Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The North Face Hong Kong Race Report : Roy Yeow

"Did-Not-Finish" or DNF happens in races. You may be a good runner, have many races finish under your name, all it takes is one turn of event and your race changes. We have seen it many times, experienced it ourselves - but it takes a lot of courage to call it a day and learn from it. Team athlete Roy Yeow went through this in the TNF Hong Kong race, and this is his story. 
The TNF Hong Kong Race Report, sort of.
Being away from trail running for most of the 2nd half of 2014 to focus on Ironman Langkawi, makes me look forward to this race. With elevation of over 6000 meters, and a cutoff of 27 hrs, it is one of the toughest race in Hong Kong. Having done Vibram HK 100 and TransLantau 100 this year, the thought completing another 100KM in HK is encouraging. However, having heard of the horror story from 2013 where it was pouring cats and dogs, I was cautious of this race and was checking out the weather forecast daily weeks prior to this race.
Bib collection with David Wong from Singapore. 
This will not be the regular race report, as this is probably not a report as I DNF this race. Here's how it goes:

Opting to stay in the city instead of the hostel at the starting point, I arrived at the starting point with plenty of time to spare. With the cold weather, it was a challenge to keep warm. Starting close to the front helps to clear some traffic as the road narrows into single file trail about 800 meters into the race.
However, immediately I can sense that this race will not be my race as the feeling of tiredness 1KM into the race is not normal. The game plan at this point suddenly changed and troubleshooting of what is the condition of the body was working over time. As I continue on, the clumsiness of my steps up the first hill was obvious. With limbs that are not as balanced as regular runners, the immediate step at this point of time is to focus and ensure I get to the next checkpoint in one piece.

Even though I still managed to move at the planned pace, the clumsiness and tiredness lingered on. The troubleshooting so far came to a very simple conclusion - I am not ready and capable to complete this 100KM race. Unlike many runners that runs to fan their ego to the world, the simple acceptance of own condition allows for a simple decision, I will dropped off the race. Knowing there are more torturing hills, the thought of putting myself in danger going through the tougher hills in front is not a wise idea. After all, what is a race when there are more important things in life (and I am not even referring to Facebook updates btw).
With Dr. Wong along the route. Photo courtesy of Dr. Wong Fook Seong and Tan Kim Lai

There are still one issue though. I have left my walking pole at checkpoint 4 which is still a overwhelming 30KM away. Having went through the possibility on the plate, I decided to just walk to that point. The rest of the journey was not without any actions but to spare all from the details, I managed to reach checkpoint 4 with about 2 hrs to spare to cut off.

Met fellow Malaysian there and as he has lost his walking pole at that checkpoint, I offered mine to allow him to move on. What a joy when you stepped back and knows you enabled others to achieve their goal. This is far more meaningful things in life rather than idolising oneself to the world.
Beuatiful landscape
As more Malaysian passed by, I wish them the best and waited for another friend that I know is struggling behind. Again, stepping back and helped others when they are in trouble is as joyful as completing own race. Since this race has an unique feature of allowing 100KM runners to downgrade to 50KM at this point, it was an option for me to get back to the finishing line and get my stuffs. Having said that, a DNF is a DNF, even though I completed the 50KM within the cutoff time and was given an official time and medal. I came to this race with an intention to run 100KM, so anything less than completing a 100KM is a DNF. Yup, not happy to DNF obviously but learning to accept it as it is will allows us to run without the stress and just enjoy the day - race or training.

What I've learnt from this DNF.
This blog entry is all about how to be positive when things are not going the way you want it to be. Looking at the positive in life when other things are not going smoothly. Failure to complete a race does not makes us a failure, failure to accept things as it is is a failure. Challenges like this is what makes running and life interesting. This race has shown many sides of humans - ugly and beautiful included - but guess positivity only comes when you look at the bright  and the good side. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

First date with Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 : Deo Azrul

This is my personal review, and it is from someone who's not fond of minimalist or 0mm drop shoes and who always believe that my previous plantar fasciistis was due to the minimalist shoes that I used from other brand than Skechers during the early days of my running life. Since the days I was plagued with plantar fasciitis, I have been running in shoes with more cushion. My impression on these 0mm drop shoes is always about speed, short distance, racer, podium winner, of which none of the phrases fits me really well. I have always been on the opposite of those phrases. 

Anyway, I got trusted enough by Skechers Malaysia to let me test and review GOmeb Speed 3 before the shoes arrived on Malaysia's shore. After having careful thought about the shoes, especially worrying if I might suffer from the plantar fasciitis problem again, I told myself that I shall try this shoes for my short weekday runs (at the max of 10km) while adding on a little speed. In addition, although it is the speed, fit-for-racing, fly-like-a-bird, and ideal-for-short-distance shoes, the 4mm-drop-but-feels-like-0mm gives me some relieve that I will still get some level of cushioning from the shoes. But before I took the shoes to the street, let me present to you the unboxing part, literally, as the shoes didn't come in box as it was shipped directly from the factory, I was informed. 

The embossed 'Speed 3' word in contrast color.
The GOmeb Speed 3 was first made available to the public at the NYC Marathon in early November although it was first seen worn by Meb Keflezighi en route to winning the Boston Marathon 2014. Aesthetically and technologically, there are few differences and improvements from the previous version of GOmeb Speed. Although I didn't own any of the GOmeb series shoes (and obviously never worn one), I can see stark difference in terms of the construction of the upper as well as the outsole. 
They look a lot different! Speed 3 (above) vs Speed 2 (below)
[photo taken from Sam's Running, People, Places and Things
The upper design is more attractive with nice, contrasting color and design than its elder brother. The printed mesh fabric and synthetic is also thinner and nearly weightless to make the shoes lighter (I guess) and definitely speedier (I reckon). It also promotes breathability and allows quick drying (of sweat and water). If you put up the shoes against the light or the sun, you can see that the upper fabric is transparent, confirming how thin it is. The Skechers' famous S logo is bolder and bigger than in previous version while the word "Speed 3" on the tongue was also reinforced by embossing and rubberized it to make it stand out more. Above all the improvements to the upper, I love two things the most - 1) The 'Chevron'-like design of the midsole (that reminds me of the logo of TMNet, company that I worked before), which gives a fresh breathe and live to the shoes, and 2) the reinforced eyelets, especially the top 2 which spotted contrast color stitching around the eyelets. 
I love the slick and macho look of the shoes; the 'Chevron' design at the midsole makes it looks very speedy!
The reinforced eyelids - making putting on the shoelace something interesting and easier now!
Other significant improvements to GOmeb Speed 3 is the outsole. First is the re-positioning of the circular GOimpulse sensors, which is claimed to give a more responsive running experience. Although the number of the sturdier rubber (colored) sensors remain the same as in GOmed Speed 2, the number of smaller and softer sensors have been reduced significantly and replaced by triangular shape of sensors. The design of the circular sensors have been reinforced which I think should give better traction as well longer life to the outsoles. Another major difference that Skechers promote with the shoes is the black plate in the midfoot, which is the stability plate that is constructed using Dupont Delrin™ material Stability Plate, that is smaller than before, which they said to provide a supportive and secure run with less weights.
They improvement on the outsole. Speed 3 (right) vs Speed 2 (left)
[photo taken from Sam's Running, People, Places and Things
One of the few things that were briefed to me about the shoes was the flexibility where you can twist and bend the shoes, unlike the normally stiff racer shoes. It is proven true when I took the shoes out for my short runs when it feels very responsive to the flex of my feet especially during take-offs. And the cushioning (you're not aware that it even exists in the shoes) makes the shoes really comfortable yet speedy due to its lightweight profile. And when I always feel a certain level of pain after wearing 'thin sole' or 'stiff' shoes (either sports or casual shoes), I don't feel any pain with GOmeb Speed 3. It is very comfortable, especially while running on a rubber track (around KLCC Jogging track) for some speedwork. I couldn't testify for its comfort in a longer runs on tarmac as the longest run longer I've ever done on tarmac was 8km. The other thing that I noticed about this shoe is the roomier toe box for my feet, contrast to other racer shoes.

What I told my friends about GOmeb Speed 3 is that the shoes certainly gives some speed to me due to its lightweight and the ample cushioning for comfortable landing as well as well as the responsiveness for effective takeoff. 

The shoes will be available in Malaysian market in January 2015, and shall be a good choice for those aiming to break the old PBs especially in shorter races ;)

Note: This pair of Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 is sponsored by Skechers Malaysia via collaboration with Team 2ndSkin Asia athletes program. The review above is of my own experience and is not influenced in any ways by Skechers Malaysia or Team 2ndSkin Asia. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Otterbox Salomon Action Asia Trail Run Race Report - Roy Yeow

Remember this race late last month? Yeah, I reckon you all may (if you took part) especially the waist deep mud you have to swim through. Today, we have Roy helping you to relive the dirty moments.
The Otterbox Salomon Action Asia Trail Run Race Report

OtterBox Salomon Action Asia Malaysia on 30 Nov 2014 at Janda Baik was a new race that caught my attention when it was announced. This was simply because Janda Baik is such a beautiful place and it is full of hills.

Starting from Frenz United Football Academy, it was actually quite a nice place for a race. The field and the big hall allows for a great setup of event site, with a great view of the mountains and the cooling midst.
The view of the start gantry
Race started from the field, we turned left into tarred road and then left again into the main road in Janda Baik. About 1KM into the race, we were diverted into the trail. And that's where the fun begins. Although the race is only 18KM, it was not easy. The organizer has ensure that there are plenty of climbs, although mostly not as long as in ultra races, but it does challenge your fitness as runners up their intensity for shorter race. What more with the continuous rain before the event, this race became a real mud-fest.

The elevation chart by the organizer shows what is to be expected for this race, a lot of climbs and before you can take a breather, more climbs appear right in front of you. With the muddy terrain, there is a chance that for every few steps you take, you will slide down one step - taking more effort than you normally do to climb the same hill.

Elevation chart provided by organizer warned what is to be expected

That's it guys, one step at a time to go up this steeeeeepppppp hill
Here is the route of this race from my Garmin watch. The loop looks nice on 2D although if you are running it, the elevation just makes it 100x harder. From the map itself, you can see that there are actually two rivers crossing. With the rain days before, the water level was at knee level and current was strong, making it a bit tad dangerous for those that do not know how to swim. This is one area that I thought the organizer can improve on when it comes to the safety of the participants.
Runners enjoying the cooling water...
Route on Garmin Connect
Apart from dipping yourself in the river, the highlight of the race is definitely dipping oneself in mud (see below). There were horror story of one being stuck in there and no one around to help them, shoe getting lost inside the mud etc. Again, probably would be helpful if the organizer have some volunteers around to help those in trouble, especially since this race was promoted to elderly as well.
This is like a booby trap! One wrong step and you get to do mud facial!
After all the adventure, the race ended on the same field with not much fun-fare. Grab your medal, cert, water and clean yourself up. That's it, if you enjoy the race, see you next year. If adventure is not your game, then avoid this race and stick with road running!
Self service water station - help yourself to the juices!!! 
Beautiful route, if you do not mind the hills
The name of game for trail running - get dirty!
Natural obstacle.... runners helping each other out.
Team 2ndskin - Deo and Roy before the race starts - still fresh and clean. Lucky no photo of us after the race - dirty and smelly........

*Photos credited to Lim Soon Chung, Barkley Wong, Jimmy Aw Yang

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Tip of the month : Lacing System For Narrow Shoes

Jun Shen has too much time to spare and often comes out with tips to share with us. Today, he shares an alternative lacing system to help with some of us bestowed with wider than usual feet. Read on to find out more.
Here comes another tip of the month from me. Normally my write up is pretty random. Whatever problem that I face in my training, I’ll write it in tip of the month once I solved the problem. As for this month, I’m gonna share about lacing system. Some shoes were made to be narrow, but some runners were born with fat wide feet. What if your favourite racing shoes is a little tight at the toe box area, but there’s no wider variants for that particular model? Some runners might try to loosen the lace, but compromise on the fit around ankle area which caused them blisters. Some tried the Locklaces with better flexibility, also hugs the feet more evenly, but you wish the elastic laces don’t hug your wide forefoot so tightly. In every long distance races, shoes fit are extremely important. The feet tend to swell over time, so sometimes comfortable fit might turn into tight fit. By changing the lacing system, you’ll have more control over the shoes fit without spending a single cent.
The Skechers GoMeb Speed2
The conventional lacing system is just like what our parents taught us, criss cross every single hole and finish it with a butterfly knot. This type of lacing method gives an even fit around the feet. Generally, once the shoes is too narrow, people will just ditch it out of their wish list, find another wider model.

Here is the suggested solution. I’m not saying the shoes can magically grow one size bigger. This lacing system loosen the forefoot without compromising on the snug fit around ankle area. It skips the criss cross method for first three holes, start the crossing after the third hole. 
May potential help
The frontal area becomes more spacious allowing the toes to spread comfortably during transition between foot strike and toe off.

Hopefully this tip helps =) Do let me know your feedback

Monday, 1 December 2014

Skechers GoRun Bolt FitKnit Review : TriStupe

A bit delayed with today's post as the team has been busy lately with a few things. We are back again this week and most of you has already read the unboxing of the new GoRun Bolt FitKnit that was shared by Tristupe. Today, we bring you the part 1 of the review. If you have not read it yet, this is a good opportunity to catch up on the latest offering.
Skechers GoRun Bolt FitKnit Review

In the midst of testing the GRB FitKnit after the unboxing and it has been good so far. The GoRunRide3 (GRR3) ride is predictable and did not differ much. The cushioning and road feel were the same for me at least. OK, maybe it is a bit better perhaps because it is new (and hence the bounciness).

My usual size for Skechers is US10 or US11, depending on the cutting as some like GoMeb or Speed is known to have narrow toe box (and for that I went US11). My feet may had grown slightly over the past year and I requested for US11 from Skechers HQ. 10 is ok, but 11 would allow me to test the shoes out with the insole, and perhaps socks. 

This shoe was fitted with socks in the morning and that was a good choice going with the US11. Again, as general rule of thumb, always ensure 1-finger spacing at the back of the shoe between your Achilles and the shoe collar. Bear in mind that when you run downhill, your feet will slide in front and you need those space else you may end up with painful toes, or toe nails that may fall off after a long race. 

First Feel
US11, at first feel, was great. Superb toe room without being overly roomy. Pull up the laces tight and the shoes just wrap up the feet like gloves. And it did felt like "gloves". The claimed seamless construction gave the shoe inner felt like you were wearing a socks (to be describing it correctly as gloves is for hands ;-)). It was tested without the insole placed inside and from experiences with Skechers' shoe, I know I have room to play with the insole. 

The GRB is a 4mm drop shoes, same as the GRR3. For those new to the term, what this really (drop) meant is the differences in height between the front/midsole and the heel height. Traditional running shoes are heavier stacked/height at the back, which lends to the possibility of the heel striking or landing first when you run.

I am running without socks and with the insole as I enjoy the more cushioned feel and to allow for a more accurate representation of how many would use this shoe. 

As the ride, as I mentioned, is same as GRR3, hence this review will try to share as much as I "felt" with the new FitKnit.

Run FitKnit

For this test I looked for the route that has a mix of well paved surface, slippery surface and uneven surface; just to feel if the knitted material effects the lateral movement and support. 
Uneven surface : I started the run on the uneven surface that is the bicycle lanes in Taman Tun. The route has never been re-paved since it was built in the 90's. Roots of trees that lined the main road and non-maintenance created a trip-galore route. Nothing better than this short 500m from the Mosque to the junction of Dato Sulaiman to test quick changes in direction. 

Verdict: Good feel. Minimal lateral movement. Good support on arch. No instances of the shoe sliding under landing. Gets more confident to bounce around after a while. Changes in direction is good with positive grip. Cushioned Resalyte absorb pretty much the loose gravels and root-bumps under the feet upon landing. 
I set my JVC Adixxion XA2 to capture images and video of my run to see what and how the shoe will moves under normal run. Took me a while to capture a good 5 seconds and going through the video yields good images of how the shoe actually moves with my feet as well. The picture on the right shows how the toe area/forefoot were firmly attached to the ground while the metatarsal (top of feet) were free to move without restrictions. What appeared to be the GRB losing shape was actually how the GRB allows the feet to move as naturally as possible.                                                                                                       Paved road: Predictable surface provides an opportunity for speed work. The power transfer were good as I increase the stride.
Verdict: The lateral movement due to the faster stride did not change significantly from the 5:00-5:30 pace I ran earlier. What was evident was the insole sliding a little as I push off more forcefully. This could be because the shoe was still new. 
is that heel striking???
Running In Park
Running in TTDI park provides good mix of elevation. This will allow me to see how the GRB holds up with the uphill push and downhill charge.

Verdict: On the uphill push, the shoe did exhibit slight lateral movement. I must try to tie the laces a bit more snug and verify again. Otherwise, the FitKnit perform as claimed (support and lateral movement).
GoImpulse pods similar to GRR3
Hot upper?
The run were short and did not allow me to check for any potential hotspot (blister forming spot). The fitting and the seamless inner does felt promising for a longer run. The FitKnit did not make the feet felt hotter than the other Skechers that I've worn. 
I've been asked to consider wetting the FitKnit and run with it to test for color run and how well the material expel water. A shoe that is waterlogged is bad and will certainly causes blisters to the feet. I am up for that challenge. 
Hill repeat with GoRun Bolt
From the first two days of using it for an easy review run and the next hill repeat run, the GRB performed as expected. I did hold the feet well, providing support and doesn't lack the lateral support. The shoe is cushy as expected and provide positive traction and feedback. It doesn't sink in as you push off despite the super flexible sole and upper. 

If there is one thing, the color (currently Red/Black or Navy/Grey) may not appeal to those wanting a more colorful pair - but that is not a bad thing either, as there are many out there that love (and long) for a subtle colored pair, that allow them to blend in as a casual wear and takes off the next moment as a performance shoe. 

I will update here again, once I get the chance to wet the shoe, and run in them. Stay tuned!

Note: This pair of Skechers GoRun Bolt FitKnit is sponsored by Skechers Malaysia via collaboration with 2ndSkin Asia Athletes program. Thank you Skechers Malaysia and 2ndSkin! This pair is launched this week (today!). Retailing at RM419 for men and RM399 for women (Semenanjung). RM10-20 more for East Malaysia.

Opinion in this write up is my own and not influenced by Skechers Malaysia or 2ndSkin program.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Garmin 920XT Introduction

Team 2ndSkin has been collaborating with Garmin Malaysia since 2013 and the synergistic relationship has seen selected product testing and reporting back to Garmin for improvement. The news of the soon to be launched Garmin 920XT has pique the interest with one of us to write about it even before the product reaches the market in Malaysia. The excitement to this is obvious. We hope we will get the chance to experience this soon.
The ever reliable Garmin 910XT will soon see a new upgraded version in the much anticipated 920XT. Many of you would know how well the 910XT works for me in my races since owning it the past 2 years. I've written extensively on the 910XT in this blog and the link is available here:

Garmin Forerunner 910xt [Full Review][Quick Release Strap][GPS Signal][Shakedown]

Since the last write up on the 910XT, i've stopped using the QR strap (it broke before my IM 2015) and I had it repaired under extended warranty for rubber housing leakage (at power button). Expected for the wear and tear as I've clocked in no less than 5000km using the 910XT for both training and races. 
The New 920XT
Pic : Garmin Website
With splash of color and an overhauled casing. One look you will realised the fully rubberised casing is now with individual press button ala Fenix and Fenix 2. The next obvious change is color display on the 920XT. It is now thinner compared to 910xt by a good 3mm. Clear reduction in overall size and weight as well - which may appeal to those with smaller wrist. With a tighter package, the display obviously shrunk as well. I rather like the huge face of the 910XT as it allows me to view all 4-metric at one glance. 

Not Just Physical
As the unit is not in Malaysia yet, and there is no clear indication if I will obtain one for testing or will be able to afford one (hey, selling my 910XT seems to be an option???), I ran through the Garmin website and check the features out. 

In the heart of the watch is the GPS function which include GLONASS of the capability to utilise the Russian satellites together with the US (GPS) satellites for a more accurate location and speed of locking. In short, the 920XT has access to 24 GPS satellites and 24 GLONASS satellites! The 

Here is my summary to help you along and decide if the 920XT is worth the upgrade from the 910XT.
Swim Features
No changes to what is already in 910XT.
Bike and Run Features
No changes to what is already in 910XT

On one look, it doesn't seems that there is a major overhaul where the basic swim, bike and run functions resides. That is a good thing as Garmin is not fixing anything that is already working superbly well.

Pic : Garmin Website
As you look at level of features deeper, the addition to the running features are the incorporation of the Garmin 620 I reviewed here that includes VO2max predictor, race predictor, accelerometer for treadmill use etc. In short, the whole "running dynamic" features.

Going one step up, the 920XT even include what the Vivofit could do like steps counting, sleep quality, daily goal settings. 

Then Garmin throw in the battery capability of Fenix/Fenix2 to have the UltraTrac and upped the battery performance of the 920XT to 40hours (Ultratrac) or up to 24hours in "training mode" (which often meant in race mode as well) and 4-months if used just as a watch on a single charge. 

And lastly, to make this "wearable", full watch functions including dual-time, alarm and calendar is included. 

For a full comparison of the 910XT and 920XT, click on the link here and get all nerdy with the features like I just did in this blog entry.

Worth it?
The functionality for multi-sports, with the capability of 620 and Vivofit, throw in the battery life of Fenix2, I can already see many 620 and 910XT being sold as second hand unit when the unit launch in Malaysia. Price wise is unknown at this point, but if the indication on Garmin website is to be consistent after tax, expect the Garmin 920XT to be about RM200 more than the top range (now) Fenix2 or 910XT.

Yes, I am excited.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Deo Osaka Marathon Race Report

Say what you want Deo, we still think you are crazy - in many good (races) way ;-) Now, shall we make this the team's race next year? Deo's Osaka Marathon Race Report.

Crossing the finish line for my 28th full marathon.

My 2ndSkin team mates think I am crazy for racing on back-to-back weekends and I think so, too! but I know there are crazier people out there who have been doing two (sometimes three) races on a same weekend. I just can't help not to do this as there are so many good races in the final quarter of this year! And Osaka Marathon was my third race in three consecutive weekends after KL Marathon and Climbathon Adventure Race. Anyway, Osaka Marathon was something that I have been really looking forward to since early this year. As there will be Awal Muharram and Deepavali holidays, I just need to take three days of my annual leave to spend my time away in Japan for a good one week and to run is Osaka Marathon, the world's 7th largest marathon. It was also my first ever trip to Japan, not counting my transit in Haneda Airport en route to USA to further my study back in 1996. 

While I was the one who mooted the idea for the trip early this year, the other two friends - Azhar and Sabri were the masterminds behind the planning of the itinerary. Actually, we bought the flight ticket during the Air Asia promotion period (I got the return flight ticket for RM896 inclusive of 20kg luggage allowance) even before the ballot for Osaka Marathon opened. We thought if we don't get the ballot, we'll just fly there for vacation. Luckily when the ballot result was announced, all three of us got in and the anticipation for the trip started. Hotel booking was made and we chose Mikado Hotel, for its rate, location and convenience (close to rail network, grocery store). It is a hostel concept with shared shower (very clean and spacious) and sauna, air-conditioned room, common dining area and kitchen with complete facilities and utilities (and free tea/coffee, sugar, salt, oil for cooking), daily change of towel and bath robe, very fast internet/wifi connection that I uploaded my daily trip photos to facebook in a blink of my eyes, friendly staff, private tv in the room. The three-bed room was very good enough for us as we can have the room all to ourselves.

As it was my first time in Japan (as well as Sabri's first time, too) we made full use of the trip by maximizing our time there visiting interesting places in Osaka and nearby cities. Although the rail network was confusing for visitors as there are so many lines with many operators and connecting trains (a lot more complicated than in Singapore and Berlin), we still managed to visit Kobe, Kyoto and Nara, apart from Universal Studios in Osaka itself and other interesting places within Osaka. Among places that we visited:
Kobe: Mt. RokkoTetsujin Statue and Port of Kobe
Kyoto: Arashiyama Bamboo GroveFushimi Inari TaishaKiyozumi-dera and Gion (home to many Geisha houses);
Nara: Nara ParkKasuga Taisha ShrineWakasukayamaTodaiji temple and Kofuku-ji temple.
Among those places we visited:
Top row (from left to right) - Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto; Tetsujin Statue, Kobe; Kofuku-ji Temple, Nara.
Middle row - Kiyozumi-dera, Kyoto; Mt. Rokko (932m), Kobe; Todai-ji Temple, Nara;
Bottom row - Todai-ji Temple, Nara; on top of Wakasukayama (342m), Nara; Glico Marathon Man in Dotonbori, Osaka; Universal Studios Japan, Osaka

Those were on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively. Saturday was about doing a short morning run around the neighborhood before we spent like half a day at the race pack collection and expo site. Sunday was the day, the day we ran Osaka Marathon. Monday was when we spent all day long doing recovery walking and standing (in queues) at the fantastic Universal Studios Japan. And on Tuesday, we visited Kuromon Ichiba Market, the fresh market where you can have great foods like fresh sushi, sashimi and other Japanese delicacies. We also visited some interesting places in Osaka like the happening Dotonbori, as well as had the best tokayaki, inari and moji! I can say that Osaka is a nice big city to spend a laidback time. It is not too crowded, developed but not too modern, communication with the locals can be tricky but you can still get messages across, and best of all... Osaka is dubbed by the locals as 'Kuidaore' - which literally means "to eat oneself bankrupt" as it is a place well known for foods where people eat non-stop! And not surprisingly, there was even a large hall at the end of the Race Expo just for food vendors and it becomes like a very large food court.

The Marathon

Osaka Marathon is just 4 years old. Yet, they have established themselves to be the 7th largest marathon in the world with a total of 27,674 participants. It falls just behind New York City, Chicago, Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo while ahead of Marine Corps in Virgina, Honolulu Hawaii, and Walt Disney World in Florida. I was told that the organizer of Osaka Marathon was the same as Tokyo's and it's not surprised that it was so well organized (with detailed planning and execution) comparable to other Marathon Majors. I am not surprised, too, from what I experienced (with the organization, the volunteers and support, the spectators) Osaka would be promoted as the 7th race in the Marathon Majors series. To facilitate the race, there were 10,000 volunteers taking up various roles involved. Malaysia was represented by 51 runners (which I only met less than 10 of them) and became the eighth largest contingent other than the host country. Besides just chasing the numbers of participants (and the world ranking), Osaka Marathon has positioned itself as a 'charity marathon'. With the theme of 'making a rainbow together', each runner registered for the marathon is compulsory to contribute to a minimum two charity themes (out of seven) with minimum donation of ¥500 for each theme. For me, I have chosen "To help conserve clean water" and "To help conserve a natural environment" for my contributions. 
Our photos during the race pack collection and marathon expo where we spent almost four hours there.

The race expo was held at INTEX, Osaka, a very large expo site. The were four sections of the race pack collection and expo. The first one is where you collect your race pack that includes race number, a nice timing chip worth keeping as souvenir, Mizuno event t-shirt, and your charity t-shirt. There were also a big nicely designed plastic bag to be used as bag drop on the day of the marathon. Then, you proceed to the 2nd section which was the expo that exhibited the sponsors. There were booths from the likes of Seiko, Mizuno selling its gears and merchandise as well as the official Osaka Marathon merchandise, and others. They have many designs of Osaka Marathon t-shirts on sale but by Saturday, the small sizes were all gone :( there were also many photograph booths set-up around the expo hall to commemorate your participation in the marathon. As I thought that was the end of the expo (and a little disappointed as it was not as big as in Berlin), I got shocked when we arrived at the 3rd section - the expo hall for non-sponsors. You can get a lot more of merchandise, gears, sports drinks and nutrition, equipment, and so many other things. I ended buying some compression socks and some t-shirts. And the final section of the expo was like what I said earlier, the food expo and the food court! 

It was almost dark when we settled everything at the expo. We had to slowly march to the train station as there were lots of people making their way home from the expo at the same time. After dinner and preparing the essentials including those to put in the drop bag for the marathon, we settled down early that night to wake up early the next morning. Although the race will only start at 9am, we wanted to head out earlier as we were not sure what to expect when we have to deal with 27,000 people (excluding the spectators) going into one direction - the Osaka Castle Park, the start venue of the marathon. After breakfast at the Hotel, we headed to Osaka Castle Park by train. It was two trains away from our place and we arrived at the park quite early. I was prepared for the cold weather - with my gloves, my cap and buff to cover the ears but it was not as cold as what I experienced in Berlin. I was informed that the temperature on the marathon day hovered between 20- to 25-degree Celcius with the sun right up in the sky. The weather was in contrast to what I experienced since arriving in Osaka. And strangely, it got colder again on Monday after the marathon. So, I abandoned my gloves and buff in the drop bag and just ran the way I ran KL Marathon, except that I had my cap on to shield my head from the sun and I had my Spyder sunglass on all the way throughout the 42km+, something that I have never done before. It was still fortunate that the humidity was low that I started to sweat only after 5km or so into the marathon.
Depositing my luggage at the designated truck. The organizer only allowed luggage placed in the big plastic bag provided to each participant during the race pack collection (this is a common practice in big city marathons.

The bag drop was planned in a very systematic and careful manner as we deposited our bags to the pre-assigned (according to our bib number) trucks which would later transport our bags to the finish location. As we arrived at the bag collection venue after the race, our bags have been properly arranged according to our race numbers and the volunteers took a split second (yes, I am exaggerating but the process was really fast, really!) to locate our bags. 
Japanese runners came in many shapes (of fancy dress) and here we have Power Rangers, one of the famous characters during the marathon. People kept stopping them to take picture with them.

The race started quite a walk away from the bag drop location but it was a tireless walk as you see lots of people with lots of antics and we were entertained by the fancy costumes they were wearing. The start pen was organized to blocks according to the timing you submitted during the registration. I was in Block C but by the time I got to the start pen, I was already almost at the end of the block C with the front runners in Block D was just about 10 meters behind me. And the organizer was very strict with the timing, as those arrived at the start pen less than 15 minutes from the start of the race, they were held at the side (which I believe they had to start after everyone else did, not sure...). Although I was in Block C, I could only see a glimpse of the start gantry, and I took about four minutes to cross the start line after the race was flagged off. After some ceremonial speeches (in Japanese) followed by applause from the runners, the race was flagged off at 9am. Due to the large crowds, it was a slow walk towards the start line before I could finally run in small steps as soon as I crossed the start line. 
The race route took us through the city of Osaka (this is what I called a city marathon! not running on highways with nothing to see like in KL Marathon), running along the famous and normally busy area like Namba and Midosuji Blvd (the shopping strip similar to Bukit Bintang) and passing landmarks like Tsutenkaku Tower, Osaka City Hall, Kyocera Dome and Cosmosquare, to name a few. They closed all the roads involved in the marathon from the traffic but strictly enforced the cut-off timing for runners to arrive at certain checkpoints, in order to open back those roads to the public and vehicles. And along the way, there was no silent moment (at all, I swear!) as the spectators came in full force, lining up along the street, all 42.195km and more! They never stopped cheering and giving encouragement to the runners although all I could understand were "Gambate!" (or was it "Gamba-re!"?) and "fighto!" as in fighting! Not just the spectators were cheering, they came in costumes too like those many runners; there were also entertainment along the route with full band, single-, two-, three-piece musicians, cheerleader groups with their stunts and tumbling, and all sorts of entertainment that could make you forget that you were running (or struggling) in a marathon. The cheers and support got more electrified as the runners entered the last 10km of the race. But I had to be cautious because when I got too distracted from my run (by watching those spectators at the sideline), I lost a little bit of focus on my run and my pace dropped *sigh*. Anyway, the sight and amount of support that I (and many other runners) witnessed was a view to behold and a talk for a long time for the runners, I believe. 
With the backdrop of Osaka City Central Public Hall, Japanese spectators came in full force cheering for the runners all along the 42.195km course.

In addition to the supporters, the water station were awesome. Located about 2.5km apart, each station was at least 30m long, enough for a walk break from end-to-end of the station. They served cold and iced isotonic and water at every station (some have bananas) except for the one at KM32.5 when they served not just drinks but candies, carrots, cucumbers, pineapple cocktail, and all the Japanese delicacies that include sushi, inari, moji, takoyaki, etc etc... Did I eat them? NO! as I was in a state of shock looking at what were being served and I was spoilt with choices. As I was also chasing for my time, all I had was the sweet pineapple cocktail served in cup. I have to also give my hats off to the volunteers manning the water station. They were not just busy serving those drinks but they also never stopped giving us encouragement by cheering and clapping for the runners. The official photographers were also aplenty, littered all over the place, sometimes on the left side and sometimes on the right side of the road. I missed a lot of them (I think) but still ended up having a lot of photos taken (worth the price I pay!)

How did my marathon go?

It was a mix - some things did not go as planned but some things were better than what I expected. First of all, I did not get a PB timing of 3hr 40mins or better, due to so many reasons like the course being over distance (of 42.8km), it was crowded in the first 10km, it was a relatively hot weather for an 'ideal' marathon weather, and on top of all, I am not good enough to run sub 3:40 hours yet. Things that went well - obviously the experience, a more consistent pace than in KL Marathon previously, no cramps at all! and best of all the recovery was quick and a lot less sore to the muscles unlike in KL. 
It was really crowded at the start. If you look at the guy in blue at the bottom left of this photo (C13872), I was there partially hidden on his right...

It was still crowded after sometimes but eased up after KM10

After the start of the race, I could not run as fast as I wanted due to the crowd. But that kept my pace checked and I wasn't trapped into running too fast too early into the race (and bonked later). Most of the times I had to zig-zag to get myself ahead of other runners. I had the urgency to pee even before the flag off (although I peed thrice just before going into the start pen). However, peeing on the roadside or in the bushes at the roadside was not as simple in Osaka. The organizer set-up a barricade along the route (maybe to ensure the spectators did not get into runners' path) and there were volunteers manning the route who ensured runners did not go off the route. But they set-up portable toilets within reasonable distance. The only problem was that, you had to detour for some 20 to 50 meters to get to the toilet and in the beginning of the race, there were queues to use the toilet. But I managed to get to a portable toilet at around KM9 with no queue but lost a little time there. One less thing to worry, it was now about maintaining the pace. I covered the first 10km in 52 minutes - not good but acceptable due to the crowded runners. The runners were spaced out after 10km as we exited Midosuji Blvd where the route got a little hilly (just a little). 

It was also along the Midosuji Blvd that we could see the front runners making their ways towards the half marathon distance. Unfortunately, I did not know any of the front runners. It got livelier here as we approached the u-turn in Kitamachi as we can see other runners (in front or behind us) on the opposite direction. I tried to look for any other Malaysian but could not spot any as they were too many people to see. My pace in the next 10km was great, doing mostly under 5:00-minute each kilometer. Maybe the sight of other runners had kept me going strongly. I arrived at KM20 in 1hr 43mins and completed my half marathon in 1hr 48mins. 
Even when you're struggling in your race, don't forget to strike a pose when you see a photographer lol!
But when the going gets really tough, I couldn't even bothered by the photographer's presence.

From there onwards, I could not maintain sub 5:00-minute pace, the route started to get a little rolling and I had my first walk break at the water stations. I walked from one end of the water station to another end before start running again. I drank more this time as it got hotter by that time. Although I had so much urgency to walk more, I make it a point to just walk at the water stations, which I did. There were no signs of cramps coming, which is good, and 30km was done in 2hr 42mins. By the time, I knew sub 4-hr is attainable but a PB dream has all ended. I just continued to run to finish in the best time I could, whatever it is. From KM30 to KM40, I saw many runners have slowed down, some were seen stretching due to cramps and many walked. This was unlike in Berlin when the runners there were still running strongly until the end. Some people told me later that this maybe due to the hotter weather this year. I wonder how would they be if they run in KL? Looking at them struggling, I was worried that I would face the same fate. So, my strategy was to not overdo myself unnecessarily and just cruise at 6:00-minute pace. I think I did great maintaining the pace below 6:00-minute at this point of the race if I want to compare it to my pace in KL Marathon where it gone haywire, going as slow as 7:20-minute pace. 40km was done in 3hr 35mins, which means I have about 15 minutes to cover the final 2km+ to finish the race under 3hr 50mins.
With just some of the many, many great volunteers who made the runners feel like kings and queens throughout the marathon. Thanks Osaka!

The spectators in the final stretch was the reason that kept me going in the final 2.8km and their cheers got louder as I inched closer to the finish line. It was a relief to see the finish gantry with some 100m to go and I ensure that I soaked in all the atmosphere along the final stretch and raised my arms wide as I crossed the finish line, completing not my best marathon but the best marathon experience I ever had. I had no regret at all for not able to achieve a PB timing especially as I walked towards the runners' amenity hall, I was greeted and congratulated by the volunteers who toed in line to welcome back the runners. It really made all runners feel appreciated and treated like a winner (at least I felt that way), regardless of our timings. 3 hours 47 minutes and 46 seconds was the timing for my 28th full marathon race and all I could say is Thanks Osaka! for this great marathon and the great experience. I wish them the best and really hoping that Osaka Marathon will be the next Marathon Major.

My 10km splits: 51:59; 50:57 (1:42:56); 55:28 (2:38:24) and 56:58 (3:35:22); before finishing off the last 2.8km in 12:24. 

For my race details at Garmin Connect, click here.