Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MARATHON: The New Race For Fitness!

An interesting article by TODAY newspapers, about the recent boom and high interest in endurance sports and racing. Team FatBird Runners shared their side of the story, along with some action during training.

WEEKEND TODAY - BIG STORY, Mar 20-21 (Ansley Ng)

WEEKEND TODAY - BIG STORY, Mar 20-21 (Ansley Ng)

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

With Team FatBird @ HK Marathon 2010

Race Photos, Courtesy Reuben Cheang
Off-Race Photos from Anthony

Team FatBird @ HK Marathon 2010

Team Singapore Runners

I could barely recall the numerous slopes I had encountered at the HK Marathon in 2007, especially after the infamous West Tunnel at the 36km mark, when I was offered some complimentary race slots of HK Marathon 2010 by New Balance Singapore. After checking with some members of Team FatBird, we decided that it was an interesting race that we should all go together to experience, what more that we will be getting finisher medals for the very first time.

I did not specifically train for the race, and with just a few training runs at MF and MR, I was in HK to soak in the new race route (sprinkled with even more slopes this year) with the team members. Beverly, Terry, YN, Spencer, Henry, Keonz, Jancy and I arrived on Friday to the Imperial Hotel, along Nathan Road, TST, 200m from the start point of the Marathon.

It was lots of walking on Friday as we traverse the streets and egress routes along 'happening' Nathan Road near Tsim Tsa Tsui (TST), visiting the famous Temple Street, Ladies Street, Portland Street, Soy Street (Shoe Street), taking in the famous 'Po Chai Fan' and local delicacies, dessert at Shi Liao Shan, and even sampled 'Yu Tan' along the streets. The group was soaking in the interesting Night Life and neon lights, so typical of HK. We walked so much that we our feet ached, like as though we had done a marathon already.

TFB @ NB Regional Event With Philippine Runners, courtesy The Bull Runner

Saturday morning was spent sampling HK breakfast along the back street, and then meeting up with Reuben for lunch at one of the 'Shao La Tian'. Carbo-loading was started and continued on throughout the day with spots of dessert and finger food.

With Team New Balance SG @ NB Regional Event

In the evening, we attended the New Balance Regional event for 150 invited race participants from many Asian countries. Singapore had quite a large contingent of 20+ runners, but China took the cake with their NB88 runners....a large group indeed. Met up with Eugene and Daniel, who so kindly made all the arrangements for our 'special' race packs, and also received good tips from the local HK elite runners and Paralympic Olympic medalists. The best part was the photo taking, interspersed with a nice buffet spread for even more carbo-loading. The Singapore Team did well with chants of 'S I N G A P O R E' and 'HUAT AH'.

Race Day
For some strange reason, I could not sleep at all...probably due to the heavy load of food, and also thinking about certain arrangements for the race pack and the excitement of meeting up with friends before and after the race. Met the team at the Hotel Lobby at 6.20am, before moving off to place our bags with the NB VIP baggage, thanks to Eugene. The weather was rather warm, about 25C with rather high humidity...a big difference from the much cooler weather we had in 2007. I was wondering if my long tights and tee-shirt will pose any problems in that heat. While waiting, there were some media who found us interesting enough to take pics and conduct short interviews. After the 21km runners were flagged off at 6.40am, we immediately went to the start line, but still was at least 200-300m away. With the crowd along narrow Nathan Road, I knew that we were in for a slow start. Took some pics with Reuben and other Singapore friends at the 4:00h corral.

The race was flagged off after some shouts from the runners, waving their hands to drum up excitement. As expected, it was a slow jog to the start which took nearly 3min. Even after crossing the chip mat, we had to jog slowly in the sea of runners. I was traveling at 7.5min/km pace, and found the time to look out for familiar faces...Reuben, Sam, Alex, Eileen, and the other NB Singapore runners. I didn't spot any of the SAFRA Runners as they would have been lined up in front. There were a number of runners who tripped and fell, and others who complained of the high humidity and sweltering heat. They were shouting to one another to go slow, and be safe.

After 2km of 7.5min/km pace, we finally hit the highway and were able to move slightly faster to 6.5min/km. The first slope greeted us along StoneCutter's Bridge, a longish upward climb, which was a added new feature. I reckoned it was meant to sap some of our pent-up energies before presenting us with the killer slopes ion the second half. Since the pace wasn't that fast yet, I took the time to enjoy the sights while chugging up. All along, I could see Reuben nearby snapping photos and doing his run-stop-pose-run thingy...haha.

After 5km, I picked up speed and pushed the pace down to 5.20min/km to make up for lost time. By the time we hit 10km, it was 56min....wah, really felt zapped trying to play catch up. Went into the tunnel which offered some cool respite, and as usual, it was slope when we exited. Towards the second bridge, I could see the 4hr pacers, 2-3 running in a group, with a green flag. They seemed a little exhausted with that cumbersome flag, and were taking turns to lead. I decided to follow them from there as my Garmin could hardly detect any signals in the tunnels.

The 4hr pacers kept pace pretty well at an average 5:30min/km. While running with them, and certain parts even leading them, I felt as if I was pacing the 4hr group...nostalgic moments of SCSM09...haha. Along the second bridge, I could see many of the faster runners like Peng Tat, Ricci, Keonz, Henry coming back. At the turn (about 20km) mark, the crowd was cheering the pacers on, and I felt the energy coming back.

Eugene and Reuben were around that mark too, as we hit the 21km in 1hr55min. Not sure why, my Garmin hung up on me. I fidgeted with it, and finally decided to reset...and in the midst of doing that along a 500m stretch, I might have missed quite a number of familiar faces. I realized the Pacers were dropping their pace, and decided not to wait for them. I pushed on forward and went into a pace of 5:20min/km for the next 8km. At the 27km mark, I saw the familiar back of Spencer. Went up to him along yet another up-slope, and told him that we had 15km to go.

The water points were amply stocked and available every 2.5km, with the Watson's isotonic drinks a hot (no pun intended) favourite. The packaging made it easy to be ingested via 3-4 squirts of the cool and refreshing light taste...many of our runners liked it. I had one pack at almost every station, without too much trouble to my tummy. At the 28km mark, I saw YN in front tackling yet another long upslope. Some of the runners were clearly struggling at that point. I inched slowly forward to catch YN, and to say a few words of encouragement. I had lost Reuben and Eugene by then, and was glad to see familiar faces in the midst of the thinning crowd.

I kept up with the 5:30min/km pace for the next 5km, but I could feel intermittent twitches to my calf and hamstring muscles. The slopes really made me work hard, and with those unconditioned muscles, I was just wondering when the cramps would hit. Soon it was the 34km mark, the start of the infamous Western Tunnel, the longest among all the tunnels we had to run through. The 2km stretch was quite alright in the initial portion, but then grew to be very stuffy and humid in the mid-section. It didn't help with the buses blowing smog, and at times made me feel quite breathless.

Then it was at the 36km mark, the beginning of the numerous sections of slopes, known to bring many runners to walking pace. Many of the guys were rubbing and stretching profusely. I trickled to a slow jog as I exited the tunnel, and then, WHAM!, BANG!, it hit me on the upslope....a large cramp hit my hamstring. While trying to compensate, my upper chest muscles went into seizure in what was one of my most painful episodes of cramping. I could barely breathe, and had to stop to rest....literally STOP. I had to lift my arms up while slow jogging, to the bemusement of the bystanders. Fortunately, the runner crowd then was not thick, and many also started to walk and stretch. Up the 37km mark, Reuben came from behind to inform that we have not much time left to do sub-4hr. I wasn't really too worried about that, and since I could hardly run, we decided to take some pictures along the highway. I told Reuben to run ahead while I stretched for a bit more.

I was half expecting more familiar runners to come from behind in the final 5km, but there were none. As we entered back into the CBD area, the spectators were forming. I decided to jog and avoid walking if possible. The pace was about 6.5min/km then, but if I pushed it faster, the cramps would erupt. I could feel twitches all over my legs and body as I ran, but as long as they did not erupt into cramps, I continued to jog. With even more upslopes in front, there were more runners walking, especially at all the upslopes. I was tempted to join in, but persevered to continue in spite of the pain.

With the final 1km, the crowd turned into a huge mass of spectators along both sides of the streets. Cheering wildly and telling us not to give up, I went into overdrive and started to chase after the runners in front. Managed to pick up about 20 before finally entering the final stretch of 100m rundown to the finish. I could hear shouts of my name in the midst of the spectators, as I crossed the finish in a time of 4hr2min. The finisher medal handed out by the babe was certainly just reward for me...haha.

Exhausted but Happy bunch

Met up with Reuben once again as we proceeded to the NB VIP booth for some refreshments. We had a fun time afterwards taking pictures and talking about the numerous slopes and humid weather. Almost all the runners agreed that this was one of the toughest marathons they had done, and definitely one with the most number of slopes they had to climb, making it even more memorable, no less. As they shared, I could feel a sense of achievement in their tone, as they 'survived' this hilly marathon.

The team did well under such challenging conditions, with Keonz 3:32h, Henry 3:37h, Reuben 3:59h, Anthony 4:02h, YN 4:07h, Terry 4:22h, Spencer 4:25h, Beverly 4:44h. Being their first HK marathon, most of them did enjoy the experience, and a number have vouched to be back when the opportunity arise again. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as it was the first time we went for an overseas race as a team. I am glad all made it through, and have gained much in terms of valuable experience and memories.

Post Race
Because we were staying quite a distance away, we could not join in the nice gesture of NB to host a post-race luncheon for the guest runners. I have thoroughly enjoyed the nice hospitality and gestures offered by Team New Balance for the guest runners, and definitely look forward to having more of such activities with NB in future. After a short rest, we met with HK Runner Richy in the evening for a very nice dinner at Times Square. Richy shared that the weather and course for this HK Marathon had to be the toughest they have seen thus far.

Henry, Berverly and I departed to Singapore on Monday night, with fond memories of the HK Marathon, the sights and smells of the city, and the tastes and authentic flavours of local HK cuisine. However all were not completed, as the 3 of us were involved in a final dash at the Airport, along with a group of Singaporeans. It was a harrowing experience, that one, but we made it. I would leave it to the people involved to tell their story at another time. Back to Singapore now, Delayed-Onset-Muscle-Soreness (DOMS) is hitting us, but it is all part of the trials and tribulations of a hard-run race, contributing to the mesmerizing attraction of this sport that we are all so proud and excited to be involved with....Marathon Running!

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