Happy Thoughts. Osaka Marathon 2015

Thought I'd better squeeze in a marathon before I rejoin the working class. After a two years hiatus, and much soul searching, I realize I am not quite cut out for retirement. Somehow, the lack of work has made me soft and mushy. The brain has been left too idle for too long. Therefore, instead of sitting and waiting for the inevitable regression, it is time to re-emerge from my hibernation and get stressed out all over again. Whoopy dee da!

So Osaka was strategically available for the picking. It was down to a matter of booking for the last minute hotels and flights, then I am good to go. Pleaded with the wife that I wanted some 'alone' time, and she relented....Phew!  

However, training on the other hand was not great. With the issue of haze and the cancellation of Standard Chartered KL Marathon 3 weeks earlier, the original master plan was thrown into disarray. But what can one do? I just had to make do like everybody else: Treadmills, it is. 

Somehow, the taper was not as hard as I thought. I was already doing minimally. There was not much stress either as I was not eyeing for any sub 3 attempt anyway. So, it was a matter of enjoying my last 'freedom' before getting busy with working life again. In a way, it was a private retreat to re-orientate the mind and soul. I was seeking to find that 'spot'. And if possible, that 'spark' too if I could manage.

If you only have a short time, the last thing to do with a 'marathon holiday' is to find a place that you are totally unfamiliar with. Believe me, there isn't time for that kind of stress. So, Osaka suited me. Simply because of the OCD in me that prefers to not frown over the logistics. I just wanted to focus. After all, though not attempting a sub 3, it still didn't mean that I should be half-hearted with it. That would defy any logic in running. "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." One of my favorite Pre quotes. The gift of life and the ability to run should never be wasted with mediocre attempts. It is a privilege and I take it seriously. (Too seriously sometimes!)

Armed with that, I braved the Airasia craft, with its tiny seats and claustrophobic cabin to journey towards Kansai. After that, all was merely autopilot. The race bib pick up, hotel check in and sushi/Kuromon Ichiba....the usuals etc....it was like I never left. I even had time to leisurely wonder to Tennoji Park to find that quiet moment with God....

And a world of good it did me too.

In that quietness, I reflected upon my past two years of 'wilderness' experience. The sight of families engaging in a myriad of activities in the park, having 'fun in the autumn sun' was surprisingly soothing. And inspiring. Therein is a world that I have long forgotten. Perhaps its due to the fact that I have been cooked up in my Penang abode for far too long, it suddenly dawned on me that I was in need of a fresh perspective, badly. I have forgotten what it is to have fun. The joy of relating to another human soul. The joy of loving and caring....

.....it made me wonder, what really happened to me?

Sometimes, all we really need in life is a perspective. Something to keep us looking forward and at the same time, keep us grounded.

In retrospect, the gift of running, in many ways, was in fact God's providential act of mercy towards me. He knows how to relate to me. After all, He knows me all too well.

That moment of quiet time was just what I needed to allay my unrest. Believe me, it was a huge load off my chest! With that settled, I turned my attention to the race. All that was left, it seemed, was for the vessel to deliver.

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Race day. After a restful night, I arrived at Osaka Castle Park in good time. Bright and early. Merging into a massive crowd of 30K runners was like contributing a drop in the ocean. One would think that a crowd size like this would throw everything into utter chaos. But not this one. The orderly atmosphere achieved by this barely 5 year old marathon is something to be applauded. And it has been consistent for the last few times too. Thus, in my opinion, Osaka sets itself apart as comparable even to some world class marathons like Tokyo Marathon.

Lodged my check in baggage and started my 15 minutes walk-jog to the starting pent at Corral A. The Osaka Castle Park is the perfect venue for the starting line because of its sheer size which easily accommodates such a massive crowd. It reminds me of the Tiergarten in Berlin where the starting line was also situated within the park itself. Perhaps this is the winning formula for a world class marathon?

Warmed up briefly and entered my corral just in time before they announced the closure of the corrals for all designated runners. (If you arrive later than 8:30 am, you would be denied entry and only allowed to join the rear of the pack, somewhere at G or H!)

Collected my thoughts as I waited in the pent. Like a hound about to be released, I felt eager but at the same time, relaxed. Serene and not a troubled thought. And most certainly not even thinking about the goal time. I was just ready for my run.

Then came the gun off at 9:00 am.

And we were off. My initial pace was quite slow. Coupled by the fact that there was some congestion too, I moved at about 4:20 pace in the first couple of km. As the congestion eased, I swiftly up a notch with the pace to cruise comfortably between 4:10-4:13. Occasionally with a gradual downward slope, I was able to quicken to a 4:05. But average pace was a surprisingly consistent 4:12.

Though weather was warmer as per forecast, it was rather windy at various points. But rain or shine, I am usually impervious to these conditions. However, after the initial few km, I was increasingly conscious of the discrepancy between the mileage markers and my GPS. Thus contributing to a 'false indication' of my actual pace. Therefore, in other words, I would actually be going slower than the pace shown on my GPS. So, the only sensible thing to do is to dish the GPS pace and just correlate the markers with the time lapsed.

At 10 km, 15 km, 21 km, 30 km, 35 km, I checked the time lapsed for all these check points and was happy to know that I was making good progress towards a sub 3. But to be complacent at this point was to invite trouble. As I have learned from previous races, never start assuming that you could sustain the same pace until you have actually crossed that finish line. Anything could go wrong at any point. Never ever assume and get carried away.

For this race, I took a total of 6 gels. A little more than my usual of 4. On hindsight, it was a good advice by fellow runner Jamie Pang who rightly pointed out to me after my GCAM in July that I could have avoided bonking after the 35th km. So this time, I made sure that I eliminate that possibility. Took my gels at various intervals: at 8 km, 15 km, 21 km, 26 km, 32 km and 37 km. Even so, I felt that I should have taken another one at 40 km if I had an extra gel. But the fueling worked well. I was able to sustain a very constant pace without much fatigue. Not only did I not bonk after 35 km, I was still going very strong until the last few km.

I came to the 37th km right on schedule. Even after making it through the dreaded ascent at 37 km, (in my opinion, the equivalent of Boston's heart break hill), I was still going strong. I knew this because I was still steady on my pace and was overtaking runners along the way. But just as I cleared the 38th km, when I decided to increase my pace, I felt a twitch on my left calf. An impending cramp was about to put this plan of sub 3 to waste. This was not suppose to happen. I have not had a cramp for a long while. I remember thinking that if I had an extra gel, the glucose and electrolyte would have helped....if only.

But you work with what you have. I tried various strides, hoping to reduce the cramp. And for the next 2 km, it was still manageable but the frequency of the twitch began to escalate as I cleared the 40th km. If I went into a full blown cramp at this point, not only could I not run, walking alone may well be impossible and excruciatingly painful. The outcome could be disastrous. Laying waste to all the earlier effort. So, I was forced to ease off the pace. The last 2 km was just a literal race against time. It was no longer a question of sub 3, I knew. But how well I finish this.

Did all I could. The frustrating thing was that I was feeling OK but the vessel (the legs) was just not my own at that point. I eventually crossed the finish line in 3:02:34.

GPS recorded 42.76 km but since Osaka is AIMS certified, you just can't argue with that. Guess I just have to finish faster next time. And not give myself an excuse over such a 'marginal error'.

Nonetheless I was happy with the outcome. This was my strongest finish this year. Second strongest compared to my Berlin 2013 where I did 3:00:25. But Berlin was pancake flat compared to Osaka. And I am now 2 years older. So, all in all, age adjusted, I am doing pretty OK for a 45 year old.

It still came as a surprise to me that I could produce a near sub 3 result this time round in Osaka. Coming into it, I did not have any particular expectation except that I wanted to finish strong. And finished strong I did. The cramp was just a minor hiccup that I had not anticipated. But it did not have a significant bearing on the over all performance. Let me explain: It's because I knew that I could have done it. I knew I was strong enough at that point nearing the end to 'finish the job'. It was something which I had not felt for a long time.

After thoughts:

It's OK. More opportunities to improve. Hopefully by a greater margin to account for any 'over-distanced' in future races. And I am discovering that with the right training, age is not a disadvantage. Nor is it an excuse. I did the usual tempo, intervals, hills, as well as LSD at a slightly 'age adjusted' intensity. And guess what? I did not even reach a 100 km per week! I know for some it is the 'holy grail' of sub 3 to at least go beyond 100-120 km per week. But balance that against our 'aged' body's need for adequate recovery, I would 'err' on the recovery part more these days. Here comes the crunch: The good news is, it still produced the same results!! This is something which I am particularly happy to discover in Osaka after mulling over this point of 'high mileage' for the longest time. And that, is a comforting thought.


  1. Nice race recap as usual Francis. I'm always tempted by Osaka. I'll see how that pans out next year. Great job btw and I've already subscribed to the age is not a factor thing. Not sure how much faster we can race as we age but for sure we will still dole out a good fight against the younger ones.

    1. Yeah Jamie, the advantage with us 'mature' runners is that: We have nothing to lose. I am a living testament to the fact that age is not a limit. I believe you and Nick and many others could do just the same! We will just need to figure out how the training works out best for us. Not just taking in other people's program and religiously follow it to the tee. We just need to read our body well enough. And we can do more than we think.

  2. Well done as always, Francis. I'm with you on the discovering the right kind training that goes with these old bones. I've been experimenting with my training to suit me and I'm glad to say that I'm comfortably getting into a nice rhythm with one. Hoping to see how it pans out for my marathon attempt in February next year. But that said, I'm a lot more careful to avoid injuries this time round.

    And once again, congrats!

    1. Totally agree with you on that, Nick. And I am glad to see more and more 'mature' runners producing good timing for marathons. It is not just me proving that it can happen. Just look around us, there are many 40-60 years old runners doing incredible time. The only deducible explanation is the RIGHT training that suits us. Not just a generic one for all kind of formula. And that makes training more fun as you discover something new every time. On another note, hope you achieve your target in Feb 2016!

  3. Well done Francis! Wish I could be in shape like you now yo be able to push for fast times. I missed that. Tried the ballot in Tokyo but didnt get it, so am back into lazy mode again. Really hard to find motivation to just get back after far too long break. Anyway, Im going 41 nxt year, with you and some others living testament to be able to run fast time, it makes me believe I can still do it!

    Yit Kiat

    1. Yit Kiat, I believe you can and I do mean it. We may take a while to adjust to the changes but it will come. I suggest signing up for shorter races and 'forcing' yourself to get into training mode. You will find the motivation coming back quite soon. At 41, you are still young la! You have YEARS ahead of you! Jiayu!!!

      P.S. Why not consider some other races in the middle of the year such as GCAM?

  4. Doctor,Jiayou!
    Your writing always touched my heart.

    1. Well, Annie, your dedication and passion for running inspires me too. :)

  5. good run, doc!!!

    so, you did manage to go to Tenoji Park. I went there after you gone home, but was closed.

    I have to do Osaka again after I fully recover and gain back my fitness

    1. Yes, Steve. Fond memories. I have a feeling it won't be my last just yet.
      Meanwhile, hope you recover soon and perhaps we can plan another trip there in the future.


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