….. and so, I completed my 3rd marathon this year (well, I completed 50km for both Gunung Nuang Ultra and Back 2 Endurance, but I’ll lump them all together under one category) last Sunday morning at River Jungle Marathon (RJM), one of the boutique marathon events organized by runners for runners. I ran the same edition last year with a different course route and I would say that those who did this year’s run had it a bit tougher, especially at the 2nd climb. More about that to come.
So what’s the story like? Well, those who know me well enough knew the reason why I haven’t been signing up for races in the 2nd half of this year. Heck, even for my annual-will-do-marathon SCKLM, I registered for the 10km category. So if we’re talking about mileage, my last long run was at B2E in mid June and since then I have had a “long” training run of 9km and a spattering of 6-7km training runs albeit at a quicker pace. Logging mileage wasn’t my priority as I didn’t have any more long runs to build up to, so how did I end up running RJM on lack of conditioning?
2 mornings before RJM run, I got a buzz from Hammer telling me that they have got a couple of sponsored RJM bibs (as they are one of the event sponsors) and whether Team 2ndskin would be keen to represent on their behalf. I threw the request to the team, but on short notice, since Deo was down to run the Penang Ultra 100 and EV had plans already, it was down to Roy and myself to pull things through. (For the record, Jun Shen is away on national duty, Irene doesn’t run marathons and Annie was in Penang). Roy was already on taper mode for his IMMY later this month, so he was in pretty good condition. Me? I was like, ok I’ll just hack this with a run-walk routine and socialize with the crowd.
And there we were, on Sunday morning and Roy picked me up. I hadn’t seen the route map, nor the elevation and just the night before I was texting to find out how many water stations there would be, cos I was deliberating whether to bring my hydration bag. In the end I decide not to, but just to bring my running vest and throw in a small 200ml bottle (for the expected hot weather later in the run), my Hammer Endurolytes and a couple tabs of Anti-fatigue and half consumed Perpetuem Solids. A cup of coffee and a bowl of overnight soaked oats fueled me before run flag off.
|Before the start with running buddies. Photo by Ezam.|
Arrived at event site with about 20 mins to flag-off. Crowd was already buzzing with anticipation, when we caught up with Louis, Atlew, Chloe, Gwen, Ezam, Man Shukor, Khairi, Lina and Hu’ Zaini. Chit chatted a while and joked about how we were conned and thought this was a 10km run (joke’s still going on) and before we knew it, the event director was briefing the crowd and we duly took our place at the end of the start line. Flag off and I was running side-by-side with Roy for the first part of the run. Route was dimly lit and in some places pitch dark save for a the sporadic headlamp in the crowd so I was pretty cautious about where I placed my foot and kept the runner in front and his/her movements in sight. As we made our way through the crowd, I exchanged pleasantries with friends and that’s what I feel certain runs should be all about, a social gathering rather than a head-down and focus on finish line race (although there’s also a place and time for such runs to kick yourself in gear). There was Mohan with his trusty whistle, Hui Xin with her 89 run crew, blogger Missyblurkit and Elvin and occasional Spiderman YK who came along and “cursed” me with cramps (jokingly of course)!
First 10km was business as usual pace, and I was with Roy, Atlew and Keng Koon throughout most of the distance. Uneventful first quarter, we just put one foot in front of another and stopped at water stations to wet our lips. Body felt fine the first 10k, and I was felt a wave of relief that my body conditioning wasn’t that bad after all. At about 12km, we caught up with my strength and conditioning coach from Get Active, Chloe who was also tapering for IMMY. Solid and strong, she completed her first FM in Langkawi Island Ocean in 4:45 and this RJM in 4:48. Very consistent and ready to rock IM in 3 weeks. It was the run with Chloe up to the foothill of Peres and the discussion about nutrition and injuries that prompted a rethink of my condition. And I will share it here so that everyone benefits from the experience I go through. So diverging a little from the event story…..
I’m not sure if I have mentioned it in any of my write-ups before (I think I did), but I am prone to cramping during endurance events. My muscles start to hit me with seizure signals after about 20kms and I have had occasions where both quads just locked up and I was immobile for moments before self massage and salt (back then) eased the pain. Enter Hammer Endurolytes last year and I thought I stumbled on the cure to my cramping issues. Endurolytes do work for me, no doubt and the bad episodes were a thing of the past. This year though, during Gunung Nuang and B2E, I experienced muscle cramps in my Vastus Medialis (the teardrop muscle on your inner thigh just above the knee) in both legs. Endurolytes intake gave me intermediate relief, but everytime the terrain got tougher, the cramping sensation came back. Initially I dismissed it and thought it was my lack of long distance training that was the reason (and no one to blame but myself), coupled with my body that tends to sweat a lot, thus losing sodium and electrolyte components and therefore needing more frequent Endurolytes intake.
I was starting to feel my VM tighten up as early as the 13th km at RJM, so I popped my first couple of Endurolyte tabs then. 5kms later I popped another 2, as the sensation was not going away. At about 21km, I wiped salt crystal residue from my face and Chloe commented that I’m overloading on the sodium. That was when the first point hit home; my VM is on the verge of cramping and its not because of lack of electrolytes. At 13 – 18km, it can’t be my lack of conditioning in my muscle either, cos even if I was just running 6-7km in training, I had full belief I am ok to complete a HM distance without discomfort at the pace I was running. So what was it? Part two to be unveiled later in this story.
|Roy flew off after 13km and went on his way to a 4:20 finish. Photo by Chan WK.|
So that was it, as the route pointed upwards at the start of Peres, and my quads not listening to my head, I waved Chloe on as I started walking the uphills, which kinda started the trend for the remainder of the run. Every time the road headed north, even a little, I was walking, and when it pointed south, I’d run the pain off. The flats were a mix of running and walking, and that’s what lack of conditioning for endurance events does to you. They humble you, and you get this tight slap in the face to remind you never to underestimate the distance and the intensity. I think by now, most of those who have friends who did RJM, have heard of the durian fiesta at the 23km mark water station, which marked the u-turn at Peres and we followed the steady downhill stretch back to the foothill.
|The happening downhill stretch and saying hi all around. Photo by Running Malaysia Magazine|
It was at this stretch that I was high-fiving and smiling and seeing friends and running buddies in the other direction, and it was basically the highlight of my run as I knew the remainder of the distance would be covered solo and would pretty much be boring. Here I caught sight of virgin marathoners, Joanne, her regular runner brother William, first timer Jennifer who attended Team 2ndskin running workshop earlier this year, Karen, Jeff, Pan who were all leading the pack, Phei Chuen doing only her 2nd marathon and going strong, Jimmy and Puvan from LYN Runners and YK who came over and gave me a “cramping already right? What did I tell you” speech. LOL.
At the foothill of Peres I requested for an ice pack from the medic. Icing my quads gave me some relief from KM26 to the next water station where by then the ice had all but melted. Caught up with celebrity runner KK Yum in his silver suit (he actually overtook me a few kilometers back) at the last water station before the turnoff into Bukit Antu. Photo with KK, refreshing coconut water and a toilet break meant it was my longest stop and the break did me good before the torture up Antu.
|At one of the water stops midway point. Photo by Run & Explore|
As soon as I turned the junction and looked at the first corner of Bukit Antu, I knew then that it was going to be a long walk. And I meant a long torturous walk with my stiff quads. And there I was, averaging 12-13mins/km trudging uphill and the stretch never seemed to end. Looking at the fellow runners walking in front of me and behind me didn’t do the confidence any better and just added to the glum gloomy feel along the stretch. The 3-4km (I lost track) uphill felt like eternity and it was the worst stage (for me personally) in the entire route as I had to endure it solo. I would have believed that those who ran (or walked in most cases) this stretch with a buddy may have had a better experience though.
I was lucky as I reached the foot of Bukit Antu before 9am and it was still cooling as the sun wasn’t out in force yet. Honestly, the weather was very kind during the run (for me anyway) as it wasn’t scorching like it was the year before.
At the second last water station, I bumped into Susanah and we walked / jogged the last 4km home. It was here that she was surprised and asked me why I was still loitering around, thinking that I must have finished by now, that we started talking about my VM and cramps. And after the earlier discussion I had with Chloe, what Susanah said hit me on the head again.
“You do a lot of leg strengthening workouts, you squat weights, and your leg muscles look developed; I don’t think your Vastus Medialis is weak. I think it’s tight.”
So, BOOM! Was my performance in endurance runs this year hampered by a tight muscle that I did not realize from my normal daily activities? I concede that I do a lot of foam-rolling and trigger point, but I neglect my inner thigh muscles as I have not really felt tightness or soreness (apart from during long races). So it wasn’t sodium-deficiency that I initially suspected that was the cause of my cramping quads? It could be, and because of the amount of strength training I do, it is indeed possible that my muscles are tighter as muscle placed under stress and duress tend to contract. So the take-away note here is, there may be underlying causes to the pain or strain that you endure in training or racing, and that the most obvious signs may not be the real causes. Ask around, talk to others and you may just find the answer you’re looking for.
|With Roy and Susanah at the finish line. Photo by Vincent.|
Back to the story. I finished the last 4km of RJM with Susanah and we walked in under the finish gantry in a nett time of 5:30 (for me). I was half expecting something beyond 6 hours due to my “lack of training”, so five and a half hours was seal and deal for me. Roy was already waiting at the finish line, changed and ready to go home. He had finished more than an hour earlier (strong lad!) and looks ready to rock Langkawi. Got some photos taken by Vincent at the finish gantry (thanks mate!), collected my medal and finisher’s tee and called it a day.
|Hard earned medal + relieved expression. Photo by Vincent|
Special thanks to HammerNutrition for offering us the sponsored places (and allowing me to revisit pain, lol), The Marathon Shop for another great event as usual, the volunteers who were cheering us all on and kept asking us if we needed anything at all, fully stocked water stations, photographers and friends who supported the event and Team 2ndskin partners Skechers, Garmin, Kraftfit and Spyder for accessories to my run that helped ease my pain. J