How I nearly gave up for TNF100 Thailand 2016

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I lean on my car. And my legs gave out.

I stared at my legs, or what they used to call it. It was stained with dirt, grime and sweat. The sun has browned them, a stark contrast to the wet, pale, rain-soaked feet.

And the feet. Oh gawd. The big toenail on my right foot was flapping; the 2nd toenail was turning black. With the amount of blisters, dead skin clinging on the whole toe, it looks like they belong to the props division of some horror film.

“Why do I do this to myself?”, I wondered out loud.

Why give up a good sleep on a cold Saturday morning? Why run 50km in one stretch when I can just do that in a car? Why do I choose to walk up the LHDN hill at 1pm under the scorching sun?

There are plenty of answers.

Because I have to. Because this is training. Because I have to climatise. Because I have to simulate the actual race conditions.”

But essentially, why do I do it?

Why sign up for another 100km ultramarathon when I have just completed one barely 4 months ago? Why sign up for ultramarathon anyways?

Honestly, I have no idea.

Am I trying to prove to myself that I am capable of great things? Or are there some deep unresolved issues that I am trying to run away from?

Possibly, but why ultramarathons?

There is NOTHING glamorous about ultramarathons. One loses tons of muscle mass during the LSD. Trail ultrarunners shit behind a bush. The toes are not instagram worthy. Not even VSCO can lighten the damage.

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Ain't shitting in the woods, just in case

You will look like burnt chicken during training. You resemble a panicky goose at the starting line. The race pulls 50 – 60 percent of runners over the course of 18 hours.

If you are lucky, you will be one of the 40 percent.

At the finish line, the photographer clicks, and there you are, looking like a drown rat.

Unless you are a sponsored athlete. They always look badass.

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Vlad Ixel (image creds Action Asia Events)

The rest of mere mortals seems like we have just emerged from some crap hole.

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Mortals of the Craphole (image creds Running Malaysia)

So why run ultramarathons?

I thought, with the completion of my 3rd peak over the course of my very short ultra career, I would at least have one concrete answer that justify everything.

Sadly, there isn’t.

HOWEVER, there are certain fragments which I have walked away with. Tough, unforgiving lessons which only comes with black toenails and a sunburnt neckline.

I will reveal one.

What does shitting in the woods, finding yourself stuck knee-deep on a desolate beach, and wondering how can you run for another 20km when it is 12:47pm on a scorching cloudless day, have in common?

It teaches me that it is okay to be different.

It is a lonely path. But it is okay.

Not everyone would understand the things that you do. The sacrifices that you put in. The physical and emotional pain that you have to go through.

Sometimes, you don’t even understand it yourself.

But really, it is okay.

When the sun heats up the ground beneath you, and you get burnt from both side. When the sun hides behind the storm clouds, all you see are flashes of lightning, sheets of rain and cold wind just beat the crap out of you, it is okay.

You were never meant to exist into any stereotypes. You do not fit into any cookie cutter forms crafted by people who have never run a mile. People who prefer to drive 50km instead of running it. They would never understand. They wouldn’t even begin.

So it is okay to be different.

Not in the I-am-more-superior kinda way. But just, different. You are operating on a whole spectrum. The values you hold are different. Your perception of success is not of the norm.

But it is okay.

It doesn’t have to make sense now. It may not even make sense after you complete 2 ultramarathons.

I have faith that it will eventually be uncovered. It may surface in the form of a DNF during TNF100 Thailand. Or along the trails of Semban. It could come up on a morning run across the waterfront.

Till the day comes, I will just need to keep on training. Getting sun-browned torso and horrendous toenails along the way.

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And that is okay.

What happens at 7:03pm when you run

7:03pm.

What happens at 7:03pm?

I am now entering the peak week for The North Face 100 Thailand. Most of my midweek runs would start from the traffic congesting hours of 5pm.

What do I witness?

Exhaust fumes, motorcycles going up on pavements (wtf right?), and the blinding evening sun.

But something happens at 7:03pm.

The whole city comes to a stop.

It could be less than 5 seconds. There are no cars in the visible distance. No risk of getting run over by crazy motorcyclists. And the sun bids goodbye to the day.

Kuching transformed into a tranquil haven. The slight buzz of the street lamp. The chirping of the crickets. The sound of my vibram clad foot hitting the ground.

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In that 5 seconds, I was allowed to take a break. To detach from the worries of my pace, the concerns over the lack of training, the goals I want to obtain from the race.

In that 5 seconds, I am once again reminded why I run ultras at the first place.

To experience uninhibited freedom. To be fully aware of one’s existence.

Understanding peace itself can be attained simply by the act of taking one step after another.

7:03pm.

Why glory doesn’t live forever when you survive temporary pain

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It has been more than 9 weeks since Penang Ultra. They say that pain is temporary, but glory lives forever.

Glory, it seems, is not as rosy as I thought. For the past 64 days, it has been a struggle. What used to be so natural, I no longer can glide across the Batu Lintang pathways. My feet weigh a tonne. My mind has refused to associate running as something relaxing.

With less than 2 months toward TNF 100 Thailand, I am afraid. And this fear drives me out of the door, despite how difficult it is.

As a result (or so I think), the body reacts. I was sick for 2 weeks. This was followed by a diagnosis of a swollen lumbar.

I ran my longest run since, 24km on Sunday evening.

It took 3hrs30mins.

I am, indeed, very afraid.

“Glory lives forever.” Maybe it does for most. You struggled through the pain, work hard, and when you least expect it, you attain that goal.

It could be a sub-4 marathon, a 100 miler, or even a 10km run for someone who have never ran before. It is indeed something to be proud of. This is your legacy.

It seems reasonable to stop at that point. Why put your body through all the pain again? Why re-invent the wheel? Why don’t you start reaping the rewards?

Because, for me, there is no reward to reap. Not yet.

Glory last for a day, or a week. Then it is back to the grind.

I do not want to subscribe to the phrase “I used to be able to…”. I believe there is more potential waiting to be uncovered.

I am only 1% done.

Perhaps I was never an athletic person. I was never gifted, or talented enough, to do anything really. Everything was created from the bottom. Out of sheer hard work. These are the products that was built clean, out of sweat, blood and tears. No shortcuts. No advantages.

And perhaps, this will also be the reason that I do not understand limits. And this potentially drive me to the ground.

There must be something that I am missing from this picture. Some angle which I have not caught yet.

And I hope, as I train for my 3rd 100km, I can find it.

Or a speck of it.

The Other Race Report: Penang Ultra 100 2015

“In truth, perfection only exists within us, in what we think is perfect. Each track leads us to a different place, but it is our choices that lead us to find moments of happiness on any particular track.” (Kilian Jornet)

This post may contain some jargon. Kindly rujuk the legend below yeah:

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After 6 months long of training, I was more than ready to tackle the Penang Ultra 100km. 

But what I didn’t anticipate was getting stomach flu 3 days before the run.

Heck yeah, I was frustrated. I have invested half a year into this race, this comes and blows it all up. I slowly come to my senses, realizing that this train of thought was not gonna help. 

All I hoped for was my body was rested enough to tackle this ordeal.

Come race day, it was much better. Well, at least I didn’t had to rush to the toilet every 4 hours.  I was calm. Whatever comes, whatever happens, all I hoped for was surviving the journey.

As I was calming my jitters, I saw a person clad in Team 2ndSkin walked past. Wait, wasn’t that Deo? A fellow ultra runner who had penned a fantastic write up on last year’s race. 

I got up and introduced myself. Although he has completed numerous ultras, he was downright humble. He even shared some last minute tips on tackling the course. We exchanged a few pleasantries and wished each other the best in the race.

It was now 8:40pm. Time to get ready. There it was, the starting line. The celebration of all my training runs. Beyond this, there was no turning back. The only wish was to cross that line again in less than 18 hours. On my own two feet, and not in a van.

At 8:58pm, the countdown began, and we were off.

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Photo creds to Running Malaysia

Welcome to Penang Ultra 100.

The initial route was pretty scenic. We first had to battle through traffic. Coupled with the adrenaline burst, I was running way above my comfort zone. I know that I would paying for that soon, but the thought of running on the left side of the road, especially when you can’t see the motorists coming from the back, was too much to bear.

We cruised along the waterfront, where crowds were aplenty and we were greeted by both Penang bridges. This part of the route was somewhat familiar to the 2014 2XU Singapore Marathon. We were going underneath tiny bridges and hidden bicycle lanes which were thoroughly beautiful.

Despite the beauty, I couldn’t shake off the less than ideal conditions. First, there was the humidity. It was like being in an oven. Second,I was up at 9am since this morning and couldn’t nap throughout the day. This meant I was already awake for 12 hours.

And third, the severe stomach cramps had begun. It seemed like the stomach flu has woken up from its slumber.

It felt as if my stomach was slowly being ripped apart. The lining seems to be littered with dozens of ulcers, and gastric acid was spewling all over the guts.

This was too soon, I thought. The distance had barely hit a quarter!

I am not going to lie, I was contemplating to throw in the towel then and call it a day. Crap, was this how DNF felt like?

I started to question, 

What does “Did Not Finish” really means? Was it a sign of weakness? Why do people DNF? Why people do not DNF? Can I choose to DNF? Can I afford to? How will it affect my future ultras?

Amidst it all, it was evidently this question which mattered:

Can I go on?

My stomach felt like a punching bag for an amateur MMA gym.

Can I go on?

My body was burning up. The back of the neck felt as if it was licked by fire. Thighs were steaming like warm cha sio paus.

I am not answering the question. Can I go on?

I guess I could try.

Cut all the bullshit, Jon. Can I go on?

*breathe*

Yes, I can.

I tucked these annoyances into the corner of my mind and checked in at CP2. It was now 12am. Cut off was at 1:20am. 

Not bad, at least the buffer has been built.

CP2 was an old-school roadside kopitiam. I headed straight to the kitchen sink, opened the tap and ran my head under the flowing water.

It was so rejuvenating. It felt like there was steam fizzling out from the back of my neck.  

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Photo creds to Chan Hong Tiong

But alas, there wasn’t anyone to witness it. The only company was a bunch of middle aged men playing mahjong.  Too oblivious to notice a crazy looking 29 year old guy singing praises to the tap.

After sipping dunking up some coke and 100 plus, I headed out with a lighter spring in my steps. The next stretch of the leg was a first encounter of Balik Pulau town, and onwards some small climbs on this magnificent highway that snakes across one of the hills in Penang.

There were some runners ahead who were running the uphills. I decided on the conservative method of power-hiking up the gains although it was a 139m climb of 2km. To make up for the loss of time, the downhills became a playground where I just let myself go.

The whole environment was so serene that I decided to run this stretch alone. There was the cool breeze gently blowing across my drenched head. The full moon barely lit up the road, which cast a sense of solace. One can hear waterfalls rushing on the left. Over the edge on my right, there was this vast pitch black darkness which was, I assumed, to be covered with forest.

I was loss in this imagery when CP3 came into sight. I stopped for a quick drench and toilet break before tackling the next part. The official route profile describe this 14.3km stretch as “a challenging mental flat straight route especially to break thru the sleep”. 

Monotony was something that I have trained for. When the haze hits Kuching during training peak, I was slogging hours on the treadmill. Before that, there was the 25 loops/24km around MBKS. I reckon the culmination of the training, along with running alone at 3-4am on Sundays across the kampungs on Sunday morning should be sufficient.

As I was running along this stretch, I met Victor, this amazing dude who just starting running full marathons the year before, and have finished a few ultras this year. We chatted a bit before I slowed down to stuff myself with some food. Once the dates, bak kwas and some pretzel sticks worked their magic, I began to glide myself onwards to CP4 – the 48k mark! Woots!

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There is always time for a selfie

I took a glance at my phone – 2:55am. The cut off point at this part was at 5:10am. From being ahead of 1hr20mins to 2hr10mins, I was pretty satisfied and sent a few quick texts to my peeps to tell them where I am. 

Deo was just about to leave the CP when I got in. He flashed a huge smile, and told me I was doing an excellent job. Those genuine words made a whole lot difference and it did take some of the exhaustion away. I wished him the best and he went off.

My initial plan was to stop for only 20mins. However, my stomach was still in pretty bad shape and the purging sensation was not letting up. I suppressed the pain, gobbled up the delicious porridge, had a wardrobe overhaul consisting of another 2ndSkin shirt, brushed my teeth, changed out of my five fingers to the hitogami, and got out.

I took a quick look at the clock, 3:35am. Drats! I overstayed for double of my intended time, and this set me back to the buffer of 1hr30mins.

The next segment was a 13.3km hill with a gain of 371m. The backdrop was similar to the highway. It was simply captivating. Running across the asphalt surrounded by green giants. This was also the last stretch that consists of a double figure distance. I used the same strategy. Power-hike the ups. Go crazy on the downs.

It was a spell bounding moment and I couldn’t stop but thinking how wonderful God is. How He has worked wonders and just how amazing He is. I was silently singing and reflecting on the words of 10,000 reasons by Matt Redman, when I heard the pitter patter of steps.

A lady in an orange singlet sped past me, but not before she shouted, “Keep it up!!” I caught a glimpse of her bib. A tint of orange. Whoa!! She was doing the 50km and she was nailing the downhills like water droplets sliding off papaya leaves. I shouted in return and barely a wink later, she was gone.

CP5 came into sight. It was becoming a routine to drench my head first before I leave any CP. After grabbing a peanut butter sandwich for the road, it was onwards towards Batu Feringghi. I expected the rolling hills to be a pain, but surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

The first light of day was both a welcome sight and a shit moment. I am happy to finally see the lightening of the sky, but this was also an indication that the scorching will begin soon.

I can see the lights of Gurney Drive, twinkling against the velvety sky. The ocean waves roaring and crashing into the concrete. There I was, awake, fully conscious, when half of the population were still snug in their warm bed, their faces across the pillow. At that moment, I never felt more alive, and how thankful I was breathing, for the chance to witness the light of a new day.

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CP6 couldn’t come fast enough. When one had been running for 72km, one starts to appreciate a lot of things. It was still at the break of dawn when I ran into that check point, and was greeted by a bunch of smiling ladies. One brought her 8 year old daughter along and she was earnestly helping out as well. I teared a bit, realizing the amount of effort which has been put on in organizing this ultra. 

There was a middle aged runner who was doing the 84km. As he was nursing his leg, he started commenting how painful the ordeal is.

To which I replied,

“Come on, this is an ultramarathon. It should hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, it is not an ultra.”

It was now less than 30km to go, but this was not the time to celebrate how far I have come. Nope, I buckled up and ran towards the next CP at Gurney drive. It was pretty uneventful, except for the cheers from the local Sunday runners. Those were a welcome sight. The thumbs up. The encouragement.

Just to gauge how fast was the overall 100km champion, Susan had already conquered Penang Hill and was returning to Gurney CP7 when I was about to leave that CP. Such an amazing achievement! 

It was 7:45am and was ahead of the cut off time by 2hr15mins. I passed this good news to my friends before I face my greatest physical adversary of the ultra – Penang Hill.

I knew that it was gonna be tough. From the research which I had done, this was a make or break deal. Just before I made the ascent, a random aunty who was on her way down wished me luck when she saw my bib. She immediately ran down to her car, took a banana and ran all the way up again, and shoved it to me,

“Here, eat this. Give you energy.”

The amount of kindness and support which was shown had been so tremendous. I thanked her profusely and began my very very painful way up. 

Although I have been simulating the climb at Mount Serapi, nothing could prepared me for how tough the actual thing was. It was not the 5.1km hill, nor was it the elevation of 744m. It was the 30-45 degree gradient that forced me to stop and take a breath after every 50m. There were vivid signs along, marking each 100m. It didn’t feel like it was only 100m!

My left ankle was starting to hurt. So I reached for 2 sticks and power-hike up the climb. I was generating pretty good momentum but I was also getting stares from the 100km runners who were coming down. Some even show contempt.

I could be wrong. I mean, it could be they were in pain. It did, however, created a sense of doubt. Was I allowed to use these sticks? Was it permitted, will I get a DNF for using them? 

Will I be less of a 100km runner if I use them?

After wrestling with my conscious for a bit, I cast the sticks aside and went all gung ho on the hill. However, things took a turn for the worse when my left ankle began to hurt real bad. Every step which I took felt like the whole ligament was being torn off. I couldn’t care less about being disqualified then, so I picked up another stick from the road.

I wanted to curse out loud. But I also know, that it wouldn’t help. This wasn’t the time for a pity party. I began to imagine I was a wizard on this quest up the hill, in search of a precious ring. In this scenario however, the promised coconut on top was THAT precious ring. 

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Come on Jon. One step over the other. 

Wah so cooling!

Maiku so hot!

Eh, cannot. I am Superman. I NEED THE SUN!

I was deeply immersed in my imaginary life when I caught a glimpse of a temple. Wait, wasn’t that a parked car? I started noticing more cars. This is it, I thought. I must be near the top.

When a marshall came into sight, hailing me to go right, there was a brief sense of elation. I conquered Penang Hill! I ran towards CP8 and finished one two three coconuts. It had taken 1hr47mins just to get up Penang Hill. I removed my socks to start applying some cream on the busted ankle, and I regretted that move immediately.

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Urgh! But no, this is also not the time for pity party! I applied a blister plaster on it, put back my injinji socks, took my stick wizard staff and made my way downhill. 

Coming down was a breeze, to my surprise. Quads were strong, my knees were feeling amazing, and I threw my staff away and allowed myself to go crazy. The only unfortunate incident was my blister couldn’t handle the pounding. I felt it burst and the searing pain came almost immediately. 

On my descent, there were a lot of 100km runners who were still going up slowly. The vast majority were cheering me on, and vice versa, but I remembered thinking to myself, 

“Here they are, slowly trotting up in pain, and yet they are able to encourage someone else. Man, these runners are so amazing. What sportsmanship.”

I had covered half of Penang Hill when I met this 100km middle aged lady. She seemed to be in low spirits, and in a tired voice, she asked how long was this gonna take. It took me awhile to answer though. If I told her the truth, it would dampen her spirit. At the same time, if I told her it was only a bit more, these were false hopes which would not help as well.

I chose my words carefully and told her it was a 5.1km climb, and that she was doing a mighty good job. The worst is already over as she had covered the badass gradient in the first 2km. This point on, there will be some flat and steep gradient, but there was nothing she couldn’t handle.

Fortunately, she smiled, and told me that I was making a good effort and we went our separate ways.

I heard a pitter patter of steps. I turned around and saw this lady running down! Turned out her name was Cherry and we chatted for abit. She just started running marathons and this was her first 100km! We encouraged each other, reminding ourselves that we are nearly there, and was greeted by a cheering troupe at the bottom of Penang Hill. A quick high five with them, I made my way towards CP7 under the scorching sun. 

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Photo creds to The 7 Shop

From the very start of this race, I was breaking the 100km into these chewable distances. The full realization that I have actually been on my feet since 9pm, and that I have actually ran (and walked) 94km, hit me when I send a voice note to my peeps.

I couldn’t hold back my tears. The 6 months that I have devoted to training. The 18-24km runs after crazy workdays. The insurmountable of bullshit that I have told myself to train despite how tired I was, or there was a raging storm outside. The discipline of going at it every single day. All the times I felt I was not good enough and doubted my ability to finish another 100km, the times I felt like throwing in the towel when I first started running in the midday. 

The plummeting confidence when I contracted the stomach flu earlier this week. The fatigue of my legs which caused me to stumble a few steps before I regain my footing when I wake up each morning. The times when I had to actually don on a mask because the haze hit Kuching during peak week. The endless hours on the treadmill in one stretch because the haze was so bad.

The dark phase where motivation was not there, and I had to force myself out of a warm bed at 12am. The overnight runs where I was afraid that I would get robbed, or raped, or even lose my life. The times where I have to hide in the shadows when I hear approaching bikes at 1:30am. The fear of colliding with drunk drivers, drug addicts and Mat Rempits. The endless prayers to St Michael to keep me safe.

And though I have stuck with my plan like a piece of gum to the shoes, there will always be this lingering doubt that finishing another 100km was too amazing and too wonderful for me to have. Despite coach Willie, friends like Robin, Ming, Joos, Steph and my other 50km runners believing that I can nail this race, I was partly convinced that finishing TNF100 Singapore last year was pure luck.

And now, less than 5km to the finishing line, it was all becoming a possibility. Eldon texted and affirmed that I can finish this. I couldn’t let Anne or Chris down. They have been journeying with me even before the race itself.

My body was feeling the exhaustion. The sun gave way and it began pouring cats and dogs. At the very last km, I saw the same lady who sped past me before CP5. She was already wearing her finisher shirt! (It was only later I found out that her name was Hui Sung and she was the 1st runner up in the 50km category).

She cheered me on enthusiastically, convincing me that this was the last stretch home. The dams open again and I started sobbing. Unfazed, I leaned my body forward and tried to hobble as fast as I could.

The red arch at the finish line came into view. I heard someone calling my name. This was it! I devoted whatever energy I have left and went towards the finishing line. 

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Photo creds to Et Tey

Crossing that finish line took all my energy and breath I have left. I gave Shannon a big hug who was waiting at the finish line. Frances came over as well.

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Photo creds to ET Tey

I looked back at the finish line and understood this was no longer a dream. It wasn’t just possibility. 

There I was. Flesh and blood. 

By the grace of God, I am an official finisher for Penang Ultra 100.

The clock showed 12:18pm.

I finished in 15hrs20mins. And found out later I was the 20th men (out of 106 dudes who finished) in my category. I was ranked 23/128 in the 100km ultra.

I admit I had bigger dreams for this race. That the training was more than enough. By the amount of training I have done, at least, I could snuck into the top ten position.

However, this journey has taught me that if my eyes were on those, it would only narrow my experience and my understanding of ultra running. 

This is only my 2nd ultra. I am just a mere toddler in this scene. Victory may be about attaining a certain position, or breaking a personal best. 

The greatest of it all though, is true victory. The kind of victory that Kilian Jornet talks about.

The ones that makes our hair stand on its edges, and that we can’t seem to control our emotions. The kind of victory which makes us realize that limitations exists only in the head, and we are capable of great things. That we are indeed stronger, smarter and tougher than we thought we  could ever be.

Penang Ultra 100 2015 has taught me that ultra running is not about being the best. 

It is being your best.

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Photo creds to Et Tey

What I learn about ultra running from my non-ultra running friends

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It is less than a month to Penang 100.

For the past 12 weeks, I have subjected my body to a degree of what some may call, physical and mental torture. Day in, day out.

Fatigue is but a piece of vegetable stuck in my teeth. Heat became my friend. Haze was that annoying friend you have come to love. Rain set the stage for my dance.

And in turn, the body adapts. It understood the value of responding. It is not merely a reaction, but a series of calculated operational protocols happening in the blink of an eye.

My body was no longer human. It was becoming animalistic. An organic efficient machine trained to hunt. An alpha beast. A predator.

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I was astonished to how I can achieve these. Can a normal athlete achieve all this without much fatigue?

This lead to a lingering question:

Was I becoming an elite athlete?

My resting heart rate has dropped to 40bpm. I was recovering at a rate like an Asian Wolverine. In spite of all this, I have a day job.

But me? 
An elite? It was too good to be true, no? 
A fat kid in the past who dislocated his right foot over taekwondo training?

A part of me wished to deny it. That it was far too amazing for this to happen to an average chap like me.

A part of me, however, believed it. That I deserved to be an elite because I was training so hard. I was entitled to this.

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This inner battle of denial vs acceptance pushed me to train harder. I was trying to ignore it, but the more I ran, the more conflicted I felt.

This led on to a trail of self sabotage thoughts, laced with doubts and a bit of pride:

“I shouldn’t run in the haze. It’s dangerous.”
“Of course I can run a 60km. I’m an ultra mah.”
“Don’t I have anything else better to do than to run kah?”
“If only I put this amount of energy and focus into generating more cash.”
“Running is bad for the knees. I know so and so brother’s wife punya nephew punya cousin who now walks in pain because he runs 10km every day.”

Like how my body became animalistic, some part of my mind was too, I was like a deer caught in my own headlights.

I was beginning to lose focus on what I was running for. Or training for. My mental game was slowly spiraling out. I began obsessing over about how fast I finish. I wanted a personal best for my ultra.

I became competitive, and I no longer recognised the runner that I was becoming.

This was when my friends came into the picture. Their responses reminded me what really matters. Anne, Cikgu, Bin, Steph, Ming Ger, Joos and Just, I couldn’t thank you enough.

They made me remembered the camaraderie of the sport. The support of other runners and the non-competitiveness which got me hooked.

Speed is the least important thing I should worry about. It is stupid to apply the mentality of a full marathoner to an ultramarathon. 42km is already unpredictable, what more to say 100km. I would DNF faster than one could text those 3 letters behind the wheel.

Penang 100 is not the highlight. The journey is so much more significant than the finish line.

To be able to finish the training plan, and toe the starting line, that is the main event.

That starting line, is the beginning of an overnight party to commemorate the victory we had.

It is a celebration of how far I have come. How I was inspired, and inspire in turn. It is a celebration of the friends I have met, the not so successful relationships, the job I have despite the bad economy crisis, the brother, the son, the uncle to my 2 year old niece.

It is the triumph over adversaries, the hurdles I have fallen over. And though bloodied and injured, I get up, and journeyed on. All I possess now is ambition and a plan.

I have not seen the finishing line of Penang 100, and who knows, I may not see it.

But I don’t need that. Persistence through times of doubt, in times of when things are hazy, that is what makes triumph so rare, so precious.

Funny how I would even have those negative thoughts.

Those words only comes from those who do not believe in training. Those who are lazy. Those who are opting for an easy way out, all the time. Those who take shortcuts in life.

I am not that guy.

Finally, this race is a celebration of how God has created the perfect version of me. My path has been written.

Whether I am top 3, top 200, or even DNF for this ultra, it no longer matters.

Whether I was becoming an elite athlete, it was not important.

What is, come 26th September, that I am standing on that starting line of Penang 100, knowing that I have given my best, and that in itself, is already triumph.

The Other Race Report: Kuching Marathon 2015

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” (Martha Washington)

PRE-RACE
I knew today would be a bad day to run the 2015 Kuching Marathon.

I pulled off an impossible task at work this week. The preparation and the job itself not only took a huge chunk of my time, but also my mental focus along as well. Meals were not proper and untimely. I did not had the chance to do a proper carboload. Or, even hydrate myself. Sleepless nights became all too common.

And if this wasn’t enough, I was still recovering from a fall which had caused my kneecap to bruise eventhough it was already 2 weeks.

With all these piling up, I have a bad feeling about how this race would turn out.

On the bright side, my ultra training was on par. I have been logging in sufficient mileage the weeks before. I have replaced my off days this week with a few basic strength training routine.

That was the thread that I was holding on to.

FIRST PART OF THE RACE
Still I was hopeful despite the circumstances.  I keep telling myself that these are mere hurdles.

The perfect race exists in the mind.

I was cruising along with a great pace for the first half. I pictured I was running alongside my favourite athletes. Kilian Journet was leading in front. Anton Krupicka in his buff and arm warmers was right behind him. Beside me was Anna Frost with a big smile, while Sally McRae was right behind with her plaited hair in a trucker hat.

I told my legs to keep up with their pace, and it worked . The cool morning breeze resembled the Alpine air. Asphalt road transformed into lovely trails with boulders and a herd of deers lazing on the plains.

Alas, fatigue caught up with me. I remembered I was just so tired that I had to close my eyes to run. I was dozing off during my mid run and I can feel my energy slowly seeping through the holes in my vibram.

When I opened my eyes, my mental imagery was gone. Kilian became some heavy breathing asian dude with loud steps. Anna Frost became a guy. The herd of deers turned into a herd of noisy runners conversing about pace in Cantonese.

My back started to hurt. I became nauseous.  Stomach was bloated from all the sugary isotonic drinks. And for the first in a long time in marathon racing, I had to succumb.

I began to walk.

I felt I had used up almost 40% of my fuel.

It was there and then I had to make a choice.

SECOND PART OF THE RACE
I was considering the value of achieving a PB. Granted, since I started running marathons, my timing was better than the previous ones. By 29 minutes. By 2 minutes. It has always been better.

It seems this race would be a break to this record. And it was a tough pill to swallow. But I know if I had pushed on and gave it all I got, I might be able to do so by the skin of a teeth.

I began to question the value of a PB. Was it something that was 100% internal – a battle against Jonathan Soon in 2014, or was it fueled by an intention of getting Facebook Likes? To prove to others, not only myself, that I was a better runner  than the 2014 Jonathan Soon.

I made the decision of finishing a race strong, rather than to feel like shit and hating the experience altogether.

Once that decision was made, everything became better. I switched mode. Racing was no longer on the agenda. I walked when I felt like walking. I ran when I felt like running. I was free from the chains of PB because I know would have left me in pieces.

It was this freedom that I started running from the first place.

When I rolled into the 36km aid station, I saw Tony, Grace, Charle and Yong Chuan – and then my emotions went haywire. I was so relieved and happy to see them. It felt like I have been running alone for days, and to see them was like seeing ur family in the wilderness.

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Photo creds to KM36 Support Team

With a renewed zest (and their excellent beverages), I tackled the last 6km with a freedom that I have not experienced in a marathon for a while.

I crossed the Kuching Marathon finishing line. The clock showed 04:13. My PB was 4hrs9mins.

4 minutes.

POST-RACE
When I chose freedom over PB, I started seeing things in a new light.

To see friends toeing the finish line was an amazing feeling. And those who have trained so hard and beat their own personal best. There is no jealousy, but only admiration and an overwhelming sense of pride for them.

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But the virgins, oh the virgins. Their postures were totally out, they were dragging their feet over the finish line. Despite of this, they held their heads high. Their tired smiles and the twinkle in their eyes reminded me that this was why I ran marathons.

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It is about conquering your own fears, to push despite the pain, and finishing the distance on your own.

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Photo creds Hobart Kho Photography

It is what marathoners are made of. Resilience and an iron will.

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Photo creds Hobart Kho Photography

And because of them, I am proud to be a Full Marathoner.

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Why an ultramarathon is not about the finisher shirt or medal

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There is nothing special about being an ultramarathoner.

However, there is something truly amazing about an ultramarathon.

To train for such event is like being invited to this private, spiritual journey, with a guarantee that things will never be the same again.

Just about a year ago, I used to think that medals and finishing shirts were an entitlement.

“I ran 42km, so I must be entitled to at least a finisher shirt and a nifty medal”.

I even posted this on Facebook,

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And only upon training for my 2nd ultra, did I really underestimate the phrase, more than that.

Finishing an ultramarathon has nothing to do with a medal, or a finisher’s shirt that has 3 figures on it.

I initially thought it would, but as I hold them, a piece of metal and a dry fit shirt cannot even capture a slight essence of the journey.

Before I started training, I admit I was quite adamant about having bragging rights. It was the ultimate reward of rubbing into someone’s face when they think they are all that.

However, only when I started training again, I was reminded of how small I was compared to the event. It did not made me felt small, but more of, it made realize my insignificance in the grand scheme of all things.

The ultramarathon strips away things that I thought once mattered. Bragging rights were among the top.

So I completed an ultramarathon, so what?

I trained, I raced, I finished.

It takes away the need to justify myself, or to prove my worth to someone.
Feelings that are not genuine, things that I thought once important were no longer that significant.

A shirt or a medal doesn’t cut it. It can’t explain how I felt during mid week training. When you are sore from the accumulated fatigue and knowing you need to train for 16 miles after a long day at work.

It does not do justice to the amount of discipline and mental bullshit you need to convince yourself to go on. To train under the blistering sun or in cold wet conditions, to do a 5 hour run although you only slept for 2 hours.

Come race day, you finish a 100km on your own two feet, and no amount of money, fabric or metal can summed up the whole experience.

It’s like falling in love and eventually tying the knot. I can’t determine the sacredness of the marriage nor can I imagine the journey the couple has gone through just by the size of their ring.

It redefines, or more accurately, remind us the bare essentials of being human.

To survive.

My crowns and trophies no longer matter.

The ultramarathon stretches the limit of self reliance. It does not matter if I own a Bugatti, or a public figure in my community, the ultramarathon would just spit these 2 words in my face,

“So what?”

That is the beauty of the sport.

The world is telling I need to possess certain items in order to prove my worth.

The ultramarathon teaches me the opposite. It tells me to stop impressing people who constantly expect my worst. To not live someone else’s dreams.

It challenges me to find out who I am, and encourages that pursue with all I got with dignity and respect.

Underestimating the ultra distance is a lack of respect to the race.

Not training hard and smart is saying I do not wish to run this race with dignity.

And when I have gave it all, it made me realized the significance of a medal or a shirt. It is nothing but a memento, a mere souvenir. The lessons that comes with it are far, far more precious than them.

P.S No wonder most 100 miles races do not have finisher shirts.