In an early effort to ramp up my distance for my impending maiden 42K at the Borneo International Marathon 2015, I signed up for the INOV-8 Pacesetters 3030 Run (30K) in November 2014. I did have some decent mileage under my belt from training runs, but I kept putting off the move to a longer distance, until the organisers upped the cut-off time from 4.5 hours (if I recall correctly) to 5 hours. I would take my time – surely 5 hours would be enough! – and live to blog about it. Set!
The route: We started at Padang Merbok, and headed towards Bukit Tunku via Jalan Sultan Salehuddin. From there, we traversed the usual hilly route through Bukit Tunku to eventually arrive at the Jalan Duta crossing (you may know Jalan Duta by its new name of Jalan Tunku Abdul Halim [or is it Tuanku?]). We passed the Wilayah mosque/government offices on the way up to the Publika junction. As Publika came into sight, we turned left to head towards Hartamas, on an undulating road going past the Istana Negara, and then Plaza Damas. After the crest of the hill at Plaza Damas, we turned left to take the inner road just before the school. We went past the houses at the fringes of Taman Sri Hartamas, to reach a checkpoint at the tip of Hartamas, and then turned back to complete the loop back to the school. We then retraced our steps back to the Publika junction. At the Publika junction, we turned left to run past the length of Solaris Mont’Kiara, and then made a right and another right towards the road leading to the MATRADE building, eventually arriving back at the mosque/government offices. We then repeated the entire Publika – Hartamas – Publika – MATRADE route before (finally) crossing Jalan Duta to get back to Bukit Tunku and retrace our steps back to Padang Merbok.
Ready? Set, Go! (1km – 10km)
It was a good start. Bananas were available before the run started – that was a pleasant surprise. There were pacers, too; something not really the norm for an event below Full Marathon distance. I hanged around the 5:00 pacers – I’ll be taking it easy for my first 30K, of course. The first 5K was through the hills of Bukit Tunku, a favourite area for my training runs, and was enjoyable for me. I never did relish crossing Jalan Duta, and indeed, even with police officers stationed at the traffic lights to guide vehicles as the runners crossed, one had to watch very carefully for unpredictable driving behaviour (a car tried to force its way past the stream of runners despite the policeman’s directions to stop!)
After the crossing, I bumped into the 4:30 pacers and managed to keep up with them for a few kilometres. They were a lively bunch and it was good to hear friendly banter amid the quiet concentration that was in the air. So, the first 10K would be, well, your regular 10K, save for the fact that at the back of your mind there is a nagging reminder, slowly inching its way past the surges of adrenaline, that you will have to repeat the 10K twice.. (“Oh hey, that sounds ok!”).. within the next 5 hours.. (“What?”)
Comfort zone, still (10km – 21km)
Nothing too unknown here. You’re still going strong. You have a good feeling about the day; that very morning, when you’re going to finish your first 30K with a bang. Then you realise that some people running alongside you are already on their second loop of Hartamas – and that you are still happily strolling along, thinking happy thoughts, on your first loop. Slowly, the realisation dawns on you – that the challenge is going to be mental; really, really, mental.
The unknown (21km – 30km)
Chances are, if you’re on the route to a 42K, you may have completed 21K’s with the feeling that you could probably do ‘some more’. The ‘some more’ now arrives in the form of the final 10K that, if approached lightly, will completely drain your store of willpower.
Note: What I did NOT do and should have done during my training prior to the 30K, was to first increase my mileage to an intermediate distance, say, of 25K, so that hitting 30 wouldn’t be such a shock to the system. As I ran along past the 21K mark, I began to realise that I was about to attempt to finish a 30K by relying on sheer fitness (or whatever was left of it at that stage). So here’s the disclaimer: I survived, but, dear reader, it’s probably best not to try this at home!
Let’s dissect this last stretch 5K at a time:
21km – 25km: “Hey, I’m still in one piece! I may be able to do this in good time after all.” Stepping into the unknown can generate a sense of euphoria when you realise you don’t drop down dead immediately. 😀 You are then slowly eased out of that momentary high when you realise that your knees are starting to protest, and your calves are threatening to cramp up.
25km – 30km: The road to perdition (or, “Geez, man, what was I thinking?”)
At about 25K, my running form started to deteriorate and my lower back started to tire tremendously. I could almost hear my pilates trainer saying “Oi! Engage your core!”. I was thankful for the core work I had been doing in pilates all these years, but thinking of engaging your core at this stage ain’t gonna help much (you’re supposed to do it throughout your run, lah 😀).
I almost had no real feeling left in my thighs and calves, and at one point I wondered if an old ankle injury and an old foot injury would come back to haunt me. I’m only at 25K, I can’t break down now!
After a few more threatened slumps of the lower back, I decided to try alternating ‘imprinting’ and ’rounding’ my spine while taking smaller steps. It actually helped, although I tried not to think of what people around me might be wondering (“is that woman doing pelvic thrusts at 25K?”)
Well, the good news is that I didn’t have any cramps or injuries. The not-so-good news was that I was so engrossed in my own thoughts of “it’s a 5K, it’s hilly, but it’s just a 5K” that I underestimated the amount of time I would take to do the final 5K after having just run 25K (and yes, on hills, no less). The realisation only came when the 5:00 pacers ran past, shouting words of encouragement and then disappearing over the hill to finish in their planned time. Hangon, that was my planned time, too! Oh, horrors!
Those motivational posters and photos that say “running is all in the mind” are absolutely spot on.
I’d certainly say that the final 5K of the 30K is where the challenge is almost literally all in the mind. You’re tired (yes, that’s an understatement, ha ha!), and all you can think of is ending it ASAP, and then you realise that there is only so much energy that you have left to do it ‘ASAP’, and the finish line is still across the highway and further up the hills.
That’s the last thing you want to hear at that point, yes. But I had selected a hilly route for my leap to 30K. Too bad, I was stuck with it!
That was when I heard my smartphone buzzing. I checked it, and noticed that my regular running group had just finished their leisurely (<30K) training run of the morning, and were on their way to breakfast. I decided to try to drown out all the heat and ache of my final 3K or so by participating in that chat conversation as I shuffled along (slow enough to type text messages with sweaty fingers).
“I’m still running.”
Exclamations of support came buzzing through. As did motivational shout-outs in the form of photos of the food they were having for breakfast. Wonderful.
Suunto and Strava recorded my finishing time at a couple of seconds below 5 hours. My official net time was about 5:04. (It was quite generous of the organisers to still be issuing finishers’ items beyond the cut-off!) So, how does it feel to end a 30K right at the cut-off? A mixture of “Oh my goodness, I did it!” and then, when noticing that the only people left at the race site were volunteers, the organisers and fellow 5-hour finishers, and that tents were already being taken down, “OH-HO, my goodness. That took quite a while.”
No, it wasn’t finished yet! Of course I wasn’t. What was worse than the final 5K was the 600m walk back to my car that was parked in the Lake Gardens. My legs and lower back were protesting to the point of near collapse, and sitting in the car was the best feeling I’d had the entire morning.
But that wasn’t the end of it all either.. what was even worse than the walk back to the car, was getting out of the car seat when I reached home. Back home and on the sofa, I already had a vision of how my locomotion would be like the following day:
I turned up at work the next day slightly sunburnt and reeking of Deep Heating Rub. I made full use of the lift in my building to get up all of one floor, and as I hobbled in the corridor towards the pantry for my morning coffee, various concerned colleagues asked me if I was all right. I’m good, I say. I ran 30 kilometres yesterday; I’m in better condition than I was when I spent 6 hours going downhill at Mt Kinabalu! I get the “Ok, you’re a tad crazy” look.
And as crazy as it may sound (to non-runners), it was worth it. i had a taste of what might be in store for me between 30K and 42K, and I have a feeling it will be, well – crazy.