Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2014 (Accidentally Deleted Entry)




Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon has earned quite a reputation in recent years. Boasting a record breaking crowd of 70K participants (all in: 10 km, half and full marathon), it has certainly outdone itself in this 2014 edition.

Evidently, all registrations were snatched up within hours of its launching in September last year. This is what a runner has to resort to nowadays. We have gone from conservatives to trigger-happy registrants. Gone were the days where one could dilly dally and still have the luxury to decide a week or two later. No, nowadays, if you haven’t decided yesterday, you are most likely going to end up paying a hefty sum for ‘charity runner’ registration later on. (That’s if those places weren’t snatched up already.) Or, you could try again next year. So, better just let the finger do the talking: register first, think later. 


SCHKM was never my obvious choice. Actually, Kyoto was my preference. But as it turned out, I decided on Hong Kong instead. Predictable. Amidst all the jostling between what I love and hate about Hong Kong, in the end, it all boiled down to a matter of ‘familiarity’. Hong Kong is relatively ‘cheaper’. After all, affordable flight and accommodation for a budget traveler is realistically a central part of the equation. And besides, Penang is only a 3 hours’ flight away. It was to be a quick weekend getaway. And just to make sure it stays budget, a lone weekend too. Don’t worry, my wife gave her blessing on this.

It’s my fourth SCHKM this year. ‘Familiarity’ is actually a powerful motivator in the decision making process. Face it, no matter how ‘adventurous’ we claim to be, we are still creatures of habit. After all, Hong Kong is almost like a second home to me by now. It helps to be able to take your mind off the logistics among other things. Everything about bib pick-up, marathon route & elevations, INs and OUTs of the Start and Finish points, MTR and let’s not forget the places to shop & eat etc, are all pre-programmed and ‘good to go’. I could just go autopilot all the way from arrival til departure. In other words, I could just focus on the race and not think about anything else.



My previous blogs on Hong Kong Marathon have adequately dealt with the elevations and route. Therefore, I would rather not go into it again here. Suffice to say that it is pretty hilly. Main attraction to the run isn’t the beautiful rugged landscape as in Vibram’s HK100 or TNF. Well, unless you have a fascination for high rises and skyscrapers, highways, tunnels and bridges... But if it isn’t the view, I am sure you have your reasons for choosing SCHKM….

That said, we started with a near perfect weather on race day. Cloudy/gloomy, 13 degrees, and most of all dry. Mine was the 1st wave: They called it the Men’s Marathon Challenge. Supposedly, the elite and fast runners will all be grouped into this wave. (Umm, not really as they are not as stringent with the qualifying time for any of the waves – it’s still pretty much first come first served). Unfortunately the starting time was slightly delayed due to the deflated Start Arch. No big deal really. 4 minutes was not going to alter the course of history.

Since we have that 4 minutes, I thought I should give you a bit of a background.

It is true that any race day is merely a point of execution. What you bring into it is months (or years) of labor, sweat and sacrifices. But what I brought into mine was something else entirely….

With nagging bilateral Archilles Tendonitis for almost 2 months, poor form/inadequate mileage & training as a result, and a deflated sense of purpose and determination, I hobbled into the race in search for some form of a miracle. I was close to despair.

Will I make it? Could I?

During the 2 days in HK after my arrival, I was gearing myself for the inevitable. I realized that whatever I was searching for has to be the real deal. Something concrete and workable. Not some delusions or miracles.

Then, I came away with a simple goal: I will run my best race. And I was determined to do that, regardless. This is not the time nor place to quit. I realized that God does not give us overcoming life, He gives us life as we overcome.

I have to take the initiative. I have to decide. I have to will it. It’s my responsibility. God will not give me a free hand-out on that. He expects me to exercise that will first. Then, He promises to meet me there…

As the race was flagged off, seas of runners flooded Nathan Road in the early hours of Sunday morning as the stampede of footsteps echoed throughout the high rises. Loomed in the air was a sense of purpose and defiance. The moment of reckoning has come. It is going to be 42.195 km. That may be a lot (or too little) for some, but it is a matter of deciding how you give your utmost that truly defines you as a runner. It’s not just about the distance.

I moved at a pace comfortable enough to feel ‘in control’. Unhurried and relaxed. Breathing smoothly as I cruised. I knew I was not at the best of form, but with whatever I had, I wanted to conserve enough to last the full distance. So I took my time in the first half; Maintained focused and resisted the urge to push. After all, the first half would be full of elevations anyway. To push too hard too soon would be asking for trouble.

By half way, I clocked a comfortable 1:38. Felt great. And the pain wasn’t bothering me. So, I decided to speed up a bit. A major part of the second half was downhill. So, gravity was working to my advantage. But eventually the sheer distance would wear down any individual. The last 10 km is always where the real test begins. And to add to that, there were some elevations towards the end too. But unexpectedly, I was fortunate to have a Hong Kong runner who decided to pace me during the last 10 km. Sum, I think was his name. He said to me as he pulled up beside me: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could finish this at this pace all the way back?” Surprised and a bit startled, I said: “Yeah! Why not? Let’s do it!” And from then on, we paced each other.

Sum #24409 right beside me


Mentally, it helped tremendously to be paced. I think God knew I needed that.
 

Time and distance seemed to have shorten as we journeyed together. Strangely enough, I didn't feel too tired. Except for a few twitches here and there, I was set on course to finish strong. I was amazed that my perceived effort in the last 10 km was not as awful as I initially anticipated. I kept to my pace rather well with Sum just behind me.

Nearing the end, I wanted to chat with Sum, but instead, he told me to focus. “I don’t want to slow you down, you should move ahead!” I took the cue and stepped up my pace. It is one thing to finish the last km almost half dead as you drag yourself across the line hoping not to collapse into a heap of corpse. But it’s quite another to be able to dash forward as you break out to almost a sprint at the end with 400 m to go. Mine was the latter. And it was fantastic! A beautifully executed run. And I don’t think I could have done any better on that day!

So, I finished with a surprisingly decent 3:17:34, (A personal PB for SCHKM) with Sum just a few seconds behind me. We thanked each other for the incredible pacing as we parted our ways. He was a godsend.

It was as though God steps in when I least expected it, inspiring me by doing the most natural and simple things – things I would never have expected or imagined that He was in. But as I continue to stay focused and did what I needed to do, I could always find Him there. He was there along with me... And He was there behind me.

So it is, my best race to date. You will know it when you finish such a race. It is not even about the time. It was far off from my PB of 3:00:25. But the joy that I derived from this experience was priceless!

As some would say that running is in many ways, a metaphor for life; I often think that it is a conduit which God uses to teach me deeper truths about myself. It was never just about the running. Where there is a symptom, a more definite diagnosis beckons to be revealed. So it is with this HK experience. And the lesson that I finally discovered has nothing whatsoever to do with the time or performance. It’s in the discovery that I can always find Him in the simplest and most natural way - running. And knowing how to do that. That is the greatest treasure of all.

And it was an awesome thing to be paced by God too ;)

Comments

  1. I like your '... simple goal: I will run my best race'. Sometimes that is is all there is to running, doing your best! Great job as always, Francis.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Nick. life's complicated enough. Running should be kept as simple as possible.

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