Category Archives: Race Reports

ING NYC Marathon (2013): Race Report (Guest Post)

We’re mixing things up a little bit today. Instead of a Monday race/run report from me (yes, it’s Wednesday, shush), I’m turning this space over to Reuben, my second-cousin-in-law. [Not to be confused with my second *space* cousin-in-law.  Seriously.  He’s married to my Dad’s cousin’s daughter.  So I’m pretty sure that makes him my second-cousin-in-law.  But I’ll take confirmation – or correction – from any of you family-tree-making gurus out there.]

Anyway, I started coaching Reuben to help him get past some nagging injuries and safely train for his first 10K back in mid-2012.  About 6 months later, we worked together as he prepared for a half-marathon.  And just a few days ago, he crossed the finish line at the ING NYC Marathon.

He was eager to write about his experience, and I think that a race report is a great tool for helping runners process and evaluate their race day – so I encouraged him to do so. Then, I had the fantastic idea to share his report with you.  NYC is a big deal marathon, and although I didn’t run it, I no whave a way to bring you all a flavor of the day, through Reuben’s eyes.  [This was also his first marathon. I haven’t quite figured out how to break it to him that no other marathon will be quite the same experience as this one.  Maybe one of you could tell him for me?]

So with that, I’m turning things over the Reuben [with just a few Coach Holly comments added in bold]:

The day started at 4.50 am as I had to get dressed and make my way to the Meadowlands (across the river in New Jersey) to catch one of the shuttle buses to the start line. The buses were all scheduled to leave between 5 am and 6 am. There was a bit of drama getting to the buses, as there was only one parking lot entrance (due to poor organization) and only one lane, which was backed up.  People started heading up the outside lane and trying to cut in which made it worse. [Welcome to NJ, Reuben.  Hold on to your Kiwi hat.]  One person on the bus later told us, “I usually have faith in runners not being s— people, but what I saw this morning is changing my mind!” In the end, we got to the buses just before 6am.

Parking Madness

Parking Madness

The traffic to the start was a nightmare, the road into Staten Island was scheduled to close at 7am, so every man and his dog was trying to get in before the closure. People on the bus who had run the marathon before said that this wasn’t normal, and it usually took only 15 mins to get there. I, for one, was much happier sitting on a warm bus than at a freezing start village for a few hours.

Glamorous (and warm!) pre-race throwaways...

Glamorous (and warm!) pre-race throwaways…

I got to the village at around 7.45 am and began making my way through security, which took a while. Once I got to the village, I had my breakfast – this was about two hours before my start, as planned and practiced [Good runner!  Nothing new on race day!] – then proceeded to go to the porta john three times in the village. Cold and nerves, I’m sure.  I met two other Kiwis who were running, so I sat next to them and chatted till our corral was called. It was so cold that I grabbed extra layers out of the clothing bin after the first wave went, and later donated my pants to one of the Kiwis when I headed to the corral.

Once in the corral, I had to use the porta john again. By this time, the first cannon sounded and our corral started to move forward. At the start line, it all became very real and warm (don’t worry, that soon passed). I dropped the two jerseys I was wearing but kept my woolen hat on over my peaked hat. Our cannon went off, and off we went. It took 5 mins for me to cross the start line.

The Verrazano was awesome, best view of Manhattan I’ve ever seen, and it was quite neat to see all the NYPD helicopters circling. It was amazing how many people were on the top layer of the bridge (where I was) and the bottom.

Miles 1-10 were really good, there was good crowd support and I think this was the area with the most room to run, so runners were quite spread out. The majority of the terrain was a steady incline, not steep at all but just a rise. This was the area that was hit worst with the winds. Winds were reported to be 30 mph and the temp was around 44°F/6°C, but the wind made it feel 38°F/3°C. There was a bit of downhill as well, but not as much as the incline. [Ain’t that how it always feels, folks?] I was feeling great at this point and running around 10.15 – 10.25 min/mile. I would look down at my watch when sheltered from the wind and see it reading 9.15-9.50, and I would slow down. This observation helped me realize that I was probably running too fast for the windy conditions – I was maintaining my goal pace, but with too much effort, due to the wind.

Yep, just marker your name right on there.  You won't regret it!

Yep, just marker your name right on there. You won’t regret it!

Miles 10 – 13. This was my oh s— moment: Williamsburg Brooklyn.  There was still a lot of uphill, and although it was very sheltered and I sped up, I could feel myself fading a bit. This was when I knew I’d gone out too fast. I pulled back, hoping I hadn’t done too much damage and tried to bank the next 4 miles easy. Still, I averaged 10.20 – 10.30 min/mile for the next 3 miles, to the halfway mark. Williamsburg was also the beginning of the really amazing support. The first 10 miles were good, but Williamsburg was superb. I’m very happy I put my name on the shirt. [Note to those with upcoming marathons: Put your name on your shirt! People will cheer for you!]

Miles 13 – 15: Queens. As I came over the second bridge (which is actually a bit of a tough one) into Queens, I rounded the corner and was welcomed by a man who yelled, “Welcome to Queens, Reuben!!!”. I wonder if he knew that was my first time to Queens? Queens was really cool and mostly flat.  I thought this section would be average, but it was actually awesome. Coming to the end of Queens, I was starting to get tired. I had hoped this wouldn’t happen till the 20 mile mark. My pace was slowing to around 10.37. I did take a toilet stop at this point though, so I was probably still around 10.30.  [Depending on how many miles that is averaged over, your running time was probably much faster than 10:30.  I know guys pee quickly, but 7 seconds is pretty incredible.]

Miles 15 – 16 took me over the Queensborough bridge. We ran that entire mile on the bottom level of the bridge, and it was quite unnerving to hear cars going above you.  [You weren’t alone in thinking this, Reuben.  I actually read the same thing in several runners’ blog posts.] The bridge could really break you, because it just keeps going, and lots of people slow to walk. I passed my two kiwi mates from the start village – they’d slowed to walk, but I kept running.  The bridge afforded an amazing view of the city and the Hudson – I wasn’t stopping to look, but others were. I actually felt good on the bridge. I think it’s because when I run I mainly use my hamstrings (something I need to fix before my next marathon) and reasonably decent hills force me to use my quads.  [Look at this body awareness, folks.  I swear I didn’t teach him that – he figured it out on his own.]

Miles 16 -20. This was probably the most challenging part of the marathon. Heading uptown is 4 miles of steady incline. I hadn’t hit the wall but my pace was slowing. I was starting to pay for the first 13 into the wind. These 4 were also into the wind which wasn’t ideal, since I am 6 ft and 180 pounds. Guess I made a great wind breaker for those around me, though.  My speed over this period was 10.40-10.50 min/mile. I planned to try run my last 6 miles the fastest.  [This isn’t exactly what his coach advised.]  I was using mind tricks during this period: “Four more miles till you are out of the wind, then it is easy,” and “Toughen up – you aren’t going to look bad in front of this many people!”  First Ave had the most supporters by far, in many places they were 10 people deep. I saw Erica and Co [his wife & family] at the 18 mile mark with their sign, gave them a wave and continued on.

Reuben is a Kiwi.  Erica did her master's research with kiwi birds.  They met in New Zealand.  It's all very cute.

Reuben is a Kiwi. Erica did her master’s research with kiwi birds. They met in New Zealand. It’s all very cute.

Miles 20 – 21. Just before Mile 20, the course crosses the Wills Ave Bridge.  Some will tell you the Queensborough Bridge is the hardest they are WRONG! The Wills Ave Bridge is the hardest. It may not be the steepest or the longest, but it is dull gray and ugly and there are no supporters and the sun glares right at you. There are also a lot of broken runners at this point, and this adds to the “a lot of other people are walking, I can too” feeling.  I hated this bridge and for me this was the toughest part of the marathon.

I was also preparing myself for less crowd support in the Bronx, based on feedback from others. Well they were WRONG: The Bronx was awesome – there was a band and a big screen TV broadcasting us on the course – we could see ourselves on the TV as we passed. This was my pick me up.  It helped that there was a guy beside me who started to walk, and then a big muscly spectator dude said to him “I didn’t wake up and come out in the freezing cold to watch you walk!” So he kept going and it gave me a boost as well.  [Coach’s Note-to-Self: Reuben responds well to drill-sergent-style coaching.  Be less nice.] They also had bananas here so I ate half of one. Pace was around 10.50 min/mi.

Miles 21 -22 were pretty tough as well, we came out from the Bronx and crossed the last bridge – the Madison Ave Bridge. To be honest, once I came out of the Bronx, I started to feel pretty bad. I was now at the “one foot in front of the other” stage.  As I crossed the bridge, a volunteer must have seen me slowing and asked how I was feeling. I said 100% so he said, “Don’t slow down then!” So I carried on.  Drink stops were pretty much a godsend at this point – they are so congested that I had no option but to walk through, and this gave my legs a few moments to recover. Pace was at the 10.56 mark.

Miles 22 – 25, I was pretty much in “get to the end” mode. [Sounds about right.]  I knew that mentally it was just the same distance as the shortest run in my training schedule, and I was envisioning where I was at at each point in that distance training run. Mentally, I was really good. In fact, I was saying things to myself like, “OK, for the next one I need to cover more weekly mileage and get overall stronger, so I won’t feel like this” (pretty much everything Holly told me to do and I didn’t do as much as I should have). I know it sounds weird, but it helped that it was all uphill because I was using my quads more and my hamstrings were getting a break. The crowd support was outstanding as well, but by this point I had no energy to give the crowd a wave when they said my name. I needed that strength to keep moving. Pace pretty much at 11 min/mile at this point.  I also spotted Erica and Co again at the 23 mile mark.

Mile 26: Coming into Central Park.  My bottles in my belt were empty, and I thought, “It’s time to finish”. There were a lot of walkers at this point and broken people that were feeling my shoulders as I was coming through, tossers holding hands in long lines were being told to move (not just by me but lots of people). I basically sprinted to the finish (well, it felt like sprinting but it wouldn’t have looked like it). I passed my two Kiwi mates and floated up the last little incline and crossed the line. [Dang, floating is an impressive verb choice for your movement at the end of 26 miles!] It felt pretty cool to have the crowd yelling my name as I came through.

I was pretty sore when I finished, but not in need of medical attention like lots of others – vomiting, fainting, looking like they were having seizures, being carried etc.  [Eeks.  Also, I told you that you were sufficiently prepared….]  The next part of the race was the part that was poorly organized. I got my medal and heat foil, then walked down to baggage collection. Locals who hadn’t checked any baggage could continue out the early exit (a special pink wrist tag was required for this). Early Exit was at 77th Street. We got herded into corals and walked out to get our fleece ponchos (which was awesome), but then we had to keep going all the way to 62nd Street (this wasn’t awesome at all). Exit details had been kept secret for safety reasons, but I planned to meet my family back at 77th Street.  Whoops.

It was a bit of a mission to get back to NJ, but the bit of walking probably helped my recovery today. Once home, I had a shower and some pizza and about 1/3rd of a beer [talk about self-control….] before calling it a night. Not too sore today, and have been for a small walk. I’m heading into the city tomorrow to get my medal engraved at NYRR and will be getting Shake Shack afterwards! Then getting back to stretching and coming up with a way to get faster, fitter and stronger.  [<— Don’t you just have to love this guy?  I’m going to stretch and recover, then come back to it and get BETTER.]

Overall, I would say that the crowd support is what makes this race – you don’t really notice the city, but you definitely notice the people.

P.S. I’ve entered the lottery for next year, so fingers crossed.

Shake Shack + Medal.  Rockin'.

When you’ve just completed the NYC Marathon, you can put that medal wherever you want. Even in the middle of a tray of Shake Shack.

Now, back to Holly for the questions of the day:

Anyone else run a REALLY BIG marathon as their debut marathon?  What was it like to transition to a smaller second marathon?

Were YOU at the NYC Marathon this year (as a runner, sherpa, OR spectator)?  What was your greatest parting thought?

Other questions/comments/thoughts for Reuben?  I know he’d be happy to answer them!!!

TNF100: Final Thoughts on a 50K (Race Report Part 3?)

50K Race Report, Part 1
50K Race Report, Part 2

The Aftermath

When I left you at the end of Part 2, I had just crossed the Finish Line.  There was a reasonably nice spread of Finish Line goodies: water, sherbet pops, Subway sandwiches…and probably a few other items.  Unfortunately, after 4 miles on over-crowded trails, I was having trouble handling the crush of people at the food tables (mostly 13K finishers).  I grabbed a water and sherbet pop of some brightly colored, but mostly just “sweet” flavor, that I would never even consider eating in real life (ultras apparently mess with your brain), then spent a few minutes chatting with one of my clients, who ran the 25K.  Finally, I escaped to a quiet(er) patch of grass, and tried to call KMN.

He told me that he’d just arrived and was watching the Finish Line – he must have missed me by just a minute or two!  I made my way over to where he was (a quiet spot!!!!), and we spent about half an hour watching more runners coming into the finish.  The deluge of 13K runners had ebbed by this point, and the slow stream of finishers were a mixture of 25, 50, and 100K runners.  We watched, cheered, chatted, and ate watermelon.

[*Awesome husband (def.): He ran to the 31K Aid Station to cheer for me, then ran home (14 mile workout for him), then cut up watermelon, packed it on ice, and hauled watermelon + two changes of clothes down to the finish line for me.]

This is not supposed to be a bonus feature of the XA Comp...

This is not supposed to be a bonus feature of the XA Comp… [Edited to Note: Those are my fingers, not my toes.]

And then…it was time to stand up.  This went more smoothly than expected, actually.  After a few shakes, my clicky ankle loosened up (this is normal for me), and although I was pretty stiff, my knee was my only really sore part.  I rinsed my shoes at some outdoor taps – the early morning rainstorm and subsequent puddle sloshing, combined with my ripped sneakers, resulted in a LOT of debris in my shoes and socks.  Having returned most of the park back to the park, it was time to head home.  I suggested we splurge for the bus (“only a mile” seemed a lot shorter before I ran 30 miles!).

I suppose I need new trail running sneakers.  But I adore these, so much...and by now, we've been through a LOT together!

I suppose I need new trail running sneakers. But I adore these, so much…and by now, we’ve been through a LOT together!

In Singapore, it’s a common water-saving measure for us to turn off the shower while lathering/soaping/shaving.  But on this particular day, I let the water run.  As I said to KMN afterward, “Some days, you NEED that running water to get all the grime off!”  The chafing was moderate, but not awful: My capris got me on the backs of my knees and at the waistband, my hydration pack rubbed my shoulders a bit, and of course, there was the requisite crotch chafing – all I’ll say is that I need some kind of new solution to deal with that situation.

We got some lunch (I can’t even remember where – I’m not usually that into food immediately following a super long workout), I did some stretching/rolling, and took a nap.  My biggest accomplishment for the remainder of the day?  I joined some friends at a BBQ, and we stayed out until at least 11 PM!  [By which time I was threatening to crawl onto the chaise and sleep, but whatever.]

Of course, the next day revealed more sore spots:
Hamstrings (weird for me)
Calves (expected)
Back (need to add some supermans to my plank routine, I suppose!)
One spot on my abdomen (I momentarily panicked it was my appendix, but realized race-soreness was more likely), and – strangest of all –
Both my brachialis muscles (A little muscle in the upper arm – below the deltoid, and between the bicep and tricep).  I have no idea what I was doing with my arms during the race that caused this strange soreness.  But now I need to go figure out how to strengthen them, so they don’t cause me any future problems!

My knee was sore for a few days, but feeling much better by mid-week.  I didn’t do much running this past week, though – we’ll see what happens in the coming week.  But I’m hoping it was just a weird pull/positioning/tweak, and will sort itself out for good very soon.

By Wednesday, I was feeling back to normal for “every day life”, and even took an RPM spin class.  I know my muscles still need time for deeper recovery, but overall, I am thrilled with how easily I’ve recovered and gotten back to feeling normal.  Although trail running may include more elevation change, and definitely includes obstacles like chain fences and mud pits, I am certain that covering most of the distance on softer ground was less taxing than on pavement, and most definitely resulted in a faster recovery.

Personal Race Reflections

For my first 50K, I’m pleased.  [Final time 5:22:03, ranked 6/134 women in the 50K.]  There is very little I would change about my execution of the race: I probably would have only stopped once to refill my hydration pack (but better safe than sorry), and I wish I had kicked myself through the “low points” a bit sooner/better.  Other than that, the race really was a good one for me.  In addition, we were blessed with a terrific day: The weather was agreeable, and the rain and clouds helped keep the temperature manageable.  The mud was awesome, and caters to the kind of running I love to do!  Thanks, McRitchie!

This is one I'll probably be hanging on to...

This is one I’ll probably be hanging on to…

Final Race Review

Overall, The North Face crew did a great job, even when the weather took a turn for the worse.  The rain started right after the 50K flagged off, meaning that the volunteers had to handle stormy conditions for the subsequent 25K and 13K flag-offs.

With just one – one – exception, the course was marked beautifully.  This is no small feat (signs have been stolen and moved along the course in previous years).  When I came through, all Aid Stations were well-stocked with whatever supplies had been promised for that station.  I heard a few murmurs that one or two stations ran out of nutrition supplies later in the race; but the race organizers made it quite clear that this was a “self-supported” race (although electrolyte beverages, bananas, and Gu were provided at select Aid Stations), and I consider anything more than plain water to be a bonus when something is described as “self-supported”.  The fact that the crew managed to get and keep the water cold was welcome, and amazing.

The route was challenging, but fun – and almost exclusively on trails (maybe 3-4 miles on pavement/road), which is quite an accomplishment in Singapore.  The volunteers were generally helpful and polite, and a few even cheered.  Extra thanks to the non-volunteers, who simply came out to cheer, support, and offer random bits of food (potatoes, candy, etc.) along the way.  You guys rocks!

My biggest complaint is definitely the way that the 50K merged with the middle/back of the 13K.   I believe that the weather resulted in a slight delay in the start of the 13K.  I’m not convinced that the route would have been significantly clearer if the 13K had started on time (about 15 minutes earlier), but it’s possible.  Managing a race with staggered starts and overlapping routes makes traffic flow a challenge – but it would certainly do the 25K, 50K, and 100K folks a favor to run the 13K as far away (spatially and temporally) as possible.

Along similar lines, I think that the Perth Marathon spoiled me with its separate marathon finisher’s tent.  I definitely would have appreciated a separate line/tent for 50K & 100K post-race refreshments.  Pushing through the 13K folks just to get a bottle of water at the Finish Line was simply no fun – and I felt even worse for the 100K finishers!  But, this is a small matter.  The on-course execution was solid, in my opinion.

I’ve heard some complaints about the price point for the race: $96 SGD ($77 USD).  This certainly isn’t cheap (and I know that some aspects don’t scale proportionately), but considering that I’m willing to pay $30 SGD for a 5K (you don’t find them much cheaper than that in Singapore), I did some math:

$30/5K = $6/kilometer
$96/49K = $1.96/kilometer

A 50K starts to look like a bargain!  And, as I’ve noted in the past, I am wiling to pay for high quality race execution.

So that’s about it, guys.  After a week of rest, I’m formulating my new running plans and goals.  But for the next few weeks, look out for lots of RPM, a bit more BodyPump, and maybe some non-yin yoga.  Stay tuned. 🙂

Anyone wear boy shorts under their chafing compression gear?
[I don’t love boy shorts, but am thinking of giving this a shot to help with the chafing situation.]

50K: Is there anything else you are thinking about/wondering/want to ask, about mine specifically, or about the distance/training/preparation in general?

TNF100: The North Face 50K (2013): Race Report (Part 2)

In case you slept through Monday, you should actually start reading this race report from the beginning, which is here – TNF100: The North Face 50K (2013): Race Report (Part 1).  Read it first.  I’ll wait.

OK.  Now that we are all at the Aid Station at 31K (~19 mi), here’s the reasonably good photo captured by KMN’s excellent photography skills:

This is between my telling him, "Babe, my FEET are tired." and "I still have a LONG way to go."

This is between my telling him, “Babe, my FEET are tired.” and “I still have a LONG way to go.”

He’s a great crew, though – he didn’t pay my complaints too much mind.  He just patted me on the head (figuratively), gave me a kiss (literally), told me I could do this, and sent me back onto the trail.  What a guy.  He knows when to take my complaints seriously, and when to give a bemused smile and just shoo me back to work.  And with that, I was off and rolling again.

I spent the next mile wondering how I was going to run 10 more miles on legs that were already feeling tired.  I had a hot spot on the arch of one foot (this happens occasionally in my Salomon XA Comps, which are amazing in every other possible way).  The other foot was tired.  The area around my knees (up into my quads & down into my calves) was burning-tired.  One of my knees was feeling suspiciously weird, in a “new to me” way that I didn’t particularly like.  And did I mention I still had 10 miles to go?   Then, out of nowhere, some words of wisdom came to me, courtesy of Green Girl Running – from the race report of her redemption marathon:

“During SR marathon I let my mind take over without even realizing it, and it took me on a downward spiral to negative town. This time I felt totally in control. I hit a few rough patches, but knew without a doubt they would pass… and they did!”

So although I didn’t actually assign her a mile, I just kept telling myself that the tough patches would pass.  I just had to have faith.  “You might feel bad now, but you won’t feel bad the whole rest of the way.”

[Spoiler: This was true, but at that moment, unbeknownst to me, I was going to sink a lot further down before things started looking up again.  Still, it’s good advice.]

I tried to distract myself.  As I now ran the “back” portion of the out-and-back, I cheered on the steady stream of oncoming “out” runners.  Thankfully, the trail was wide enough to accommodate everyone.  At this point, Sherri blew past me, and I realized that I had quite a significant lead on the next female.  I had no idea if I had the pep to catch anyone in front of me, but figured that time would tell.  I hung on for a mile, and was grateful that I’d assigned Mile 21 to Debbie.

Mile 21: Debbie (Rochester friend, speedster, and our first visitor from the US who came exclusive to see us and explore Singapore).  This woman’s infectious smile, quick laugh, and positive attitude would jolt anyone out of a slump.  Oh, and her feet are pretty speedy, too!

Deb & Holly

No, we’re actually not related. But I’d happily adopt Deb as my “running sister” pretty much any day.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t such a happy camper for Debbie.  I told her I was tired.  She told me funny stories from work.  I told her my knee was feeling funny.  She told me about the new cupcake shop in Rochester.  I told her I was feeling blue.  She told me that was better than green (both envy and nausea are bad).  She also told me to eat some Sports Beans.  She was, as usual, on point with all of her suggestions.   Debbie, you were great company – I’m only sorry that I couldn’t reciprocate.  [PS We saw zero – ZERO – monitor lizards.]

Together, we are smarter than this hydration pack, right Mark?

Together, we are smarter than this hydration pack, right Mark?

Mile 22: Mark (friend & teammate from Rochester).  I first met Mark when I was accepted to run with the Fleet Feet Endurance Team in Rochester.  I was a trail newbie, and Mark was one of the people who showed me the ropes.  He’s also a scientist, and shares my anal-retentive analytical thought processes.  I guess you could say he’s my “Running Dad”.

Mark isn’t quite as smiley and rainbows as Debbie is – but he does tell it like it is.  And he told me, “Yup.  It’s hard.  This is the hardest part.  You’re far enough in to be really tired, but not close enough to the finish that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel yet.  You just have to keep running.”  I should note that I have no idea if this is Mark’s actual opinion.  But it’s what he said in my head.  And I knew he was correct.  He led the way and I stuck to his shoulder.

Somewhere around here, we left the “back” section and headed out on some new trails. But these trails were quite similar: Broad enough for comfortable running, well-shaded by trees, and lightly rolling.  And although I was feeling pretty crappy at this point, I was together enough to realize that this really was a great area to run – and I’ll be heading back in the future!  The only annoyance was the cyclists – these are multi-use trails, and every so often I had to move out of the way of some cyclists.  Mixed feelings on this, during a race, but thankfully the course wasn’t congested and we were all able to share the trail.  I only yelled at them when they came flying around blind corners too quickly.

Anyway, Mark was – as usual – a rock.  I was relieved for his company in this section, where I saw few of my fellow runners.  Occasionally we overtook a 100K participant, but I didn’t see any other 50K runners in this section.  I wasn’t much fun, and he didn’t try to talk me out of my funk, but instead told me more or less to OWN IT, then move on.  The advice was good.  My execution of it was mediocre.  But when our mile was over, and Mark deposited my whiny, deflating self to Kathy, with an ominous, “Good luck.”  [Note: He said that to her. Whoops.]

Mile 23: Kathy (my “Running Mom“)  Kathy is gentle, but honest: “Look Holly, you’re going to get to the Finish Line.  You can stop and whimper about how you feel, but it’s only delaying the inevitable.  So while you whimper, let’s keep running.”

My mile with Kathy represented the lowest one in my race (absolutely NO fault of hers – and she’s the reason I made it through!), and it was a slog.  I now had fewer than 10 miles left, but 8 miles still sounded like a lot.  I was tired.  My legs were sore.  My knee was moving from “discomfort” toward “ouch”.  [Somewhere between miles 20 and 23, I realized that I probably twisted/wrenched it when I sunk into the mud pit back on the Green Corridor.]   I never doubted that I could finish the race…but at that moment, finishing just didn’t sound like much fun.  This low point had some physical aspects, but it was mostly mental.  I was tired, on unfamiliar trails, and with over an hour of running still ahead of me.

Outside of the situation – when I’m rested, fed, and have perspective – it’s almost impossible for me to describe how low these low points can feel.  But I’ll give it a whirl.  Come with me….a tiny part of my brain knows that perspective is necessary.  But at the same time, all of my feelings (soreness, tiredness, discouragement, frustration) are narrowing into focus in this one moment, until they are all I can see, and they come perilously close to toppling me over and crushing me.  The only weapon I have against them is faith – the faith that they won’t last – but there’s no proof that, either.  Any waivers in this faith threaten to send me spiraling to the bottom, crushed by my own self-doubts.  [Or something like this.]

But Kathy was great:  She warned me not to actually CRY, because that would result in snot, a stuffed up nose, and a headache.  She’s smart, so I listened.  We ran.  Not fast, but still – we were running.  She told me about the lowest points during some of her ultras, and promised that things would get better before the finish.  She reminded me to keep drinking.  She assured me that, no matter what I felt now, I would feel great at the finish line.  That single thought – of the finish line – kept me moving.  Kathy, THANK YOU.  I don’t know what I would have done without you.

By the time she left me, I felt ready to face Mile 24 on my own.  At this point, the 50K route merged back with the 25K route.  The 25K started one hour after the 50K, so the folks we were running into now were at the back of the 25K pack.  Still, there was plenty of room for everyone, and any passing I wanted to do was not a problem.

I knew this mile would drop me out on Rifle Range Road, but I didn’t know what the trail looked like.  Well, after plodding along for about half a mile, I exited the woods and saw this:

Oh, YAY!  Remember the downhill I ran with Jeano in Mile 16?  This is the first part of its revenge.  [Photo Credit: Rosemary]

Oh, YAY! Remember the downhill I ran with Jeano in Mile 16? The first part of its revenge is up ahead, in the distance. [Photo Credit: Rosemary]

Upon cresting that hill, two more similar climbs appeared.  The footing was good and there weren’t any mudpits, but when I got to the steepest parts, I totally walked.  While this certainly slowed my progress, the walk breaks felt so good.  But, once I got to the top, I picked up the pace to a jog once again (the faster you go, the faster you finish!).  Two or three climbs later, I emerged on Rifle Range Road.  I was back in known territory, and Jenny was there waiting for me.

Splits for Mandai and Zhenghua PCN
Mile 20: 10:45 min/mi
Mile 21: 10:30
Mile 22: 10:50
Mile 23: 11:37 (the lowest point)
Mile 24: 11:33 (cliiiiiiiimbing)

Mile 25: Jenny (a friend from my undergrad days).  Jenny is a pretty amazing woman.  She’s just getting back into running, but more importantly, she has an indomitable spirit. We ran over fairly easy terrain: paved road with some gentle hills.

This mile with Jenny really snapped me out of my funk.  She has been through some tough stuff this year, and finally, real perspective splashed me with a dose of cold, hard reality: I was doing this race “for fun”.  And any low points I was feeling…were nothing, in the grand scheme of life.  Jenny’s presence was a great reminder of that, even though she never breathed a word of it.  But she did tell me softly, “Look, Holly.  The most important thing I learned this year is, when the going gets tough, you just have to keep going.”  True in running, true in life.  Thank you, Jenny.

Mile 26: GCA.  Since she and I had a Perth Marathon adventure together earlier this year, she was the obvious choice for the 26 (and 0.2) mile section.  Honestly, this was pretty uneventful.  I had recovered from my funk, was back in familiar territory, and ready to finish this.  We finished up the Rifle Range Road section, and she reminded me not to trip on the chain (Hilary must have called her to tell her to remind me!).  We stopped for a quick drink, but didn’t spend much time at the Aid Station.

I did a rapid knee assessment: My right knee was hurting a bit in the lower outside quadrant, and felt a bit puffy (although no swelling was visible).  It had gotten slightly worse over the last 10K, but I wasn’t altering my gait, as far as I could tell.  With just 10K to go, I decided to gamble on it: This was my peak race for the season, and I was 80% finished with it.  I was quite sure I wasn’t doing irreparable damage (it simply didn’t hurt that much).  And if, in the end, I had to take a few weeks off for knee-recovery, I would accept that as the price I paid for finishing.

We set off on the Rifle Range Link, which was now better lit (daylight), but still super slippery with clay.  In fact, we watched one gentleman (25K? 50K? Not sure.) careen past us (yes, “careen” is the best word here) before totally wiping out in slippery mud just 20-30 meters ahead.  Two other runners hauled him up by his hydration pack.  We were careful with our footing, and managed to stay upright.  This was easy for me, since running downhill seemed to be my knee’s least favorite activity.

We turned back toward the McRitchie Reservoir loop, and…introvert disaster struck.  [Especially for an introvert who is 26 miles into a 31 mile trail race.] Our race merged with the 13K race route – somewhere in the mid/back of the 13K field.  These folks were virtually all walking.  The Rifle Range to McRitchie connector trail is actually very narrow, so I spent about half a mile walk/passing as politely as I could.

After so many miles with so few people around, I had gotten used to the solitude.  The sudden appearance of so many other people was…jarring.  I’ll admit that I was also frustrated.  I don’t like to feel that way about other runners/walkers, who are doing their best to enjoy their own race, but there were a few moments when I wanted to scream, “I’ve been out here running since 5:30 AM.  I am 5 miles from the finish.  Please don’t get in my way or make me walk now…PLEASE!!!!”

Funny – for how wonderful walking felt on the hills earlier, suddenly ALL I wanted to do was run.  The Finish Line was drawing closer, I could almost taste it.  And here I was, dodging people like I’d started at the back of an over-crowded race.  Frustration reigned, then eased a bit as we entered the McRitchie Reservoir loop, where the trail widened and I had some space to run.  GCA traded places with my Mom.  [PS: GCA, we hit the 26.2 mile mark in sub-5. :)]

Rifle Range Road/Link
Mile 25: 11:24 min/mi
Mile 26: 13:41 (people dodging)

Mile 27 + 0.5: Mom. When I first put up my request for company, my Mom wrote: “I’ll take mile 27. Figure it will be tough by then, so I want to be sure you feel my love.”  Of course, no one knew how the race would turn out, or that my lowest point would be at Mile 23.  But somehow, the stars aligned, because Mile 27 turned out to be a whole different kind of challenge.

Mile 27 was the start of a 1.5 mile out-and-back (¾ mile each way) off the main trail.  I turned onto the section, and started to flat-out, hard-to-breath, close-my-eyes panic.  I was part of a rush of people (mostly 13K walkers/slow runners and a few 25K walkers – not another 50/100K in sight) on the “out” half – but there was an even heavier stream of people coming “back”.  Worse, the “out” section was uphill, so the returning runners seemed to be careening downhill towards us.  These folks were not all well versed in trail running etiquette (or perhaps, general running etiquette), and they were crossing WELL over the imaginary mid-line of the trail.  One runner hurtling irresponsible down ran directly into a woman in front of me, who was knocked backward almost into me.

I don’t love crowded conditions to begin with.  Singapore has immunized me to some degree, but sometimes, when we’re out and about, I’ll still have a moment of panic, and just have to close my eyes, to escape from the crush of people for a moment.  In this race, the shock of being thrown back into such chaos and crowds was too much for me to bear.  ALL I wanted to do was get out, get away, be free, find quiet.  I wanted to run off the side of the trail, curl up, and cry.  I was having trouble catching my breath.  If this is 1/10 of what a panic attack feels like….I have new sympathy for those who suffer panic attacks.

My Mom was the only thing that got me through.  I heard her – in all honesty, more clearly than I heard anyone else (makes sense – I’ve been listening to her voice for over 31 years) on my whole run.  “Holly, BREATHE.  You have to keep running.  Pretend your body isn’t here.  Don’t pay attention to everyone else.  BREATHE.  No, no – deep breaths.  BREATHE.  Keep running.  You can do this.  I have no doubt you can do this.”  [This is the same voice she uses to talk me out of these strange, wheezy, can’t-breathe-in coughing fits I have sometimes.]

She kept that monologue going the whole way up to the turn-around, where I whipped around, skipped the water table completely, and headed back down.  I just wanted to get out of this section.  Heading downhill helped a bit – I no longer felt like everyone was flying directly at me.  I weaved, dodged, and passed as carefully as I could, Mom’s voice in my head the whole time.  I had no one scheduled for Mile 28, so Mom brought me about halfway through, then handed off to the Mile 29 folks a bit early.

Miles 28.5 + 29: Sarah’s Clan (my roommate from college, aka Gummy Bear Mama, and her adorable family).

Park Clan

Sorry, folks – they take the “Cutest Cheerleaders” award, hands down.

I could go on and on about this amazing woman, but let’s start here: She used her “Mom-voice” on me to keep me calm for the rest of the two-way descent.  She said most of the same things that my Mom said.  All that I can say is: Thank goodness for Moms!

*whew* The crowded descent over, I headed into Mile 29 in earnest.  I was back on the McRitchie loop, and I thought about the photo above.  Sarah posted it after I started the race, but KMN showed it to me on his phone at the 31K mark – sneaky!

Sarah and her husband are two people who genuinely live to love.  Sarah herself taught me so much during our college days – including the power of an encouraging note (see above!).  I adore their kiddos, and thoughts of the whole family made me grin like a maniac, and kept me pleasantly distracted, as I ran the plank bridge and through the golf course section of Mile 29.   My two brilliant conclusions during this time?

1. Sarah & her husband are raising up the kind of citizens I want to see in this world.
2. When can I buy a plane ticket to visit?  Those baby cheeks require pinching!!!!

As my Garmin clicked to Mile 29, I realized that I had 3 more people to run “with” (Mile 30, Mile 31, and “Any Bonus Mileage”), but that the route  would likely come in under 31 miles.  So I did some approximate, late-race math (although my brain never got quite as race stupid as it did during the marathon), and divided the rest of the race up.

First half of Mile 30: Doug (another running friend from Rochester).  I’ve been in the position to help Doug out several times when he’s gotten into trouble on the trails – and today, he got to return the favor (thankfully, I didn’t crack any ribs, though).  We smoked through this section – there was one very technical climb (lots of rocks and roots) and descent.  He pointed out any tricky obstacles, and forged the way around the walking 13K folks.  I followed, and before long, he led me out onto the last section of trail (wide and pretty flat) before the finish.

Second half of Mile 30: Dad.  My Dad is not a runner, but he is a mathematician, and so he loves to talk running with me: paces, splits, finishes, etc.  He is interested in running because I run, but he loves the gory details because he’s a math geek.  “If I want to cut X time off my finish, that means running every mile Y seconds faster, except there’s a big hill at Mile Z, so spreading those seconds out over the other miles means….”  You get the idea.

He also never missed a single competition I was in (mostly swimming and Mock Trial!) when I was in high school.  Unfortunately (for him), I didn’t really take to serious running until I’d already moved away.  I know he’d love to be at every Finish Line, if he could – and even briefly discussed buying a ticket to Perth to come watch the marathon.

So I knew – knew – he was waiting at the Finish Line, rooting for me, counting how many 50K female finishers came in before me (not because he cared, but because he knew that I cared!), and just waiting to cheer.  I envisioned popping out of the woods to his cheers, and coming around the corner to the Finish.

This kept me running, running, running.  I tried to encourage anyone nearby who was managing anything close to a run: “Let’s go, come on, steady to the finish”, but lots of them were totally wiped.  One 13K runner came past me, “Passing on your other left!” (my right).  We had a friendly banter, and he kept me laughing.  We ran together briefly, before he dropped back to wait for a friend.

Of course every part of me was tired, but the end was coming.  Less than a mile to go…I could do this!  One major treat was that the Finish Line was about half a mile before my usual long run finishing spot.  So while I generally muscle my way through ¾ of mile of beating sun into the finish – the Finish Line was less than a quarter mile from the end of the trail.

The End: Dad & Logan (who blogs at Mountains and Miles).  Logan ran her first 50K this spring, except hers had a few “bonus miles” at the end.  She volunteered to join me for whatever bonus miles this race offered.  But it was now clear to me that the race was going to come up shy of 31 miles, so I invited Logan to join Dad & I for the last bit into the finish.  She’s a good sport, and was happy to join the party.  She ran with me, while Dad cheered us in.  Honestly, this part of the race was almost effortless –  one advantage to running on your “home turf” is that you know where you are in relation to the Finish Line!

We emerged from the trail and into the sun.  [Huh?  It’s sunny?  When did that happen?]  We summoned a finishing kick, waved to (my) Dad, and plowed right through the Finish Line.

McRitchie Loop and Sime Track Out ‘n Back
Mile 27: 11:39 min/mi
Mile 28: 10:43
Mile 29: 12:15
Mile 30: 10:31
Last 0.16: 8:20 (YEAH FINISH LINE!)

Total Distance: 30.16 miles
Net Time: 5:23:03

There was little pomp and circumstance, as I actually finished among a sea of 13K runners.  I was handed a medal, finally remembered to stop my Garmin, and exited the Finishing chute.

That was it.  Over.  Done.  Finished.

I stood there, slightly dazed, for a few moments, while the chaos of the Finish Line and refreshment tables swirled around me…

And I’ll leave me there for now, feeling slightly dazed and amazed that it’s over.  Come back tomorrow to rescue me, and to hear some post-run reflections and an overall TNF100 race review!

How do you describe the lowest low-point you reach during a race?

I showed you mine, now you show me yours: Tell me about YOUR Running Mom or Running Dad!

TNF100: The North Face 50K (2013): Race Report (Part 1)

I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats waiting for this.  After Saturday’s race I rested, then spent all of Sunday catching up on things I didn’t do on Friday because I was too excited/nervous to concentrate.  🙂  But I think Race/Run Reports should be moved to Monday, instead of Tuesday (Why did I choose Tuesday?  That was silly of me!).  So: On to the report!

I summarized my thoughts and race strategy/plan in Friday’s Pre Race Thoughts post.  I also unabashedly begged for “company” during the race.  This was a last minute thought on my part, but it truly was brilliant, if I do say so myself.  (So modest, right?)  I would encourage all of you to try it in the future.  I know people sometimes “dedicate” each mile of a long race to someone different – but frankly, this was even better.

I posted my request pretty late, so while quite a lot of miles got claimed, others I just handed out to people when it seemed fitting.   [I also left some of you out.  Apologies.  Race brain?  We’ll have to run together soon!]  This strategy was fantastic: I got to spend a mile “with” dear friends, online friends, my biggest cheerleaders, aspiring runners, and running buddies who taught me the ropes when I first started endurance/trail running.  At each mile, I got to imagine someone else was with me: What we’d discuss, the stories we’d share, and how you’d provide encouragement or a kick in the pants, whichever I needed most.  This certainly helped me “chunk” – and it’s also how I remember the race now.  In other words, I don’t remember the race by how I felt running Mile 18 or Kilometer 35, but I DO remember how I felt running with Hilary or Deb or Kathy.

So let’s get started!

After a 3:45 AM wake-up, I proceeded with the usual breakfast/Body Glide/gather stuff routine.  I snapped a pre-race photo in the light of the dining room:

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

And I headed out for a 1.5 mile walk to the starting line (this constituted my “warm-up”).  Once I got to McRitchie, very clear signage directed me to the Starting Line.  The Start was located close to one set of restrooms, so I availed myself (No line!  There was toilet paper!), then set out to top up the water I drank on my way to the park.  I was displeased to be unable to find a water table, but it is possible that I just missed it.   The TNF crew did a great job of lighting and signing the area, but with darkness and crowds, I could easily have missed water that was available.  Thankfully, my hydration pack was still full (it was just my very small hand-held that was empty), so I wasn’t too fussed.

In order to enter the starting corral, I had to “Register” – ie, have my pack weighed to ensure I was carrying the required amount of water (1.5L for 50K).  The Registration area was easy to find, and there was no line at all!  When I approached, I asked the volunteer if I should take the bladder out.  She looked at me with total confusion and gestured to the scale.  I tossed the whole pack on, and this happened:

Her: “You’re carrying 3 liters?”
Me: “Umm…no…just over 1.5 liters.”
Her: *looks at scale in confusion*
Me: “Is it OK?”
Her: *nods*
Me: *grabs pack, enters corral*

Of course my pack weighed 3 kilos!  Although only 1.75 of those were water, the pack was also stuffed with my nutrition, salt tabs, map, phone, sunglasses, towel….  Anyway, I passed inspection and was standing in the corral about 15 minutes before the gun.

The 100K runners started at 10 PM the night before, and their route was 2 almost identical loops of the 50K course.  Thus, their route took them directly back through the Starting Line, so while we were standing in the corral, we got to cheer for some of them as they finished their first lap.  I felt a bit bad, because I (and they) knew that this better-rested, fresh-legged pack of eager 50Kers was going to be trampling past them in just 20 minutes or so.

As the start time neared, I worked my way forward in the corral, knowing I didn’t want to fight through lots of slower runners in the first  few kilometers.  Finally, I was about 10-15 rows (approximately) back, and I was content with that – after all, 50K is a long way for places to get sorted out!  With 3 minutes until the start, the fellow next to me asked, “Did you just feel a raindrop?”  I laughed.  I thought he was imagining things.  Until I felt one.  And another.  And another.  And a few more, and as the horn sounded for the start, a light rain was falling.

Mile 1: Erica (my “sort-of cousin”, who blogs at (not) just another erica jones).  Well, when she agreed to take Mile 1, and offered up:

“I am also imagining a sleepy monkey audience cheering you on with little ‘TNF50’ (because monkeys are smart and they will know what distance you are running) flags and soy lattes (because it’s early and they’re posh monkeys).”

How could I not want her keeping me company?  Erica, all I can say is that I hope you wore black socks and a cap with a visor, because the light rain quickly became a heavy downpour.  We ran the concrete path for about half a mile, and hit the trail just as the thunder and lightening started.

When someone will stop in Raffles Place to smell the over-sized tulips with you, there's no doubt she'll make a great Mile 1 partner!

From Erica’s visit back in May. When someone will stop in Raffles Place to smell the over-sized tulips with you, there’s no doubt she’ll make a great Mile 1 partner!

I know this section of trail well, and although it has some decent hills, the footing is pretty solid.  But the trail was dark and the rain was pouring, so we could hardly see anything anyway.  Still, once our feet got soaked, there was no point in avoiding the puddles, so we splashed right through.  And although I think that the posh monkeys opted to sleep in and avoid the downpour, Erica’s company was all I really needed for that first mile!

The race information booklet had warned us: “In the event of lightning, participants are advised to wait at the nearest shelter until the weather clears before proceeding on with the race.”  Despite some cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning, none of my fellow runners showed any sign of seeking shelter in the trail-side huts.  So although I’m a rule-follower to the nth degree, I opted to keep running.  After all, I’d been out on these trail in similar conditions before.  I just hoped no branches would come crashing down on my head!  Besides, I adore running in the (warm) rain.  There were a few other runners around (our combined headlamps helped brighten things a bit), and I was loving on the adventure and the trail.  The second mile passed quickly.

The last time I convinced her to run a trail race, way back in 2009.

The last time I convinced her to run a trail race, way back in 2009.

Mile 3: Sarah (my sister).  Big sisters are bullies, and I never gave her a choice in the matter.  Sarah is the one who first got me running outdoors, although these days, she’s more likely to hop on the treadmill instead.  She regularly knocks out 3-5 miles at a pretty sweet pace, so I nominated her for Mile 3.  During our mile, she asked me why I do such ridiculous things, like move to Singapore and run trail races in the pouring rain/middle of the night.  But she has a sense of adventure (rock climbing is her “serious” sport these days), and gamely splashed through puddles, which were more like lakes.  She didn’t even flinch when someone ahead of me quipped, “Good thing we don’t have leeches in Singapore!”.  Dang right, dude.  Sarah brought me past the Ranger Station and on to the Rifle Range Link, where we parted.

This section has some short, but technical, descents/ascents – made extra exciting by the slippery, clay-like mud that appears when it rains.  At this point, the rain had let up a bit, but the fog was out in full force.  I was wishing for the “fog lamp” setting on my headlamp.  I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or hear anyone behind me – running this section in a race with hundreds of people, but feeling so totally alone, was rather surreal – but peaceful.  I actually loved this solo mile.

Splits for McRitchie Section
Mile 1: 9:35 min/mi
Mile 2: 10:44
Mile 3: 10:42
Mile 4: 11:32

Miles 5, 6, 7: Hilary.  I met Hilary through a mutual running friend.  She lived, worked, and ran in Singapore for over 10 years, and recently relocated (again) for work just a few months ago.  But this section of trail was a favorite of hers, and she wanted the chance to run it again.

Within the first half a mile, we came up to Rifle Range Road and the first Aid Station, where we stopped only briefly for a cup (or three) of water.  I was trying to remember to hydrate, despite the rainy conditions – since I knew I was still sweating!  Kudos to the volunteers, who had a small tent that was doing little to keep them dry, as they poured cups of water and refilled bottles and packs.

At this junction, there are metal barriers here between the wide trail head and the road, and one short section that is only blocked only by a heavy chain suspended between two poles.  This is where we crossed.  Stepping over the chain should have been a simple prospect for someone who is 5’9″ tall, but the gentleman running in front of me bumped it and set it swinging.  I misjudged the swing, and when I went to hop over, my ankle got caught, and I face-planted in the mud.  Thankfully, Hilary didn’t laugh (too hard), and the rain-softened ground made for a relatively gentle landing.  My shin smarting, we headed out onto the road for about a mile, before turning back onto the trails.  I was hoping that sunrise wouldn’t reveal a stream of blood down my leg, and thankfully, it didn’t.  [Although two days later, I am sporting a lovely bruise and some small scrapes.]

We ran this section easily – it’s a bit technical in places, but Hilary led and I just watched her feet!  We ran in companionable silence, with a steady effort.  The sky started to get light, the rain stopped, and the miles passed quickly – we even overtook a number of other 50K runners along this section.  I definitely appreciated how courteous and polite the 50K runners were – moving over to let us pass, even if it meant slowing or stopping briefly.  This is a distinct advantage to running a longer trail race with more experienced participants: Folks know the rules and courtesies of the trail!

We popped out at Bukit Timah, and I bid Hilary farewell as I headed up to the Green Corridor.  [I think she wanted to climb Bukit Timah, just for fun.  Her new city is very, very flat.]

Splits for Rifle Range to Bukit Timah
Mile 5: 11:09 min/mi (Aid Station)
Mile 6: 11:07
Mile 7: 10:49

Mile 8: Amy (who blogs over at Run Write Hike).  Mile 8 is Amy’s “Mile of Truth”: The point at which she starts to wonder whether or not she can actually do this – so she offered to help me through my Mile 8.  Incidentally, my Mile of Truth occurred much, much later – but as we scrambled up the steep incline onto the Green Corridor, I was happy for some company.  This section used to contain railroad tracks that linked the port at the south end of Singapore with Malaysia to the north.  Most of the tracks are now removed, but a broad, flat “green corridor” remains.  This is quite flat and very runnable, but can be a bit boring.

Amy lives in Boulder, and expressed some jealousy over Singapore’s relatively mild elevation profile – so this was the perfect section for us to run together.  We talked about being PhDs eschewing academia, the ups & downs of investigating alternative careers, and the amusements of being white girls in Asia (she worked in China for a few years).  She also reminded me to take my first packet of Sports Beans.  For some reason, I had no desire to eat anything for the entire race.  I wasn’t nauseous, I simply didn’t want to eat.  But fueling early and often is important for long-distance events, so I listened.  Amy stuck with me a bit past Mile 8, when a (real person) struck up conversation.

Mile 9: Sherri.  After 8 miles of great company that was all in my head, I was surprised to hear someone come up behind me and say, “Gosh, isn’t this a beautiful day for a run?”  I adore Singapore, and love Singaporeans – but there’s something about hearing an American accent that just turns my head – and this woman had one.

One bonus of ultra running is that it’s not always an aerobically-taxing event, so we were able to chat a bit.  Turns out, she’s a veteran of ultras, but recently moved to Singapore with her family – this was her first race here.  And she was right: The early storms and subsequent overcast skies helped keep the day cool.  The Green Corridor can be quite exposed, but the cloud-cover helped keep the temperature down.

Sherri and I were just running along and chatting when suddenly, my right foot sunk in sticky orange clay-mud.  In general, the Green Corridor section had little standing water, few slippery patches, and overall quite comfortable footing.  But a small slick of mud was disguising a big ‘ole mud pit, and before I knew it, I was up to my right knee in mud.  Thankfully, my left foot landed forward, on solid ground, and I was able to pull myself free.  Unfortunately, my “Watch out!” warning to Sherri came seconds too late, and she was sunk up to BOTH her knees in a second mud pit, just a meter or two ahead of me.

I grabbed her arm and tried to help her out, while she tried to keep her shoes on her feet.  [I said a silent prayer of thanks for my tight Salomon tension laces!]  She pulled one un-shod foot out, and went in after her shoe with her hand arm.  I have no idea how she did it, but she came up with her sneaker.  I grabbed it from her and tossed it aside, while she leveraged her other leg (shoe still attached, thankfully) out of the mud pit.  When both of her feet were on solid ground, and she had her shoe in hand (in the process of transferring to foot), I left her to deal with the mud situation and continued forward.

In less than a mile, I reached the turn around, and headed back the way I came.  I passed the mud pits, yelling at the oncoming runners NOT to step in them.  The rain began again, and I tried to clean my hands up a bit.  I wanted to refill my hydration pack at the upcoming aid station, but didn’t want to smear my equipment with the sticky mud.  But the rain wasn’t heavy enough to do the trick, and finally I settled on using my small squirt bottle to rinse off.

When I stopped to refill, I realized it hadn’t been necessary – I had plenty of water.  But since my pack was off and bladder opened, I topped up, closed up, and headed off – but not before I felt a moment of pity/embarrassment for a fellow racer, who was yelling in frustration that he needed a SHOVEL, or someone to lend him size 7.5 sneakers.  He apparently wasn’t as lucky in the mud as Sherri was.

"The Three Hollys"  My lunchtime running buddy - and the Holly who kept me company - is the one on the right.

“The Three Hollys” My lunchtime running buddy – and the Holly who kept me company – is the one on the right.

Mile 12: The Other Holly.  One of my friends from Rochester (of Team Holly Cow fame) is a regular speedster, also named Holly, and no lover of the trails.  I christened Mile 12 her mile, since this section was as close to road as a trail race was going to get.  Honestly, Holly, I don’t even remember what you said, but I listened, because the Green Corridor was getting boring.  Thanks for the company and distraction!

Splits for Green Corridor
Mile 8: 9:22 min/mi
Mile 9: 9:55 (mud pit)
Mile 10: 9:04
Mile 11: 9:59 (Aid Station)
Mile 12: 9:10
Mile 13: 9:28

Somewhere after Mile 13, Sherri and I ended up running together again, and when she told me, “Well, I’ve been having trouble finding women who like to go running in the jungle,” my heart skipped a beat.  She was clearly an experienced and strong trail runner, seemed quite friendly, and dang wouldn’t I enjoy a long distance trail running partner on occasion!  I pulled away from her on a steady climb leading into the trails by the Dairy Farm – but that wasn’t the last I saw of her during the race.  Remember Sherri.  She’ll be back.

Official race photo, courtesy of Running Shots.  Their dedicated photographers were braving the rain and risking their equipment to capture our day.  Thank you!

Official race photo, courtesy of Running Shots. Their dedicated photographers were braving the rain and risking their equipment to capture our day. Thank you!

Mile 15: Nicole (who blogs at Work In Sweats Mama).  She requested Mile 15, in honor of the 15 mile long run she had scheduled for the weekend.  Since the middle miles were pretty unclaimed, I was thrilled for her company.  She regaled me with stories of her kiddos, and we laughed over the blessing/curse of working from home as we wound our way around the twisty, rolling terrain of the Dairy Farm.  Before I knew it, we were at the Mile 15 aid station.  I had a few cups of water, and an accidental cup of 100Plus – which I spit out in surprise, and exclaimed to the volunteers, “This isn’t water!”  They looked at me like I was nuts.  Thank you, Captain Obvious.  But next time, different cups for water and electrolyte beverage (especially clear electrolyte beverage) would be awesome.  Thanks!

Splits for Dairy Farm
Mile 14: 9:51 min/mi
Mile 15: 11:24 (Aid Station)

Mile 16: Jeano (who blogs at Jogging Jeano).  She didn’t volunteer for it, but as a Hanson Plan convert, her longest marathon training runs were 16 miles.  Hence, whenever I hit Mile 16 in a training run, I think about her marathon training plan with a bit of envy: “If I were Jeano, I’d be DONE right now.” Anyway, she kept me chuckling with her good-natured snark as we made our way along the Zhenghua Park Connector.  We ran quite a bit of downhill, and I was thankful I wouldn’t be running this section uphill again (no, no – instead I would be running an entirely different section uphill around mile 24).  We ran under a flyover (overpass) that had a whole garden planted underneath – some snoozing volunteers were taking advantage of the benches and shelter for a quick nap.  [Many of them had been working long overnight shifts to support the 100K runners.]

But there was no napping for us.  We kept running. My legs were starting to feel a little tired, and I succumbed to a walk on one pretty long, steep-ish incline, until Jeano busted me about slacking.  We kept running.  Or, at least, I kept running – she zipped off at about 16.5 miles.

Honestly, I zoned out for the next few miles.  I had no one scheduled to run “with” me, I was starting to feel tired, and I was focused on reaching the Aid Station – and KMN, who was planning to be there – at 31K (19 miles).  The terrain was gently rolling, which actually works well for me.  There was only one confusing intersection, and the rest were well-marked with clear signage and helpful volunteers.  Even the places where some of the race distances (13/25/50/100K) split from each other were clearly marked, and volunteers were helping direct runners along the correct route.

I just ran, and tried not to think too hard.  Because this was a lengthy out-and-back section, I actually got to see the leaders on the “back” portion, while I was working my way “out”.  That was pretty fun, and I counted myself as approximately the 5-6 woman.  I was definitely starting to fatigue, but just kept pushing.  I knew that the Aid Station was the furthest out point we hit, and from there, I would be heading back toward the Finish Line.  Even though “back” was still 20K away, I know from experience that “heading home” provides a psychological boost for me.  I also knew I had a lot of “company” lined up for the last 10+ miles, and that was going to help me make it through.

Finally, I burst out of the trees and to the Aid Station.  I crossed the timing mat, found KMN among the approximately six spectators, and demanded, “Help me with my pack.”  Due to some technical issues, the bladder in my hydration pack requires some binder clips to keep it closed.  This works just fine, but makes it slightly pesky to open and refill.  But KMN knows the drill, and he helped me.  He also snapped a reasonably good photo…

*Insert suspenseful music*

…but you’ll have to return for Part 2 to see it.  😉

Splits for Zhenghua Park Connector/Trail to Mandai
Mile 16: 10:02 min/mi
Mile 17: 10:56
Mile 18: 9:53
Mile 19: 11:40 (Aid Station)

[Edited: Part 2 is now available at TNF100: The North face 50K (2013): Race Report (Part2)]

What’s the earliest race start you’ve had?  How do you feel about racing in the dark?  Trail racing in the dark? 🙂

I don’t want to hear grumbling about race photos.  Describe a race photo of yours that you love!  [I’m talking about something that shows grit, determination, and spirit, people!]

Yellow Ribbon Run (2013): Race Report

Brooks, Nike, Salomon, Adidas, North Face…these are the headlining names on most of the running races in Singapore.  So when I first heard about the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, a fundraising run for the Yellow Ribbon Project, I was intrigued.  Some investigation revealed that the 10-year-old Yellow Ribbon Project unites various agencies in Singapore to support the re-integration of ex-offenders into society.  The Yellow Ribbon Project provides skills training and social support for ex-offenders, as well as community education to encourage their acceptance back into Singaporean society.

In a society that (I’m generalizing, folks) values conformity and adherence to rules, Singapore can be a difficult and unforgiving place for those – including ex-offenders – who have strayed from the narrow confines of societal expectations.  Thus, as race date neared, I was overwhelmed and encouraged by the level of support I was seeing around the city for the race: billboards and media campaigns, certainly – but also lots of social media support from younger generations of Singaporeans.

So although the timing wasn’t great for me, I couldn’t help but register, and start getting excited, for the race.  Training-wise, I was caught somewhere between post-marathon recovery and pre-ultra taper, one week after another “mostly for fun” 10K (Salomon Vertical City Trail Race Report), and 2 days after/4 days before super-long ultra training runs.  So I settled on using the race as a longer-tempo effort. My two main goals were:

1. Run strong – a slightly faster pace than training runs.
2. Run steadily – none of this “out too fast” business from last weekend’s race

One extra bonus of our anniversary mini-staycation was that we were staying about 20-30 minutes closer to the race location than we would have if we were at home.  Once we found an open subway entrance (doh!), we were just a 20 minute ride away from the shuttle bus pick-up point.  Because of the point-to-point course, and the lack of parking at the start, shuttle buses were arranged to transport runners from a nearby MRT station/parking lot to the Start and from the Finish.

Boarding the shuttles to the start.

Boarding the shuttles to the start.

Finding the shuttle buses was easy: We just followed the sea of yellow shirts!  This race is in its fifth year, and kudos to the organizers for having instituted a very efficient and effective transportation plan.  We waited less than 2 minutes to board a shuttle to the Starting Line.

I actually quite enjoyed the 15 minute ride to the start: This was all new territory to me.  This part of Singapore is comparatively undeveloped, and we drove past forests, a golf course (or two?), and a few military/airport-related buildings.  I saw lots of cyclists – if I ever get up the courage to get my bike on the road out here, THIS is where I want to ride!!

The red pin is the location of the start.

The whole island is all of Singapore. The red pin is the location of the start. Thank you, Google Maps.

Super-fast baggage drop.

Super-fast baggage drop.

The starting area at Changi Village was alive and kickin’ on this Sunday morning – runners were everywhere, queuing for restrooms and having a pre-race drink at the food stalls.  With just 15 minutes until the start, we quickly made our way to the baggage drop – very efficient – although I wish they hadn’t re-bagged everything in enormous plastic bags.  This was a safety precaution in case of rain, but it seemed so wasteful, I cringed.  Ah, well – I’d be happy for the extra protection, if the skies opened.

And it was starting to look like that was a possibility.  The sun was sort-of shining, but heavy clouds hung nearby.  Would we be running through a downpour?  Only time would tell!

We hustled to the starting corral.

I know I'm always proclaiming "NO race shirt on race day! Nothing new! Please!" But the organizers requested we wear shirts...and they were supported the Yellow Ribbon Project, not advertising some big name sneaker company.  So, I caved to the pressure. Don't judge. [Wearing the race shirt TO the race is also totally normal out here, as you can see from my photos.]

I know I’m always proclaiming “NO race shirt on race day! Nothing new! Please!” But the organizers requested we wear the shirts…and they were supporting the Yellow Ribbon Project, not advertising some big name sneaker company. So, I caved to the pressure. Don’t judge. [Wearing the race shirt TO the race is also totally normal out here, as you can see from my photos.]

Fortunately/unfortunately, I can’t provide a port-o-potty evaluation for this race; I didn’t have the need to partake. Good thing, too, as we didn’t really have any time to spare  We glimpsed the Starting Line, but were met with a wall of runners ahead of us.

Can you see the Starting Line waaay in the distance?

Can you see the Starting Line waaay in the distance? It has some light blue text on it. See it now?

The race start was imminent, and since both KMN and I were using this as a training run (not a goal race), we decided not to fight our way forward through the crowd.  KMN predicted that we’d cross the Starting Line 5 minutes after the gun.  He was correct, within about 10 seconds.  [I have no idea how he did that.]

I’m still not sure that starting so far back was a good idea, but it was the decision we made at the time.  On the plus side, we didn’t have to deal with the cramped, overheated corral feeling that those further forward undoubtedly experienced.  On the minus side, there were 4,300 runners in the 10K race that morning, and I started behind at least 75% of them – but was the 296th runner to cross the Finish Line.  If that doesn’t give you a good idea of what my first few miles looked like, this might:

YRR Early kms

I dodged, weaved, “trail” ran in that grassy patch on the left, and tried not to annoy any of my fellow runners as I struggled to find a clear path.  Navigation, rather than pace, was my greatest challenge through the first two miles.  This is reflected in my mile splits.

Mile 1: 8:24 min/mi
Mile 2: 8:32

Thankfully, by the third mile, people had spread out and the course opened up a bit.  I was able to lock into a steady, strong pace for myself.  I was feeling good and conquering the small rolling hills (unusual for Singapore) without too much thought.  In fact, the course map indicated several “Incline Slope!” warnings on it, but I’ll admit that, even after running the course, I’m not sure which hills were the marked ones!  In short, the whole course rolled, but I didn’t find anything to be terribly steep.

There was also a contingent of students from a local school (I think) at the top of each hill.  They were banging on makeshift drums, shouting encouraging words, cheering, and sometimes chanting.  Cheering isn’t terribly common out here, so their encouragement was terrific, and I couldn’t help but smile and thank them.

I cruised past the Johore Battery (an underground armory built by the British and used to store ammunition for the defense of Singapore’s coastline during WWII), the Work Release Camp (where some inmates work during the day), and the Changi Chapel and Museum (apparently, a monument to those who maintained their faith during WWII).  I’d never had reason to come out to this area before, and a tempo pace (rather than killer race pace) let me take in a passing look at these sites.

There was also a misting tunnel somewhere along this section.  Most runners opted to run through, so I swung just to the side (to avoid the congestion) and caught some errant spray.  Despite the high humidity (and threatening clouds), and seeming complete absence of evaporative cooling…the mist still felt lovely.

Mile 3: 8:00 min/mi
Mile 4: 8:06

We passed the Tanah Merah Prison (for young offenders) and the Changi Women’s Prison, where some of the staff gathered outside to cheer on the runners.  I’m not sure if this was a mandated activity, but for any of you reading (none, probably) – I can assure you that the runners hugely appreciated your support.  Thank you!

This is the first race I’ve run in Singapore without my water bottle.  I’ll admit that, going into mile 5, I started to feel a bit thirsty.  Usually the middle miles of a race (3 & 4, in a 10K) are the hardest for me – but mile 5 was my hardest mile in this race.  Perhaps we hit some uphill (not sure), and this section definitely included a hairpin turnaround (my favorite!), but I told myself that I could do anything for 2 miles, and would just have to wait for the Finish Line to have some water.

[Safety first! Hydration is important!  Ignoring thirst is a dangerous game.  Pesonally, though, I knew I went into the race well-hydrated, and that I could safely run for less than an hour without water, while still remaining within the “safe” zone of dehydration.  But be sure to make smart decisions for your own body!]

Mile 5: 8:26 min/mi

Just after the 5 mile mark, we entered the outer prison wall.  This is an area normally closed to the public, opened especially for this race each year.  The course made some tight turns in several places, and I was able to catch a few glimpses of other sections and runners.  I enjoyed a nice steep downhill (cruisin’!), then a ubiquitous cafeteria smell (which is exactly the same in Singapore as it is in the US, even though the food is probably different – go figure).  I really dislike any food smells along my race courses, so I balanced momentary nausea with an extra burst of speed, to get through this section quickly.

The last 0.6 miles of the course was an out-and-back, that went downhill on the way out.  By this time, I was more or less ready to be done.  The “out” section seemed to go on forever.  Finally (I swear it felt like finally, even though it was just over a quarter mile), I rounded the cone and turned onto the “back”.  Strangely, the “back” section seemed much shorter.  I powered up the hill and even picked off a few women on my way to the Finish Line.  And that was it – I was finished.

Mile 6: 7:55 min/mi
Final 0.28: 7:24
RACE TIME: 51:25 for 6.28 miles
AVERAGE PACE: 8:12 min/mi

I think this would have been a solid 8 min/mi effort in the absence of early congestion (totally my fault for starting so far back).  And overall, the congestion assured that I ran a smarter race than the previous weekend.  Two slow miles, followed by some faster ones, was a much superior pacing strategy.  Given my current training and race goals, and the rolling nature of the course, I am perfectly content with this finishing time.

I took my medal, then grabbed a sports drink and a cup of water.  Dear Organizers: The enormous reusable plastic cups were brilliant, in my opinion.  A race in Singapore requires far more than a tiny 8 oz cup of water for rehydration.  This 16 oz cup was perfection, and I brought mine back for at least 4 refills.  I happily stationed myself outside the finish chute fence, and cheered for the incoming runners.

[Quick PSA: Folks, STOP TAKING PHOTOS IN THE FINISHING CHUTE!  I know you want a photo with the Finishing Arch, but some things aren’t meant to be documented – especially when you stand with your back to the stream of finishing runners, while your friend takes your picture.  This causes extra congestion, and could make it hard for officials to see a runner who is in distress.  Keep moving, and take your photos somewhere else, for everyone’s safety!  Thanks.]

Soon, I saw KMN cross the line, and he joined me on cheer duty.  [OK, he refilled my water cup several times, and stood next to me, while I cheered.  I’m the loud one in this marriage.]  A short while later, I saw one of my clients cross the Finish Line of his first 10K. !!!! He ran a great race, and finished enthused and eager to keep training (a sure sign that he ran a smart race!).  Way to go, J!  Another client followed shortly thereafter.  I chatted with both briefly, drank some more water, then we wandered off to pick up our finisher’s swag.  Ultimately, we ended up with a generous packet (registration was $35 SGD/$28 USD):

Shirt, medal, mooncake. towel, dry bag, and hat (from Yellow Ribbon formation).

Shirt (received before the race), medal, mooncake. towel, dry bag, and hat (from Yellow Ribbon formation).

We skipped the massage tent (long line) and kids’ activities (no kids), but walked through several exhibits describing the goals of the Yellow Ribbon Project and profiles of several ex-offenders who went through YRP programs.  In fact, several of these folks were there in person to interact with participants and spectators.  Quite a lovely personal touch, if you ask me!

Eventually, we gave in to the announcer’s pleas for participants to help form the “biggest Yellow Ribbon ever in Singapore”.  We each received an enormous yellow cap, and joined other supporters “inside” the ribbon.

Inside the ribbon, sporting the ever-trendy double-cap look!

Inside the ribbon, sporting the ever-trendy double-cap look!

Final Yellow Ribbon Formation

Final Yellow Ribbon Formation

I’d never been part of a human ribbon formation before, so was strangely excited over the whole thing.   Unfortunately, the announcer was having trouble rallying enough participants in to fill out the ribbon.  [KMN and I joked that they should have made post-race goodie bags contingent on participation in ribbon formation.  More realistically, though – offering participants an extra mooncake might have helped – Singaporeans are ridiculously motivated by free gifts, and by food.  Free food probably would have done the trick.]  But eventually, they managed to rally 1,200 people “into” the ribbon.  We waved our caps, jumped up and down, and were captured on camera.

The dark clouds persisted, and we feared we’d get caught in a downpour at any moment.  We collected our checked bag – the lines from earlier were considerably reduced, so this only took a moment – and headed up to the shuttle buses.  We were a bit overwhelmed to see the lines for the shuttle:

Behind the port-o-potties, through the fence, is the long, snaking line to the shuttle buses (it went up, and down again).

Behind the port-o-potties, through the fence, is the long, snaking line to the shuttle buses (it went up to the left, and then back down to the right, where the buses were).

Again, though, there were lots of buses, which departed as quickly as participants filled them, and what could have been a logistical nightmare ran smoothly, and before we knew it, we were back at the MRT station making our way home…just in time for the clouds to open!  It was like the organizers had everything under control – including the weather.

And the final pleasant surprise from the run came the next day, when the results were posted.  They turned out to be the coolest, most interactive results I’ve ever seen.  You can play with them yourself here (you can use my bib number, 17153), or just take a look at a few screen grabs I took analyzing my data.

My finishing places, displayed using Net Time, but with Gun Time places shown in conversation bubbles.

My results, displayed using Gun Time, but with Net Time places shown in conversation bubbles.

Estimate of my location on the course when the winner, gender winner, and division winner crossed the Finish Line.

Estimate of my location on the course when the winner, gender winner, and division winner crossed the Finish Line.

There is no doubt that I’ll be returning to this race.  The organization was fantastic – from the shuttle buses to the course markings (6K/10K splits) to the cheerleaders and other volunteers, execution was pretty much flawless.  I enjoy supporting a worthy cause, and I appreciate the education/publicity efforts the Yellow Ribbon Project made, both online and at the post-race Carnival.  Their presentation of information about their work and profiles (and presence!) of those who have been through their programs, definitely brought the program to life, and made my support seem all the more worthwhile.  Thank you, Yellow Ribbon Run team & volunteers!

If you want to read what other people had to say about the race, check out:

Multiple yellow lines: a weekend two-fer (by GCA)
Yellow Ribbon Prison Run Race Results and Review (on Everything You Want To Know And More)
The 2013 Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2013: My Reflections (by Priscilla)
Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2013: A Race Laced With Grace (by Gideon Ren on RunSociety’s blog)
[Contact me if you are a blogger who has published a post on the race, so I can add your link to this list.]

*I was offered a free entry to the race to be a part of the Yellow Ribbon Run’s Social Media Team.  I declined, as I’d already paid my own entry (it’s against my policy as a blogger to accept comped products, and I think this applies to race entries too, although I’m not entirely sure yet), but noted that I would be blogging about the event anyway.  I was offered (and accepted) a “Goodie Bag”, containing a press release, pen, and jump drive. [Maybe I should have declined this, too?  I’m so confused.]  The only item I have used so far is the press release, which influenced this post only in as much as it provided a few facts that I shared at the start.  The rest of the post is one lengthy lump of my honest opinions.

What race(s) do you run, regardless of timing/training, just because you support the cause?

Thoughts on accepting comped race entries?
[How about in light of the fact that I don’t accept comped material goods?  Same? Different?  I’m just trying to figure all this out, guys.]

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Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Salomon Vertical City Trail Race (2013): Race Report

As soon as my running friend Deb booked her plane ticket to Singapore, I checked the race calendars to see what races were being held the weekend she was here.  Sunday, Sept. 8 turned out to be a pretty popular race day: POSB PAssion Run for Kids, the Tampines Run, and the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Salomon Vertical City Trail Race (10K + 20 story stair climb).

[Poor Deb asked me, before her arrival, “Can I still run a race if I can’t pronounce the name?”]

Deb and I trail raced together quite a bit when I lived in Rochester, so the Salomon Trail Race seemed the natural choice.

Deb (in purple) passing me during Stage #1 of the DCSR 2011.

Deb (in purple) passing me during Stage #1 of the DCSR 2011. [Photo Credit: Barb Boutillier]

Me (in red) passing Deb during Stage #2 of the DCSR 2011.

Me (in red) passing Deb during Stage #2 of the DCSR 2011. [Photo Credit: Barb Boutillier]

*Important note: In Singapore, registration for a race closes about a month (or more) before the race.  Race routes aren’t published until 2-3 weeks before the actual race.  Thus, we are almost always signing up for a race without knowing the route.  Of course, the route from previous years can serve as a guide.  Information on the Salomon Vertical City Trail Race was sparse, but the website trumpeted:

“First flagged off in 2011, the inaugural Salomon Tiong Bahru Urban Trail Run gave the 1,500 participants the opportunity to race and experience the 800 metre Marang Trail. With an elevation of 70 metres, the trail consisted of steps and shaded footpaths through secondary forest. The run also brought participants through six overhead bridges including the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore, the Henderson Waves, which provided a scenic view of the city to Telok Blangah Hill Park.
After the very successful and memorable first edition of the run in 2011, organisers are cognisant of the fact that expectations from runners this year are high. They promise that no stone will be left unturned to make this year’s event one of the best trail races in Singapore.”

I have quickly grown to love Singapore races that aren’t held on the waterfront/Gardens by the Bay/Marina Barrage course that most races here use, and I was doubly happy with the prospect of some trail running.  I was excited to share my Singapore running life – humidity, overhead bridges, urban trails, and all – with Deb.  So all three of us (Deb, KMN, and I) signed up.  I eagerly awaited the unveiling of the course.

Unfortunately, when I picked up our packets the week before the race, I was treated to a sad surprise when I looked at the course map.  The route ran along some of the major roads around the Tiong Bahru neighborhood: Havelock Road, Alexandra Road, Jalan Bukit Merah… and I checked very carefully, several times – but I didn’t see any trails on the course.  Not a single one.

I came home and showed the map to KMN, who is a bit more familiar with the area than I.  He confirmed my suspicion: no trails.  Apparently, a “City Trail” means “run along some of the major roads in Tiong Bahru”.  And, hello, Salomon sponsorship??? I will admit to feeling confused, misled, and frankly – more than a little annoyed about what I perceived as very deceiving website text.

But Deb was here, we’d already paid our registration fee ($45 SGD/$36 USD), and of course we were going to run.  I awoke at 3 AM on race morning to a massive thunder and lightening storm.  I crossed my fingers that it would pass, rolled over, and slept for 2 more hours.  By the time I woke for good, the thunder and lightning had moved out, but the rain was still pouring down.  We got changed, pinned on our bibs, had a bite to eat, grabbed some umbrellas, and headed out for the bus.  By the time we alighted in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood, the rain had lightened somewhat, and we poked around to find the start.

Deb is READY to run!

Deb is READY to make her international racing debut!

I was quite surprised at how few runners were hanging around the PSB Academy campus, where a banner in the small parking lot marked the Starting Line.  We checked our bags (there were 3 people ahead of us in line), then I used the bathroom (there were 3 people ahead of me in line there, too), did a quick warm-up (no one was ahead of me, in case you were curious), and assembled at the start.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were part of a field of several hundred – as opposed to the usual several thousand that populate the starting line of a race in Singapore.

Personally, I had no idea what was going to happen with this race.  I’d run a pretty decent marathon just two weeks earlier, and was nearing the end of my post-marathon recovery – just in time to jump back into 50K ultra training.  Needless to say, the focus of my running since April was on distance, not speed.  What was my 10K pace two weeks after a marathon, for which I’d trained with some tempo, but no interval, work?  That was an excellent question.

Some of my favorite “comparative race time reference” charts suggested that 48-49 minutes might be appropriate, given my recent marathon time.  While that hurt my speedy-runner heart (I’ve done 10Ks in around 44-45 minutes), the prediction seemed reasonable, given my current level of training and the fact that any ‘snap’ I had in my legs was probably still in marathon recovery.  So I decided to run by feel, and see where that led.

Given the small field, and with speedy Deb (who is faster than me at the moment) at my side, we worked our way forward at the starting line, until we were just 2-3 rows back.  Without further ado, the horn sounded and we were off.

I realized immediately that I’d chosen the wrong sneakers for the race conditions.  I was wearing my Brooks Pures, my standard sneaker for anything less than 6-8 miles, but traction isn’t their strong suit, especially on rain-soaked roads.  I think this cost me a bit of energy in both running efficiency and in caution – I did not want to get injured by wiping out on a slippery road somewhere.

I glanced at my watch about half a mile in and was happy – but slightly worried – to see a 7:15 pace.  It seemed OK at the moment, though, so I focused on not slipping and finding my proper place in the pack.  I can’t overstate how amazing it was to run a race in Singapore where I had SPACE!  Beautiful, glorious, amazing space.  We started on the road, but were quickly routed onto the sidewalk.  Still, after passing a number of runners in the first half mile, I had plenty of space to run, and could easily pass with a few steps in the grass next to the sidewalk, when necessary.  Runners were pleasantly spaced apart, though.

Mile 1: 7:21 min/mi
Mile 2: 7:28

As my legs started to feel a bit shaky headed into the third mile, I realized I had made a classic mistake – one I spend plenty of time warning my clients about all the time: I had gone out too fast.  Attention runners: Your coach does it too, sometimes.  

*facepalm*

So, I reined my pace in a bit and kept running.  We hopped from the sidewalk onto the side of the road and back again multiple times, looking for the best and shortest way along the path.  Because the race was small, the roads weren’t closed and we were supposed to be on the sidewalk.  But the sidewalks weren’t really closed either, and the early bird residents of Tiong Bahru were out for morning walks, trips to the market, and breakfast.  So, when there were pedestrians on the sidewalk, the runners often dropped down to the side of the road.  This wasn’t exactly the safest option, but given the early hour, it somehow worked.

There were lots of auxiliary police out to handle traffic at intersections, and they – along with the help of volunteers – made sure that I sailed across every intersection.  Although all roads were open, they stopped traffic when they saw runners, and I was able to cross without ever stopping.  I can only assume others had a similar experience.

We climbed a bit at the start of the third mile, and were rewarded with a gentle downhill.  My whole body was feeling tired.  I couldn’t really point to one specific thing that “hurt” – I was hot, but not overheating.  My breathing was hard, but not out of control.  My legs were tired, but not on the brink of collapse.   But I actually fantasized about climbing back into bed and closing my eyes somewhere during the fourth mile.  I suppose you could say that my head wasn’t really into racing on this particular morning.

Somehow, though, I was maintaining my position.  During this section of the race, I passed no one – and no one passed me.

Mile 3: 7:59 min/mi
Mile 4: 8:17

Ah, well – some races are like that.  And despite my general exhaustion, I was happy to see so many residents coming out to support the runners.  Usually, races in Singapore are staffed by hordes of student volunteers, who are fulfilling school-mandated volunteer hours.  This race, however, was supported by the local Community Center, and thus most of the volunteers were aunties and uncles.  Seeing them out on a rainy (although the rain was still holding off – it had been raining immediately up to the start) morning to stop traffic, give directions, and pass out water was quite sweet.  It gave this race the kind of “hometown” feel that’s often lacking in events in Singapore.

I will admit, though, that when I turned a corner at the start of mile 5, and realized that we had to cross an overhead bridge, I mumbled a few choice words under my breath in my head.  And I’ll confess that I walked up the stairs, pushed myself into a gentle jog on the overhead bridge, and very carefully walked down the stairs – which were quite slippery.  The last thing I needed to do was fall on my tush down 1.5 flights of stairs.

I think I picked off one or two runners during this section, and the course cameraman snapped a picture of the only time I was passed after mile 3:

Yeah, yeah - nice job, dude.  [I passed you again on the stair climb, though!]

Yeah, yeah – nice job, dude. I think he ultimately nipped me by about 6 seconds. Dang!
Photo Credit: Running Shots

KMN, in the same spot, a few minutes later:

Official documentation of KMN's Best Race Photo Ever.

Official documentation of KMN’s Best Race Photo Ever.
Photo Credit: Running Shots

I started to pick up the pace for the last mile, but as I rounded a corner,I realized that I was fast approaching the building where the stair climb would be held.  Sure enough, after a quick turn and switchback, I was funneled into the stairwell.  I’ll admit that I was caught off-guard – my Garmin only clocked 5.6 miles, but heck – I was climbing!

Mile 5: 8:51 (including overhead bridge climb/descent) min/mi
Final 0.6 miles: 8:33

Honestly, after doing a 40 floor stair climb at the URun 2013 race with one zilliondy other people, this stair climb was a dream.  Runners were separated enough that there was space in the stairwell, the stairwell was about the same temperature as the weather outside (hot and miserably humid, but at least not hotTER, as URun was).  I was able to climb on the “inside” track, using the handrails – which was a major bonus.  I even shoved my handheld bottle into the back of my shorts so I could use two hands to climb.  Many thanks to the gentlemen who moved out of my way as I passed them during the ascent.  Passing is tricky on the stairs – thanks for making it easier by giving way.

I alternated a slower, two-steps-at-a-time climb technique with quick feet one-step-at-a-time climbing. I have zero scientific evidence supporting (or refuting), but this approach seemed to keep quadricep exhaustion at bay.  I lost count of the flights and couldn’t find any labels in the stairwell, so when I thought I was on the 12th floor, volunteers assured me that I was on the 8th.  Whoops. But, there was nowhere to go but up – so I kept climbing, and eventually emerged on the roof.

Climb: 4:02

Runners were immediately shuffled into an elevator (like, within 30 seconds of finishing), and except for about 15 seconds when I thought I might throw-up in the sweaty-runner-stuffed, moving-at-the-speed-of-molasses elevator, the ride was uneventful.  I emerged at the bottom, and easily found Deb, who finished about 3 minutes ahead of me.  KMN came down a few minutes later.  We walked a bit, rehydrated, and returned to collect our checked bags.

Post-race red faces, sweaty heads, and a random dude photobombing us in the background...

Post-race red faces, sweaty heads, and a random dude photobombing us in the background…

Deb finished just one place out of official Award territory – and since the awards and raffle weren’t starting for another hour, we decided to skip them and head home to get cleaned up.  But not without a quick photo shoot with the starting line:

Deb & KMN, hamming it up with the Salomon flags.

Deb & KMN, hamming it up with the Salomon flags.

Total Run Time: 45:10 (Average = 8:04 min/mile – remember that the run was only about 5.6 miles)
Total Race Time: 49:12
[7/114 women, 35/463 overall]

Thumbs up for the results reporting – all finishers are listed, there’s a neat pictograph of finishers and finishing times, and it’s easy to adjust the results list to see the results you want (all, by gender, etc.).  This seems like a small thing – but in Singapore, it’s actually not

Since I started the race without much of a goal, I can’t be too disappointed (or not) with this finishing time.  Overall, of course I’d like to be faster.  [Who wouldn’t?]  But given the circumstances: Recent marathon, not much racing mojo, slippery roads – I’m quite OK with the finish.  And although I make no secret of my annoyance about the deceiving marketing of this race…I have to confess that I will probably come back next year.  Despite the short course, despite the lack of trail, despite the sidewalk/road hopping – I loved running a race with a local feel.  These are rare in Singapore, and I definitely want to give such events my support.

Ever get ‘tricked’ by race advertising?

10K: Love or Hate?

Stair Climbs: Yay or Nay?

Chevron City to Surf Perth Marathon: Race Report (Part 2)

Yeah, yeah – this is much later than promised.  I’ve been busy doing this:

When a friend from the US comes to visit in Singapore, you have no choice but to take her out for rainy running excursions at McRitchie Reservoir (and other similar shenanigans).

When a dear friend from the US comes to visit you in Singapore, you have no choice but to take her out for rainy running excursions at McRitchie Reservoir, and participate in other similar shenanigans. While twinning. Obviously.

But before all this excitement, I was in the middle of a marathon (in more than one way!) race report here.  So if you missed the first part, check out Chevron City to Surf Perth Marathon: Race Report (Part 1).  The short summary: I was at the halfway mark in 1:54:xx, and just about to enter the hilly section.  Things were about to get serious.

Elevation profile from 20K to the end. Source.

Elevation profile from 20K to the end. Source.

I’m going to break up this next section by elevation, rather than into 5K chunks, because reporting the splits makes much more sense that way.

21-23 km (13.1 – 14.3 mi): Up
The climbing began.  I often think that a hill looks quite steep and intimidating from a distance, but once I’m at the base, or somewhere on it, the whole thing seems much more manageable.  Many years ago, I shared this observation with my Mom, and her wise response was, “But which perspective do you think is more accurate?”  Still, I blithely ignore her brilliance when faced with an incline on a run.  I prefer to think, “Hey, I’m running!  I’m running up!  This isn’t so bad!  Hey look, this part directly in front of me isn’t so steep!  Keep going!  My eyes must have been deceiving me, this isn’t so bad!”  Even as my respiration rate increases and my legs feel the burn, I continue to focus on what’s just ahead.  I tell myself the same thing I tell my runners:

“Little steps!”
“Eat up the hill!”
“Keep your feet moving!”
“Just keep climbing!”

Actually, without too much fuss, I was up the first climb.  The course turned sharply at the top, and I was thankful that my pre-race profile study told me that I’d be climbing for about 2 kilometers.  So when I rounded the corner and saw another moderately steep but loooong incline, I was prepared.

The “hill training” in my marathon prep included regular runs at McRitchie Reservoir, which doesn’t have anything terribly high/steep, but does have some small rolling hills.  I also ran a few shorter runs as easy hill repeats, and when I did a treadmill run, I’d choose a “rolling” profile.  Furthermore, I really just enjoy running hills, and don’t let them intimidate me.  This attitude won’t make up for a lack of training, but it’s a great complement to solid training – so know your course, do your training, and laugh as you cruise up the hills during a race.

OK, I’ll admit – I’m not sure that I actually laughed.  But I started passing people.  Like, a lot of people.  Turns out that my legs loved the change in terrain.  Using the same muscles in the same way over and over again on the flats was starting to tire them – so the addition of some hills was great for distributing the workload to different muscles.

The reward at the top was a literally breath-taking view (like, I gasped out loud) over the Swan River.  I was so tempted to stop for a photo.  Fortunately (for my race), I didn’t have my camera.  So, I kept running.

Mile 13: 8:45 min/mi
Mile 14: 8:57

23-26 km (14.3-16.2 mi): Down
After another almost-hairpin turn (a small traffic circle, at least, rather than a traffic cone) and final short incline, I hit the downhills.  This was just before the 24 kilometer mark, and after a brief debate with myself, I decided to let ‘er rip.  I love running downhills!

This isn’t the place for a long lecture on downhill running, but Coach Holly’s short version is this: If you do it cautiously, slowly, tentatively, and with lots of holding back – then your quads will do a lot of work.  If you open your stride, roll your legs over, and barely let your feet touch the ground – then your legs actually do less work.  A trail running friend in Rochester taught me how to do this (I’m not sure she ever gave me a lesson – I may have learned just by watching her – thanks, Laura!), and it’s a technique I’ve used for years.  It’s especially fun on the roads, which are generally devoid of rocks, roots, loose gravel, and other potentially trip-on-able detritus.

Running downhills too hard, too early can be bad for the legs.  But I was past the halfway mark, feeling good, and ready to be a little daring.  This section was a blast!

Mile 15: 8:27 min/mi
Mile 16: 8:09

26-28 km (16.3-17.4 mi): Flat
At this point, the course leveled – briefly.  I think I had a bit of adrenaline still flowing from the awesome up/down section, because my splits continued to come up a bit fast.  But my legs were holding up well – my calves and Achilles tendons were starting to feel a bit tight, but nothing felt close to cramping.  So I decided to let myself go, and run by feel.

I also ate some Sports Beans, and donated some Sports Beans to the course.  My SBs were really sticky and smushed together, and while trying to wrestle them out of the package, I dropped a large, mushy clump of them on the ground.  Apologies to anyone who might have stepped on them, and was forced to carry a few extra ounces of sugar and electrolytes on their sneaker for a bit.    I refilled my bottle again along this section, eager to continue feeling hydrated and cool.

The rain had pretty much stopped by this time, but the skies remained overcast, and the temperatures relatively cool.  This was running-weather-perfection!

Less perfection?  The two out-and-backs (both with turn-arounds at traffic cones) in rapid succession, along this part of the course.  At the second hairpin turn, I definitely mumbled, “Again?!??!”  Those turns really steal momentum.  But I couldn’t feel too cranky – I was still passing people, and was pleasantly surprised by how good I was feeling.  I told myself there was one long climb between me, and the “just 10K to the finish” mark.

Mile 17: 8:30 min/mi

28-31 km (17.4-19.3 mi): Up
And just as this second long climb began, I ran past a few women who had cycled out to cheer.  They had some cute signs, including one that made me laugh out loud (but I forget what it said), and one that I do remember: “Bike Rental: $5.”  They were some good looking bikes…

Somehow, I blocked out the next few kilometers of climbing.  I know I kept running, I know I was passing more people (although everyone was getting pretty spread out by this time), and I know I gave the timer dude at the 30km mark a big smile.  I replayed the same climbing pep-talk that I used on the first climb.

I found my mind starting to wander, and I had to remind myself to think about running, concentrate on climbing, and keep my legs moving.  This was a strange feeling I never experienced before on a run – it was almost like being just a tad light-headed, but not quite.  I didn’t feel poorly at all – just the very slightest bit loopy.  “Fuzzy” is the best word I can think of to describe it – like I was trying to think through a very light fog.

I worried briefly that my body was rebelling (nutrition/hydration/electrolyte issue?), so I forced myself to concentrate. I asked myself some basic questions: Name, birthday, wedding anniversary, US President’s name, etc.  I answered correctly (at least, I think I did), so I figured I was OK.  I decided that, if the feeling worsened, I’d slow down or take a break.

I crested the last bit of the hill and got a final glimpse of the Swan River overlook before heading “over the hill” (literally) to enjoy some of the downhill that I’d climbed on the way into the park.

Mile 18: 8:26 min/mi
Mile 19: 9:04

31-34 km (18.6-21.1 mi): Gradual Down
Again: downhills.  Again: Cruising.  My legs started to fatigue, so I started using my brain.  I wasn’t pushing hard, I was just encouraging my legs to keep turning over, keep running, smooth and steady, etc. etc.

I reached up to scratch my face, and felt…grit.  I was confused for a minute, then remembered that, when you run someplace where there is evaporative cooling, you can get a salt crust (in Singapore, it’s more like a salt slick, or a salt wave).  I spent about half a mile carefully extracting, and VERY carefully swallowing, my first and only salt tab of the day.

I passed the 32K flag, and had a little internal celebration: 10K left!  [OK, a smidge more than 10K – at this point, my Garmin was 0.15 miles ahead of the course markings.]  I knew I was running well, and was well ahead of my goal time.  I spent about half a mile struggling to do some pace/finish time math.  That thought process looked something like this:

“I was already approximately 9-10 minutes “ahead” of 9 min/mi pace.
Even if I ran 9 min/mi to the end, that would be a finish time of 3:50-3:51.
That’s pretty snazzy!
But…if I run a little faster…
Could I hit 3:45?
What pace would that be?
An extra thirty seconds per mile…no…make that minute per mile…
Wait, was that 9 minutes ahead or 10 minutes ahead?
How far ahead is my Garmin? How many extra tenths will I have to run?
Did I pass the 32 K flag one minute ago, or two?
Wait a second…or a minute.  HA! I made a joke!  Funny girl…
60 times 5…divided by…
Wait, no.
What is wrong with me?  Why can’t I do this stupid math??
…”

[Note: I warn my clients about this “race stupid” feeling.  I’ve witnessed it many times, but haven’t usually fallen victim myself, until this marathon.]

I am both surprised and slightly embarrassed over how stupid I got.  I do this stuff every day – heck, it’s my JOB!  And suddenly, six miles from the end, I couldn’t handle some simple pace math.  I realized I was getting frustrated, and decided that the exact time didn’t matter.  I had a good margin of safety, and some really bad stuff would have to go down for me to miss my sub-4 goal.  So I forgave my inability to reason out the math, and instead focused on my running.

My legs were tired, but there were no “bad niggles” (injury niggles). I was pushing, but nowhere near the brink of collapse (except for my math skills).  I didn’t think I was pushing too hard for my safety, or doing any damage that would require extended recovery (thereby disrupting my plans for a 50K in October).  I did feel that fatigue was starting to slow my legs, however, so I was pleasantly surprised each time I checked my Garmin along this stretch:

Mile 20: 8:18 min/mi
Mile 21: 8:14

34-39 km (21.2-24.2 mi): Flat
Finally, somewhere around Mile 22, it happened.  I was expecting this moment.  I was prepared for this moment.  I was pleasantly surprised that it took so long for me to arrive at this moment.  But…I was ready to be done.

My legs were tired.  My brain was tired.  I knew I could finish – it just wasn’t really fun anymore.  But I’d been blessed with 22 fabulous, glorious, ridiculously easy miles – I could pull out 4 tough, tired miles.  This is why I put in so many hours of training – not for the first 10 miles, but for the last 4 miles.

So out came the mental tricks.  At this point, they weren’t that complex:

1. Chunking: Focus on the half miles.  Take a drink every half mile.  Just run half a mile at a time.  Focus on the half miles.
2. Play Catch: Focus on the shirt in front of you.  Catch up to the person.  Pass the person.  Repeat.

The course wound through a residential area, next to a park, and through an industrial/commercial area (actually, I think this is what happened, but don’t take me word for it – I was distracted, and my brain was fuzzy).  There were several spots where small crowds congregated to cheer.  I hadn’t minded that the rest of the course was pretty quiet – this was a little smattering of support, exactly where I needed it!

There was also musical support along the course in this section: First a bagpipe group/band, then a car dealership blaring pump-it-up music through their loudspeakers, and finally a drum corp.  Although I seldom run with music (unless it’s playing at the gym while I’m on the treadmill), I am a musical person.  I have some training in music, and I listen to music often during the day.  I sing, I dance (when no one is watching), and I serenade KMN relentlessly with the music from the current RPM Cycling release.  But I was caught completely off guard when, as I came upon the first group (bagpipers), my eyes welled up.

Now: I don’t especially like the sound a bagpipe makes.  I have no emotional connection to bagpipes.  I wasn’t crying from exertion.  But here I was, in the midst of a totally selfish endeavor (I don’t think running is selfish – but I do think that racing is, for me, pretty selfish), and there they were – this group of older gentleman, gathered at 9 AM on a gray Sunday morning, giving up their time and energy just provide a happy little boost for me and my fellow runners.  I felt…overwhelmed.  And a few tears may have squeezed out, before I shook myself and returned my focus to the race.  Crying congestion wasn’t going to do me any good at this point.  But lo and behold, the whole feeling repeated itself as I passed the car dealership music, and then the drum corp.  I idly wondered if I had lost all control of my emotions and was going to turn into a blubbering mess at the Finish Line.

I still felt that my brain was slightly fuzzy, and I reminded myself to concentrate on the race and keep my leg speed high.  I fumbled with my third pack of super-sticky Sports Beans (which also felt unnecessarily complicated), got sugar and sticky all over my hands, wiped it all over my shirt, considered stopping to rinse my hands (I hate having sticky fingers), then reminded myself how stupid that would be so close to the finish.

There was one climb in this section – I still can’t find it on the course profile, but I assure you that it was there.  And it was not insignificant.  At first, I was excited that I was coming into the Final Climb, although it felt a bit early.  Thankfully, a lone cheerleader was shouting, “Just one more climb!” along this section.  After brief consideration, I realized he meant one more after this one, confirming for me that this was not the final climb (go check the course profile, you’ll see what I mean).

I kept running.  I kept passing people.  22 miles, 22.5 miles, 23 miles, 23.5 miles, 24 miles – TWO MILES LEFT (sometimes, I lie to myself at the end of a race)!!!!

Mile 22: 8:21 min/mi
Mile 23: 8:38
Mile 24: 8:12

39-42 km (24.2-26.5 mi): Up, Down, Finish
The course ran through a park just before the 38 km mark, and all crowds disappeared.  The only support was a sign advertising, “(Name), Massage Therapist / Call XXXX-XXXX!” I laughed aloud.  The sign was optimally placed, but she would have done much better handing out business cards.  I’m not sure that anyone is wasting precious mental resources memorizing a phone number at kilometer 39 of a marathon. No way, Jose.  Thanks for the laugh, though, Miss Massage Therapist!

I struggled through a bit more fuzzy math, and calculated that a sub-3:45 was still a possibility, depending on *exactly* how much over 26.2 miles I’d have to run (with 10K left, my Garmin was 0.15 miles over, and the last 10K was less curvy than the first 30K).  So when the final climb came into view, I ran.  I thought about walking, but didn’t really have a good reason to, so I kept running.  And running.  And running.  I focused on a small plateau, and then the next, and then….hopefully the last one.  It was.

Now, less than a mile to go.  And I heard myself again, in my head: “You can do anything for a mile!”  So, I ran.  I ran fast (everything is relative).  I passed a guy.  I set my sights on a woman a bit ahead of me.  I heard the announcer.  I ran a bit faster.  I saw what I believed was the final turn.  I ran a bit faster.  I passed the first woman, set my sights on a second.  I saw all the Finishing Chute flags.  I ran a bit faster.  Finally, I saw the Finish Line arch.  I was still at least 30 seconds away.  The numbers on the digital clock at the Finish Line came into focus, and I watched it click over from 3:44 to 3:45.  Dang.  Oh, well.  I ran faster.  “Drive your knees, relax your arms, breath.”  GO.

I crossed the line.

YES.  Oh-so-much YES.

Mile 25: 8:38 min/mi
Mile 26: 8:06
Final 0.38 mi: 6:56

Any other hill-lovers out there?  Let me hear you!!!

Does the “fuzzy” feeling happen to anyone else?

Think about a race that you ran well: What was your first thought when you crossed the Finish Line?

Chevron City to Surf Perth Marathon: Race Report (Part 1)

Guys, I’m still struggling to put this whole marathon experience into words.  You all know that my posts tend to be long-winded thorough.  And that goes double for race reports.  I hate to leave anything out – especially after you all told me a few months back that you really like to hear ALL the details of the race.

Just the idea of summarizing 26.2 miles (42.2 km) – almost 4 hours – of running into a single post feels daunting.  GCA was super-prompt with her race report.  After dinner on Sunday (race day), she napped for 3 hours, then woke up and blogged all about it – read her Perth Training Study Evaluation.  I’m trying to be less than 7 days behind her.  (Whoops, FAIL.) So here goes:

As I discussed in My Big Fat Goal Time post, I was aiming for a sub-4 hour race (just under 9 min/mile).  Armed with this basic goal, and the elevation profile of the race, I set about drafting a strategy on the back of the paper with my flight information.  Because, you know, why have more important pieces of paper than absolutely necessary?

Elevation profile of Chevron City to Surf Marathon (Perth).

Elevation profile of Chevron City to Surf Marathon (Perth). Source.

I know the profile is small.  Basically, the first major climb (~60 meters total) is at the half-way mark, and the second (~50 meters) is at about 18 miles (30 km).  I still struggle to estimate what “60 meters of elevation change over 2 kilometers” looks like, but I did some rough calculations and decided that it wouldn’t be too bad.  This was my race plan:

0-3 km: Downhill.  ~8:30-8:45 min/mi [I know, this is counter to my “start slow” strategy – but only to capitalize on the early descent.]
3-21 km: Mostly flat.  ~8:45-9:00 min/mi
21-23 km: Climb. Don’t look at watch, keep effort steady.
23-25 km: Descend. Fly by feel. [I’m good at descents.]
25-29 km: Steady. 8:45 – 9:00 min/mi
29-31 km: Climb. Don’t look at watch, keep effort steady.
31-39 km: Cruise. 8:45-9:00 min/mi if you can.  Remember the slight downhill.
39-41 km: SUCK IT UP.  <— Yep, that’s what the Race Plan Paper said.
41-42 km: Don’t die. Focus on the finish line. Stay steady. No sprinting. Sprinting = cramping.

Basically, I wanted to bank 3-4 minutes on the first (flat) half, if possible, so that when the hills hit in the second half (and I got tired), I could settle into a 9 min/mi pace without obsessing over a few seconds.  This would also let me build in a bathroom break, if I needed one.

[The course was marked in kilometers, so I memorized the profile by kilometer.  And although I’m now fluent in both miles and kilometers, I still prefer to monitor my pace in min/mile.  Thus, this post will use kilometers for distance and min/mile for speed.  Deal with it.]

On race morning, we woke up at 4 AM, had some Buckwheat O’s (local cereal; tested during shake-out run), and got suited up:

Last race-related photo from my camera. I opted to leave my phone in the room; hence, no photos.

Last race-related photo from my camera. I opted to leave my phone in the room; hence, no photos.

 The weather was a bit of a concern: The predicted temperature for the day was 13-18 °C (55-65 °F), with a 40-50% chance of rain.  We weren’t sure if we were going to have a dry, warm(ish) marathon, or a rainy, windy, cold marathon.   We both wore tanks and capris, and donned a waterproof shell jacket for the 1 kilometer walk past the Starting Line and to the Convention Center, where we were being corralled for the start.

We quickly found the small van that would be transporting the Marathoner’s drop bags – as opposed to the enormous truck designated for half-marathon drop bags.  We gave thanks again for a small field in the marathon (about 1,500 registered).  Since the walk warmed us both, we decided to gamble on the day going “warmer” rather than “wet and cold”.  We packed our jackets/arm warmers/extra layers into our drop bags and handed them to the volunteers.  We hit the port-a-potties (NO LINE!), which were of a Singaporean style: chemical flush, running water in the sink, etc.  Fancy, by American standards!

About 20-30 minutes before the start, we made our way into one of the large halls of the Convention Center, designated “Marathon”.  There was a short safety video and taped warm-up, but we found a wall, plopped down, and tried to relax.  There may have been some people-watching involved.  At about 6 AM, we were collected and led, en massto the starting line.

There was a light mist as we walked the 1 kilometer to the start (we called this our “warm up”), but we remained hopeful for good race conditions.  All the marathoners were led directly into the Starting Chute, and after 60 seconds of announcements (the last of the marathoners were still filtering in), the starting horn honked.  And that was it: We were off! Time: 6:11 AM.

[Note: If you’re looking for a marathon with lots of pomp and circumstance, this isn’t it.  If you’re looking for a marathon that is organized, calm, and well-executed, you found it.]

0-5 km (0-3.1 miles)
There was less than half a mile of intense jockeying for position, after which the 2-3 lanes of road that were open to us were more than sufficient to accommodate all the runners.  Of course, people were still trying to find their pace and proper position.  I countered the typical “starting speed” with reminders to myself to hold back a bit.

I’m not big on mantras, but through these first three miles, I kept telling myself, “Run your own race.  Run your own race!”  Even in a small race, it takes everyone awhile to get sorted out, so it’s quite common for a lot of passing to occur (I was both a passer and a passee).  This is too early a stage to try to find a pace buddy, so I focused on the marathon-paced running I did in London, and tried to lock into that pace again.

Mile 1: 8:31 min/mi
Mile 2: 8:34
Mile 3: 8:44

5-10 km (3.1-6.2 miles)
This section was the “out” stretch along the Swan River.  The sun was rising (behind the clouds), and there was a light mist, but temperatures were perfect.  I was sweating slightly, and there were no goosebumps to be found.  Perfection.  People were starting to sort out their paces, but there was still a lot of passing/being passed, so I opted not to latch on to anyone quite yet.   I did pass a gentleman running in coveralls, a hardhat, and boots (I’m sure there was a tribute or story to this, but didn’t pause to ask him), and another wearing a fuzzy pink onesie and matching pink hair.  I didn’t ask for that story, either.

I was busy soaking in the experience and the gorgeous running weather, until about the sixth kilometer, when I realized that the road ahead was quite curvy.  I heard Boots (a running mentor of mine from Rochester) in my head, “Courses are measured on tangents. So for goodness’ sake, run the tangents!!”  He probably would have added a few other choice words for emphasis, but I’m keeping the blog G-rated.  Over ten-thousand miles away, he still made his point: Pay attention and run smart.  I spent the next few kilometers dutifully easing my way back and forth across the road, on long diagonals between curves, while my fellow runners hugged the left side of the course.

Around the 9 kilometer mark, the elites (a group of 4 Kenyans) were just re-entering the “return” section along Swan River. Somehow, one of them didn’t notice that there was an entire section of road blocked off for “return” runners.  Instead, he vaulted a cone (?) and nearly crashed into me.  Well, it’s not every day that I nearly get plowed down by an elite Kenyan runner!  Too bad I didn’t notice his bib number…one of the four won the race.

I recovered with a short stop at the 9 km water stop – a helpful volunteer used his pitcher to refill my handheld bottle, and I was off again in less than 30 seconds.  Thank you, sir!

As I came to the 10 km mark, I looked down at my Garmin to see that my tangent-running work was rewarded: 6.26 miles.  Awesome!

Mile 4: 8:43 min/mi
MIle 5: 8:39
Mile 6: 8:40

10-15 km (6.2 – 9.3 mi)
The first 1.5 kilometers of this section dropped a bit, bringing us to the first hairpin turn (of many) on the course.  We rounded the corner and began the (mild) climb back up.  A few minutes later, I passed GCA – she spotted me first, but we both managed a little shout-out.  Based on the distance between us, I knew she was off to a strong start.

Soon, the course turned off for a cruise through the University of Western Australia campus (one of them, at least).  I spied beakers in the window of one of the buildings, and had a brief nostalgic sigh for my undergrad days in the research lab.  The rain picked up at this point, and I was working to avoid all the painted sections on the road (there were lots, on campus) – I’ve seen more than one person wipe out on rain-wet road paint.  I ate half a pack of Honey Stingers at the 8 mile mark.

By this time, I’d settled in with a few “running mates” – I didn’t converse with anyone, but we’d been running near each other for a few miles.  Two older men were running next to me, and from their conversation, I gathered that they were veterans of the course.  They were laughing about the easy first half, and the particularly challenging second half – just in case I’d forgotten about the climbs in the second half!

The pace on my Garmin was a smidge faster than my goal, but I was mentally tired of holding back, and started to think that I should let my legs find a comfortable pace for themselves.  So I relaxed my “holding back” a bit, and tried to check my Garmin less.

Mile 7: 8:34 min/mi
Mile 8: 8:37
Mile 9: 8:32

15-21 km (9.3-13.1 mi)
I knew I had built myself a comfortable 4-5 minute cushion already.  My only fear was that my quads were starting to talk to me.  Nothing major, but the muscles were saying hello and experiencing the first few twinges of fatigue.  Experience has taught me that this feeling often subsides after a few miles, though.  I decided to continue to let my legs determine the pace, hoping they knew how to run smart.  Although a little earlier than planned, if I settled in to a 9 minute mile here, I was pretty confident I could still finish under 4 hours, even with a bathroom break.

Did I mentioned that I had a pee?  In the month before the marathon, my body had developed the incredibly annoying habit of deciding that I had to pee the minute I started running.  [No, I am not pregnant.]  The first few times, I humored it, running back upstairs or stopping at the next bathroom.  I soon realized, though, that if I just kept running, the urge never really worsened.  So on marathon day, I wasn’t surprised to feel my bladder (or rather, my bladder nerves) talking the minute I started running.  I decided I’d keep running, and if/when the urge got worse, I’d stop for a break.  But even into the 15K mark: no worse.  Ah, well, if that was the most annoying feeling I was having at 15 kilometers, I was doing pretty well.

I was also playing a tricky hydration game.  My hydration needs in Perth were far different from my needs in Singapore – but with only a few days in Perth before the marathon, I was using my experience from pre-Singapore days/guessing/trying to listen to my body to decide what I needed.  I was sipping from my bottle every 8-10 minutes, and finished a liter of water in the first 18 kilometers.  [Another refill stop at 18K; I filled my bottle with a few cups from the table. Pitcher guy from 9K, I wish you were there!!!]  But my stomach wasn’t sloshy, my fingers weren’t swollen and I was still feeling good, so I reasoned that I was doing a decent job with hydration.  [Edited to add: Finger swelling during exercise is common, especially in warmer weather – it does not automatically signal that there is a problem – but I know that when my water/salt balance is off, my fingers will sometimes swell.]

Knowing that the first big climb started just before the half-marathon mark, I finished up my Honey Stingers around the 19th kilometer and took in some water.  GCA and I had walked this several times, so I was ready.  Effort steady, feet moving quickly, relax, breathe, effort steady….  Bam – at the top.

Just after this climb, the marathon route re-crossed our starting line – which was the same as the starting line for the half marathon (the half-marathon route was the same as the second half of the full marathon route).  The half-marathon had considerably more entrants (10,000?), and it was about an hour before their start, so there were lots of people milling about.  So as we passed through, there was music, some cheering, and a big ‘ole race clock.  I came through at 1:54:XX.  

Turned out that my legs were teasing about being tired, as I had clipped off three more sub-8:40 splits in the three miles leading up to the halfway mark.  I crossed my fingers that this speed wouldn’t come back and bite me in the tush in another 10-15 km.

Mile 10: 8:33 min/mi
Mile 11: 8:30
Mile 12: 8:38

The cheers provided a happy little boost, but I quickly buckled down as I saw the start of the 60 meter climb looming ahead of me and realized that I’d underestimated what 60 meters of elevation looked like.  It was time for the real work to start.  But the truth is…I love hills, and am probably part mountain-goat.  I was ready.

Want to read the rest?  Tune in tomorrow! 🙂
[Sneaky, I know.  But 2,000+ words is already a LOT!]

Edit: City to Surf Perth Marathon: Race Report (Part 2)

It would be fun to make you guess the ending, but I already spoiled it with my immediately-post-race-post.  Anyone else dislike Choose Your Own Adventure books?
[They annoyed me to no end when I was a kid.  I’m a stickler for completeness, and could never figure out how to make sure I read every single page.]

Does writing a race report ever feel like a daunting task for you?
[Apparently, YES.  Although once I get started, I really get into the groove, and usually enjoy reliving the race.]

Do you run the tangents, or just go with the flow?

Perth Marathon: The “Evening-Of” Abbreviated Version

I won’t make you read 1,000 words – let’s just cut to the chase:

Perth Marathon = 3:44:53

Sha-freakin’-zam.

Given my training and goals, this was a very pleasant surprise.  Actually, it’s closer to ‘shock’ than ‘surprise’, really.  I know that with solid training (including speed work), I have a sub-3:30 in me, no question.  But I didn’t expect to run so well today.  And I did it feeling shockingly awesome, up until Mile 24 or so.

I’m going to take you through every drizzly, spunky, happy-view moment in gory detail in a day or two, but for now, here’s a quick-and-dirty summary:

3 Awesome Things About the Perth Marathon
1. The weather.
2. The small field (highest bib # we saw was 1427).
3. The view at the top of the hill in King’s Park.

3 Awesome Things About My Race
1. How much I had to hold back to stay around 8:45 min/mi through the first 10 miles.
2. Point #1 paying off as I cruised up the hills in the second half.
3. Checking my pace coming into Mile 20 and seeing “8:10”.  Repeatedly.

3 Spots That Hurt Right Now
(Or will when I stand up)
1. My hips (expected).
2. My lower shins (weird).
3. My pointer toe blister (if that’s #3, I figured I’m doing pretty well).

And now?  Dinner, and bed.  In that order, with very little in between.  Well…I might brush my teeth.  😉

My brain cells were busy being fast today, so I have no question for you.

So…erm…Tell me something – anything – about your weekend!

2XU Compression Run (2013): Race Report (Part 2)

So, where were we?

Ooooh yes, that’s right. Just crossing the starting line at the 2XU half-marathon. 

The first part of my race report is here.  But briefly: Thumbs up for the ease of bag check and the cleanliness of the pre-race port-a-potties.  Thumbs down for the wave start that was semi-secret, for the 10 minutes elapsed between waves, and for the hidden pre-race water, available only at the entrance to the starting corral.  We unintentionally started with the third wave of runners (we didn’t intend to start with any wave, since we didn’t realize it was a wave start).  Due to illness the previous week (KMN) and a naggy plantar fascia the previous month (Holly), we planned to run the race as an easy training run.  Also, this is for Amy at Writing While Running, who requested photos of the shiny, 14-page Race Info Booklet:

Air temperature at the start was 27°C / 81°F, and humidity was over 90%.  For anyone who’s counting, that’s a heat index of 31°C / 88°F.  At the start. In the dark.  This isn’t out of character for Singapore, but it’s still hot.  It feels even hotter when you’re smushed onto a course with 9,000+ of your new best running friends.  [So don’t ever travel to Singapore to PR a race, OK?  But, ummm…you should still travel to Singapore!  And email me, so I know you’re coming.  I will take you to eat good food. I promise.]

But all that aside, at about 5:52 AM, we began our run!  The very first stretch of the race was along part of the Formula 1 (race car) track.  This was kind of cool, except that the the sides of the road had some special, extra-heavy-duty F1 rumble strips, presumably to alert the extra-heavy-duty (and fast) F1 cars if they were veering off the road.  As our wave of runners crossed the Start line an expanded (running-runners take up more space than standing-at-the-starting-line runners), I found myself running on these rumble strips.

Unfortunately, they were not very runnable rumble strips.  Imagine running along a sidewalk of poured concrete rectangles (like, a regular sidewalk).  Now, take one corner of each rectangle and sink it about 20 cm / 8 inches into the ground.  When you do this, the opposite corner will lift about the same amount.  Imagine yourself suddenly running along this crazy uneven surface pressed together with lots of other runners about 15 seconds after starting a race.  Whoa.  Instability city.  On the plus side (?), I experienced a nice little adrenaline surge.

Minor Issue #1: Dangerous footing right out of the gate.  Organizers, our runner-ankles would have appreciated it if you had extended the gate from the starting corral right along this section of the road, to keep people off this uneven surface.  Just a thought…

I made my way onto a better surface, pronto.  The course was full, and the first mile included some tight turns.  After that, though, things were a straight shot on Nicoll Highway for a mile or two.  We had (just) enough room to run, and did some early dodging and weaving to pass people.  We also jumped onto the median for a short section along Nicoll Highway, just to pass some slower runners and walkers.  Honestly, on a course with so many runners, there is no good answer for how to get varied speeds to co-exist peacefully.  The slower runners and walkers should stay on the outside (this is what I advise my run/walkers to do); however, the outside is also where the faster runners have the best chance of passing.  There’s no good solution – but we were making our way through all right.

Mile 1: 10:27 min/mi  (Twisty, turny, crowded)
Mile 2:  9:01 (Kind of where we were estimating that we wanted to be)

My first major gripe with the course came at about 2.5 mi/4 km (I wasn’t taking notes, so the miles are all approximate here, folks).  That particular section of road would be run twice by the half-marathoners.  The first time through, we were supposed to turn left to make a loop along the Kallang River.  The second time through, we were supposed to turn right to continue along the course.  To add to the complexity, the 10K runners (who were starting at 6:30) would be running first loop only.  Thus, at the split point, the signs read: “10K TURN LEFT” and “21K SECOND LOOP TURN RIGHT”.  This is confusing to explain, so I made you a little cartoon to help illustrate:

One sign is conspicuously missing...

One sign is conspicuously missing…

There was not a single sign (that we saw) indicating what “21K FIRST LOOP” should do.  Not one.  [Fellow runners: Please correct us if we missed something.  But both KMN and I were looking hard, both times through – and that’s four eyes plus two contact lenses.]  

The volunteers along the course at that point were stuck standing in the middle of the road trying to shout these directions at the top of their lungs to a sea of racing, confused runners streaming past.  Designing this kind of double-loop course was asking for confusion.  Designing it, and then marking it poorly was just plain irresponsible.

Yellow Dots = Volunteers in the line of...running?  Brave souls, they were!

Yellow Dots = Volunteers in the line of…running? Brave souls, they were!

Yes, the course route was shown in the shiny race pamphlet (see above)  But I still believe that it is a race’s responsibility to have a clearly labeled course, period.  Runners get stupid when they’re racing (myself included).  Signage needs to be clear, easy to read, and obvious – with volunteers acting as a supplement to (not replacement for) good signs.

And so, Minor Issue #2: Course Planning: a non-looping course would have been easier to follow, although I do understand that other constraints may have made that impossible.  Which brings me to Serious Issue #1: Poor Signage: if you have to loop, at least make the loops easy for runners to follow.

Post-race reports from other runners indicate that several participants did get confused along this section: Several skipped the first loop entirely (resulting in a 16K run), and others ran the first loop twice (resulting in a 26 K run).

Thankfully, we managed to follow the course properly, and turned left into the first loop, down partially closed roads.  This wasn’t exactly scenic, but there were at least plenty of safety barriers between us and oncoming traffic, so at least it felt safe.

Mile 3:  9:40 min/mi

Then, we turned onto a little path along the Kallang River.  There was a flight of about 10-15 stairs leading down to the river, which definitely caused a back-up and a break in the running flow.  Once we got down to the river path (which was nicely paved), it was pitch black.  The time wasn’t even 6:30 AM.  In Singapore, it is still thoroughly dark at this time.  And while there was a path, it really wasn’t wide enough for all the runners.  Several times, I found myself running (scared) in the grass next to the path, unable to see what was ahead, and hoping there weren’t any holes, ditches, or snakes.

What’s worse is that there actually were street lights along the path – they simply weren’t turned on.  I don’t know who was at fault for this, but Serious Issue #2: DARK RIVER PATH.  Very, very not OK.

Mile 4: 10:27 min/mi (Stairs & dark path slowdown)

We emerged, ankles intact, and continued back around to Nicoll Highway for our “second loop”.   This was about when I broke out my first fuel.  I ate half a pack of Sports Beans at mile 4.X, and they were disgustingly sticky and gross, as they tend to get around here.  But, I gobbled them anyway, knowing that both the sugar and electrolytes were important.  Obviously, this necessitated the guzzling of water, and I realized I’d pretty much emptied my bottle.

We had skipped the first four hydration stations, but it was time to brave the crowds.  We cruised into the next hydration station and I quickly refilled my bottle with a few cups of water.  I wanted to ask a volunteer to refill from his larger water bottle (rather than dumping perfectly good cups), but the volunteers were so busy, frantically filling cups, that I didn’t want to disturb them.  I didn’t realize the extent of the challenge they were facing until later, though – so we’ll come back to this point.

And did I mention that this water stop was right before the road split described above?  Well, it was.  However, hydration was available on just one side of the road.

2XU Course Split Water Stop

This meant that if you were on the first loop of the 21K and wanted water, you had to cross into the path of the second loopers, then make your way back to the left before the split.  We avoided this by skipping the station the first time around.  Thank you, handheld bottles!  But really, this weirdness was easily preventable.

Minor Issue #3: Hydration station traffic flow.  I know space was tight, but maybe it would have been possible to tuck a water table on the other side of the road, too?  Or at least put this one in the middle, so runners on both sides could access it more easily?

We continued along, feeling the heat and humidity, and enjoying the moments when the crowd magically thinned and we could feel a slight fresh breeze.  I was taking in a lot of water – I remain completely amazed at how much water my stomach can handle in Singapore.  In the US, I was a one-sip-every-10-minutes girl, but that definitely won’t cut it out here.  Here, I can easily take a few long swallows every 5-10 minutes without much negative stomach impact (at least at training pace), and as we headed into the latter two-thirds of the race, my drinking picked up considerably.

Sometime between miles 5 and 6 (~km 9), we crossed the Geylang River.  There were a few steps up, a narrow bridge (there may have been some construction going on, but I couldn’t really tell – just a lot of barriers and a really narrow walkway), and a few steps down.  Basically, everything slowed to a walk (again).  

Mile 5: 10:05 min/mi
Mile 6: 10:50 (Walking the bridge crossing)

We continued along the east side of the Geylang River, past some HDB estates and condos.  Unfortunately, the path here really was not built to accommodate so many runners.  It could comfortably accommodate about 2 abreast, but the number and density of runners really required at least 4 people abreast.  Again, we took to the grass (sorry, grass!) for a more open path.  At the half-way point (6.5 miles/10.5 km), we each took a salt tab.  While I think this was important for replacing electrolytes on such a long, sweaty run – the dang thing made me unquenchably thirsty for the remainder of the race.

We stopped at the next hydration station to refill our bottles again, and for the first time I realized how bad the water situation was.  The hydration stops were offering both Pocari Sweat and water.  But by the time we came through the course, the volunteers could hardly keep up with the demand.  Runners were lining up at the tables (again, only placed on one side of the path), waiting for a volunteer to fill a cup for them.  The pre-filled cups were long gone, and the volunteers definitely couldn’t keep up with demand.  Pocari Sweat was available first, so I snagged a cup and drank it while walking down to the water table.

The situation for water was even worse – volunteers were pouring from 16 oz water bottles into cups.  Basically, they put a few ounces in each cup, and after 2-3 cups, the bottle was empty, and they had to reach for and open another bottle.  I feel a bit embarrassed for the organizers that I have to actually point out: This is a ridiculous way to provide hydration for thousands of runners.

Let me be clear: I am NOT blaming the volunteers.  They were doing their best.  No one could have kept up with demand under those conditions.  I felt a bit guilty waiting for three cups to be poured, then taking them all to refill my bottle – but since I waited my turn, I felt (sort of) justified.  I hoped that the problem was only speed – and that there was enough water for everyone, if they were willing to wait.

Again, some comments I’ve read online since seem to indicate that some of the hydration stops ran out of fluids (one? both? I’m not sure.) for the back-of-the-pack runners.  I also worry that those running for time totally skipped the hydration stops, because they were too chaotic and full.  This might sometimes be OK, but again – in the Singaporean heat, this is a recipe for heat-related-illnesses.  NOT EVER OK.  

So here we have Serious Issue #3: Hydration has to be easy.  Volunteers MUST be able to provide enough fluid to the runners, fast enough (especially in a place where the heat index regularly hits 90-100°F).

Mile 7: 10:45 min/mi (Water)
Mile 8:  9:44 (No water)
Mile 9: 10:50 (Water)

I ate the rest of my Sports Beans, and we stopped for water again between miles 8 and 9, and repeated the process: Nudge our way into the table, grab a cup of Pocario Sweat to drink, wait for water, refill bottles, toss the cups, and keep moving.  Looking at the data now, it looks like each of our hydration stops cost us about a minute.  I thought we were faster than that, but maybe not.  Also, by the time we came through the course, discarded cups and bottles (that’s a LOT of 16 oz bottles) littered the path and clogged the areas next to the table, further hampering traffic flow.  I decided that this was my last water stop – with 1.5 liters of water already in my system, I could definitely finish the last 4 miles with one 500 ml bottle.

This was also the point at which KMN and I separated.  He really needed to use the restroom (“At least I’m hydrated!” he quips), and decided to wait on line.  Ah – did I neglect to mention that each hydration stop had exactly ONE port-a-potty?  ONE.  Every stop we passed had a line of 5-6 participants waiting to use it.  There were nearly 9,000 runners in the 21K, and 11 or 12 hydration stops.  Minor Issue #4: One bathroom per water stop isn’t enough, either, except maybe at the very beginning, or the very end.

I don’t mind adjusting my pace so KMN and I can run together, but I wasn’t going to hop around waiting for him (and the six people ahead of him) to pee, so I took off on my own (with his blessing).  I was very familiar with what was left of the course – it was essentially what I’d run for both the URun 2013 Challenge and the Venus Run.  We ran through the East Bay, across the dam, and past Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay.  We did an “out and back” along Marina Bay/Kallang River that was much longer than what was shown on the map (ooops?), and looped up to cross the mixed-us bridge across the Kallang River.

Strangely, I was thankful for the slight incline over the bridge, if only as a break from the monotony of 11 flat, flat miles.  I distracted myself by encouraging whoever I was running near, as we ran up and over the bridge, then flew down the other side.  I got some strange looks, but it’s all good.  I’d lost my running partner, I wasn’t in a racing zone, and I was bored.  And thirsty.  And hot.  Distraction was welcome.

Mile 10: 9:47 min/mi
Mile 11: 9:17
Mile 12: 9:04

See? Even my paces suggest that I was ready for the whole thing to be over.  We passed the 20K sign, and I promised myself “just 2.5 laps around the track!”.  But I should know better than to trust on-course markings, especially when my Garmin read just 12 miles.  Whoops!  Minor Issue #5: Can we please get the distance markers in the right place? Please???

We proceeded to run the longest-feeling “out” section of an “out and back” that I have ever run.  The “out” section was directly next to the finish line, so we essentially ran past the finish line, and continued away from the finish line, for almost half a mile, before a hairpin turn that redirected us toward the finish line.  This whole section was sunny, hot, and felt interminable.  I understand that they were trying to eek 13.1 miles out of the course, but DANG!, that was a brutal way to finish.

Furthermore, as we turned toward the finish line, we could see, and eventually ran past, the “Start” arch, which actually said “Finish” on the reverse side (which is the side that was facing us).  Only, for this race, the Start and Finish were in slightly different places.  The real Finish line was still a few hundred yards ahead.  Yes, this is a small point, but at the end of a race, the last thing you want to do is fixate on something that says “Finish”, only to realize that it isn’t, really, the actual finish.  But finally – finally – I crossed that finish line.

Final 0.94 Miles: 8:24 min/mi
TOTAL TIME: 2:07:51  [My Official Net Time was listed as 2:07:52 – Garmin and I are GOOD!]
[Garmin measured the course as 12.94 miles.  Another inaccurate course measurement for Singapore. Stellar.  Forget science, I’m gonna start a certifying body for Singapore run courses. Geesh.]

I took my Finisher’s Medal and Shirt, and the ice-water-soaked-towel they provided (best swag EVER), then set out to look for water.

Cue: *HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!*  That’s what you thought you were going to do, Holly.

The moment I left the Finishing Chute, there were people.  People, all over.  People, sitting on the ground, two steps away from the chute.  People, people, people.  Serious Issue #4: Put the Finish line festivities where there is sufficient space, and encourage crowd flow in that direction.  All this congregating and sitting literally AT the finish line is annoying, and could be dangerous – What if there were a medical emergency?  How would personnel and supplies get through easily?

I wove my way through the crowd, and found the Non-Alcoholic Beer Tent  [Seriously?  Beer, at 8 AM?  Non-alcoholic beer, at 8 AM? Ugh.]  But…no water.  Finally, I pushed my way into the finish chute for the 5K/10K races, and grabbed two cups of water from a table there.  I made my way back to the 21K Finish (hopping over people the whole way) to wait for KMN. He finished a few minutes later, and we *both* set out to look for some water.  We found one table giving out 1/3 full cups of either water or Pocari Sweat (I can’t remember), so we took two each and walked out of the finishing area to find a quieter, out-of-the-way spot to sit.

That towel? That towel was heavenly, I tell you....

That towel? That towel was heavenly, I tell you….

We stretched, sweated, chatted, sweated, got temporary tattoos, and sweated.  [So sorry for the Singapore Cancer Society volunteers who were tasked with walking around and applying ‘Daffodil Days’ temporary tattoos to sweaty runners.  You guys totally drew the short straw on the volunteer gig.]  KMN went to look for bottles of water.  No luck.  He returned with a few cups of water and Pocari.  I downed mine, but was still thirsty.  Organizers, let’s revisit Serious Issue #3: Hydration has to be easy.  If you are putting together a race – especially a long event, and double-especially in a hot climate, there has to be lots of fluid, easily available to the runners.  This is non-negotiable, in my estimation.

While KMN was off on a hydration-hunt, I realized that my left “pointer finger” toe was really hurting, from rubbing against my big toe.  I’ve been running in Singapore for 6 months now, and my body is still finding new places to chafe.  Sunday’s additions include the aforementioned toe, the spot where the drawstring on my capris hit my abdomen, and the backs of my knees. Yes folks, the backs of my knees.  It’s amazing.

Post-run chillin'

Post-run chillin’. Or sweatin’. Whatever.

After cooling off continuing to sweat for about 15 minutes, we decided it was time to move on: We needed more hydration than a few sips of water, and clearly we weren’t going to find it at the finish line carnival.

My sweat-spot.

My sweat-spot.

We collected our bags (very smooth!) and headed to the subway station.  We were planning to pop over to a nearby branch of our gym to get some water and clean ourselves up – after all, it was Easter Sunday!

My overall impressions of the race? If you didn’t catch it already, I wasn’t such a fan of this race.  The route was average, and the loops/out-and-backs were annoying (especially the last one!).  Despite the apparent pre-race organization (registration, packet pick-up, etc), there were some serious planning mistakes: missing info about the start, bad course marking, routing through some runner-unfriendly spots (rumble strips, stairs, narrow bridges), and most of all – unsafe practices.  For me, that last one is a deal-breaker.  Race safety is a priority: for my sake, but even more so for my fellow runners (especially the inexperienced ones).  Routing onto a dark path, inability to provide fluids quickly at Hydration Stations and the Finish line, and unsafe congestion in the Finish are all pretty much inexcusable.  2XU, I won’t be back next year.  Thanks, but no thanks. 

For me personally, the race got the job done as a long run.  But I probably would have been happier to keep the $52 SGD/$42 USD in my pocket, and go on my own run.  However, I should note that the race package was pretty generous:

Finisher's tee (left) and Race kit (right), plus Finisher's medal and 2XU compression shorts (we paid extra for the shorts, but still about half of their retail price).

Finisher’s tee (left) and Race kit (right), plus Finisher’s medal and 2XU compression shorts (we paid extra for the shorts, but still about half of their retail price).

How was the workout itself?  Well, our pace was definitely slow (9:54 min/mi average over the whole distance).  But for what we wanted to accomplish on Sunday, this was just fine with me.  And, despite what the splits say, I think we actually ran a pretty steady pace for the first 9 miles (somewhere around 9:45-10:00 min/mi), when we were actually running.  Water stops and walking sections obviously slowed us down at some points.  And I definitely sped up after Mile 9.  Guilty!

The day was hot, and I drank about 2L of water on the course – and I was still thirsty for at least half the race!  I think the salt tabs may have been at fault there, but as the day continued, I seemed to recover pretty well, without any dehydration symptoms – so I think my hydration and electrolytes were actually pretty good.  As far as fuel goes, one bag of Sports Beans is a bit on the low side, fuel-wise, but since we were taking things easy, it worked out fine.  But although this strategy was fine for a slow, easy pace, this race does make me worry a bit about how my body will handle that much water when I’m running a faster pace.  But that will be a different experiment for another race.  Sundown Half-Marathon, perhaps?

Also? Final standing based on Net Time (ie, adjusted for start time): 176/2093.  I’m guessing that 2093 is “Open Female”, but that actually isn’t specified (so helpful, results page!). Can’t really complain about that.  Again – I might actually be dangerous, if I were racing.  😉

*Whew!* I think the report took as long to write as the race did to run.  I’ve gotta get faster at this! But for now…it’s Friday afternoon, and I’m heading out for a run. Cheers!

Runners: Any tips for handling crowded water stops? 

Anyone/Everyone: What’s your favorite piece of hot-weather-apparel/gear (running or otherwise)?