The fan spun furiously. Incessantly squeaking.
But that is not even the problem. For I came prepared: I have ear plugs.
What I wasn't prepared for was the heat.
Didn't occur to me that a few hours of nap in a fan room would come to this. Traveler's Hub High Street was fresh out of air con room when I booked. It was clearly an ill conceived plan: Never settle for a fan room, unless you are prepared to accept the complimentary sauna....
Such was my predicament as I laid awake. Oh the heat! It could drive a person mad! To think that I was already 'warmed up' before even lifting a finger. 'Sleep' was a tussle between moments of regrets of ever booking this room, waking hourly to quench the thirst, wiping the perpetual sweat, and heaving in the suffocating humid air.....Nevermind REM, much of it was just a blur of subdued consciousness adrift in the Neverland of sleep and wake....
And when it finally came to 2:30 am, I was just glad to get out of bed. The heck with the sleep! I am off to a rendezvous with Merdeka Square.
Didn't even realize that my last SCKLM was way back in 2011. The few years of no show was not entirely my fault. Flanked by the annoying issue of haze hazard in 2014 and the cancellation in 2015, let's just say I was just glad to be able to do it this time. And I suppose Rainer Beimans would be counting his blessings too (phew!) for the joy of a miraculously haze free event this year.
Yet such absence has only heighten the awareness of a noticeably avant garde enhancement to the SCKLM event in comparison to my previous engagement. i.e. the introduction of the corral and designated pent and clear signage, rest tents etc just to name a few. I must say this feels a lot more professional and clearly it sets itself apart from some of the major races in the Malaysian scene. PBIM is one in need of such a revamp. Just saying.
Still reeling from the traumatic memory of Borneo Marathon 2016, I was more determined than ever to never repeat that catastrophic pacing mistake of going out too fast. Add in the fact that training for the past few months has been on an all-time-low with frequent disruptions, (weekly mileage of no more than 66km!) I hadn't much choice but to lower the expectations. Therefore, I preempted an ultra conservative 5 min pace for the first half. And if the form holds thereafter, quicken the pace to 4:30 or less to attempt a sub 3:30 finish.
At least that was the plan.
But honestly? Beyond 21km, the crucial factor of sustainable pace loomed with uncertainty. I just couldn't be sure if holding the sub 5 min per km pace would be possible. The lack of long runs (>25km) over the past months had cast a shadow on this. Besides, the most I did were 21km runs, all of which were not nearly as close to marathon pace (4:15) as I would hope. The legs were not 'primed'. And as in most cases, the predictive value of 'fast' intervals or tempo runs was just unreliable indicators of that sustainability....I was hoping for an indicator that I could hinge on.
In other words, at this point, I just didn't have a clue.
In light of that, you can just imagine the awkwardness as I stepped into Pent 1, seeing all the sub 3 and would be sub 3 line up. I knew I didn't rank among them.
The recurrent accusing thought was: "I don't belong here."
Then I quickly snapped out of it. So what if I don't? Marathon is a long race. Anything can happen. I should just worry about what is on my own plate. And do what I have set out to do instead of looking at others. Wielded myself an affirmation, I promised that I will run my best race. Regardless.
That thought released me. Easing into the crowd of runner friends, I was relax and calm once again. It was just a delight to meet up with many that I have not seen for a while. Its a reunion of sorts. Couldn't help but felt so far removed from the local running scene. Its been too long.
Nevertheless, it was good to be back!
It seemed that the months of training had all boiled down to this moment. Very soon, the count down begun as runners reached for their GPS button like a cowboy poised to draw. 10-9-8-....3-2-1...And as the gun went off at 4 am, the elite, followed by the sub-elite runners stormed through the arch like herds of gazelles. Within a couple of hundred of meters, formations were quickly established. I clustered around a few whom I thought were likely my pace group. Hoping to get into a comfortable pace while checking carefully my breathing and effort.
But soon, after the initial couple of km, it was clear to me that Calvin Tan and Moey were too fast for me. They must have been running at a 3 hour pace.
No. Not this time. I promised myself to never succumb to the temptation of going out fast. So I eased off. Dropping down to my own comfortable pace, I conceded.
The thing is, when there is no sense of competition, the mind eases up. I was feeling a lot more relax after that crucial decision to not follow. By 5km, I was doing 22 min. A bit faster than my original plan but it felt sustainable. I was also cautious to not get carried away when I feel great. It was one of my weaknesses. A precarious trap. And I fell prey to it all too often during the first halves. So, this time, I constantly adjusted with the km markers, making calculated moves, ensuring I kept my cool while keeping a desired pace.
That went on. And on. I was no longer chasing anyone. Of course there were some that I overtook along the way, but I wasn't speeding. They were slowing. By 10km, I was doing 44min. Still too fast. So, I slowed down the pace a little. Covered the next 11km in 50 minutes to make 1:34 for the first half.
So far so good. And I felt ready to up the pace. But a still small voice just tugged at the heart. "Keep pace and don't go fast just yet. Wait til 30km and see." I knew better to resist this prompting. Henceforth, I kept at a reasonably checked pace and covered 30km in 2:17.
At the 31km check point, there was a sense of relief that my pace was still sustainable. This was a stark contrast to the last Borneo Marathon where I bonked at this stage. This is a testament to pacing done right. I felt good but with a good 11km more to go, I had to be careful lest the dreaded cramp decides to sneak up on me unannounced.
At about 33km, I was surprised to catch up with Calvin. He has had a sleepless night and perhaps going out too fast in the first half drained him more than expected. We exchanged some words of encouragement and I went forward. The much feared hill that most dreaded finally came at 35-36th km. And that slowed down my pace. But I felt that it was not really as scary as I have anticipated. Besides, there is always the reward of a downhill ride.
My pace kept up pretty well in the last few km when I passed several others including Alex Tai, who also had a bad day because of the rolling hills. I have never run this route before, but it felt much more challenging compared to 2011. In some ways, this is comparable to SCHKM's route.
However, the hill wasn't the end of the story. There were a few more rolling hills to come. It is a mental game at every point and one can never afford to 'relax'. I kept my focus. A few more to go. And that's it. I reached for my eighth gel and that was it. No more fuel. Had to rely more on the remaining isotonic drink stations to provide the much needed glucose and electrolytes.
At this point, the cramps were playing up with a potential threat of hampering my run but I managed to alter my strides to evade its onslaught. But nearing the final 500m mark, I was just too relieved to hold back. Cramp or no cramp, I let out a sprint to the finish line.
Finished with a respectable 3:15:48 net. And in the process, secured a 6th placing in the Men Veteran category. 3rd placing for Malaysian Men Veteran. But since the 1st ranking Malaysian Men Veteran opted for a different prize money, Moey (who was 5th) and I were 'upgraded' a place. I eventually ended up 5th in the Men's Veteran category. (All very messy and complicated, I know).
1. Pace, and a proper management of it makes all the difference. Patience is the key.
2. Lack of mileage may not be as crucial as I initially thought. For reasons that Moey and myself later concurred, we came into it with some degree of aerobic foundation. It would of course be quite different if we were to run our first marathons. But at this point, adequate mileage is good enough.
3. That said however, this is only applicable to our 3:15 timing. To reach a sub 3, I still feel that we need more mileage under our belt. Well, that, is another theory that remains to be tested.
Therefore, SCKLM 2016 has been a very reaffirming experience. A consolatory/redemptive kind. It gives master runners hope, especially those who think that there is really no more room for improvement.
Ultimately? I say, you just have to fine tune it and work out what works best for you.
Age, is not a limit.