean that particular morning (it was about 9am-ish) was very calm, though I could see a slight current pushing inwards shore, which should be a torture for the swim out, but will provide some help for the swim back. No sign of jelly fish presence was reported that morning.

The pontoon at the swim start area. That’s Simon Cross standing in white/grey tri-suit, gearing up for his swim dry run.

The swim course. Scary isn’t it? You can’t even see the turnaround point which was located 1.9km away from the starting line.
Some say the distance between those small flags are approximately 30m apart, well I don’t know..
Click the picture to appreciate the distance. I purposely upload this one in its original size.

We then went to the host hotel, Seaview, for the race briefing. The room was almost filled with participants coming from 41 countries, the pro’s and the age groupers. The organizers explained about the race course, the rules, and answered the questions these participants had. I managed to snap some more shots.

Hundreds of brave souls focusing on the race briefing. I wonder what was going on in their minds.

Very true, isn’t it?

Oh gosh, I’m salivating.

Too good to miss this opportunity for a quick snap shot with the previous year champion, Luke McKenzie.

Just about noon, I left the hotel for lunch and then went searching to secure myself a room to stay for another two days somewhere nearby the race venue. Stopped by at few hotels and motels, many were already full house. At last, I managed to get a room at a deserted motel without any air conditioning or water heater. Well, what can I expect? I was on low budget, and I didn’t make any prior bookings. I can live with ceiling fan, no worries.

That evening, I went to the bike transition area where participants needed to deposit their bikes and race bags. The bike mechanics (from TheBikeBoutique) inspected the bikes to make sure every components are secured (handlebars, aerobars, saddle and seat posts), before granted the participants to proceed to their transition points.

A bike mechanic inspecting the bikes.

The bikes of the pro’s. Gosh, I’m salivating again.

These are the running transition bag in yellow. The white ones are the bike transition bags.

The changing tent. With that small signage of “male” and “female”, I bet some triathletes would end up in the wrong tent, especially after swimming for 3.8km.

I peeped inside the male tent and I saw this. A bike and wheelchair of a disabled triathlete.

TBB mechanic troubleshooting some bike problems.

Emma, Stupe, Arif and Sofian, at the registration counter. What a coincidence.

The queue into the transition area grew longer.

It was great to have a chance to chat with some of the participants. I got some more photos, but I think I’ll just dump them in my Facebook or Picasa albums (once I have more extra free time to do that). When the sun set in, I joined some of them for an early dinner as they planned to hit the sack pretty early. I hung around alone after the dinner not knowing what exactly to do, roaming with the motorbike. And just before I called it a day, I helped myself with a plate of tosay and I then forced myself to sleep at 10.30pm, as the next day will be a very long day for everybody.

THE RACE DAY

If there is any time where you don’t want things to go wrong, is the morning of a big race like this. One veteran participant from Germany forgotten something at his hotel, and as soon as I arrived at the Kuah jetty, he asked whether I could bring him to his hotel to pick up his stuffs. Without any hesitation (as it was still early, 6am) I invited him to hop on to my trusted rental motorbike, dropped him at the hotel, waited for a while (though he didn’t ask me to), and transported him back to race site. He then wanted to give me a red note as a token of appreciation to which I rejected kindly and replied him, “Thank you sir, but it was my pleasure to help Ironman triathletes. You can keep the cash.”

Another case I heard was that, one participant lost his timing chip. How disastrous could that be, especially if you are aiming to be the first Malaysian triathlete to finish the race. Fortunately the timing chip was later discovered.

There’s a prayer room facility at Kuah jetty so Muslim participants and spectators can perform their prayers in the very early morning.

These are the special aids plastic bags. One for the bike course, another one for run course. Participants can put their nutritional supplies like fruits, Big Mac (ahaha), PowerBar gels, cupcakes, or whatever they wish to eat while racing as they come to the special aids point.

The morning started off with participants getting their body marked. Most of the faces I saw that morning were nervous faces. I used to have this kind of nervous face when I get my body marked during smaller triathlons, but I believe nothing can beat the nervousness of being body marked for an Ironman triathlon.

If you are not nervous at this moment, I guess something is wrong somewhere.

Maybe these were among the youngest supporters of the day.

By about 7am, the participants were called to standby at the pontoon. It was still pretty dark by that time and not having a pass to enter the transition area, we all spectators were only able to view from afar.

I think this was the best zoom capability my camera could do.

By 7.30am sharp, the pro’s were released for their swim. The numbers were quite small. And 15 minutes later the age groupers were gunned off for their swim start. The Ironman triathlon race has begun in the calm morning of February 27.

The age groupers in the water.

Yeah, looooooongggg way to go.
Time to go grab my breakfast.

Normally, the first pro swimmer would be back after about 40 minutes, but this time it took them slightly longer. I thought the current must be pretty strong this time. I was checking my watch now and then while having my breakfast to make sure I was ready to snap the first bike out of transition.

Defending champion, Luke McKenzie was the first rider out for the bike leg.

I wanted to get into the transition area to snap closer shots, but without media or crew passes, I was sure enough that I will be chased out by the officials. Fortunately, a friend of mine lent me a temporary media pass and with that, I went inside for better photo snapping opportunities.

Without this, you might be chased out.

The age groupers took a quick shower to wash off the salty sea water.

A table was prepared for participants who needed to place their prescription glasses for use after their swims.

Some of the supporters and photographers who managed to squeeze in even without having media pass. Hmmm. Next time I should bring larger camera, and not my tiny point-n-shoot camera.

The emcees of the day.

Coming out of the water, participants took their bike transition bags and entered changing tents.

The volunteers (I heard they are UUM students) were ready to assist the triathletes giving out the transition bags.

Time to grab their bikes, pushed them, and off they went exiting the transition area to start the 180km bike leg.

Even a blind person dared to do Ironman triathlon. In fact, this Japanese guy (at the back) has done few Ironman triathlons before. How impressive is that.

Not many knew, but I got an ad-hoc volunteer job for that day, which was to transport one of Snap Attack’s (www.snap-attack.com) cameraman wherever he wishes to go during the race. So, after he finished up taking photos at the swim course, I took him into the cycling leg where he continued his job taking photos of his clients in action. Since he can’t be shooting everybody, so I had to slow down and hunt each of his clients on the bike course. It was somehow fun. Plus, I got the chance to give my support by cheering while on my motorbike.

His (the cameraman) first photo shoot spot was at the long stretch by the airport. So, I picked up a good spot, which was just before the triathletes make the big turn at the end of the airport runway. The long stretch provided good scenery to capture the struggling faces as they ride on the long straight windy road.

So, from about 10am until 1pm, I was there with the cameraman under the hot sun by the airport runway. He did his job as a cameraman, and I did nothing much, other than cheering for the all the triathletes. Oh yeah, I also took some more amateur photo snaps. And since I was the only soul there standing under the heat and cheering, I got some good feedbacks from them. Some gave thumbs up, some smiled back, and even managed to say thanks, eventhough they were struggling under the same heat as I was.

The cameraman was busy doing his job capturing the shots. Looking at his gadget, I bet you the photos he took surely will be awesome.

I have many more, but these will suffice for now (before my blog gets flooded with pictures more than words).

The disabled guy with his special bike.

The blind Japanese triathlete with his tandem bike.

We were there for so long time that we managed to see two planes took off and one plane landing.

Satisfied with the photos he took by the airport, we went to another nice spot – the hill climbing spot. This was where I saw the real struggling efforts, especially to be facing the same steep climb for the second and third times. This was the time to prove whether or not you really love climbing. If I am to attempt for an Ironman, I would have to put plentiful amount of climbing training during the long rides.

I would gladly help pushing them while they climb, but knowing that will only lead them for disqualifications, I could only offer my cheers and verbal supports. That’s the least I could do.

Not long after, the cameraman told me that he needed to get back to transition area as his memory card was almost full. After dropping him off, I wanted to go cheer for those on the running course. And just as I exited the Kuah jetty area, I saw a group of superbikes, lead by a police traffic bike and a media bike, riding around and alongside one runner. I’m sure he was the champion of the day. Amazing timing. Just imagine, while some others were still doing the bike laps, this guy has done with his marathon run.

The champion of the day, Marino Vanhoenacker from Belgium.

After watching he crosses the finish line, I made my way to the running course. Many of them were running loops after loops in the blazing hot evening sun. It was so tough I guess, that I always see someone walking along the course. Some were still looking good and strong.

A portion of the running course, where the water station and sponging station were located.

Some other portions of the run course were very dusty as the roads besides it were kind of under construction. So, anytime vehicles passed through that area, a cloud of dust will cover the whole atmosphere, making the runners suffering more on their breathings.

And another area exactly in front of Idaman Suri shopping center, the civilians were busy crossing the running course to get to their buses or cars. What a bad scenario to be in during the last leg of an Ironman triathlon. I’m sure these had demoralized many of the triathletes who were already struggling even to put some effort of walking.

I don’t know exactly why, but I was attracted to go at the turnaround point. Going to that point with my motorbike was not an issue at all, and I managed to witness these triathletes battling alongside the run course. If I’m not mistaken the time was about 5pm to 6pm-ish, and the sun was still shining quite brightly. That surely put a lot of pressure and challenge to these competitors. The runners have to make 5 loops around a 8km running course (4km out, 4km back), which means they have to collect 4 ribbons before going for their home run to the finish line.

This was the run turnaround point, where I stood up cheering and supporting all the triathletes from 5pm-ish until 11.30pm, alone.

I read lots of our local triathlete blogs, so it happened to be that I know their names. So, to those that I know their names, I would be cheering and calling their names. Of course many of them did know even know me, and for that reason many of them were pretty shocked at first when I cheered out their names. It was really fun, though my skin were already burning under the hot evening sun.

As for other triathletes, I also cheered for them. Many who I believe came from Japan, I would cheer in Japanese language “Ganbare Nippon!” and they would always say “arigato”. The blind Japanese guy even thanked me in Bahasa Malaysia, “terima kasih Malaysia”. That made me smile.

Sponge on the head to keep the temperature down.

The blind Japanese triathlete, running along his guide runner.

And this is the disabled triathlete, using his special wheel chair for the race.

The best way to quickly cool down the body – shower!

While the sun was still shining its evening ray, many triathletes were still able to run, or managed some kind of jogging. But to be running a marathon in an Ironman race would require the strongest of mental strength. Your body was already hammered down, fatigue, cramp, sun burn, dehydrated, blisters, etcetera. And yet you still have to keep on moving forward to get to the finishing line for the Ironman title. To be doing the 5 loops run was a big mental torture itself, if you ask me.

Because that’s what I observed while cheering for them for more than 5 hours.

As the day turned dark, many have resorted into walking but still a few of them were still strong to do a slow jog. If earlier many could still put up some smile on their faces, later on the smiles have gone. I’m sure they have switched into their survival mode, trying to put one step in front of another. I kept on cheering for them loop after loop after loop, and in fact I realized some of them had noticed my presence in the darkness there.

Even the volunteers had fallen asleep. They have been there since noon to take care the timing mat.

The disabled triathlete braving into the darkness. What an awesome spirit shown by him.

The blind Japanese also had to venture the running under the street lights.

The only way for me to recognize how many loops they have gone through, was to see how many ribbons they have collected. For those who have collected four ribbons, I would cheer for them;

“Come on, keep it up! It’s time for your home run, and it’s time to go grab your Ironman medal! It’s almost there… go go go!”

I hope that boosted up a little bit of their spirit.

The clock kept on ticking. Hour after hour, lesser runners were on the course. At some point it was pretty quiet at that turnaround point. I heard from the officials that they will only allow those runners who have collected the fourth ribbon (at the turnaround point nearby Seaview hotel) to be on the run course after 11.45pm. Which means, those who haven’t got the fourth ribbon before 11.45pm shall understand that they won’t have enough time to finish the race within 17 hours.

In fact, there were few of them who have given up, knowing that they won’t make it in time. And having a true spirit of an Ironman triathlete, they said they will come again next year. What a spirit!

By 11.30pm, I made a move towards the finishing line to catch the last glimpse of the survivors of the day. I have some other individual photos but too many to put them all here. Perhaps those will go to my Facebook lah.

The atmosphere at the finishing line was still uplifting with cheers and claps filling up the air. I started to feel a little bit tired of standing all day that I took the opportunity to rest my legs for a while, while chatting along with some of the Ironman finishers, congratulating them.

The blind Japanese triathlete did it again!

They survived the whole ordeal of an Ironman race. Tough guys!

I stayed at the finishing line until 12:45pm as they counted down to the 17th hours of racing, the official cut off time. After spending more time for catching up with friends and a very late supper, I think I ended up my day at around 3am.

It was an amazing experience for me, being there to witness the preparation, the atmosphere, the race course, the hard work of the triathletes, the tensions, the struggles, the smiles, the tears (yeah, I really saw one triathlete cried on the bike), the support between them and the spirit.

Yeah, the spirit of Ironman.

Well done to all triathletes who crossed the finish line for their first time, or for a repeat Ironman title. Your effort to finish the race was truly amazing and inspirational, no matter how fast or slow you did it. The determination to finish counts! Very impressive indeed.

And to those who had a super tough day and did not manage to complete the race, your Ironman spirit will always be there. There’s always next time and I hope one day you’ll cross the finish line, smiling.

And I hope I will too.