Friday, December 12, 2008

Finding the marathoner in me through another marathon

Behind every runner, there's a race. Behind every race, there's a lesson to be learned. And behind that lesson, there's always a story. Here's mine from the recent Maratona de Macau.

Regardless of one's ability, 26.6 miles or 42.195km is a long way to run. Heck, it's a long way to drive! And like any challenge of this magnitude, a full marathon takes a lot of preparation in terms of training. And this time, I was least prepared.
Having not run a full marathon for 6 years now, I decided to make a comeback. Don't ask me why - I don't know and still don't.

My husband always tells me that my body is designed to long distance running, simply because of my high endurance level, my threshold for pain and a strong mental tenacity. Therefore, I will do well. I have no doubts about my potential until...a month prior to the race, I succumbed to a lower tension inguinal ligament strain and back pain. Therefore, preparation for this marathon is minimal (with the furthest mileage of 27km, that was also because I got lost in the woods in Christmas Island!) Since I've registered for the marathon, I just have to try. But the Macau Marathon is not a good choice for the injured as the course is fast and qualifying time is a short 5 hours; not a second more.

As a matter of fact, with my condition I wasn't even looking forward to run any races. I had been to Hong Kong many times but not Macau. It has never been my holiday destination. So, there!

Upon arrival, we were experiencing temperatures of 16C and because of the strong wind, we felt so cold. After checking into Grandview Hotel, John and I headed straight to Taipa Stadium to collect our race kits. As it was late evening, the Stadium seemed somewhat isolated and solemn. After that, we took a stroll around the hotel's vicinity and had dinner. The hotel is located about 5 mins walk to Taipa Stadium where the marathon would start and finish, and 20 mins walk to The Venetian. There's a bus-stop right in front of Grandview which made travelling in Macau extremely convenient for us. The next day, we hopped onto Bus No 33 and spent the whole day sight-seeing and toured Macau's famous sites eg. Ruins of St Paul's, Monte Fortress, Cathedrals etc.
We savoured the tasty Portugese Tarts, the famous Almond Cookies and had Portugese meals. There were a lot of merriment happening at the Senado Square as the Christmas spirit filled the air!

I guess that atmosphere was just right for John as he would be wearing his Santa's cap again during the marathon. It would be his second time being a Santa running a marathon. His first was at Chiangmai 2 years ago where he achieved his personal best time of 3hr 33mins.

7th. Dec was a day of many events and happenings for athletes. Many of our running friends were at Singapore for the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon, a few ran Angkor Wat Half Marathon in Cambodia, others (Carmen & Team Tri-Hard) went to Phuket to participate in the Triathlon and while we thought we were the only ones running the Macau Marathon, we were surprised and joyous when we met fellow Pacesetters members there. There were Daniel Tan, Terence Chau, Crystal Foong and 17 of the Pacesetters Kuantan group. Except for Terence, John and I, the rest ran the Half Marathon.
Having ran in colder climate before, that morning temperature of 12 degrees celsius was about right for me. We were to start and finish inside the stadium. My nostrils quivered at the heady scent of Deep Heat as I exchanged pleasantries with my fellow M'sian runners. I observed around me that the other runners were filled with excitement of their race journey. I realised almost immediately that I was not sharing their enthusiasm. The morning message was clear, even if the sky was not: this was not going to be an easy marathon (at least not for me!). Ahead of us, lay 42km...

I had only one abiding thought - save energy. All endurance races are more about energy management than about speed and this would be especially true of the 42km. There were such a huge crowd, I hardly noticed the starting gun. Before I knew it, I was walking with the crowd, then striding, then jogging towards the start and once we managed to get out of the Stadium's tunnel everyone ran, each on their own pace. Aware of my injury, I reminded myself to run very conservatively so that I do not aggrevate it or trigger a pain too soon. I just needed to find my own pace, a rhythm that worked for me so that I could complete the marathon within the qualifying time.

Everything went well until I reached the 25km mark or so, the chronic injury to my left hip and back were painful enough to remind me that I needed to slow down even though I was already very slow. Later, I stopped at a First Aid station requesting for a panadol. They went all over searching for it and in the end, found none. Disappointed, I had no choice but to move on. Honestly, after 28km - the remaining kms were all a test of mental strength. 'Soul over Mind over Body'...why do I have to punish my poor body to go through this agony? Ha... the truth is during my entire running life, I've never considered myself a marathoner although I've completed several. I am just a runner, so I told myself. And I'll just keep running.

Then somewhere around my 35km mark, I thought I stumbled upon a small miracle. Instead of hitting the wall, I found myself counting down the last few kms...reciting my own poems and songs. I was running at my absolute limit that I've forgotten about the pain although I knew it was there. As the kms passed, I discovered that there was no small miracle - it was just Me.

I was quite relieved when I saw the distance marker at 38km. At this point, my confidence soared...I passed more than one runner who has left his sprightly legs behind and ran side by side with a weary Irish guy. His body language signalled to me that we should stick to the pace and run together for the remaining 3km. We did just that and trotted towards the sign which wrote Estadio de Macau. As we entered into the stadium, I heard the voice of Whitney Houston's "One Moment In Time". A warm feeling of happiness and euphoria swept through me and I did my final swing straight to the finishing line, wondering about my time..
Time? Sometimes, the watch is the real distraction (wondered why I wore one?). 4hours 21mins be respected. I received my hard earned medal, a finisher tee, bath towel from the Event organizers and then, a hug, a kiss and a pat on the back from John who was there to welcome me.
John did very well and clocked his second best time of 3hours 38mins. Yes, he wore his Santa's cap and had the crowd cheering him along the way, "Go! Santa, Go!". Indeed, he jingled all the way.

Upon completion, the feeling is still good as all athletes would know. I was completely exhausted or perhaps about to collapse to sleep, yet still have the strength to smile and beam proudly and bend down to unlace the shoes and remove the chip even though my legs were stiff with lactic acid.

At the finishing site, I paused and looked around me and saw that not was I amongst a group of marathoners, but I was actually one of them. Whether I clocked a sub 4 or sub 5 - I am not just a runner, I am a marathoner. After so many years of running, I finally realized that "being real" is simply a matter of looking inside myself and finding myself waiting there.


cRAzYtoMatOmaN-D said...

You've made a great comeback and found yourself...a marathoner!
Congrats congrats!

The Runner, Dreamer, Observer, Seeker said...

Thanks, Tomato! Wish I could do better, but then...? Well!
Hope you are having a good time in Kuching. Merry X'mas!