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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nathan Singapore City Race 2014

Last year was the first time I took part in this race. And I enjoyed it a lot despite that being one of the longest race I did. So when this year edition came back with a new apparel sponsor, I roped together last year kakis and signed up for it. The goal was to emulate or even better last year's feat when we covered the race in 38 km 2 km short of the actual distance of 40 km.

So on Sunday morning, together with 2 new team mates and an original member who "bandit" for the fun of it, we found ourselves at the start line at Marina Barrage. 
That us. Forest 6 + 1
The format of the race was similar to last year i.e run either as a solo participant or in a team of up to 6 members. There were 4 categories to choose from - mini, short, mid and long. Each categories has 5 checkpoints except for the long distance which has 6. Of course, we being "itchy backside" has to go for the long distance which has 6 checkpoints and a total distance of 45 km provided the runner run correctly.  For us our goal was to see whether we can take "shortcuts" and this is one race where shortcuts are allowed! In fact the more the merrier.

We started late and so consequently got the map late. They only give us the map when all the members of the team are in the start chute and so 10 minutes after everybody else in our category had gone off, we got our map and we let out a collective groan. The furthest checkpoint was Old Ford Factory way up in Upper Bukit Timah Road. And there were 2 checkpoints which was neither here nor there. For me, the ideal route would be something that can be done in a loop like last year but this year route was different. On the map although it was obviously longer, there was less trail. The dilemma was which checkpoint to go in which sequence so that we don't run further than necessary.

The obvious choice was to go to the nearest checkpoint which happens to be Sultan Mosque and just a stone throw away. We start off at a nice easy pace down Garden by the Bay, cross the Helix Bridge, Rochor Road, Beach Road and 3 km later, we found ourselves in front of the beautiful Sultan Mosque, our first checkpoint!
Sultan Mosque. 
From here, we had a difficult choice to make. The next nearest check point was CP 6 at Shaw House in Orchard Rd. But that was going to be open only at 9 am and we were still early. If we go straight there, we will be too early. However, the other nearer checkpoint was  CP 10 at Alexandra Road. It doesn't make sense for us to go there first and then turn back to Orchard Rd. That would be going on a mini loop - a waste of energy. The other alternative was to go to CP 10, then to CP 8, 9 before going to CP 11, the Old Ford Factory and finally coming back to CP 6. The problem with this option was that we will have to climb Pepys Hill which was not something that I want to do and then we still have to run back from Bukit Timah to Orchard in the afternoon heat. In the end after some hesitation, we decided to go ahead to Shaw House and if we are early, we could grab something to eat while waiting for the CP to open. 

We ran along North Bridge Rd, Bra Basah Rd, Orchard Rd and along the way, took a lot of photos. Still we reach Shaw House well ahead of 9 am and so we sat outside Isetan to wait.
At Shaw House with a volunteer who accompanied us all the way from Dhoby Ghaut to Shaw House
From here, after another lengthy discussion, we made the decision to go straight to CP 11. The rationale was this was the shortest route there from whichever CP and this was also the most "hot" stretch and we should get it out of the way first. So in a repeat of last year's run, we ran from Orchard Rd to Tanglin Rd, Nassim Rd, Evans Road, Bukit Timah Rd, Jalan Anak Bukit and finally Upper Bukit Timah Road. We skipped the Green Corridor which was a good decision as there were big trees along the stretch of road outside the condominiums along Upper Bukit Timah Rd and those provided much welcomed shade from the by now blazing hot sun.
At Old Ford Factory
So far we have covered 19 km in a super slow time of over 3 hours. 3 checkpoints completed and half way done. We walked a fair bit, stopped to buy drinks, take pictures and enjoy the scenery. The return journey was a fairly straight forward route. Go back via the Green Corridor, exit Queensway - CP 10 then CP 9 then 9 and back to finish line. Should be a piece of cake. But we forgot the sun had melted the cake and there was no cake = no energy. It was a hot hot trudge down the freaking never ending former railway track with the sun blazing down mercilessly on us. Unlike last year, we met very few runners. Most of them were going towards Bukit Timah which means they have to tackle Bukit Timah Road later.  We walked a lot along this stretch. Of course, we also took a fair bit of photos:)
Doing this 10 km stretch took us 2 hours!
Finally after 2 hours of sauna, we exit the freaking railway track. Never mind that this was the only trail we were covering this year. A short run down Alexandra Road and we were at the Harley Davidson showroom, which was CP 10! Bladdy hell, the checkpoint has no isotonic drink. Only water. Thank goodness the water was cold. But the bestest was the aircondition inside the showroom.

The air con was so shiok that we spent easily half an hour there. The ladies of course were imagining that they were riding the big Harleys with some hunk whilst the guys were wishing... Oh well, never mind what we wished for! But all good things must come to an end and finally after a long long time, we finally dragged ourselves away to continue our journey. 

But we are smart people and just a stone throw away was this awesome place!
Hell yes, after an half hour break at Harley Davidson, and now barely 1 km later, we took another break - at the famous Alexandra Village Food Centre. We had sugar cane, soursoup, lemonade but no avocado and we were buying from the stall that made the Avocado shake famous! What goodnus!. We took another super long break here. Consequently, for the last 7 km, we took more than 1 and a half hour! Super super slow and super super slack! But what the hell, despite the heat, I think everybody was still having fun.

After we finally dragged our butt away from the stools at the food centre, we made our way to the Hort Park for what else but another 10 minutes break! This time it was a toilet break. Ha ha. The break was also to prepare us mentally for the short climb to Kent Ridge Park
"Climbing the slope of Kent Ridge"
Ok it wasn't much of a slope or a climb but when one is hot and tired, any teeny weeny slope is a hill! But fortunately for us, because we know the area here well, we were able to go straight to CP 9 Reflections at Bukit Chandu which is a war museum by the way and not the Reflections at Keppel! I think we would have love to go inside to enjoy the air con look at the exhibits but we were kinda running out of time. So after just a water and of course photo break, we were off to the last checkpoint.

CP 8 is at Labrador Park. By now I was hoping they make things easy for us and have the checkpoint at the MRT station entrance but sianz, no such luck, it was all the way in at the seaside. And of course to make thing worse, we went to the wrong side and that cost us another 500 metres :( On the way in, we had seen people making their way out so either they were going to CP 9 in which case they were going to be very late back or they didn't know the way well. We smart guys took the scenic route via the park connector.
The view from the Labrador Park
By now it was already after 3 pm. We have been out for more than 7 hours and although we have completed all the checkpoints and were on the home stretch, it was still a long long stretch back to Marina Barrage. And this time there was no respite from the sun. We were reduced to walking almost the entire stretch of  7 km along hot noisy dusty Keppel Road and then down hot quiet Robinson Rd. And of course, the ladies must still have their photos and the air con break at MBS no less!
Outside Harbourfront Centre
And after 8 hours 40 minutes, we jogged past the finish line at Marina Barrage! One of the longest timed run and distance I ever undertaken. We didn't managed to reduce the distance either. Our watches shows various distances ranging from 41 km (mine) to 47 km (sidekick). Brokie's watch was 45.2 km. I think the problem was the many buildings that we went into. So I think we shall take the middle distance which is 45.2 km which means we were spot on on the route! I think a lot of people took much longer distance.
Our finishing run (picture from Finisherpix)
And despite taking 8 hours 41 minutes, we place 15 out of 33 teams. Not bad eh? Frankly, I think if we had not stopped to cool ourselves down so often, we would probably have shaved off at least 2 hours. But timing or how far we ran was never an issue here. We were not doing this to win or race against the clock. If we had pushed ourselves hard, we would not be able to enjoy the race. There will be no photos, no water break at Alexandra Village, no imaginary ride on a Harley and no fun. We were there to have fun and despite the heat, the cramp, the cursing and swearing, I think we did managed to have fun. A lot of it. Although I will think twice about signing up next year unless.....

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Natthan Mercury 3 Hydration Belt

Sometime ago I was in the market for a hydration belt. I used to have one many years ago. It serves for well initially but when I stopped doing long road runs, it went into cold storage. Last year I took it out again when the sidekick was training for the Sundown Marathon and I was accompanying her in the long runs. But I had lost too much weight between the last time I used it and it was too loose. The Velcro belt could not be tighten further and as a result, the bottles were bouncing all over. In a fit of frustration, I dumped the belt into the nearest dustbin I came across after trying to adjust it for a proper fit.

When I found out I was going to do Tokyo, I decided I need a new belt. The hunt for the belt was fairly interesting. My main consideration was it must be a proper fit, do not bounce and cost as cheap as possible. A good friend asked me why I needed one? He knew I had a hydration bag so theoretically I could use that for my long runs. I said I don't like to carry a hydration bag especially in the hot sun on the road. He said there isn't even a need for a hydration bag  if I was doing road run. There are always convenience stores, toilets and drinking fountains available all over Singapore and especially in the East where I intend to do most of my long runs. So no need. But I beg to differ.

A belt is more versatile compared to a bag. Depending on the number of bottles, I can fill the with different sort of drinks. Beside it is much lighter than a bag and in a road run, I don't need all the extra weight since I need to carry much lesser items. In my trail runs, 2 very essential items that are in the bag are my phone and a simple set of first aid kits. Beside that, I also carry gels and of course 1.5ltr of water. For road runs, I only carry gels and water and some cash and a transit link card. So why would I want to burden myself with a heavy back pack?

In the local market, there are basically only 2 big players in the hydration belt market - Nathan and Fuelbelt. There wasn't much to choose from between this 2 since they are more or less similar so it boil own to cost. After looking at various models, I finally settled on the Nathan Mercury 3. Why? Because it was on sale at the SCMS Race Expo.

The Mercury 3 comes with 3 300ml water bottle and a stretch mesh pocket which it claims can fit an iphone. According to the product material, it is also suppose to be bounce-free with ultra soft binding that prevents chafing. 

My previous belt was a 4 bottle belt but I think 3 bottles is more than enough. Beside, I can always replenish along the way thus reducing the weight I have to carry. In my runs, I usually fill 1 bottle with plain water and 2 bottles with a mixture of electrolyte, juice with chia seed and when that run out, with isotonic drinks from the stalls. The bottles does not bounce initially but interestingly, after it is empty and I replenish them, they starts to bounce. I am not too sure why that is so though. 

One of the main reason I choose this model other than the price was the belt clip. The previous belt I had was Velcro and after some time, the belt tends to slip and become loose and one had to keep readjusting it to keep it tight. This belt is the clip on type and the extra length of belting are held securely at the side in a tight loop. Once I had adjusted the belt to the correct fit, the belt sits very snugly on my waist and does not move. The only problem I noticed was that I still had to tighten the belt after some time. I am not sure whether it is the result of water loss during the run or the belt getting lose. But there was no need to loosen the roll up belt. Just a quick pull on the loose part of the belt was sufficient to tighten it.

The pocket is supposed to be stretchable and can take in an iphone but I was not able to fit in my Samsung S3 with its cover. I managed to squeeze in keys, 2 packet of gels, some money and a transit link ezy card though. 

My habit when running is to wear the front of the belt below my top and only the 3 bottles at the back is showing. That means that the belt is in direct contact with my body and happily it lives up to the manufacturer's claim of no chafing. 

Overall I am fairly happy with this belt and I think it is a good gear for those who wants to do long road runs Because of its limited carrying ability, it is not suitable for trail runs and long runs where water supply cannot be replenish easily.

No chafing

Limited capacity
Tends to bounce after replenishing
Become loose after a while

Sunday, March 16, 2014

NE Passion Run 2014

I know I said I don't want to sign up for local races but when it is in my own backyard and cost just $20.00, I just couldn't resist. This is what I got for $20.00

But then again after signing up, I had my regrets when I found out the route. Like all races in Singapore nowadays, the race organiser do not reveal the exact route until much later and when I found out that the race route was 2 loops of Pasir Ris Park, I was like, what! I knew the park like the back of my hand, running there at least once a week. And when I found out the race closed within a short period, I was worried how crowded it was going to be and how difficult it was going to run through the crowd on the small park paths. I thought of doing a DNS for this but in the end, decided to just go and treat it like a weekly routine run.

The race was supposed to start in 3 waves - the Men's Open at 7 am, the Men's Veteran and Women's at 7.30 am and the 4km at 8 am. Each loop was 7 km and runners will have to run past the start line. The problem I foresee was that the first wave runners will run smack into the start of the 2nd wave and the 2nd wave into the 3rd. The running would become extremely unpleasant especially for the serious runners trying to do a good race. 

True enough, while we were waiting to flag off at 7.30 am, at about 7.25 am, the first lot of fast runners in the first wave ran past. Then there was a small gap before some more runners went past before we were flagged off. So the rest of the runners in the first wave touching 7 km in around 35 minutes or more would ran into the back of us lot. I wondered how they felt and I wondered how I was going to feel when it came to my turn later.

We started off quite fast.  I wanted to clear the crowd and decided to do a faster pace at the beginning. The sidekick was side by side with me in the first km. I managed to do that, keeping clear of the main pack of runners. The pace was around 5.30 per km and I knew it was not sustainable. Sighed that is really my fast pace! Please don't laugh. Fortunately for us, when we finished the first loop in about 35 minutes, the 4 km had not been flagged off yet and so I had a clear route to run as by now the runners had spread out.  But by 9 km I was struggling to maintain the pace and after stopping for a drink, the pace slowed. The sidekick was still about 500 metres behind me. I waited for her to catch up with me but I think she decided to stay behind me to not pressure herself. Eventually at the 13 km water point, I stopped and waited for her to catch up before we ran back to cross the finish line together.

So I am glad I decided to run this race after all and did not do a DNS. Overall, there was great weather without the haze and sun. I managed to do an average pace of about 5.45 min/km something I have not done for a long long time.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Running in Hakone

We were staying in Hakone and right behind our inn was a beautiful river. Despite the cold, I couldn't resist doing a run so the day after we checked in, I dragged myself up from my cosy Japanese style bed to do a short run along the Hayakawa River.

There were many birds flying in and out looking for fish. The water was very shallow although it changed 2 days later after a downpour. Along the banks are many traditional Japanese houses and rivers. Against it all, is a beautiful hill which I think is a volcano.

The view from the start looking to my left (west)

The view from the start looking to my right (east)

A closer look at the river with its man-made waterfall

Lots of hills 

 Traditional Japanese houses. Most of them are inns

Another part of the river

 Would have love to go hiking if the weather was not so cold here

Very interesting way to overcome shortage of space for car parking

 The Volcano I think

Maybe one day I will return to this place and do some trail running followed by a nice session at an onsen

Sunday, March 09, 2014

International Friendship Run at the Tokyo Marathon

The day before the full marathon, we went for the International Friendship Run at the Big C. The sidekick had signed up for this originally as her consolation "run" after being unable to secure a slot in the race itself.

The Friendship Run is sort of an icebreaker - for runners from all over the world to get to know each other. Unsurprisingly, there were runners from all countries and the countries with the most participants got a mention.

After a long long time watching a performance, listening to speeches and enduring the cold, we were finally flagged off. This was a small little run but the Japanese really know how to do it in style and there was on top of a scenic route, good support and freebies.

Here are some photos of the run.

The Singapore runners representative
Posing for photos with other runners while waiting for flag off
Running at last!
Malaysian I presume? 
Beautiful place to run
Japanese Flyer
Fish runners
Last but not least, no running is allowed on the pavement 
(unlike back home in Singapore where runners are supposed to run on pavement)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Tokyo Marathon 2014

I got a bad memory. I can't remember the last time I did a full marathon and what was my best timing. I know it was about 5 years ago and my pb was about 4 hours 45 minutes. So I went into this marathon with full of trepidation. I think I trained pretty well for this. I think with good weather I may possibly hope to do a sub 4:30. But then the snow storm came and I got worried and the fears and doubts kicked in.

But the weather was amazingly great the morning of the race. It was probably around 7°C - 8°C. Friends who had done this race before warned me to keep warm especially while waiting for the flag off. So I heed their advices and worn a long tight, shorts, long sleeve top, another tee over it and a wind proof jacket. On top of that, I worn a beanie, gloves and took along a thermal blanket. Maybe because I was in Pen H, far behind the start line and there were so many people there that the body heat generated was so great, I didn't really feel the cold. Or it was the tension. In the end, the thermal blanket stayed in the pocket.
The crowd at Pen H
The race was flagged off at 9.10 am sharp after some speech. I could hear the speeches over the loud speakers but I couldn't see the flag off or even hear the horn. It took me almost 12 minutes plus to cross the start line! That was how far behind I was. The sidekick who had managed to secure a last minute bib was in Pen E far far ahead.

Despite the crowd, running was a breeze. There was full road closure throughout. Not like the race in Singapore where typically only 1 direction is close off and this will trickle down to 2 lanes and eventually park connectors. Over in Tokyo, the whole road in both direction was closed and there was plenty of space for the 32000 + runners. I started at what I thought was a good steady pace and was rather surprised when my watch showed my pace was 6:11 at the first km. The fastest I had done in my training was 6.30 pace and even then that was only for 15 km before slowing down. So I was in unknown territory and I keep telling myself to slow down. I was conservatively aiming for a 4 hours 45 minutes finish although if I feel good, I will try for 4:30. At 5 km, it was 31 minutes still too fast for my liking. I was fearful of the unknown. What if I choke after 30 km? But damn, the weather was great and I was perspiring under the tee and the jacket. The beanie had already come off and went into the jacket's pocket. I wanted to take off the jacket as well but it contained the blanket, the beanie, gels, camera and how was I going to carry it with all those stuff?

And I was having a great time. The crowd support was great. There were all sort of performers - traditional Japanese dance, drum performances, modern dances. The people lined the street from start to end giving out all sort of foods. A whole lot of workers from BMW was outside their showroom cheering away too! And the runners! Apart from the conventional running attire, there were many in all sort of costumes.  There was a guy in suit with a brief case, a couple in wedding garb, many fellas with weird head gears, people in all sort of costume including a Chinese Warrior, a robot, cartoon characters..... I took this photo of the Chinese Warrior before the race star. 
Wonder how he going to run 42 km in this outfit?
There was some sort of code requesting runners not to take photos during the run but I couldn't resist when I saw this character! Wow, running 42 km half naked and carrying a cross! 

I was doing great and quite happy. I saw the sidekick on the other side of the road somewhere along the  25 km mark whereas I was still at the 22 km distance. That was how far I was behind her. She looks good and running well and I knew she was going to get a PB. I was still feeling good after the 36 km which was also the longest distance I did for my training.  With another 6 km to go and about 35 minutes to go to hit 4:30, I was cautiously optimistic. But from here on I was on unknown territory. And of course there has to be a twist to it. The routes so far had been flat throughout but now the slopes start appearing. And right at the very first slope, I got a cramp - not on my calf but hamstring! It wasn't that bad but that shook me up a bit and I decided to walk it off.  But the momentum was gone. And I had to resort to a run/walk strategy to complete the last 6 km which took me 52 minutes. Sighed... so no 4:30.

The sidekick had already finished and was waiting for me at the finish line. She clocked a PB by a wide margin. Me - I did get a PB in the end, by a teeny weeny 2 seconds. Lol! 
Can you spot me in this photo? That's gun time by the way
But I had no regrets and no big disappointment. After all, this will probably be the only World Majors that I will ever have a chance to run in. And just being there for the experience would have been worth it.