SCKLM 2016 Race Report: The Ghost, The Friends, The Angel who have brought out the best in me

The long-awaited Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon (SCKLM) 2016 held on Aug 7, 2016 was an unforgettable event for me. It was also the most dramatic full marathon I have ever experienced. I don't think I will ever forget this day in many years to come.

It was a day with many unexpected setback - sleepless night before race due to 4 am early start time; irregular timing of power gel consumption during race; GPS watch's battery died at 37th km; and my weekly running friend passed out at 40th km due to heat stroke and was hospitalized for 2 nights.

But it was also a special day with a speedy "ghost" chasing from behind, a strong-willed friend pacing along almost the whole 42 km, and a beautiful angel cheering, encouraging and supporting me throughout the whole journey.

Pre-race excitement and anxiety
We all know how we love SCKLM! :) It's THE running event of the year. With the cancellation of last year's event due to haze, it made me look forward to this year's SCKLM even more.

Meanwhile, the excitement, the anxiety and the worries have built up to an insurmountable level. I feel like I could explode like a volcano anytime!! Seriously, I have never been so excited and so looking forward yet so gan cheong and anxious about a full marathon in a long long time. :)

Well, I guess it was also due to the fact that I have set a personal target to achieve.

I lost my full marathon virginity to SCKLM in 2012 with a net time of 4 hours 38 min. In the following year, I managed to improve by 1 min to 4 hours 37 min. And running full marathon at SCKLM for the third time in 2014, I managed to complete 42 km in 4 hours 6 min.

This year, I was hoping that I could break the sub 4 barrier. I would be happy if I could achieve any sub 4 time. And a 3:59:59 time would be very sweet for me already! :) But I knew it was going to be tough with the rolling hills, highways, and the heat. Anyway, I should try my best.

SCKLM 2016 has launched a very special SCKLM 2016 mobile app this year and I'm loving it! So I took the opportunity to share my excitement about SCKLM using the "selfie" feature of the app. I even got my 92 year-old dad to say hello to all participating runners on the day before the race. :)

Did you feel my pre-race excitement? :)

Race kit collection - beautiful Adidas vest and full marathoners' wall
Unlike previous years, the race kit collection and expo venue was held at Kenanga Wholesale City Mall this year. I truly don't understand why this year it wasn't held at the usual Dataran Merdeka's Underground Mall. Dataran Merdeka would have been a far better choice as Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon was voted as KL Mayor's Tourism Awards in 2014. And Dataran Merdeka would have served the true purpose of convenience for runners as well as promoting tourism to our overseas participants and supporters. Anyway, the only reason that I could think of for the change of venue to a less known place was the cost!

Anyway, I wasn't really bothered by it. :) The beautiful  blue Adidas running vest and the creative new "SCKLM2016 Full Marathoners' Wall" that has all the full marathoners' names printed all over it have more than made  up for poor choice of race-kit collection venue. :)

In fact, I was smiling from ear to ear seeing the awesome Adidas vest. I know for sure this is going to be one of my favorite running vests to wear for future races. haha!! I am loving it so so much that I decided to take some selfies to share..... :)

Sleepless night
I was in bed already at 8pm so that I could wake up at 1:15 am for the 4 am full marathon race. But I was so anxious and excited that I tossed left, right, then left right countless times again until 10 pm and my eyes were still wide open.

Deep inside my heart - I was telling myself that I would be suffering during the race. And the tension built up even more.

I decided to watch China! Voice on TV for 30 min and then tried to sleep again. Unfortunately, my last attempt also failed. Therefore, I decided to get up from my bed and start preparing for the race at 1230am since I couldn't sleep anyway.

My head was heavy and spinning due to sleepless night.

But I asked myself, "Isn't participating in Full Iron man much tougher than this? Isn't participating in running an ultra-marathon much harder than 1 sleepless night?" "What's a sleepless night since I slept the night before rather well already?"

Therefore, I psyched myself up so that I did not focus on negativity but to focus on the positive.

Pen 2 start line

I decided to start at Pen 2 (sub 4 category). I felt a bit awkward at Pen 2 initially because I have never achieved sub 4 at SCKLM before. Rightly, I shouldn't be there - unless I took my other sub 4 races into consideration.

Anyway, I was very happy to chat with some friends (Kuan, CK Chong, Chua, Romzi, etc) before start at Pen 2. The conversations allowed me to ease my anxiety and nervousness about the race. :) I wasn't the only one aiming for first sub 4 at SCKLM.  There were others too. So we encouraged each other to achieve our own personal goals. :) We all kept our fingers and toes crossed for a wondeful race ahead. :)

It was also at Pen 2 that I bumped into Sharon Zheng of the most celebrated local female fast runners who is a regular podium finisher.  

We striked a conversation and realised that we both were aiming for same pace of 5:30 min per km as consistent as possible throughout SCKLM 2016. 

Even though I managed to do 5:12 min per km for Newton Challenge 2 weeks before for whole 30km, I knew it would be impossible for me to do it at SCKLM with hotter weather, more rolling hills and extra 12km. 

As we all know it, full marathon only starts at 30th km. :)

Also I tried to be as safe as possible - just wanting to break sub 4. I would be in cloud 9 if I could achieve 3:59. 

With that in mind, we both decided to pace each other.

Chased by a friendly ghost 

When Sharon, Karen and I were running until 9-10 km at average pace of 5:25 min / km, suddenly I heard someone calling my name very very loud from behind, "V I N C E N T!!!"

The voice sounded familiar and it was damned loud - sending shock waves up my nerve system!

Who would that be? I wondered... So I turned my head back to find out the person behind the voice.

Oh no - to my horror - it was a GHOST that I hope I didn't get to see in the course of 42 km.

Hmmm ... you might guess who might that be...

Well, actually it wasn't a ghost (but to me the effect was like seeing a ghost!!! haha!). The voice came from non other than the mighty great Yew Khuay, the fast runner who has run 12 sub4 marathons in 12 months, who was also one of the 4:00 pacers at SCKLM2016.

Hey, come on!! Wouldn't you be scared and feeling horrified to see the 4:00 hour pacer with the big big green balloon inches behind you early in the race shouting out your name when you were trying to achieve sub 4?

I was so horrified, devastated, and demotivated when seeing Yew Khuay happily smiling calling out my name few inches behind me with the big big Green Balloon.

He was happy of course. But I wasn't. I was like seeing a green ghost chasing me from behind!!! haha!!

He even questioned our distance and pace when we said that he ran too fast already. But again, he was the pacer. We then had self-doubt about our actual pace and distance. See how a pacer's impact could be upon a gan cheong runner like me? :)

Well, it seemed like I wasn't the only one gan cheong. Sharon was gan cheong too. haha!

So we both talked to each other saying we must not let Yew Khuay overtake us. Otherwise, our dream of doing sub 4 would have been smashed!! And if smashed at such early distance, it would have dampened our fighting spirit for the rest of 32 km or so. Sob sob!!

So what did we do? We decided to press on our little gas pedal and increase our speed to be away from the green ghost!! We are so so so so scared to have the pacer ghost chasing so close behind us again!! lol!

What was even funnier was when we reached about 30 km, Sharon asked me to turn my head back to check if Yew Khuay was behind us. I almost burst out laughing!! And of course, I turned my head back to double triple check to ensure no signs of Green Balloon or Yew Khew or other pacers in sight. :)  What Sharon didn't realise was that I actually turned back my head couple times even before reaching 30 km already. lol!

That showed how scared and gan cheong we were. Scary ghost!! :) But very good also - it sort of pushed us forward!! :) Thank you, Yew Khuay! :)
Yes - the one in the middle - the guy who ran 12 sub4 marathons in 12 months - who shouted aloud my name from behind until I thought my sub4 dream would have been smashed!! But thanks to him for chasing us from behind - ensuring me and Sharon to push forward!! haha! Thank you, Yew Khuay!

Paced persistently with speedy podium finisher friends

I am usually a slow starter at full marathons. Typically i would let other runners run first and I would take my own sweet time to slowly speed up to have my average pace of 5:30 min / km around 10 km distance. From there onwards, I would then try to maintain at 5:30 min / km as much as possible. This has been my strategy for a few full marathons recently.

Similarly, I tried to do the same at SCKLM 2016.

Only after runnig into Jalan Tun Razak area that I managed to see the sights of Sharon and Karen Loh running side by side together in front of me. I looked at my Garmin Forerunner 10 watch and it was about 5:25 min / km pace. Kind of too fast!

But I thought what the hack!! This is the only chance that I could catch up with the mighty great runners Sharon and Karen and try my best to stay as close to them as possible. If I missed this chance, I might not even see the sights of them anymore. :)

With that in mind, I sped up to catch up with both Sharon and Karen and ran side by side. We chatted and compared our GPS distance and pace. Karen was saying we ran below 5min / km. Sharon's watch also showed a bit different compared to mine. So we are a bit confused on our actual pace. But I trusted what Karen and Sharon said because they are seasoned fast runners.

But one thing for sure we all know - we were running a bit too fast.

So we tried to slow down a bit but still maintain around 5:25 min / km pace.

Throughout the 42 km course, I would say that I had Sharon in sight for at least 35 km or more. It was either I ran side by side with her, or behind her or slighly in front of her (only when needed to rush to toilets.. ) .

It was indeed a wonderful feeling to have a persistent pacer friend Sharon to follow through. We encouraged each other to ensure we did our best to keep up on the pace.

There were also lowlights / setbacks during the 42 km course but all turned out well at the end:
  • I screwed up my power gel consumption timing! Initially I wanted to take only 4 power gels: at 9km, 18 km, 27 km and 36 km. My usual power gel consumption would have been at 9 km, 16km, 21km, 26-28 km, 32-34km. And if need be, I would then take one more around 38 km. I felt tired at certain distances. Perhaps it was due to wrong timing of taking my power gels. Anyway, I improvised and used carbonated drinks and banana to compensate. I also decided to consume 6 power gels instead of 4 at the end. :)
  • My Garmin Forerunner 10 decided to call it quits at 37 km!! it kept signaling battery low, blinking blinking asking me to save. It coudn't detect the GPS anymore. At that time, I was at Jalan Parlimen going up hill for the last 5 km. And without the GPS and my pace really devastated me!! I suddenly felt so lost like a ship in the sea not knowing what to do!! (too dependent on GPS watch!). It was also very demotivating thinking my sub 4 dream would have been dashed as well. But I was so grateful to Sharon as I quickly spotted her moving on steadily in front of me. So I decided to use Sharon as my human GPS watch. No Garmin watch never mind - I had Sharon watch! :) Thanks to her, I focused on her in front of me and slowly I caught up with her 1.5 km before finish line.
  • I caught up with one of my weekly running friends at 38 km around Bukit Tunku area. At that time he was ok. He waved at me asking me to go ahead, which I did. I only realised that he collapsed at 40 km and was hospitalised due to heat stroke hours later after my completion. So sad and I was devastated to find out later! (Anyway, thank God my friend has recovered fully after 2 nights in hospital. Also great thanks to Rainer & team for visiting him in the hospital giving him the finisher medal and 2 finisher tees. Very caring indeed! )

Some other highlights during  the 42 km course:

  • Uncle Tan Wah Sing was running his 100th full marathon and he caught up at 30 km and encouraged me as he ran passed me. I tried to follow behind him for about 2 km and then my tyre punctured!!! I couldn't even follow his speed! He was so so super fast with barefoot! Really salute him! (btw - congratulations to Mr Tan for such an awesome achievement of 100th full marathon. Really respect and salute his passion, speed, perseverence, humility and barefootness)
  • As I have been conciously trying to run green as much as possible, I was very proud of myself for successfully throwing all the paper cups and sponge into the provided trash cans. Furthermore, I kept all my consumed power gel wrappers with me in my little pouch until the end of race without throwing any on the route.
Thank you Sharon for allowing me to pace with you throughout almost the whole 42 km ! You are awesome! I wouldn't have done it without your friendship!!

Motivated and encouraged by a beautiful angel

For all the full marathoners, we all know that the real marathon only start at 30 km.

And it's so so true!!

During the race, I felt tired many times over because I was running at a pace faster than my usual pace at such challenging route.

Few times, I wanted to slow down and give up, especially the last 12 km. Of course Sharon's pacing helped me a great deal. Not wanting Yew Khuay and 4:00 hour pacers to over take me also ensured I kept moving forward.

But in the solitary of running. in the lonely hours of running alone, it was visions of my mom dressed in an outfit of a beautiful angel who had motivated me, encouraged me, and given me the mental strength to press on hard.

I talked to her when I ran. I called out to her when I was about to slow down and when I felt tired.

At Duke highway with the rows of lighted lamp posts, I had a vision of my mom who appeared to be like a beautiful angel, dressed in her beautiful beige color dress, dancing and hopping from one lamp post to another lamp post in front of me.

She smiled. She cheered me on. She looked at me with love to ensure I focused on her as she led me forward.

Couple times, I choked. But I decided to draw on my mom's motivation and courage and to focus my energy in toughening up my mental strength.

I could envision my mom waiting for me at finish line cheerfully. That itself boosted my confidence and energy to run as best as could especially in the last few km (without GPS watch).

At Finish Line

At 41 km, Sharon and I were running side by side. We encourage each other. Sharon kept asking me how far still. And I lied to her saying close already - just the turn in front. :) haha!

But it was a good lie as I wanted to encourage her as well. Not that I was doing any far better. I myself was also tired. But as we encouraged each other, we sort of motivated each other to press on for the last 1 km.

With 500 m to go, Sharon asked me to go ahead. I could see that she had super charged up her mental strength by then and I know she would have no problem to go for the last 500 m dash. So I decided to go ahead to run to finish line - not knowing what time I would achieve (GPS watch died already!!). My legs cramped as I tried to lift my legs for wider strides. So I decided to increase my cadence with narrower stride instead to run the last 500 m.

When I saw the clock still sub 4, and I managed to cross the finish line with net time of 3:52:21, I was so so so overjoyed!!!

Yohoo! I finally did a sub 4 at SCKLM!!! So happy I finally did it!!

Not only that, I managed to better my all time PB (3:52:38) set at Taiwan's Kaohsiung International Marathon 2016 early this year by few seconds. Well to be exact, better by only 17 seconds!!! haha! Not much, but from the difficulty of the SCKLM route and hot humid weather, the 17 second improvement took much more of energy out of me to achieve it!! :) So the great satisfaction was insurmountable!! What more it was done in THE running event in Malaysia - Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon!! If compared to my previous best time in a local race, it was a 4 min improvement.

I gladly happily accepted the time as I was only expecting a 3:59 before the race.

I also congratulated Sharon for breaking her PB too! Well done, Sharon!!!

After thoughts
This is the most dramatic full marathon I had ever run in. And I have so many people to thank for helping me to achieve sub 4 at SCKLM. A dream come true for me!

Thank you Yew Khuay for being the "ghost" in this FM drama bringing out the best in me!! I really appreciate your shout out of my name - waking me up, pushing me forward!!!

Thank you Sharon and Karen for being awesome persistant running friends who helped and encouraged me and allowed me to pace with you all. My kiasu-spirit pushed me to keep up with you all. Thank you!!

Thanks to others who have constantly motivated and encouraged me during the 42 km course, during training etc to tell me that age is not a limit!!

Who says getting older needs to run slower?  :)

My time is not the best compared to many. But I am happy I have become better in running in terms of time defying my age.

SCKLM 2016 : you have created a memory in me as the most dramatic, most unforgettable FM. Thank you!

And most importantly, thank you mom!!

Written on 2016.08.12


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