The Comrades Ultramarathon

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Comrades Marathon

I ran and completed the Comrades Marathon 3 times – and have one medal to show!  I think I can safely say that though I enjoyed all 3 runs they were all vastly different experiences. Bruce Hargreaves the Comrades Ambassador for Australia has said in one of  his newsletters that not getting a medal in the Comrades run is like falling off a horse and that the only solution would be to get right up again! Well Bruce is a great runner, a good friend and maybe more familiar with horses than I am! I prefer to liken the experience to being run over by a 3 tonner twice- Once to flatten you and then have the truck reverse over your flattened  remains .

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My first Comrades was the one which I carefully planned and managed to complete in about  11h 40miunutes. It was exhilarating and worth all the abrasions (yes ouch), blisters and muscle aches.   I had only one thing in my head – the 12 hour cut off and that thought drove me past all the checkpoints.

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The second run was one of the anniversary runs where there were so many people that poor me, right at the back of the pack took more than 15minutes to get to the start line after the gun went off. (Moral – listen to old Bruce and try for a better qualifying time).. This was also a year when my stomach decided to run as well, and suffice to say I was  rather preoccupied with fertilising the soil and coping with the associated unexpected prolapse of certain unmentionable things. I was quite devastated when a few runners dressed like rhinos galloped past me. I remember running desperately past the checkpoints and seeing the knowing look of sympathy and understanding on the faces of the run stewards, because though I managed to avoid the cut off times and the relegation wagons, they knew I’d never make it. Perhaps I did not train enough but when that final gun went off  I was so close that I could hear the cheers from the stadium when the last runner crossed the line and the  agonised groans of the crowd when the first of the runners not to make the cut off time arrived.
That last kilometre was the most painful, the longest and the slowest kilometre that  i have ever ever encountered. Plodding with leaden legs, ,shuffling with heavy feet and sniffling with self pity, I stumbled and limped through the abandoned barricades , entered the fast emptying stadium, and determinedly pushed through the finish gate before it was dismantled.
I met Bruce in the hotel lobby  the next morning and he gave me a hug.

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The third attempt was 2 years later. This time I had neatly  planned all the training  and told myself – Right. This time, focus on the run. Three months before the run, I fractured a metatarsal while training. Well I thought if I take one month off, I still have another two months to train. Then 3 weeks or so before the run, I was at a local marathon and got knocked over. Two of my front teeth connected with the concrete pavement and decided to stay there, leaving me with a bloodied mouth and jagged teeth that would be right for a Halloween costume party. After several long and painful lectures from my friendly dentist, I managed to make it to the run and what a memorable run it was. It was another down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. As I entered the stadium I heard the roar of the crowds. It was so exciting! My heart was beating so fast and my head buzzed.  I hesitated and the crowd roared again.  Next thing I knew I had one foot on the finish mat, turned my head to check the clock and BANG the gun went off. The crowd groaned. “You’re out”
the race official said.

I was the first of the runners who did not make the gun time that year .

It was, as I say like being hit twice by a truck . But, you know, I think I’ll try again – Bruce wait for me.

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Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The HK 100 – the first 65k of it!

 

The  Hong Kong 100k

The running of the inaugural HK 100 2011 was   a  birthday present to myself  . I just fell in love with the idea of  crossing the finish line of a 100k run on my birthday !  Well  the  HK 100k was a wonderful race, a beautiful route, and  blessed with excellent volunteers and support – but the snag was that  I never did cross that finish line. Instead I arrived about 25 minutes after the cut off  at the 65k checkpoint ( CP6)  — and  got offered a chair and a taxi back to the hotel.

 

CP6

Check point 6 was at the 65k mark( Gillwell Camp)   with a cut off  at 3.30am. At 3.30am I was still somewhere on the hillside trying to maneuver my way down a  steep rocky descent. The descent was a little tricky because of a minor  issue with a recalcitrant left ankle. I mean, I have treated it quite well over these years and I don’t really think that asking it to perform for a 100k distance over the hills of Hong Kong is such a big favour.  I  admit that just 3 weeks prior to the race , I had twisted it somewhat severely, but  I did do the decent thing and rested the darn thing, gave it ice baths, pain killers, support bandages for three weeks. Treated it like royalty I did. Talk about gratitude. On race day, it  gave way every time I landed on it and in the last few kilometers, I was stumbling and falling down all over the place. Today, three days after the race, it is all puffed up with self-importance and looking to be about twice the size of its companion!

The Start

The race started at Pak Tam Chung  on the Sai Kung peninsula.  We had stayed the night  the Po Leung Kuk  holiday camp  which is less than 5 min away from the start line .  A short briefing at 7.45am told us to look for the reflective arrows and pink reflective  ribbons which mark the trail;  and so at about 8am  we duly trotted off and I rapidly became the last runner.

 This was my third  trail run. My first  was the Marathon des Sables  which I attempted without any exposure to trails  ( err obviously not a  very smart  or logical thing to do) . However the event intrugued me  and I then went on to try the TNF Singapore. 

CP 1 – CP4

This was a pretty part of the run.  We scrambled  up and down and up and down, taking in the  heights,  sights and atmosphere. After the initial road bits and the dam, it was rolling hills and trails. I loved the stunning combination of mountains, blue sea and sky and stopped frequently to take pictures – much to the dismay of two  suspicious characters behind me  who had the race  after alighting from a taxi somewhere before CP1. This shady pair just wouldn’t pass me – even though I gave them ample opportunity but felt obliged to  sniff at plants or  develop sudden interest in   birds  other fauna  every time I stopped. 

The ground changed frequently from gravel to rocks to sandy beaches.  The  fine white sand did cause some problems – creeping in stealthily between every toe, I loved the sound of the wind and water. The weather was cool and it was a real change from Singapore’s heat.

I relished the contradictory  feel of the cold wind blowing around, yet still having my core wrapped warm and  snug in windproof jackets.

There were picturesque bits when we traipsed along the shaded banks of  gurgling streams and other bits when we clambered over  fat lumpy coastal rocks.

The route continued  through small  villages – some populated with  simple restaurants whilst  others had been  left empty, save for a few stray dogs.  There was a  strange quiet eeriness  when we walked through the crumbling remains of some windswept fishing villages.  The buildings looked derelict, but nearby there were also some fairly well-tended graves.

 Somewhere along the way, the two shady fellows identified themselves as a sweeper group ( Blush! major embarassment)  They couldn’t stand my pace any longer and tried to tell me in Cantonese, that when walking the trails, I should lighten the load in my backpack else  I would never make the cut off point. Blithely  I ignored the good advice  and continued my merry way enjoying the sights and sounds and munching on the snacks that I had with me. I met some of the organisers and volunteers along the road and along the checkpoints, chatted with them and moved on. Admittedly as I was alone most of the time, there were occasional anxious moments when village dogs would bark and follow me for a short distance. The most heart stopping moment though was when I met a big black buffalo coming up a narrow trail.  The trail could only take one. It was  either him or me. No prizes for guessing  who ungraciously stepped off the trail…

Somewhere towards the evening, as dusk fell and the temperatures started to drop, I took out my torch and heavier sweater and was happy and secure with the warmth and intense light.

CP4 and an Oopsie

At CP4,  the 45k mark, I was still ahead of the cut off by about 1.5hours so I had a drink, topped up some fluids, and asked which way to go. Someone waved and off I went  along the road in the direction that I thought I was supposed to go, hoping to make up for lost time on this stretch of road.  Unfortunately   some time  later (about 2.5k)  later a car came up from behind and said – ” Wrong Way!” Oops.  Luckily the volunteers came to look for me. Otherwise I might still be on the road today wondering where the trails began!  Apparently the trail started behind the check point.

The walk from CP4 to CP5 was challenging., but the views from the top of Kai Kung San at about 399m were reward enough. You could see the bright twinkling lights of Hong Kong in the clear night sky.  The  sweeper groups changed regularly, but all were good.  Sometimes they would be with me,  sometimes they would keep pace with other runners. They would talk to me  in Cantonese, telling me how to walk the trails, ” Relax, be light-footed,” they said – ” breathe deeply and  find a rhythm “.

 I found I liked walking in the dark cold of the night and enjoyed the silent communication with the  woods and trees. Limited light and moonlight were enough  in some parts, but when the rocks and uneven steps appeared I began to get into difficulty.   As the night wore on, my lights dimmed further and the rocks and the deep steps took on a life of its own. Shadows danced around the flickering beam of the headlights and  I found it difficult to judge the height of the steps. Earlier in the day, the dry rivulets that were filled with brown leaves were delightful to play in. At night their meandering   paths became traps for the unwary.

CP5

At CP5, My margin was trimmed to half an hour. This was also the drop bag area, so I retrieved my drop bag,  planning to put the old torch into the bag and continue with the new torch. Unfortunately in the rush to get going, I couldn’t put  any food into my own furnace and  I threw my new torch  and probably my spare batteries ( or maybe I dropped them somewhere when I was fiddling with beanies and jackets) –  into the drop bag and hared off with my old torch.

For the first kilometer I was happy,  alone and making good headway.  Then I realised – oops no pink ribbon and all that reflective material I saw in the woods was the white of the bamboo .  So I hared back, to check if  I was on the right path – I found one pink ribbon –  and went back again. Then I reached a three-way junction and couldn’t decide where to go as I couldn’t find an arrow – only some reflective tape round a post.  So I ventured a few meters down each one , then gave up and decided to wait for the sweeper group.

The route from Cp5 to Cp6 contained several climbs including one long walk across a ridge where I almost got blown off by some strong winds.  Later, as my light dimmed,  the lone sweeper  tried to light the way from behind but that caused my own shadow  to fall in front of me – creating a black void where I was supposed to tread.  So while I loved walking in the monochromatic  colours of the night,  I guess if you aren’t used to the trail, its much safer to get some light.  My poor long suffering sweeper loaned me his spare torch and we slowed to a crawl and chatted about life and the Hong Kong trails all the way to CP6.  He told me that by himself, he would have finished the 100k trail in less than 12 hours.

Birthday present

So did I enjoy my birthday present-  an emphatic yes! I really liked the blue sea and sky  of the day  scenery and the deep indigo of the night.  But I think the most valuable present was the tutorial in trail walking. I also append a few  tips that one feels compelled to pass on

1. Try not to sprain your ankle  before  or during the race. Reserve that for post race activity. The handicap will save you some shopping money.

2. Remember to tank up – I couldn’t hold any food down after getting lost  at CP4 and the hypogylcemia did not help the already suspect thought processes

3. Train – on trails or some similar terrain. Maybe a little bit of stair climbing up the tallest building would be good – but bring a handphone in case  you get trapped by  firedoors.

4. Remember not to drop things in your drop bag – or just don’t use a drop bag – but then you have to remember not to drop your batteries along the trail!

5. Torches are temperamental. When you have two, one will fail and one will malfunction or will go off and tour the country  trails without you.  Get at least 3 of similar quality – and if you are unfamiliar with the trail or have fading eyesight – get the type that will turn your night run into a  run at high noon.

Postscript

So what did I do when I left the race – I went to Nong Ping Village to climb the 400+ steps to see the Tian Tan Statue and wondered why my quads were a little stiff.  O and another post race activity in Hong Kong involves use of credit cards…… bring lots of money for food and shopping

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 10:57 am  Comments (4)  
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My Pharaonic Run – 2010

The Travelling Runner

Travelling magazines whets  palates with articles espousing nice hotels, shopping malls and photographs of  breathtaking armchair scenery. Running magazines talk about personal best times (PBs), new shoes and compression tights.  But if you are an average person with average legs,  limited physical abilities and a limited purse – those sub 3 hour marathons and luxurious hotels are not to be experienced in this lifetime. For me, I travel to see the world through my own eyes. I run so that I can be fit on my feet. I travel to run  the routes that take you to places where the normal tourist has no access.

So for me , the raison d’etre behind choosing any run is simple . It has to be in  a country or place that I want to visit. The longer the route the better for there is more to see.  Egypt was one such place.

The Pharaonic Race

The 10th running of the pharaonic race was on the 26th Nov 2010. It is said that this race is based on an inscription on a stone found within an army camp. The inscription described a training run by the pharaoh’s soldiers during   the reign of King Taharqa  (690 B.C to 660 BC ) . The race was set for a 100k,  in the area between Fayum and Sakkara .   Apparently the first winner took  all of 8 hours.

 Well obviously I was not going anywhere near 100k in 8 hours.  I was told the limit was 12 hours., and given my singular lack of speed I thought I might just squeeze 100k into 12 hours or 12.5 hours especially if the wind blew in the correct direction. So I started drawing running schedules. There was a minor hiccup in my preparation though – I had to have  surgery in July and was told not to stress the sutures for 8 to 12 weeks. That was a major setback as I had already paid in full for the whole trip.  Anyway, I dutifully stopped everything for 10 weeks ( compromise) and prepared as best I could, and happily boarded SQ492 for Cairo on Sunday 22nd Nov.

 

Cairo                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 On arrival there was a brief meeting with the race organiser. Imagine my alarm when on arrival I was told that cut off was 11 hours because it was too dangerous to run after sundown!  Hisham, the event organiser also advised  against  bringing  any money or valuables as they could not guarantee safety. So I spent the afternoon trying to print out a pace band for a 100k in 11.15 hopeful hours. Even the hotel printer had its doubts because it steadfastly refused to print out Roman numerals and delivered pace bands  using Arabic numerals.

Anyway whilst the printer was throwing a fit, I found a friendly taxi driver and  hoofed around the museum in Cairo and the library and the citadel  in Alexandria,.

26 November 2010

The event schedule said  to gather at 3am  at the Pyramids Hotel lobby.  So at  3am,  dark and early I arrived at the hotel lobby – to witness a general riot – or so it seemed.  I am sure the race organisers knew exactly what was happening, but to me, at that point of time, there were so many people yelling and milling around, it was a bit daunting.  

As the run does not have any water stations  all support is mobile.  Each  individual runner and each relay team is assigned a gleaming white minivan. Each minivan has the runner’s number pasted on the front windscreen and   has a driver and an armed escort (the tourist police).  That morning, it was noisy because vehicles would screech  up to the hotel entrance in a seemingly random fashion. Then there would be a ( routine) heated exchange between organisers holding check lists and the van drivers, with other bystanders chiming in. Then the van might be loaded with a few bottles of  water and several bananas or  the water and bananas would be removed. Numbers would be pasted onto the window, or ripped off and other numbers pasted. Then  the vehicle would drive off again. All the while, in the background confusion  there would be runners and support crews trying to make off with cartons of water and bananas.

There were only about 10 individual runners for the 100k distance but quite a few teams of 5 runners. About 100 to 110 numbers were allocated. Some groups were obviously well organised with cartons of isotonic drinks, chillers and food. There were even a few support mountain bikers. I think I was the only solo solo with no backup plan. And the only female solo runner.

Finally at 4.30 I found my minivan and we went off in one huge convoy to Hawara  100k away where the race was to start. Was I car sick (I’m infamous for suffering from motion sickness) – yes – and barely made it to Hawara with my stomach contents intact inside of me. At Hawara, we saw a lonely little arch marking the start line in the middle of the sandy desert. A small oasis was nearby and all the runners made a beeline for the trees. You can forget the portaloo experience here.

On return from visiting the bushes – I found that my van had shifted position – and ran frantically around looking for the one marked “97”.  It was already 6am, and  flag off was at 6am. The last thing I wanted after coming so far was to miss the race. The next most horrible thing , as any slow runner will tell you – is to start  behind everybody else. Whilst some look at PBs, I look at cut offs

The race

 Luckily some of the competitor vans were late, having lost their way.  I managed to make the start line in time,  armed with a little 500 ml handheld bottle and some gels.  Camera, money, phone  and other supplies were left in the van.   About 30-40minutes after 6am,  the race started with little fuss. There was a bang and off we trotted.   The ground beneath was sand, asphalt and sand. As we ran, I realised that the soles of my Newtons had become  absolutely rock hard in the cool morning temperatures. My poor feet could feel every notch in the sole.  With what must have been less than 100 runners – actually it  felt more like 50 starters – there was no crowding. Soon I was the only one on the road with glimpses of one in front or behind.  A solitary  runner, alone in  vast never-ending plains of sand with blue skies above. The yellows and browns and oranges were spectacular.

But – there was also no sign of my van.

That , in truth  was the  secret to my running  faster than usual – no van, no money, no phone, limited gels and limited water!

Occasionally, I would see a runner with a van. Sometimes I saw the support bikes and sometimes official cars. The road was marked every 5k. I met my van with driver and guard after the  30k mark. I’m not sure if they knew  I was looking for them or whether this was their plan, but they followed me dutifully after that.

Somewhere after 40k we ran along canals and farmland. It was almost exactly like Sunday School picture books come alive. Vignettes of life in the land where time stands still. Running streams with  bulrushes, quiet moments with birds chirping  in trees.  Passing  donkeys laden with goods. Riders in long robes with legs hanging out . Women washing clothes by the river.

I completed  about 38k on time.   Then as the sun grew, I started to lose the schedule. I had to stop the van for water and each time I stopped the van to rummage for drinks and electrolyte powders and whatnot, I fell further and further behind the pace schedule. Each stop – brief as it may have seemed – must have cost me about 500m to 1k!  I remember my shock when I looked up after one such stop.  The runner that I had overtaken 500m behind was now far in front .  And all I had done was to wave the van down, open the door ,  top off my flask and wave the van off.  

As the sun came up, so did the temperatures, so too the more frequent refuelling stops.  The road then took us through little townships full of people and potholes. Here the streets were lined by armed men in uniform, men with long gowns carrying sticks and whips, hordes of little children and lots of people shaking their heads at a female runner in tights. There were also lots of donkeys, horses and carts. There was a man who tried to squeeze inbetween me and some vehicles, but as he tried to canter his donkey, the animal rebelled and threw him off. Poor guy.

 Err and obviously no toilet stops were possible.

 By this time I was crawling 100 paces and shuffling 100 paces.  Focus and will power being nonexistent. I had one stretch whereby a vehicle stayed stubbornly in between me and my white  van. It was then that my brain pulled out all the stored  images of races past where thousands of bums encased  in worn out salt encrusted tights flashed past my eyes in  never-ending line.  Anyway a police car and motorbike soon  appeared and all order was restored. I continued my shuffle.

As the sun set, the temperatures fell, and it felt good to run again. But by about 4.00pm it was so dark that the only light I had  to illuminate the road was the van’s lights behind me.  As the last rays whispered  away, the lonely road  sprang to life. Hundreds of cars with blaring horns materialised out of nowhere. Maybe it was a daily occurrence or maybe it was a pre-election mode exodus, but on this 2-way road back into Cairo, the traffic in both directions seemed to think of  it as a one way road in their favour. ( No one talks about speed limit here). The van and me were reduced to creeping and bumping  along  the road shoulder. A car whizzed by and  its inhabitants waved their arms at us. “Stop stop. Too dangerous”. Some time later, another came by and someone actually came down ” Stop. Back into Van. Finish”  Not wanting to be a heroic oil slick on the ground, I thought it best to follow instructions.  My faithful van driver was also gesticulating by then. So my Egyptian adventure had come to an end after 85k and 10h 30m.  And yes, I got car sick on the way back into Cairo and threw up into the plant boxes in the hotel  lobby

The next day

The next day, Hisham said  ” Road very dangerous. I have something for you –  85 k 10.5 hours. “,  and handed me the certificate and medal. “Write 100k, 12 hours” , he told me .  It may be a discounted 100k but its the fastest 85k for me and I am insanely  proud of it. It carries with it memories  of a beautiful  run and the lingering  dusty taste  of the vanishing van.  

As for the run it is well worth  running. The route is undeniably historical and  culturally rich. The  logistics and coordination of the whole thing must have been horrendous – the  placing and transporting and the feeding all the men , police and guns along the route. I really must commend the organisers as it was a really huge undertaking, and all little quirks aside , it was  well done and smooth. Everybody was safe.

Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 2:23 am  Comments (2)  

2011 is a coming!

Its November 2010 – and over a year since the last post!  There have been multiple drafts but they have remained as drafts. The kitchen could only produce tasteless nopost casserole dishes. However, since coming back to Singapore and allowing  some time for adjustment of body and soul – I’m back with a new menu!

A new camera served as a good entree. For the mains,   linking up with Team Fatbird  and old running buddies have rejuvenated my interest in travel  and running – travelrunning – ( versus travel shopping ). Visits to South Africa for the Sardine Run and to Lombok to see schooling hammerheads have rekindled a longstanding love affair with the sea.  And then of course the dessert – going back home to Kuching to reconnect with my family’s roots in  the performing arts – was really good.

An idea of what has happened since Port Macquarie 2010:

Comrades Marathon South Africa 2009

Western Australia Ironman 2009

Aviva 70.3   Singapore        2010

Marathon des Sables            2010

Comrades Marathon South Africa  2010

The North Face 100 duo      2010

Pharonic 100k   Egypt     2010

And several fun runs and shorter runs  like GE Women’s 10k, New Balance Real Run, Newton 30k, Passion Run 25k .

I think I also did a trio of Australian runs in 2009 – Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

I will update the blog soon! Stay for some fun!

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Port Macquarie Ironman -Part 2- the execution

img_0072The Race
The race was scheduled  just a few days  after the MidNorth Coast of Australia suffered what one newspaper described as a 1- in-a- 100 year flood!   By Thursday however, the major roads were open so that afternoon, we ( my daughter and I) made our way down to Port Macquarie.   The farmlands around the coast were still flooded and the coastal waters,  usually blue in this region had taken on a horrible brownish hue.  We were about one hour out from home when we saw a  bedraggled possum make its way slowly across the Great Pacific Highway – in broad daylight! Poor guy must have been half drowned.

 
Accomodation
We were booked into Rydges Port Macquarie which is along the Ironman run route. The hotel was really  all prepared for the Ironmen hopefuls -the concierge didn’t bat an eyelid when we asked if we could bring  a bike into the hotel room. They even gave us a big sheet to put over the carpet.   During the course of the day, we kept seeing high tech bikes being wheeled in and out of the hotel lifts. It was one of those occasions when everybody was looking at bikes . Marilyn Munro would not have been noticed amongst the svelte Cervellos and Avantis and whatnotties.

 Ironman Village, Port Macquarie

img_5926The village and all the tentage was floating on a sea of mud. In fact many of the athletes were busy taking pictures of the mud. The mud however did not deter anybody from shopping. The expo was an excellent place to get gear – technical bike things and other must have accessories. My credit card went on a marathon spree – watch, compression socks, bike jerseys, gels ,swim goggles……. 

Pre race potatoes.
 I always have problems deciding what to pack and this was no different. I packed rain gear, extra food, extra T shirts extra lights, extra gels – extra everything . I had  also brought two raw  potatoes  along with me as I wanted to eat these  on the bike leg.  As there were no cooking facilities in the  hotel room, I brought my two little potatoes down to the Rydges kitchen and asked  to have them boiled.  The waitress had to  ask the chef. The chef refused to boil my potatoes, but he said they would boil two of their own.img_5955
So I got 2 huge  cordon bleu boiled potatoes for AUD4/-
 

 

Race Dayimg_5971

The Swim img_5994
We thought the swim would be  cancelled because of the flood waters, but on race day, they announced that the swim was on – so we  had to find a dry spot to put on the wetsuits. Some struggled in the mud, but  I found the stairs behind the VIP tent  ideal. Now the slow swimmers are supposed to enter the water first  followed by the faster swimmers, so you are basically  about 10minutes colder.  I was a bit reluctant to chill out like that so I follwed a few experienced and intrepid souls  who stayed at the side, behind the orange markers. Just be careful of the concrete blocks.
img_0119Two weeks ago the swim course  was blue salt water complete with dolphins. On race day it was brown  mud tainted fresh  water.  Some call it black water swimming! We  had to pull leaves and twigs out of  mouths and eyes. Anyway, even with the new goggles – I got lost and kept swimming a zig zag from river bank to roped course and then to river bank again. In the end the surf board rescue people wanted to know if I was actually trying to swim to New Zealand.
And when the faster swimmers came by, they created such a perfect storm that I was left bobbing helplessly on the surface (courtesy of a bouyant wetsuit) and seasick again! So between chatting to the volunteers and visiting the bonny banks and boats of the River Hastings, I managed the 3.8k swim in 1:46 hrs. 
 

Bike

img_6060The swim to bike transition  took all of 13 minutes. I suppose  at my age, one has to take a little time to squish  daintily through the mud. I am notexactly  fast mounting the bike, but  once on the bike it was  time for munchies!
The menu:
Hor d’oeuvre: First loop : Cordon Bleu boiled  potato sprinkled with sea salt. (My pocket could only take one potato).
 Main Course : Second loop : 1 Sweet n Salty Muesli  bar . 1 Turkish delight.
Dessert : Third Loop : 1 small banana muffin . 1 small cherry ripe.
Snack menu : 2 gels and a handful of mixed soft  candies.
I ran out of food by the end of the second loop. 

 Bike Course
img_6056The bike course is basically in 3 parts –  sharp city hills,  coastal flats and rolling woodland hills. And  even though unclipping  my new bicycle shoes was an unpredictable endeavour , I decied it was much safer to push the bike over the Matthew Flinders hill  rather than  fall off trying to climb the hill. Both being equally unglamourous but one being much less painful.
Anyway, I was merrily munching my way thru the course when I noticed that I was the only bike on the road  and there was a car following me. Then another car pulled up and like in the films, the window on the passenger side rolled down and a sonorous voice then announced that I had all of  1hour 15minutes to complete the course and get to transition.
I made it with 29s to spare.img_6087
Its like we say at home ” Macam hero like that”. (Translated roughly into  a sarcastic ”  Trying to be  like a hero. Hey?”)
Revelation :  I could pedal at unheard speeds of 30-35kph under duress.  I also learnt that it was more efficient to  pedal downhill and coast uphill rather than the other way round!.

 The Run
img_0116The run route is a figure of 8. One  flat loop going towards Settlement Point  and a second hilly loop  going towards Flynn’s Beach  I took  just over 6 hours – using a 5min run and 1 min walk cycle. The transition from bike to run took almost 12 minutes (err I nly have muddied excuses).  As the last runner I had a bicycle sweeper who was really very sweet. He had to change  companions 5 times because the last runner position changed hands five times! When I managed  to  overtake another runner, inevitably that runner would speed up  before stopping again – at which  point I would pass them  again. This is part of the run from my Garmin. It ran out of battery after about 5 hrs.

 

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/4146142  

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In the  end I decided not to risk overtaking in case I slipped  and turned a potential finish into a  definite DNF. So I waddled on. The support from the volunteers, the spectators, the local  triclub , my ironman mentor and of course my daughter- were much appreciated.
 
Would  do it again? Absolutely. Hopefully with  a more graceful finish. img_6098

Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 10:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Port Macquarie Ironman : Preparation

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Port Macquarie Ironman- Preparation

There has been no happier, very last finisher in any event than me in Port Macquarie on that Ironman night. After 16hrs 48minutes I was probably happier than  the fastest person on the course.

 Scenic Routes Do Sell

 Why Port Macquarie? Well as usual , I was sold on the idea about  how breathtaking and stunning the race route  was. I have yet to learn how to associate “scenic” with hills. 

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 Crash programme

Admittedly there were a few minor glitches on the way to Port Macquarie – like insufficient time on the bike and in the water. My new trek bike – bought one month before the Aviva 70.3 in September 08 was  and still is, languishing somewhere on the docks in Sydney. My swimming was also a tad rusty. However,  this was a brand New Year and this was my brand new resolution – completeing an ironman race along  the most scenic routes .I had 12 weeks.

Luckily I found a kind soul in Coffs who was willing to help me plan the  adventure .img_00741 

 

Swim Training

In January 09 I started swimming in earnest. Apart from that one month before last year’s Aviva 70.3, I had not swum laps since 1972. I had cramps  every 100m so I repaired to the supermarket for the latest anticramp remedy – magnesium tablets and kept myself going by rewarding each swim session  with dark fruitcake or banana bread. By week 10, I could complete 2.5k in about 2 hours. Then there was this little detail about wet suits.

img_5990I found that the wetsuit made me so bouyant I got sea sick floating around in the sea. I think I know how the otters and seals  feel bobbing around on the surface.  Anyway it was during this period that there were reports of sharks hunting surfers  in Sydney, so practicing in the open water rapidly became less attractive. Just in case the local shark community were influenced by their city cousins.

 

 

Bike img_0904

Well I went to buy  a nice aluminium,  lime green Giant.  I have to say that the first 30-50k succeeded beyond my dreams – in tenderising my poor rump steaks. However, the subsequent shopping – online shopping  made up for most things. I also found some advice from the internet on how to wear those funny padded shorts. In 12 weeks, the rides progressed from a painful 1.5 hour 20k ride to 160k in 8.5-9 sore hours. Somewhere along the way the bike morphed into a carbon  bikimg_0883e – this time in black and lime green.

The long rides were interesting because I had very nice coffee and lunch breaks! The routes were planned with a nice scenic coffee or picnic places as the focus destination. So from Coffs Harbour, I would ride for a nice lunch at Mylestrom,  coffee at Urunga , Chocolate Florentines or gelato at Bellingen.  Or  a quiet  snack in  the Bongil Bongil forest reserve. An additional  2kg appeared  quietly on the weighing scales too. Minor details.

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Two weeks before the event I meandered down to Port Macquarie to have a look at the bike route. I found the infamous  Matthew Flinders hill  rather steep. Initially I thought I could do it. I pedalled madly, rapidly lost momentum and slowly but surely  ground to a halt. Then there was this agonising tilt over to the grassy verge because I couldn’t decide which foot to take off the pedals since both were still desperately pushing downwards. 

The score that day was 5 to the hill and 1 to me. That one time when  I actually  got up the hill still seated on the bike left me gasping so badly  that I had to get off anyway. So while I was doing my asthmatic attck and whooping cough –  recovering from my near death experience – this handsome young man  clad in tight yellow attire breezed by on his bike with  greatest of ease.  “G’day!” he shouted. ” Bitch of a hill ain’t it”.  My only consolation was that even he had to stand up to pedal

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/4146233  A trace of the bike route. This trace is only 140k. (I think I switched the garmin  off somewhere). The actual route is 180k (3x a 60k course)img_0122

 

 

 That night I had a big giant choc mint Haagen Daz milkshake from the shop in Port Macquarie. I think by this time the total weight gain it must have been +3Kg

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Canberra Marathon

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Raison d’etre

I am not mad, but  I needed a sub-5 hour marathon badly. Unfortunately I am not a natural runner and I labour to run so  for me it has been a long quest .   There was that  Singapore Marathon in December  08 where I ended up looking like a dead chicken.  The event had a record number of runners and somewhere near the 31k mark  a runner in front of me   suddenly stopped. This caused a  chain  collision  and  although I managed to miss the initial collision, I was inadvertently rugby tackled by another  who didn’t.  When I fell I cramped immediately and ended up with  both legs sticking stiffly up in the air!

Then of course in January, there was the  Cadbury Marathon  which was  a most jolly  – but definitely not  a sub 5 hour – affair.

So it was down to the Canberra run. http://www.canberramarathon.com.au/

 

Canberra Lodgings

img_09411I stayed in Telopea Inn. This was a really good choice as the race expo, the marathon start and finish were virtually at  its doorstep. Supermarkets including a 24 hour Coles is within 5 minutes walk,  I think the Inn was booked out by runners that weekend. On the morning of the run , there were  runners peeping out from almost every door.

 

Race expo

Well this was a cosy little expo in the school hall, but it had an unusual feature – a table selling old running books and memorabilia. The ASICS shoe people were there, and the gel people were there, and there was a representative from Runners World with printed pacing charts. There were those little boxes for personal drinks  and of course my favourite part  – the event merchandise table with souvenir T shirts.  The nice thing about this expo was that there were volunteers who were willing to explain the course in great detail. The Canberra Marathon is slightly complicated for apart from the multiple loops along the 42K route, there is an option to run 50k , as well  as   bicycle path diversion for the  runners deemed likely to take more than 5 hours. This was the part which interested me.

The runner’s addendum to Murphy

img_0930Actually race day was almost a no show day for me . The lesson I learnt was that one should never sprint for a tour bus on the day before a race. 

An out of town race means being a tourist – so  like many other runners, I decided to take a bus tour of  Canberra on the eve of the race.  Unfortunately, the connecting bus was late, so  I had to run for the tour bus – a natural instinct but one that resulted in a large bruise along the top of my ITB and which required icing that evening!

My makeshift ice pack was a n ice cold  bottle of mineral water rolled up and down the ITB.

The addendum to Murphy’s law of running  is that if the  long slow training runs don’t get your ITB,  sprinting  for a tour  bus will. 

 

Race Day

img_0937Race  Day dawned clear and chilly. I walked out at 6 am and promptly walked back into my room. Actually most of the other runners staying in Telopea Inn were also in their rooms- peeking out from their doors and watching the other runners jumping up and down trying to warm up. Thank goodness for Telopea Inn. Almost on the dot, about 10 minutes before the gun, the room doors opened and runners emerged from their rooms to join the rest on the street. Standing with the 4:30 pacer and his balloons, I took over a minute to get to the start line. The first loop was around parliament house, then it was on to the shores of the Lake Burley Griffin. At about 15k  the balloons drifted away in the distance before me. Then a nice man on a motorbike came up and said – “Hold your direction – the front runners are coming.”  Yeah, I was lapped  before the 21k mark!

As expected, I was amongst those diverted to the bicycle track off the main roads. Of course I was a little disappointed  – but it was a very scenic route and as one of the first few to be diverted, I merited a bicycle marshall to show me the way. Although it  meant no short cuts crashing through the bushes, I think the presence of the bicycle marshall made me run a teeny bit faster.  My walk stops were also shorter. I just felt terrible to force him to do such a slow bike ride.

 

Finish Lineimg_0939

I thought the crowd support was marvellous with clowns and cheer squads making merry along the route. I would put my Garmin trace here for fun , except that then everybody would know just when and for how long  my portaloo stop was.

 And yes, I did it –  a sub 5 hour effort with a gun time of 4:57:38  and a chip time of 4:56. 

And Haha!  Now I qualify for  that   race!

Published in: on April 22, 2009 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Cadbury Marathon

Tasmania

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Its very  very difficult not to be attracted by a marathon associated with Cadbury’s! A great  fun-run way to start the year I thought.

Hobart – and where to stay.

The marathon website recommendeds the Riverfront Motel which is near the race start, but as usual by the time I made up my mind to run, there were no more vacancies  and I had to take  a hotel in town. Such are the vagaries of fortune – for  this turned out to be a much better arrangement. Hobart city’s waterfront was abuzz with acivities over that weekend – it being  the annual Tasmanian food and wine festival

         img_0732                                           I had a wonderful time. 

There were lots of stalls serving wine, fruits, dairy produce like cream and cheese and ice cream, beef,salmon and oyseters, mussells and so forth. For the wine tasting, the prerequisite was a wine glass. With this wine glass in hand, you could go round to all the wine counters and taste as many wines and as many times as you liked. Actually I went back twice in the same evening.

Race day

                img_0677                Needless to say, I almost couldn’t get up the next morning for the race. Scrambling from Hobart for the 25 minute drive to the Cadbury Factory, I didn’t manage to get breakfast or pack any drinks.  It was a friendly event with many particpants on first name terms. There were also little boxes marked with varying distances where runners could put their own individual drinks – something that I  had not seen before. I was quite blue and frozen. Whilst there were a few hardy souls in shorts, most  of us took shelter in the registration room. There  were several  runners from Sydney, a quiet Comerades Ultramarathon veteran  and  a  lady from outside Australia who loudly declared she had completed  marathons in several continents.

Start

Cadbury Marathon Start The  event start was fairly low key. Everybody gathered near the arch, someone said start and everybody loped off. There was a double loop round the factory then it was down hill ,uphill, down hill, uphill! Well at least that’s what it felt like. There was  some confusion regarding turn around points especially  where the turn for the 21k run was about 1 to 1.5k in front of the 42k turn.   As there was no electronic chip recording, the distances run were purely on an honor basis.  No prizes for guressing  who I saw turning early! 

 

Water stations 

I resolve never to wine and dine before a run – whether it be a fun run or long run. The chances of ending up in the funny farm are much too high. Guess who was dehydrated and hungry that morning!   I think the water station for the run were  just pure water stations – I don’t remember seeing any electrolyte drinks or gels or bananas being offered. I sneaked some electrolyte drink from an unmanned coleman which carried the markings of a running group. I’m sure they didn’t mind missing half a cup !

Courseimg_0718

 The course was actually rather scenic, wending its way around the Cadbury estate and the River Derwent. The Australian runners are serious and fast. The last kilometer  of the course involved a very steep climb up to the Cadbury Factory.  I was fourth last – luckily for me and my 3 new found companions, there were still some sausages and bread left over . Boy were we  hungry.

 

Oh and since it was  a Cadbury marathon, I managed to get hold of some chocolate  Freddos –  left overs  from the kiddies.

 

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Published in: on April 21, 2009 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sundown ultramarathon

sundown-receipt-11The Sundown Ultra

Its been a while since  but I still think back to that event and all the training and hype. And to think that in a few months there will be a second running of that event!

The Decision

I guess i have to admit that entry to the race was an easy decision – sure why not. An ultra event at my doorstep and in the cool of the night – only problem was that almost everyone I knew thought it was a really  bad idea. – Bad for knees, bad for back , bad for health – just about everything.

 

The Training

I have said something about the training in a previous post . It was actually  a lot of fun running through the city at night. Preparing for an ultra event was just an excuse and a motivating factor. Had I not signed up for the event , I would never have made an effort to  run through the streets of Singapore at 2am!

If I were at home, I would be tempted to sign up just so that I could run at night  again – through the town centre, through the rural areas, through the coastal roads, through the redlight areas!  It was also very interesting to watch the change of  social groups through the 24 hour period.   

Dawn Bishan Park

Dawn Bishan Park

Careless Ambition.

10 days before the event, I was running with a group along the new overhead walking trails which link several scenic trails in Singapore-  the Henderson Wave and its connectors. It was raining . And I slipped on the metal grilles whilst turning a corner. It was a hard fall and I had BBQ grille marks all the way down the side of one leg and a huge hematoma/ bruise on the knee. I still have a residual  huge hard lump on the side of the knee after 9 months! At that time I  was really depressied because I thought I would be done out of having my fun run. But after skulking for a week,  I visited a sports masseuse, stuck all sorts of sticky plasters on all my lumpy bits and went for a slow jog with a few  of the guys. Right. I decided I could go.

 

The run

Such excitement. A new event and there were so many people milling around at the start line. It was a muggy humid

Start

Start

evening, but there were people lurking around under trees, hanging around their cars and  decorating themselves with light sticks instead of sun block. There was a tent giving out these glow sticks and runners were having a wonderful time making necklets and bracelets from them. It was like an evening carnival. And where was I during this whole period?  Hanging around the portaloos.

 

Start

And we were off.  The 84K started first – we had two loops to go. The 42k started later, around midnight. I tried to tag along with a few from my running group but they were too fast, so I struck up conversation with anyone who cared to  chat with me. One nice man chatted for about 1k after  which he scooted into the darkness of  Changi Coastal Road!  Everybody else seemed to be running so fast. Initially I  did manage to catch up with a few of the 25min run and 5min walk practitioners – but everytime they hit their run phase I would be left far behind.

 

2c63-jaimeThe run follows the coast until  the 20 – 22k mark, where there is a turnaround point and a first bridge crossing. I was still quite strong here and feeling quite chirpy. Once over the bridge, we ran past a few Siglap estates and I thought of my sister in law and family who live nearby. Then there was the MRT train station and a nice beer garden. I must say the policemen were wonderful here – stopping traffic for the runners rather than the other way round.

At about 25  t0 30k we hit the Bedok Town and Reservoir Parks and the Pasir Ris Park areas. Here the moon was high and atmosphere was good. There was quite a lot of support on the first round – friends from running groups were at housing estates and at the foot of some of the bridges. A few were roller skating around. At the Bedok  Town park area there was a large group of run supporters with brownies, bananas, drinks and so forth. I had also left a supply of chips, potatoes , gels and drink mixes there, but I found that Icouldn’t ingest any. The excitement of the event, the length of the run – whatever it was – but  my stomach just could not cope .

Transition

The end of the first round was good and we spent sometime in the transition area. I changed shoes, sat down for a while and had a munchie. In retrospect I think this was a mistake because none of those were needed. Once I had cooled down, I found it difficult to get going again. And the fresh shoes just didn’t fit my feet anymore! Maybe it was just my lack of training but if I do this event again, I think I would spend less time in transition and just carry on through.

 

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Sundown

The first round of the second half ie the 42 – 63k distance was fine. I puffed a bit but managed to keep going – though my friend was going great guns with his 5min run and 1 min walk. I was down to 1min run and 1 min walk. After midnight, the temperatures  dropped rather fast and I think we were all a little bit cold and fatigued by early dawn.  Somewhere along the second loop, I met a runner from Kuala Lumpur who was struggling a bit. We ran together for a while before he stopped for some panadol. I was lucky for  somewhere around the 60k mark, one of my running group appeared like an angel on a motorscooter with a wam chocolatey Milo drink.

 

Oops to the Finish

 

Finish line

Finish line

Then around 75k, i had an oops event – I turned down the wrong street and got lost for 1k. This was around Tampines Fire Station and I had obviously been dreaming. I suppose i should have realised what happened because as I turned down that junction,  I vaguely remember seeing the group of runners behind me  stopping  and having a heated  debate. But I guess I wasn’t really thinking right at that time . The run marshalls were nowhere in sight ( it had been raining and they had disappeared)  and the policemen were busy having breakfast of nasi lemak. So it was a constellation of factors.

 

One  other poor soul followed me on that long lost road. It took us about twenty minutes to get back onto the correct road again. (Try wondering around a strange housing estate at dawn). My companion was too spent to say anything . All he said was – “I never realised it would take so much out of me”  Anyway   that signalled the end of the mental toughness game for me because after a half hearted attempt to resume jogging, I came down with cramps and  walked all the way to the finish line. A total of about 13hr 10min.  But I made it before the cut off time and got my finishers T!

 

Finished!

Finished!

Apres run

Apres run

 

 http://connect.garmin.com/activity/866174

Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 8:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Diving Australia- North Solitary and Pimpernel Rock

 

Dive boat
Dive Boat
Along the North Coast NSW 
 
Australia has so much diversity – we have visited several places in Australia  dressed as scuba divers – the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Eaglehawk in Tasmania, K,angaroo Island  off Adelaide, and even the waters around Sydney. I think all these places have their own special charm (and I would write about them but unfortunately most of my pictures for these places are in 35mm slides. ) But the waters around the midnorth coast are really special. I thought I should start with a brief blog and continue in more detail later.

 

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suiting up

My first dive this season was with Mullaway’s Dive Quest and we went to North Solitary Islands. This was in October 2008. I think I was freezing as the 19C waters were a wee bit too cold for poor old tropical me. So on one of those dives I was bunched up into a round ball nearer the surface whilst the rest of the group were admiring wobbies and anemones  and all the wonderful little nemos when all of a sudden this huge shape dived over me! What a beautiful sight – humpback and calf came over the top of my head.  I looked at the rest of the group, wanting to call them but no one was looking at me so I decided swimming with the whale was more important at that stage!at-pinnacle-pimpernel-1-feb-09-0072

 

I spent some minutes swimming under the whale and calf, regretting the extra weight that I had carried because of the bouyant wet suit. The whale was so big it was like swimming under a huge spacecraft. When finally the whale was out of sight I turned back and found that two others of my group had also  followed. Both were finning desperately  towards the whale and  had saucers for eyes –  and I think if it hadn’t been so cold, their regulators would have fallen out of their mouths! Unfortunately there was no cameraman in that little whale sighting group. When we surfaced and got onto the boat, the reactions we got were really funny. One slightly sour diver said  ” Its funny how you seem to be having this wonderful dive with sharks and wobbies. Then when you get on the boat, you find that your dive has suddenly turned shitty!”  Well for the three of us, it was the most wonderful dive. 

 

North West and Pimpernel

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Kingfish

Two other lovely dives with Christo from Mullaway  were the shark gutters (I think this is NW Solitary) where you swim along a very scenic path with white water raining down on one side. The dive people called it the misty valley – I thought it was more like swimming under an underwater waterfall with fish and cruising sharks. Then of course there was that trip to the fabled Pimpernel Rocks – a series of craggy pinnacles rising steeply from the sea floor from about 45m to 12 m. We had heard so much about this site – how divers can spend one whole dive searching  in vain for the pinnacle or how one could lose the boat and drift for hours. So when Christo called about the dive, we flocked to the shop.

 

On patrol

On patrol

We went in two boats, and Christo found the site with minimal fuss. He secured the boat, gave a good briefing and we were off to explore. For this dive, I had a camera, but of course the visibility was rather variable but the fish life was really dense. We found one area packed from sea floor to sea mount with kingfish and jew fish- all pretending to be sardines.  There was a cave or swim through, but the visibility there was so limited that day that we kept bumping into several large grey nurse sharks/ sand tigers who were patrolling the entrance.

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Packed with fish

  All I can say is, I definitely will try for that site again and give another more detailed post

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