Monday, September 26, 2011

Blackmores Sydney Marathon 2011

Note from PWW: Thank you so much to everyone who supported the fundraiser for CREATE Foundation. We smashed the target and raised $1,290! I am deeply humbled by your generosity. If you still wish to donate, the fundraiser is open until October 4, 2011. Just visit the fundraising site here. Again, a million thanks to all of you.

Another note from PWW: This may be a long entry. You've been warned.

It was 4 AM when my alarm went off and I got out of bed with no hesitation. Despite not having raced in over a year, I fell straight into my usual pre-race rituals: morning ablutions, gear check, breakfast (oatmeal, bananas, granola bar, electrolyte drink), last minute gear re-check, out the door. We arrived at Milson's point just before 5:30 AM, an hour prior to the half-marathon start, and two hours before my race started. Mrs. PWW and I spent the next hour going through the pre-race motions of queuing up to use the portalets, going to baggage check, then queuing up to use the portalets again. It was all very familiar, but it felt like a dream, staring at the Sydney Opera House while warming up underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Soon after sending the missus off with a good luck kiss to start her half, I sat on the grass to get myself ready for the race. The area was electric, as one would imagine it to be when you get a group of thousands of runners together in one place. In the midst of all the frenetic activity around me, inside, I felt surprisingly calm. Too calm, in fact, that I started to think there might be something wrong; like the calm before a storm. I shrugged the feeling off, and completely forgot about it when I finally saw my good friend, Kaloy. We had a chat, Kaloy ate a couple of mini chocolates, and started twitching a few minutes later (something he usually does when he consumes sugar).

Ready to go!

Just after 7:30 AM, as the first lines of Jon Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" blasted through the warm morning air, we began the journey of 42.195 kilometres with a single step across the starting line.


At the starting corral, Kaloy and I wished each other the best of luck, and agreed to meet at the end of the run just in case we lost each other during the race. I had an inkling that we wouldn't be running the marathon at the same pace, based on Kaloy's blistering fast training runs, combined with the sugar in his bloodstream courtesy of a few small bars of dark chocolate Toblerone. My prediction was spot on. Kaloy and I ran beside each other for a mere 200 metres before he sped off, weaving his way through the crowd. I tried to keep up, but figured there was no way in the world I'd be able to sustain that pace. I watched as Kaloy's figure slowly disappeared into the thick wave of runners. I later found out that he ran so quickly, he actually made his way into the 3:30 pace group.

I read somewhere that a runner is more likely to finish a race when running with a buddy, so I started looking around for someone who was running a pace which I would likely be able to sustain throughout the marathon. It was interesting how I saw another CREATE Champion (the term used for us who chose to raise funds for CREATE Foundation) so I decided to have a quick chat with him. There were, however, very few words exchanged, and I thought I ought to resign myself to the highly probable event that I would need to run this in solitude. Well, mental solitude, as running with 3,690 people is hardly solitary.

KM 0 - 10

Within a kilometre of running, we ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks of Sydney, and Australia. I let out a few audible laughs at the bridge, thanks to my inability to contain my happiness. It was an incredible sight seeing one of the busiest bridges in the world completely overrun by fellow runners, flanked by spectators, devoid of any vehicular traffic. I was soaking it all in, giddily observing every single detail with any leftover focus I could muster.

One of the observations I made was that my Garmin beeped a bit earlier before arriving at the second kilometre marker. It was probably 200 metres or so short, and I figured it might just be because I pressed the start button too soon, even though I distinctly remember starting my watch right at the starting arch. Again, I shrugged it off, and just kept running.

At kilometre three, a jazz band was perched on the pavement along the street, on what appeared like a small cliff overlooking the road where we were running. Drums, bass, organ, saxophone, in unison played, of course, "Eye of the Tiger" to the cheers of runners. I gave them a quick few claps of appreciation as I ran past them thinking, "This is awesome."

I was running inside the Royal Botanical Gardens a few kilometres later, and ran past two men speaking in Tagalog. My initial thought was to strike up a conversation and gain myself a few running buddies to run with, but I figured I was feeling good and should try to keep up the pace if I was to make good time. Just the day before, I figured I'd be able to finish in 5 hours, easy. So I set a (not so) secret goal of finishing in 4:30 or better. I sped past them and made my way out of the botanical gardens, stopping at a first aid station along the way to slop on some sunscreen.

Running at a pace that felt like I could run in forever, I overtook a few people just before getting back on the main city roads.

KM 10 - 20

Along Oxford Street, in the heart of trendy Paddington, pub and club patrons were still enjoying their alcoholic beverages as we ran past the night spots. Some were only just emerging from the dark clubs out into the bright, 8:30 morning sun, with a few sober enough to cheer people on. (As I was writing this, Mrs. PWW told me she once was still in a pub when the marathon ran past. I am not the least bit surprised with her admission.) A big, bald, burly tattooed fella was standing behind one of the steel fences, clapping and dishing out some motivation. A couple of guys who looked to be on the verge of a massive hangover assisted each other as they tried to cross the street.

Interesting as it was to observe the inevitable end of a night out, we soon ran through roads empty of people other than runners, volunteers, and spectators. I studied the course map prior to the race, and I knew we were headed towards Centennial Park. After this section of the course, we would be heading back towards the city, physically closer to the finish. However, it seems I didn't study the course map well enough. I found myself surprised and frustrated at the way the course looped around itself, making the task feel Sisyphean.

Somewhere along kilometre 16, close to the entrance gates leading to the park, I disappeared into a portalet to answer nature's call and came out to a find a familiar face. Kaloy was walking past the water station and I ran to join him. He told me he ran out of juice and had significantly slowed down. We ran for a few metres together when he asked me how I was feeling. "I'm alright, man. You?" Kaloy said he was feeling the onset of cramps. "Feel free to have a walking break, bud" I said, and Kaloy slowed down to a walk. I continued to run deeper into Centennial Park.

What I found frustrating about this part of the course was seeing the lead pack running in the opposite direction, and I would start to think that the U-turn would probably be close ahead when in reality, it was a long way away. More mentally than physically, it was exhausting thinking about how much longer I had to run before heading back to the main road.

As if that wasn't enough, the discrepancy between my Garmin and the kilometre markers was getting bigger, prompting me to see if anyone else had the same issue. I ran beside a girl named Carmen, noticing she had a GPS enabled watch. I asked her what pace we were currently running in, and she said, 7:00. My watch displayed 6:24. It was way off.

My discovery started a snowball of negative thoughts. My head was going "If your watch had been wrong about your pace all this time, then you're not on the right track to meet your goal." Then I started thinking, "If my watch had been wrong all this time, then my training runs were all less than what I thought they were. Am I really ready for this race?" I was breaking down mentally, and it was the worst thing that could happen at this point. I knew that if I was to go on, I had to stop the train of negative thinking. I just told myself that my goal of 4:30 may no longer be realistic, and I'd have to settle for 5 hours.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marathon Chronicles: Done

I did it! I ran and finished my first full marathon last Sunday. I'll tell you more about it soon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day Four: Beaches Galore

Note from PWW: This is the fourth entry for the Epic Capricorn Coast Road Trip. To read other entries, click on these links: Intro, Day 1, 2, 3

The Royal Private Hotel, a morning shot

While we sat at the spacious balcony of the Royal Private Hotel the previous evening, I told myself I would get up early and go for a run around town. I figured it would be the best way to get some training done for my upcoming marathon, and see the sights along the way. The mornings were still cold, and I donned a splash jacket and gloves before heading out to run in unfamiliar streets. The roads were relatively empty, and I soon realised that I was the only person running. No one else was in a rush to get anywhere, apart from the half dozen people waiting at the bus stop. The town was still at the early stages of waking up, but I imagined Charters Towers would have been a far busier place in its heyday. With a lot of the buildings restored to its old glory from hundreds of years ago, pretending to be in another, earlier time was easy.

Intricate detail on every building in town

Charters Towers seems like one of those places where everyone knows everybody else, where the chance of bumping into a friend in the street is high, or if you were new to town, meeting friends would not be difficult. On my way back to the hotel after a (very) short run, I ran past a small camping store and had a chat to the person manning it. I told him I was in the market for a couple of camp chairs, and he gladly showed me all the different ones he had. I settled on his recommendation of a small, foldable stool with a backrest, made of canvas and aluminium. Since I bought two, he gave me a discount. He gave tips on what not to miss along the way, and wished us a safe travel. It's that kind of town.

Parking lot mural. Yep. Parking lot.

After a quick breakfast from a local bakery, we were on our way to drive around town and see more of the place. Or so we thought.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day Three: Lava Tubes and Road Trains

Note from PWW: This is Day Three of the Capricorn Coast Road Trip. Click on these links to read about Day 1 and 2. The intro is found here.

"Thirty minutes," I replied when Mrs. PWW asked me how much time we had before we needed to be at the meeting place for our tour of the lava tubes. So in the span of half an hour, we had to cook breakfast, eat, clean up, break camp, and pack the car up to "check out" of our camp site. "Plenty of time" she said. If we moved with military precision, I thought, it was possible. Unfortunately, my comrade lacked even the civilian precision to open tinned food (she wasn't vegetarian at that point), and ended up breaking the key to open the relatively overpriced can of corned beef we bought from a small store in Mount Garnet. Luckily, I was able to MacGyver it open with a Swiss Army Knife, but not after a lot of grunting and incoherent mumbles.

After 32 minutes, we were almost ready, and definitely late for the tour. I uncharacteristically threw our things haphazardly inside the car, and managed to find a parking space about a hundred metres away from the meeting point. With Mrs. PWW having went ahead to apologise for our tardiness and tell everyone there was still one person coming (me) I ran to the crowd huddled in front of the office, completely embarrassed and slightly annoyed, as I'm the kind of person who arrives five minutes early. Not today. As I arrived, someone asked for my excuse note, which I didn't find funny given the state my head was in.

So that was how Day Three started. With a lot of stress that could've easily been avoided by waking up early as planned.


Fortunately, we weren't too far away from the incredible Undara Lava Tubes, which easily took my thoughts away from the morning's false start.

These lava tubes were formed about 190,000 years ago when a major volcano erupted and its lava flowed down a dry river bed. The top layer cooled down and formed a crust, while the magma beneath continued to flow farther away from the volcano. As the eruption slowed and stopped, the lava drained out of the tubes and left a series of long, hollow tunnels. That explains its formation, in a plagiarised nutshell.

Image via source

In a previous post, I mentioned that the word Undara means "a long way" in Aboriginal language. This not only refers to the fact that Undara Experience is practically in the middle of nowhere, but also effectively describes one of the lava flows which extends over 160 kilometres (over 100 miles), making it one of the longest lava flows from a single volcano in modern geological time. Several sections of this tube are accessible, and we went to quite a few of them during the tour. Being in the middle of a lava tube and imagining what occurred in that spot hundreds of thousands of years ago is a fascinating exercise which can be taken to extremes. Our guide, who is very good at his job, described taking "a bunch of complete freaks and weirdos" around during a global lava tube conference of some sort. These lava tube experts took a lot of equipment around with them to study what to us may seem like nothing but a hole in the earth, painstakingly figuring out what caused a certain pattern on the tube wall. He described them as being organised "to the point of keeping all blue pens on the right shirt pocket, and all black pens on the left."

Our first stop: Gawking at the lava tubes

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Marathon Chronicles: Create Champions

When I signed up for the Sydney Marathon and chose Create Foundation as the beneficiary for my run, a lady from the organisation sent me an email of thanks and wished me luck with the run and the fundraiser. A few days ago, I received a package in the mail from Create, which solved my dilemma about which shirt I should wear for the run.
It was interesting timing too. I was just getting ready for a training run and was looking for a shirt to wear when the courier arrived with the package. So I slipped the shirt on and took it for a 16K test run and it passed the comfort test. No chafing, moisture-wicking, and a perfect fit.

This small gesture of sending a shirt (and water bottle) made me feel very much part of the Create Champions team, and it was inspiring to be recognised for the small feat I'm trying to achieve. To the team at Create, I really appreciate the package you've sent, and will wear the shirt proudly on race day.

The goal is to raise $1,100 for Create Foundation, and we are currently at $432.10. We just need another $667.90 to reach it. If you would like to contribute towards the fundraiser for Create (or know of people who do), you can click here for more details.

Maraming salamat!