Putrajaya Night Marathon 2016

Nov 12.

While the gods were battling it out at IM Langkawi, the lesser mortals like us would have to content ourselves by slogging it out at Putrajaya Night Marathon. Each to his own. Being a lesser mortal would have to do for now.

Akin to Trump's surreal electoral victory, I was in a similar state of mind too. Something's amiss. And for the life of me, I just couldn't quite figure it out....

No matter, hindsight usually catches up eventually. That's a guarantee. 

I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to do PNM. Right until the 11th hour, I was still toying with the idea of foregoing it. But to DNS a race was just not in keeping with my DNA. So, I chose to ignore the blatant signs and "did it my way". Frank Sinatra could no way be faulted for this, his song merely echoed and reverberated the innate self willed gungho-ness within all of us. Yet the repercussion from embracing that ideology didn't turn out 'melodic' at all. It was painful, and very unforgiving.

It was an unsettling week with much on the mind. And coupled with hospital work, stress was physically tangible as I battled with a week-long wry neck with no sign of improvement despite extensive physiotherapy. Then came the cough. And coryza. No surprise there because these things must come in clusters. 

Then, came race day. Instead of closing the clinic, I opted to squeeze in a morning session. Hence, after frantically clearing the cases, I only managed to leave JB at 1 pm. While weathering bouts of downpour along the way, the wife skilfully nudged: "Would they cancel the run because of the rain?" Unperturbed, and neither in the state of mind to take a hint, I retorted: "Of course not! It would be great to run in this kind of weather!" 

But as with KL traffic, by the time I dropped off the wife and daughter at a friend's place, it was already 6 pm. Made a dash for Putrajaya and reached P3 at 7 pm. My initial plan to catch a shut eye for at least an hour was not to be. And little did I realize, that omission was to cost me dearly too. 

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It was a long break since Melbourne Marathon in mid Oct. Training was sporadic and undisciplined. Blah blah blah...the usual lack of mileage sob stories. But in actual fact, my mind and heart was already in an 'off season' mode after Melbourne Marathon. You'd know it when your training is at best half push and half recovery.    

Then, there is the PNM. Slotted in at a whim, less than desirable but difficult to ignore. Run and risk setting back weeks of recuperation before the start of another season. Don't, and risk the nagging thought that "I should have done it!" 

So, it was this kind of nonsensical struggle that I managed to get myself entangled with. And yes, I have only myself to blame. I could almost hear the wife's silent protest: "I told you so..." But to be fair, she has been super supportive with whatever decision I make in the end. She knows me too well. More than I know myself....

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So, what really transpired? It started off as with most races, the perfunctory pleasantries, and cordial greeting of friends. But the heart was weighted with much that laid ahead. 42.195km is no joke. Calvin Tan, Moey, Tan Song Hua, Lim Huat and a few others were among the same crew I met in SCKLM. Will history repeat itself? In my current state, I seriously had my doubt. But even so, I would still give it a shot.

The strategy was simple: Try to maintain a 4:30 pace through out. Knowing that my second half would usually be slower, I accounted for an extra 10 minutes, to finish off with a hopeful 3:20. Not too ambitious, I thought. God willing, I may attempt to slice off a few minutes here and there.

That was the plan. Sounded nice, conservative and doable, at least on paper.

After gun off, the usual suspects were clustered together. The pace was initially pretty comfortable. But after a few km, Tan Song Hua and Calvin Tan decided to press forward to take the lead. I decided not to follow, therefore lagging behind while Moey and another fast runner Tang Yew Choy, gained momentum from behind. I have known of Tang from previous races. A sub 3 runner. And he seemed to be in his elements. The three of us paced each other for a few km, but eventually, as their pace quicken after around the 15 km mark, I was dropped.

When you have a field of strong runners, the kiasu-ness evokes an overwhelming urge to push harder. But that presents a real danger if one were to exceed his prescribed pace. I knew this trap all too well. Being patient and 'waiting it out' calls for tremendous discipline and courage. So when all of them 'left', to be honest, I was a bit relieved. Competition is fine but at this point, I could really do without the pressure it induced. On hindsight, that was a blessing in disguise.

But running alone wasn't easy either. At that point, I must confess that I was feeling a bit dejected being outpaced by the stronger runners. The ego suffered, taunted by the fact I had previously outpaced some of them before in other races. C'est la vie. That is why running is never a predictable equation. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

At about 17km, I passed Song Hua who was having issues with his ankle. Plagued by injuries, he had been under the weather the whole season. But despite that, he went on to finish the race. Most would have called it and DNF. Often, our idea of heroics is measured only by accolades, prizes and placing, but this is an accomplishment of another kind. The one that requires tremendous humility and strength. To me, Song Hua has the quality of a true champion. In my book, he and many others who persevered against all odds were, in no way, lesser heroes.

At the half way point, I was clocking 1:36. A bit surprised because physically, I felt slow and sluggish. There is perhaps still room to salvage this run. I naively thought. But a few more km down the road, that notion was tested, weighed, and pretty much found wanting.

Soon after, to my astonishment, Alan Toh steadily passed me. I have known of his ultra involvement in recent years, carving a name in some races, but to witness it today still came as a surprise. Knew him way back in Borneo Marathon. And boy, has he improved! Leaps and bounds if I may add. This drives home the point that everyone has the potential to excel given the right attitude and training. And later, he went on to complete a respectable second place in the Men Jr Veteran with a time of 3:18. Well done Alan! Am happy for your achievement. More to come!

I was still in a daze with Alan's sudden appearance when some Kenyan female runners passed me by. It needn't be, but somehow I felt powerlessly drawn into a mental game that I knew was depleting my resolve. The night was increasingly tedious and frustrating. Beyond 25km, the mounting fatigue was just weighing me down despite adequate fueling and hydration. And with fatigue, came the deflated morale to continue. Reluctantly but inevitably, I had to switch to a survival mode. It was no longer a race. It was just a fight to keep going.

My pace grew increasingly erratic. And beyond that point, everything was a blur. I think I was wavering between stopping/walking and running/stumbling. At some point nearing the U-turn I saw some making their way back to P3. Tang was still going strong, at his heel was Alan and then Moey trailing not far behind him. A bit further down, Calvin appeared on the scene, and spoke to me "Francis, catching up already!". That somehow gave me the impetus to up my pace. But the surge only lasted for a couple of km. The subsequent crash was harder. I was starting to take walks at the water stations. And yes, the rest of the run was reduced to a jog. Some runners despise the term 'jogger' being referred to themselves, as it implies inadequacy and slowness. I was that, at that point. Well, it was still better than a walker. Or a stroller.

In my wildest imagination, I really didn't think I was going to get to that dire state. I thought I was 'experienced' enough. I was already beyond that. It wasn't even because I have gone out too fast in my first half. I was running by effort and that was kept in check through out. And I had adequate fueling and hydration. How did it come to this? I was flustered. Confused. And bitter with myself. In the state of 'altered consciousness' I was still trying to be analytical about my 'demise'. But the legs were as lifeless as the spirit. I was sinking into a state of stupor.

Don't ask me how on earth I managed to drag myself back to the finish. The memory had already refused to work from half way onward. I seriously won't be able to recall them unless placed in a hypnotic state. Just as well, because it was too painful to recall. Sometimes, amnesia is a godsend. God was sparing me.

So, it was a drag to the finish where I literally dragged myself back to P3. Finish time was an awful 3:34:04 but who cares anyway. I didn't even bother to switch off my stopwatch. But what was surprising was being handed a 5th place card upon reaching the finish line. God's consolation. Amazing grace. I really did not deserve it.

I wanted to beat myself up over this. What with that poor performance? But as with any race, good or bad, there is still something to learn from it. So this is my analysis of what went wrong.

Postmortem:

1. I had poor appreciation of the terrain. It was undulating and it was very draining. And it hits you after a while when you least expect it. The onslaught was insidious.
2. Night run isn't for me. The body works at a certain circadian rhythm where cortisol and other hormones reach their peak or trough depending on the time of the day. Night time is no good for me.
3. I was not well. Sounds like an excuse but I was really not in the best of form to perform.
4. Inadequate rest. On top of not feeling well, the cumulative stress at work, sleep deprivation and the long drive from JB on the same day, were all a bad bad combo.
5. The pace trap. I think I got carried away at some stage. When fielded by strong competitors, the tendency to race at their pace may 'seduce you to the dark side'. You can easily forget to run your own race. So, always run your own race, no matter how strong or competitive you feel on race day.
6. Mental unpreparedness. Was this a given? I came into the race still riding on 50-50; without spending time to be mentally ready. And more importantly, the heart was just not into it. Not surprisingly, when the real test came, I just fell apart.

So, good or bad day, the important thing is to go away enriched by the experience. No matter what, we can always gain a new perspective. And that would enlarge your capacity for improvement. I think all is not lost. Nothing is lost. 

Comments

  1. The PNM route has always been a tough beast to tame. It's got the better of me on all occasion that I've run it. Considering that you drove all the way up for the race, hardly had much time to rest even, you did a hell of a job! That's some strong willed determination. I would have likely just DNS'd it. Congrats on the 5th placing, a hell of a good job if you ask me.

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    1. thanks Nick. It was an experience that left me a bit stunned for a couple of days. Blogging about it helps to release shellshock. I guess no one knows best unless they are in the same shoes. You don't know how many times I wanted to just throw in the towel. PNM was tough.

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    2. I've never ever known you to throw in the towel. We have our off days and I'm sure you'll bounce back in no time!

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    3. i was so close to it Nick. I am glad i didnt

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  2. That was driving from JB to Putrajaya and run a marathon on the same day! And it's a night marathon where as you say, not the timing our body usually train for. And if it's hot at humid, it really take a lot of mental edge to run. I'll already thiking of give up for the combination.
    Many times if I was to travel during weekend, I'll ended up a very poor training session right after the journey, or even omit the run due to extreme tiresness.

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    1. yeah Kent, hindsight is usually 20/20 but I was just stubborn. Nevertheless, I have gained some insight through this ordeal

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