Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Journey Begins

Why am I doing this?

A bit about me...

The run up to the write up

Well for starters I have a weight problem. Always had and always will. Am a fat unfit 98kg as I write this. My single ab is what you notice first. Then comes my man-boobs. They jiggle when I run. Did a lot of jiggling on Wednesday evening on the treadmill at the gym - 5km in a snail's 46:53. A soon to be half a century year old man is never shy of his times.  Well, if you must know I walked a lot too, even though was surrounded by kamikaze runners... The ones who run at 10kph like their life depended on it.  Someone should tell them that zombies cannot run fast.  So this is of no help if they are preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Those who run should know that treadmill times do not reflect actual road times... The easiest way to discourage yourself is to run as fast as you can on the treadmill and then discover how few kilometers you have actually run...

On Thursday I attacked the treadmill again. This time I really did attempt to run, while still recovering from a bout of flu.  Managed 5km in 36:09. Felt I did good. Enjoyed watching the guy to my left do his kamikaze thing.  Was waiting for him to fall off. But he managed to hit 5kph whenever the treadmill threaten to embarrass him.  Was happy to see fellow fatties with even bigger boobs and butts than mine on the treadmill.  If I keep this up I might wear my Penang Bridge International Marathon 2013 top while running on the treadmill again.  As it stands if I cannot sustain at least 9kph for half an hour, forget it.  Am still too heavy for any treadmill run heroics... Aren't I supposed to be doing this for myself?  This time I really did hydrate, taking a GU tablet with 500ml of water.  Those things really do work wonders for me.

Yesterday I went to Stutong Park to walk.  Did 5.2km, if the markers don't lie, and felt I did good.  Sipped some 100 Plus.  Did have Gatorade on standby, but didn't need it.  It was a nice sunny day too, and still very bright when I left around 6.45pm.  The park was quite empty since CNY was fast approaching.  True to form the roads were jammed with last minute shoppers making their rounds...   

How it all started

Spring is in the air...

Lets go back in time to early 2012.  I used to jog a lot, then stopped, and of course gained weight.  Dieting never really works for me.  I eat more than I burn, so how can I lose weight?  While at Stutong Park I saw a banner advertising the Catciti Leisure Run 2012 , to be held on 8th January.  On a whim and a fancy I thought I would give it a try.  However I didn't register for it as I was really sick at that time and wasn't training.  So that put paid to that fantasy of running 10km.  This is Kuching, so how many runs do we actually have a year, right? (On a side note, the run didn't feature in 2013. Asked about it and nobody seemed to know why it went the way of the dinosaur...)

Spring Live Active Run race top and bib

Before the start of the Spring Live Active Run 2012 
(L-R: me, my friend Alvin Heng and Pinky Lim)

Then there was news of a mega run organized by our biggest and bestest mall - The Spring, and it was called The Spring Live Active Run, to be held on 17th June.  It had distances of 5km, 10km and 21km.  Of course I went on the route early in the morning to walk it, and later to shuffle along and run.  The 5km was going to be my baby.  Didn't want to go overboard.  My race top wasn't nice for my fatness, so I chose not to wear it for the run.  It was fun though as many of my gym buddies participated. Plus I got to drink lots of 100 Plus.  Clocked in at 38:38.  Not bad for a 48-year-old man who had never run in school. Unfortunately my timing chip kaputed on me or my tummy blocked it from the scanner, so they didn't give me a time on my cert.  That mattered naught to me.  At least I had participated in my first real race...

Jungle style!

Resting after the jungle run

Borneo Highlands Challenge event t-shirt

Yes, I am prone to bite off more than I can chew, and this was exactly the case for the Borneo Highlands Padawan Nature Challenge.  Lets talk running jungle style here. Held on 1st July, it was something I had not even trained, let alone ever done.  This from a guy who had not run 10km in any sort of competitive race in his life.  All I can say is that I was lucky I didn't pick the 15km run, which involved a climb up Mount Penrissen (1326m), which I am told has leeches! Being a big guy I just know they would have had fun feasting on me.  It was a two-men event, with the time of the last person being taken as the official finishing time.  Lets just say it was mighty tough for me as I didn't expect the trail to be so impregnable.  In my defence all I can say is that I don't do this sort of thing on a weekly basis.  What's more my shoes were the wrong kind, so foothold was precarious at best.  Finished in 3 hours 55 minutes.  Just managed to make the cut-off time.  Alas no medal or finisher t-shirt.  Just an event tee.  

What the race did show me was that I could go on for hours in the jungle... This would come helpful later on in the year...

Night running...

777 Nite Chase t-shirt and bib

Me surrounded by gym buddies before the night run

Post race flexing with Alvin Heng, our yogi

Hey pretty ladies... (L-R: Adrienne, Kung Yee Hun and France Ngu)

Then to my amazement the runs started flowing in... There was the 777 Night Chase run organized by KIRC, and held at the Civic Centre.  The event was held on 7th July at 7pm.  Hence '777'.  It was either 5km or 10km for me.  Wasn't feeling brave so chose the 5km.  Yes, I did walk and shuffle and run the route in training.  My experience in training for the Spring run showed me how beneficial it was to do so.  Again many of my gang from the gym signed up.  Why not? It was the first night run in Kuching ever! Our very own mini version of the Putrajaya Night Marathon or Singapore's Sundown Marathon...  There were two uphill areas to overcome for the 5km runners.  Completed it in 31:55., which battered my previous time! What I liked best was the free-flow of isotonic H2O from the water station and also at the finish area.  The event t-shirt was cotton, and I didn't run using it.  Being a sweaty guy, it would only bog me down further.

Taking to the hills...

Hills Charity Run race top and bib

After the Hills Charity Run (pic courtesy of Adrienne)

Now it seemed like everyone wanted to get on the running bandwagon.  The Hills shopping mall organized their very own run! It was a charity run with some of the proceeds going to the SSPCA.  Plus there would be a dog race.  Of course the owners had to run with the dogs.  It was great seeing so many pedigreed dogs around.  The icing on the cake was that the owners could run with their dogs! Another first for Kuching! Surely the dogs had as much fun as their owners! The event was held on 15th July.  Yours truly again chose the 5km race over the 10km.  Call me the cowardly lion if you will, but I didn't feel I was ready to run a longer race, though I had been running 10kms in training.  This time I managed a personal best of 30:20! Of course the distances aren't official, so it was small joy on my part.

Training in earnest...

Around this time someone whispered in to my ear about the Penang Bridge International Marathon on 18th November.  Many of the gym gang would be going. Being the foolhardy type I signed up for 42km! That's the full marathon folks! Something that less than 0.5% of Americans have done, and they as a rule are crazy running bunch of people, and have marathons nearly everyday! 42,195m to be exact! Yes, I tried one of those 16-week first time marathon running training guides.  My sole aim was the make it to the finishing line before the 7 hour cut-off time.  This from a guy who had not run anything over 10km!  Did I care? Nope! Just hunkered down. Started running four times a week.  Saturday would be the day I did my longest run.  So motivated was I that at times I would start as early as 5am.  Why not? The actual race would commence at 2am.

The thing I did right from day one was to hydrate myself.  First thing I used was those hydration salts from the pharmacist.  Two sachets went into my 500ml water bottle and I would drink from that whenever I needed too.  Then later I would sip on my Gatorade and 100 Plus.  To make sure I could ingest something more solid I started taking energy gels too on my longer runs.  My tummy seemed to take it all in stride.  Online advice was everywhere.  Could just pick and choose to see what worked for me.  My Asics running shoe was worn out before I even got a new pair.  The next pair I got on sale, so it would be Asics all the way for me.  (In fact after my Penang run I even bought another pair of Asics!)  

Socks were really important! Since I started getting blisters I got good pairs from Nike and even put vaseline on my feet to reduce friction.  Especially for my marathon someone presented me a pair of Hilly double-layer socks.  It worked like a charm in training...  Suffice to say I was losing weight and I felt fitter than I ever did before.  My weight started going down and before I knew it the 92kg mark was achievable.  Yes I was still eating up a storm but I was also burning lots of calories.  

The thing about running for me is pushing through those psychological barriers.  The first time I ran 21km I thought I would die! There was nothing left in my legs.  Could barely make it to my car! At that moment I knew I had made my first big step towards finishing my first full marathon.  So I stuck faithfully to my training schedule.  Even started climbing too as a way of strengthening my leg muscles.  A lucky thing I did too, as no run is ever totally flat.  In Penang I would realise  that after awhile even the smallest hump in the road would feel like a hill...  

To those who wonder if I ever ran more than 32km in training, the answer is a resounding no! That would have taken too much from my body.  The 20km plus runs were already a heavy burden for me, and I didn't need to run even further without getting any sort of everlasting reward.  A thing that I would contemplate on for my 2013 running schedule - why train to run when I can use a race as training!  That was a thing I learned while studying some of the running habits of established marathon runners.  For those contemplating their first full marathon let me say this - you have to be a little crazy to train so much for something that will probably last 6 hours and only have a cert, a medal and a finisher t-shirt to show for it....

Two two many?

 Dyslexiathon t-shirt and bib

Me with Junaidi, the winner of the Dyslexiathon Men's Veteran race

Nasa Zaidul finishing third in the Dyslexiathon Woman's Open 
and receiving her first trophy and also 5kg of rice!

On 13th October I felt like a crazed runner.  This was when I ran two races in one day! In the morning I ran in the Dyslexiathon.  As the name suggest it was in support of kids who had dyslexia.  Let me put this to print, I will always run in charity races irregardless of the reward.  The reward is in knowing that I could do my small part in helping.  The run was at the Jubilee Ground.  Suffice to say I had never run on a track in my life.   The race started really late.  Got my first medal, a fourth place finish, clocking 8:34:42 for 1.6km! For the first lap my time was so fast that I nearly freaked out.  Had too slow down after that.  In doing so there was no hope of me catching the guy in front of me.  Nothing beats the bouncy feel of track running, but the quicker times were a shocker!

Kuchingnites Run t-shirt and bib

Then in the evening it was off to the Civic Centre yet again for another night run - Kuchingnites Run.  Yet again many gym buddies participated.  Always liked the relaxed atmosphere of such runs.  Knew I had no hope of winning any prizes.  Was just doing it for the joy of it.  My 32:12 time showed how much I laboured.  This was made worst by the fact that I wore the event t-shirt they provided.  It was much better than the first night race, but alas did nothing to cool me down.  The accumulative affects of two runs in one day took its toll on me and I was lucky to finish with such a time.

Suffice to say the run ended on a sour note for my MBF.  Had to stay up late into the night because of this.  Small price to pay, but it was a sheer case of dead man walking when I hit the sheets.  Yes the distances were short, but the waiting in between killed it for me.  Would I do it again? The answer is of course in the affirmative.  Nothing beats trying to push oneself to the limits.  There is this incredible thrill in knowing what our bodies can do.  Still felt fat but I knew I was fit fat thanks to all my training runs.

Moment of truth...

Laksa Penang style

We are lucky to have some of the best marathons in the region.  The reason I chose Penang Bridge International Marathon for my first marathon was that I had never been there! I thought if I was going to go there and run a race it might as well be a special one.  Hence 10km or 21km was not for me.  One look at the 42km finisher medal was enough.  I would run my first full marathon there.  No way was I going to make a fool of myself.  My training was what made me feel I had it in my tank to complete the race within the stipulated cut-off time.  My biggest worry was the 2am start.  The fear that my tummy would let me down was always there.  Needless to say I ate really early, and stopped eating twelve hours before the race.  Being with friends who were running 10km and 21km didn't help matters.  They could eat on!

PBIM 2012 race top and bib

One big thing I learned is do not walk too much before a marathon.  Since the race starting/finishing point is just outside Queensbay Mall that was not an easy thing.  We all did a lot of walking on the day before the race.  Our digs was less than a kilometer from the race site, which helped a lot on race day.  As nervous as I was I did manage to sleep early and wake up four hours before the race.  Ate the cereal bars I had gotten from the Mall and drank soya bean.  At midnight I walked leisurely to the race area.  Have never seen so many people at one place in my life.  Was later to learn that 34,000 people participated.  None of my gym gang were to be seen.  However I knew there were there.  Saw Oliver Kerr, a veteran runner I had befriended on Facebook much earlier.  He was busy taking pictures with his friends so I didn't bug him.

The butterflies were in my belly. Was running with one 500ml water bottle.  Used my formula of 2 hydration sachets.  Had six sachets on standby and 5 energy gels.  It all felt heavy but I had trained with that weight so had no excuses.  The race top was from Asics and it was a beauty.  Will wear it again for any road race! Time really slowed for me.  What I wanted to do most was pee! Luckily managed to do so 5 minutes before gun time. There was no way I could run otherwise.  One of my fears was having to queue to pee or worst still poo along the race route.  In the beginning it would have been a disaster.  When the gun went off I was a long way behind, but for someone out to run the race to finish it, it was never a worry.

Running the bridge...

Never attempt to run like a Kenyan if you are not a Kenyan.  Saw them Kenyans run and it was scary! They were actually running while I was shuffling... Well I was running but it was at my usually snail pace.  Those Kenyans ran in a pack.  Just the sight of them going at it made me feel tired.  We had to run quite a ways before we reached the bridge.  Having never run on a bridge yet - another one of those mistakes, I knew not what to expect.  The bridge felt hard and was very tiring on my legs.  It seemed to go on forever.  The lights were my nightmare guide.  It went on and on.  Then there was the hump in the middle of the bridge.  It felt like a hill the first time, and a mountain the second time. When I reached the toll I felt like I was committing the mistake of my life.

Those water stations do come in very handy.  Took my gels every 7km and sipped on my hydration mix and watered when needed.  The 100 Plus at the stations were my best friend.  The volunteers were a wonderful bunch.  They really encouraged us.  Going back to the island was really tough.  The toes on my right foot were hurting bad.  So bad in fact that I had to stop and take a look at them.  Yes they were bleeding from one toenail cutting into a toe.  That was when Ryan Tan, a gym buddy, stopped and gave me his ice pack.  That helped a lot.  Till today am grateful for that.  Went on slowly after that.  Was careful not to aggravate my toes.  A near impossible task.  Saw the six hour pacers go by until I couldn't see their mighty helium balloons anymore.  

The final stretch...

Pain is my friend.  My toes hurt. My feet hurt. My legs hurt.  Luckily for me I had trained well for this.  My engine was going fine.  My biggest fear now was that I would cramp up.  Having survived the bridge there was no way I was going to give up. Had seen people stop long before.  Cramps featured big. Some were walking aimlessly.  Others just sat down in despair.  One even puked.  Never have I felt so alone.  My aim now was only to get the energy gel they were giving and a banana.  After that I knew I had 10km to go.  Now that was something I had trained for.  Yet my legs felt so tight and heavy.  Out of the blue, Ivan Kon, another gym buddy, came along and let me use his Deep Heating Rub.  Put a generous amount on both legs.  This kept me going till the banana station.  Lets say a banana never tasted so good!

The free energy gel I kept with me.  My tactic was to walk up the flyovers and run down them.  Kept this up as much as I could.  It felt like I was going nowhere but I was.  Slowly but surely the kilometers were being eaten up.  Then more Deep Heating Rub thanks to the generous people along the roadside.  Again I used generous amounts on both legs.  Warning to the wise - pee first before using those ointments. Enough said! When the 5km marker arrived like a mirage I knew I could finish in time.  Had done enough 5kms in the year to know what I was capable of.  Not even the sight of a gentleman lying at the side of the road holding his heart with medical personnel around him and an ambulance speeding to the scene, deterred me.  My victory was in sight!

That was when I took my last gel.  The one with caffeine in it.  Hated the taste, but needed it for that final spurt.  Ran into the fun run group, all bouncing about in their yellow tops, and overtaking me from left and right.  Now my fear was some bigger lug than me would barrel into me.  So I kept far away from them.  That meant I was running near the highway divider.  Made a friend along the way.  He was running his first marathon too.  Unlike me he had run the 21km the previous year.  We ran side by side till the finish line.  Don't even know his name, but thanks buddy for making my final 2km breeze by.  Hope to meet you again in a marathon somewhere in Malaysia.  

Me and my new buddy, meters from the finishing line of PBIM 2012

The icing on the cake for me was that I got to meet Oliver Ker along the way.  Yelled out his name and went up to shake his hand.  He was still running at km30.  Considering he is in his seventies, that is a sight for sore eyes.  Also saw Marathon Mohan, from Singapore.  He was blowing his whistle and talking to the volunteers.  He is a couple of years older than me but has run so many marathons. Hope to shake his hand in the next marathon we run together.  We are now friends on Facebook.  Nothing beats being cheered on by your friends at the finishing line! Heard Ivan's voice encouraging me.  Met Ryan, who showed me where to get my medal and finisher t-shirt.  My time? 6: 27:13.  Maybe in my fantasies I was hoping for a sub-6 hour finish, but after what I had gone through I am happy with what I managed to do.

We be full marathoners! (L-R: Sin Tan, Ryan Tay, Ivan Kon, Rose Wong and me)

The whole gang that went for PBIM. The three additional women 
(L-R: Frances Ngu, Nasa Zaidul and Pinky Lim)
  PBIM 2012 medal and finisher t-shirt

Close-up proof that am not a full marathon virgin anymore


Post race yums...

Straight after the race I drank two protein shakes I had left at baggage drop off.  Needed that protein.  My body felt so depleted.  It was like I could eat a cow if I could hobble after one.  Walking was really bad.  Needed my sandals but was afraid to see my toes.  Two bloodied toe-nails were my Purple Hearts.  One would later drop off and the other would die a slow lingering death.  What I can say about PBIM is that I will run it again.  It was so professional and the people were so nice.  This extended beyond the race.  Did the usual touristy thing when my legs allowed.  The food was totally yum.  It was like my tummy was an endless garbage can - I could eat and eat and eat.  In fact for awhile I just ate and didn't gain weight.  Such was the amount of calories that must have been taken from my body during the race.

Out with the gang in Penang...
The girls trying to persuade Jafrey Fong to bring them around some more!

A big thank you to Jafrey Fong for being our tour guide and helping us fill our tummies.  We hope to hook up with him again the next time we go to Penang, even if it is not to race.  Also thank you to my gym friends, especially to Pinky Lim, for being my shoulder to lean on.  That was when her tough physique really helped.  Also am so lucky I chose the right pair of slippers - Riders! Got them in size 12. It was a true godsend.  Will wear them post-race from now on.  By the way I didn't even wear a pair of running shoes for two weeks after the race! Our running roll of honour - 10km: Pinky Lim and Nasa Zaidul, 21km: Frances Ngu, and 42km: Sin Tan, Ryan Tay, Ivan Kon, Rose Wong and me! Sin, Ivan and I were full marathon virgins.  It was the second outing for Ryan and Rose.  

Slowly, slowly, catch the monkey...

Running bug hits

The euphoria of running and completing my first full marathon still hasn't died.  Friends and relatives were amazed that I had actually run 42.195km!  My cousin, who used to run 10km competitively, and win races, was simply proud of me.  He cannot run anymore, for reasons we won't get into, but he really touched me with his praises.  The barrier has been broken.  Now I know a full marathon is possible.  What it takes is a lot of hard work and the ability to withstand a lot of pain.  The mental strength needed to survive it is the most important thing.  Marathon running is not for everyone.  There has to be a lot of crazy in you.  There is so much kms to stride through in training before achieving one.  Now I have the evidence of my achievement.  It will hold pride of place in my trophy cabinet when the time comes.  

What the future holds...

There are many more marathons left in me.  Want to run as many as I can when I still can. There's this thing about me - that impossible is nothing thing.  Having done a full marathon I feel I can do it all.  So I need to be grounded into the reality of what a nearly fifty year old man can do while towing a tummy.... Yes I know before race day the tummy shrinks, but it will come back again...  There are NINE marathons in Malaysia the last time I looked.  Of which I am interested in giving seven of them a go.  These are: Malaysian Women Marathon, Island Ocean Marathon, Borneo International Marathon, Standard Chartered KL Marathon, River Jungle Marathon, Putrajaya Night Marathon, and Penang Bridge International Marathon. For reasons I won't get into, I won't really attempt the Taiping International Marathon or the Langkawai Geopark International Marathon, if the latter ever sees the light of day.

The big question for me is what race I should run next.  When the time approaches I will let my friends know.  It is safe to say I won't be running MWM this year as am unable to find a running partner, even with a 7 hour cut-off time.  As for SCKLM, the starting time scares me.  When I can run a bit faster I might give it a try.  One of my gang who ran at PBIM, and ran in the Singapore version, had a lot of trouble with the heat.  Am not prepared to suffer through that yet.  The PNM interests me, even if it has been said that the street lights are really hot.  Then again there is Penang... This year it will be run on the new bridge. That is so tempting! However it would be nice to go with friends. There will be times I will be running alone without support.  Hopefully in the future I will make more friends who can be there for me like Ryan and Ivan and the others at the finishing line.  This really helps a lot.

Age is not a barrier.  Look at me! Started running seriously in 2012. In school used to hate running.  Took up jogging later in life for my health.  Then it was me joining a gym and hooking up with like-minded people.  Always make it one stride at a time.  My way might not work for everyone.  Walk before you run, or do a walk and jog thing, a sort of 'wajo'.  After that do slow runs and progress from there.  Running a full marathon can be the most foolish thing any unprepared soul can do.  Heed my advice.  Start slow. Attempt a 5km, then a 10km and then a 21km.  If you cannot complete a 21km you won't be able to run 42km.  The furthest I attempted was 32km.  That was my invisible 'wall' which I have now broken through.  In the future there will be more walls to break...

Mine is a journey of self-discovery.  I promise to share what I went through every stride of the way. Only time will tell how many races I will run, or what distances I will attempt.  Having completed my first full marathon, all I can say is that there is nothing like it.  More to come from this wonderful running machine of mine.  


  1. glad that you found something you love and which makes you happy. Keep it up! Keep it nice, keep it healthy! :)

  2. i miss Jafrey.. tell him tell him i miss him...

    and i wonder when can we all run together again.. hehehe..

    all the best to all your runs Yahya and Nasa :)