Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tokyo Marathon 2017 - Another PB ?

Because the race gave me a PB finishing so I guess I have to write about it.

Before anyone proceed to read about this report, there is nothing in this post that talks in detail about the course and its experience, it is just my story running it.

Great race reports are made of dramatic stories, a typical one will start with lack of training or preparation, coupled with some injuries to make you look more vulnerable and near impossible to score a great timing. Some will then declare an easier target (despite deep beneath the heart there  a more exciting goal), or announce to take it easy to ENJOY the race or take it as training.

Bullshit, there is no reason one doesn't set great target for a world major marathon. But I am going to tell mine anyway, for the sake of making mine more dramatic and near impossible, :)

If you know me, low mileage training, lack of speed training due to right heel injury and just returning from falling sick were real, but they are not the reasons I used for setting easy target. By default some are setting 3:30 as my target (simply bcoz I do not have official race that breaks that mark!!!), so no one would accept a sub4 finishing as target (hey my last sub4 was more than 6 months ago...).

The truth is, I somehow knew I could do 3:30 and 3:30 is too main stream these days, so I set 2:30 as my target, and as expected no one believes that too, I have much to prove myself I guess,:)
Dare to Dream.and Dream is FREE

So the more realistic target (which I made up my mind just 2 days before departure to Tokyo) is 3:20-3:30, the logic is based a complex combination of peer bench-marking, previous races effort vs finishings, recent race performance and of course, some guess work.

Told you this is nothing about the race, look how long u have read and still not at starting line...

Fast forward to race week, after done with non-stop work travels, training and meetings, I finally got on my 5th flight of the month and landed on Friday morning. Did a quick visit to my company Tokyo office before check in hotel and head to expo for race kit collection.

A little details on race expo, probably no one would have any complain about it, very well organized, in and out for my bib and souvenir shirt collection in less than 5 mins. Process flow included:

1. Photo ID check to make sure you are the person  who registered for the race and collect in person. Based on experience in Osaka marathon, collecting on behalf may be possible but I was doing for someone who can't make it to the race so the officials allow collection of race kit without the race bib.
2. Proceed to bib collection based on your bib number printed on the sheet posted to you via mail, a security band will be put on your wrist, never to be taken off until race is over. The wrist band warrant your entry to race site security gates.

3. Proceed to timing chip checking and baggage drop official bag collection.
4. And finally the even-T collection, then head for the expo. Plenty of different event T designs (40-50 design may be) available for shopping by Asics in the expo booth.

Friendship Run:
Held on the day before race for gathering of runners to celebrate as one and get to know each others' culture or traditional costume (best way to introduce your country) and testing the race gears may be. Most importantly, have fun and more photo opportunities! Need to register earlier and pay some fees.


Race day (finally, right?):
This year is relatively warmer compared to 2013 when I 1st ran on the old route, 6-13c was bearable with 2 layers (inner long sleeve 2XU thermal compression and outer favourite any shirt). I made last min decision not to wear the light jacket bought at expo and the gloves, instead only hold the instant disposable heat pack bought from convenient store, still keeping my buff on to keep warm air flowing under for my breathing.

The race flag off on time, I was at Pen C (which was after Elite, A and B), there was no stopping to wait, everyone just continue to jog/run till we cross the starting line 2 mins later. As usual the starting 3KM was a bit of runners congestion, but I did not have to do much hard overtaking as everyone were running at the pace relatively representing the starting Pen they belong to (my guess, sub 3:45, I was in Pen G in 2013).

The 1st 5KM aim was to warm the body and freezing toes, didn't take too long for me to feel the body warm up that I felt the need to roll up the inner layer till chest area and also the extra arm sleeve layer I put on. The air is still considered cold and dry, thus buff remain on.

10KM in, realised I was doing just on time for a 3:25 finishing, decided to forget about 3:20 (it was not so realistic to begin with anyway lol!) and review if 3:25 was still possible at mid point.

Forced down a pack of power gel and 2 capsules of anti-fatigue at 13KM to prepare for the coming 30KM. The distance on GPS was already 1KM extra by the time I hit 15KM, thanks to the tall building that mess up the tracking. 15s behind to be on schedule for 3:25, after U-turn at Asakusa I did the fastest 5KM split of the race and catch up the time to be on track for 3:25 finishing again, maintain the momentum till 25KM mark to continue to be on track on timing.
bigger turn is better turn for photos
Like most marathons, the race only begin at the final 12KM, took my 3rd pack of gel at 30KM (2nd pack at 22KM) and another dose of anti-fatigue,  spent sometime to walk at water station to get more isotonic in. The only comment I have about the race would be on the drinking cups, they were too big which make drinking very difficult, I had a few occasions of spill over. Hitting 30KM at slightly behind schedule again, I knew I probably won't make it to the 3:25 finishing, did a quick calculation, allowing myself to slow down the pace a little as I started to feel tired, after all, I have not been running this fast for this long, the quads started to feel sore as I approached the big left turning.
can't remember why I did that...

What followed next is a 5KM straight route until the next U-turn, this is a very "scenic" route as I get to see those fast runners on the opposite side heading finishing line. They were either finishing strong or bonk, and believe me, for runners that go all out at their pace, when they bonk, they really bonk, it is not like the amateur case like us where we could still jog to recover and gain momentum, they walked and nothing more. From the facial expression I can tell they suffered and disappointed at the same time. And for those still dashing, their facial expression not an easy look too.

Why did I spend so much time talking about those running sub3 on the opposite lane instead of my own 31-35KM journey? Because it is a good way of distraction, to divert my attention from the building up of soreness on my legs. Breathing was OK, no sign of dehydration, too early to judge if I was suffering or just psychologically thinking I was suffering due to the distance. I took a one minute walk and stretch anyway at next water station just to make myself feel better since I knew I have the luxury to do that and still finish sub3:30.

By 35KM U-turn, I started to feel the heaviness on my feet, the return trip towards the finishing line felt like an uphill run. The real psychological barrier kick in because during both my Japan races in 2013 (Tokyo) and 2014 (Osaka) I suffered at 38th KM. So the plan was to hold the pace easy and steady until I crossed 38KM, possibly 39KM too. From a distance I can see the 3:30 pacers at about 100 meters away, obviously there was a temptation to chase them and even overtaking them, but that would mean I will have to run sub5min pace again and risk having cramp in the 1-2KM.
Taking bigger turn gets more chance for photos
I gave up that thought by purposely visiting the water station to let the pacer group move out of my sight so that I get to focus on taking it easy again. I tried to spot familiar faces on the opposite site with no particular person in mind just to draw my attention away from the heavy legs. KM by KM passed as I crossed 38th KM, hanged on for another KM and another KM, by the time the distance marker reads 40, I know it was home coming! A quick peep on the watch I knew 3:29 will be the rough finishing timing and I could probably sprint a little as the finishing arch came in sight.

However, the final KM was not easy as I thought, it was not tar road but solid pavement, a bit uneven. The cheering crowd was great, it was less than a kilometre to the finishing, some started to sprint, some suffering cramp, I patiently wait for the left turn to appear.

And here it came, the left turn and my final sprint to the end to cross the sub 3:30hrs mark.
Final 300 meters I guess
Finished and DONE
After crossing the runners were handed with bottle of water and towel, another hundred metres of walking there was another station to hand over food and thermal blanket, finally the medal. It was all the way walking towards the 41st KM mark where Hibiya Park is.

The journey ended here for any runner to pick up their drop bag but for me it was another bonus 1.5 KM in front of the Imperial garden towards opposite direction to get to the Abbott hospitality suite for my drop bag, somehow I missed the underground pass that cut the distance by half or so, the volunteers can't help on this as they didn't know about the hospitality suite. This explains the extra wrist band I have...

Below are the splits for data cruncher:
Was pretty on track for 3:25 until 30KM
Could I have done better ? 
May be yes May be not, I just come back to run FM, my legs and breathing are not trained for fast FM yet, may be another 6 months or year end only I should attempt a faster FM.

Monday, January 30, 2017

24H 2017 - Race Report


24H ultra started 1st edition in 2015 and for some reason I couldn't join the 2016 edition too. Since I have not really completed a 24 hours race before, I decided to give it a go for 2017.

This is probably not going to about the race but about my own inner conversation throughout the race and things that I did for the reasons I don't tell.

Like all time-limit race, the question asked the most is always on how many KM as the target. I never really set any target, after having whole year of 2016 with speed limiting injury, I wish to use this event to evaluate my running posture and foot landing for long hours. Rightfully I should be able to do 160-170KM, but I also do not want my 1st 100 miles to come from a 24H race (damn kuai lan, I know, especially for someone who has not done above 120 KM in any race, lol!)

After a busy start of January and falling sick with running nose after the weekend of Twincity marathon, on the race day morning, I was still packing for the event after breakfast, as time approaches noon, I realized it is probably a better idea to go to the race site earlier than on time. So I departed with empty stomach and picked up some breads and milo along the way. It pays to be early as I managed to park my car close to the race site, after pick up the race kit, I still have plenty of time to move around to place my stuff and change of clothes.
Organizer prepared long table to be shared by participants to put personal supplies and to rest. 
I was also testing out new fuel for this race with Tailwind, the whole bag of it! (Thanks to Siaw Hua). As much as I can, I do not want to take the purple dust to cheat in this event, :P The rest of the items I just dump into icebox, that's the benefit (luxury) of stress-free event like this, you can always over-prepare your supplies without having to carry them, unlike open road event, you carry along what you need, everything needs to be planned properly.

This is one of the hut for participants to place their personal belonging not needed at the race site.
Changing my shoes at Kavien and Jeff's supply table

At 2PM, the pre-race briefing began and basically it was about eat well, rest well, race well, don't cheat, here are the toilets, don't simply pee-poo on the race site and try not to kill each other.

Pre-race briefing at 2pm
After the briefing, everyone proceeds to the starting line for group photo 1st (of course, while everyone still look very hensem and pretty...).

Moving towards the starting line
The race flag off sharp at 3PM after the special cheer leading performance by the support crews (didn't manage to see as I was quite far behind at the starting line). By the time I crossed the starting line, the leaders were very much ahead like 200 meters away. To avoid congestion later along the route which is already quite narrow (fits 3 persons running side by side), I picked up pace a little to pull away from the pack I started with and trying to close the gap with the front pack.

Pre-race photo with Zhee Long
The good and bad about this 24H route is, you can see the people ahead (or behind you) at most of the route if not blocked by the trees, it is good to gauge if you are closing gap with your target opponent or pulling away from your rivalry if you are being competitive. The bad is, your opponents can likewise gauge your distance and adjust their effort accordingly.

At 1st U-turn, I can see from far the expected leading runners Thomas Eng (who did sub16 in HK100 a week before), David, Susan, Jeff, Sam and Teck Wai. Since the weather was extremely good with no sun and it was a cooling day, I increased my pace a bit more trying to even the pace of them. By the end of 1st loop, I was already in top 10 position, probably because no one else would even run fast on the 1st lap except for those with a target distance to hit.
Sharing a lap with Jeff, who just did HK100 a week ago too
24 hours is still a long way to go, I need to find something to do to kill time, Ipod is probably too early and may disturb my cadence and pace unnecessarily, after the 1st few loops, I noticed Teck Wai was constantly ahead of me on a fixed distance, neither pulling away or slowing down. I decided to slowly close the gap or try to stay as close to him for as long as I can. The thing about Teck Wai, he is a sub 3:30 FM runner, this is probably his comfortable pace, for me, it is still hard to gauge whether I am doing a tempo pace or threshold pace, a glance at my heart rate monitor I got a shock for myself, HR above 180 just to keep up at this pace, discount the inaccuracy of 5-10% of wrist based HRM, I am still doing reasonably hard pace. Doing just sub6min/km pace is like taking the most effort out of me, that's bad.

But I was feeling OK, sweat rate was OK, breathing OK, foot landing was OK, no pain from the Achilles, no tightening of the right glutes, just focus on Teck Wai, I was telling myself.

Be Teck Wai's true follower
continue to tail Teck Wai
It didn't take me very long to close the gap on TW as I stopped less times for hydration; likewise he noticed my approaching and increased his pace too. This tailing went on until 3 hours into the race (23 laps) and he decided to slow down, and I become bored again because I lost track of everyone else in the game. Out of sudden, my tummy feels funny and I think it is time to release my dinner last night and breakfast this morning.

Pit Stop for orange juices (many times)
Because Rany takes good photo, so I put more here
Because Rany takes good photo, so I put more here

My favorite uphill segment, 20 steps
No idea why this hand sign, definitely not for the photographer...
I loop on for another 2 laps while waiting for Sam to help to get toilet paper (good to have the extra hand to order around to do work, lol!). On lap 27 (of course I can't remember this detailed, check back lap splits after race), Susan overtook me when I took a longer break to toilet. After the toilet break I lost the rhythm of the pace for awhile and 2 laps later I realised I have much more to clear, took another toilet break and just on time to cross 42KM mark under 4:30 hrs, not bad for a start. Since I was just out from a break, I decided to carry on till 50KM mark. In my mind, since I lost track of everyone else, I was thinking may be I was around 5/6th position, now that I check back, I was at 4th overall before the 1st long break of the race. Grab a seat, refill my Tailwind drinks, ate some breads (which I can't finish as usual), drank some Milo and off I go with my 2 easy walking laps before resume running again.

Evening already
It was already 6 hours into the event, generally most people would have stopped for a dinner break, many would have changed in to walking mode, the race site become quieter except the musics from the organizer still playing (Did I mention I regret to post the funny music videos in FB comment that organizer took seriously and played them all day long?).
Easy lap to continue to refuel and digest.
After the 2 good easy laps to digest the drinks and half a lap of jogging to raise the heart rate, I was ready to run again, got myself a target of 5 running laps before a walking lap to rest and replenish fuel. However, plan didn't go as wished, my biggest nightmare finally strike (though much later than I thought it would), my right butt tighten up and started to spread downward, the problem of having weaker right foot. Jeff offered his roller foam but it seems I will have to "climb" to the runners' tent to get it which I was too reluctant to do so, the physio/medical tent seems tempting but I wanted to try to attempt shaking the butt loose through running lighter and faster cadence.



Then I started to feel the effect of high HR on my body, the glutes didn't get tighten up so much but since I was on time for a sub13 100KM, I could afford to take a longer break by visiting the physio/medic tent to get a nice bed to lay flat (probably the only place I can do so...) and get my butt worked on.

The problem with the physio/medic tent, it was located just above the starting/finishing line, in other words, after crossing the line and reaching the participant personal supply tent, it made more sense to go for another loop to come back and go straight to the tent. That means I had to drag my butt to cover another loop before I can climb up the hill to the physio rescue.

1st stop for physio at 70KM
1st stop for physio at 70KM
May be I didn't look so suffering with the glutes issues, the physio was trying to figure out where exactly is my problem but at the end resolved with the common method shown above. I was not complaining since I get to lay on bed and get extra hands to push for the stretching. It was a refreshing break, I almost didn't want to leave the bed and just abandon the race, lol!

After the 10 mins stretching, I was able to get back into the running again, at least a good 8-9 laps of running and singing before I got hungry again (problem with high HR running) and switched back into walking for another few laps. It was already 1AM, 10 hrs into the race, less people on the route, some has retired from the race and more has gone to bed (good life). Just when I syok sendiri walking, singing and drinking, my watch reminded me that I FORGOT to switch on ultra-tracking mode and it was low on battery!!! I guess I will only have my 1st 100KM tracked and forget about the rest of the race (since every lap will be tracked by CPS anyway). The moment I hit 90 KM lap I decided to just complete all the way till 100KM and decide what to do next, before the battery runs out.

A good 4 laps of walking (my 3rd long break) and drinking put back much calories back into my body and I was able to cover the running non-stop until I cross the 74th lap (100 KM) at 12:20 hrs. Considering I have not done a good 100KM for a very long time, this came as a bonus, I have extra 40 mins to rest before 13 hrs. And bye Garmin, officially switching off my watch for now.

So I decided to climb up to participants' sleeping tent area to get a change of the top (it's getting cold at this hour) and take my own sweet time to eat some food and do some "looking into the far with empty mind" moment. Lucky me, while digging through my bag, I found my 920XT that I packed into my bag in the rush, with 40% battery left, switching to ultra mode will probably last me a good 10-12 hours, I hope. 

My 40 mins rest didn't go well as planned, the body cool down too fast and sitting too long is bad idea, the moment I wanted to stand up, I felt the pull on my right soleus and peroneus longus region, bad idea for not moving around to keep the blood flowing I guess. I needed to limp my way down to the medical tent to seek treatment but all they can do was to do cold spray on the affected area. There again I saw the nice bed again!!! "Suddenly" my calves felt so tight that I can't walk properly so I "needed" physio to get get rid of the problem! (Did I mention I stepped into the mud on my limping way towards the phyiso/medic tent ?)

Enjoying calf massage after 1st 100KM
Good time passed really fast and I would have to vacate the bed and return to the participant tent after the massage was over. Tried to get back into the track to walk/jog but the soreness kicked in, with low HR and cold temperature of the night, very soon I found myself not motivated to carry on dragging the feet further. Taking another hour of break to let the right foot recover a bit is probably a better idea. So I decided to "hang" my legs on the table for a one-hour nap...

I soon realized it was too cold to sleep like that, I had to crawl my way up the hill to get my light jacket before I can have a more comfy nap...

The next thing I know, it was dawn and people started to wake up, noises kicked in and it was already 7am+, lol!!! I better get up and keep my ass moving. As I very much expected, the 1st lap out of nap was terribly tough, I will just have to focus on keeping the HR up, the stiffness will pass, the soreness will pass, I will soon be able to jog again, after 1 lap, I was feeling much better, into 2nd lap my body already warm up and was able to run again!

A glance at the route, those who run/jog/walk through the night are now walking and not making fast pace (except Susan, she runs on both solar and lunar power) but I was able to run. 4hrs+ of slacking put me back into 7/8th position on the field with few laps behind the 6th/7th, it is definitely not a good idea trying to chase an improvement in position but to look at how much I can cover in the remaining 7hrs+.

I say, let's get to 100 laps 1st, which is 135KM mark, since I have done 105KM now, to walk the next 7 hrs would get 35KM, with some buffer time to rest and eat in between, as long as my right foot doesn't give problem. But I can run, so I run as much as I can, for a good 10 laps and I become hungry again. 118KM in the pocket and about 6 hrs to go, I decided to walk again and spend sometime to re-evaluate my condition and at what distance should I end this event.

160KM would mean a FM with less than 6hrs to go, then I don't get to relax at all (which is a big deal for me btw), a 110 laps would be 149KM, much more doable and I could spend the next 3 hrs walking to cover 15-16KM then save enough energy to run again, hopefully. So, began my 3 hours of walking.

I thought I saw a camera, OK, that's a camera.
I didn't do this
A walking lap is a smiling lap
3 hours of walking is no joke, I need 2 great pacers to make it happen
At the end of my 3hrs walking which was 100th lap, come the devil's advocate Chun How, he came to plan the info to my ears that I am currently at 6th position and the 3rd-5th are all same lap count at 104 laps, with 2.5 hrs to go, it is possible for me to close the gap of 4 laps and overtake all 3 of them. 4 laps means a 1 hrs gap aka to overtake them 1 lap every half an hour, quite tough actually.

I think he must be out of his mind, one of the 3 runners is Ben and he is still running/jogging anything but stopping, the other 2 are Thomas and Faisal, Thomas has stopped running, he probably will come out to cover a few more laps if he wishes, Faisal I recall this name familiar (later confirmed by checking B2E 2016 result and yes he was one of the top finishers), he seems to have stopped for 45 mins in his previous lap, there seems to be a chance of making them work harder for their position anyway.

Since I have walked enough, rested enough and recovered some energy, it doesn't hurt to push a little harder in the next 2.5 hrs for a better finishing position (and achieve a 150KM finishing). It was already noon time, the sun was up but it was not as hot as I thought, good thing is organizer prepared an icebox with ice in it for my every lap cooling use. 



I managed to close 3 laps gap with Faisal and overtook Thomas (he stopped already anyway) in the next 5/6 laps before my gas ran out and needed to refuel with 3 walking laps again, kind of funny as I laughed at myself for I should be taking purple dust if I decided to chase but it is OK, I am walking well, not affected by the injury on right foot, that's good news.

How often do u get a chance to share the same photo with Susan, especially the one she doesn't RUN?

I put this picture here because she helped me to get toilet paper.
The "Don't give a fcuk" look
At the end of 3 walking laps, with 35 mins to go I decided to go for the final push and run all the way till the end of the event, to my surprise, Faisal stopped after completing his 112th lap, so I managed to equalize his lap count at 23:54 hrs and continued another 650 meters before the race was officially over, not bad for a 4th finishing and over 150 KM in distance.
final laps chase
Running at noon sun
Pretty sure this is the final and beyond lap
Post Race remark/comment/suggestion:

So yup, I didn't hit very high mileage like 180 or 190KM as some think I should, but hey, my longest run ever was a 120KM before the injury that haunted me for a year and affected my speed, cadence, foot strike altogether, I am happy with a decent 152KM finishing (PB!!!)

The organizer did a very good job with the support station, the crews were extremely friendly and accommodating. I recalled asking for hot milo and I got what I wished for, :) Placing an ice box with ice definitely helped a lot, I get to chew on some ice for every lap to wash down the Tailwind I drink and cool down my body too. The numbered cup slots can be bigger for a bigger cup for some who has that need ( me me me!)

Shower facilities were nice, unfortunately I didn't have a chance to use them.

The participants' tent arrangement is probably going to pose some disadvantages for those placed further away from the race route, my case for example, I needed to walk pass other's seat to get to my place, compared to those just next to the race track, it is definitely much more convenient to them. Anyway, there is luck and there is no perfect arrangement, unless you are up for a record breaking session, can always put up a request with the organizer or the person who is lucky enough to have the best accessible table.

At the final hour of the race, it is important for the crews, supporters and runners who stopped running to keep the path clear, it is very dangerous to have human collision at this final hour. While keeping the excitement and encouragement up, keep the path clear too! :) 

The lap count billboard can be placed some 5-10 meters after the timing tracker, it would be easier for those running pass to see than to wait for the update to show at the timing line.

Would organizer consider to set a qualifying bar for future events given that event like this can only accommodate to limited number of runners (120?), if the same group of people just want to occupy the event as a carnival or privilege, will there be any chance for others to join? 

Thomas Eng is a very good runner, good cadence, good strike, good speed. Wong, another runner from Singapore, even though doesn't look fast, but was very consistent in his running. David is officially a zombie in my book, the only way to get his attention is to tell him he dropped his wallet. Susan, she runs on both solar and lunar power, I think on a heavy thunder storm day with no sun and no moon I would stand a chance to run faster than her. Jeff, is now a forever 100 miles runner. :)

Nevertheless, congratulations to all that made it to the final minutes of the event especially those who managed to better their previous records.

"Ultra marathon is not about the speed/pace, but the ability to deal with fatigue, dehydration, sleep deprivation, nutrition and temptation to stop, any of above can bring your game to an end if you allow it" Then again, I think whoever decided to join an ultra marathon should consider to start from a decent 50KM finishing 1st, eg. 8hrs finishing.

On Tailwind:
I have been using Hammer nutrition Perpetuem for the past 1.5 years in road ultra, it is doing me fine except the preparation of it takes a bit of effort, I am still on the search for additional choice for my fuel just in case I grow bored with Perpetuem and need something. I have heard so much about Tailwind but never have a chance to taste it until recently attended Jeri's talk and was given a free packet to try on. 

Then lucky me Siaw Hua gave me a full big bag of her Tailwind (because we share the same surname), I was supposed to test it during the Watergate16Hours but I didn't run long enough to need to use them. So 24H become my 1st official 1st time testing it, quite a bold idea to try something new during a race, a 24H race somemore.

Surprisingly it went well to my taste bud and I was able to take it without any problem. Looks like I have found my alternative fuel for my races in 2017, on top of the Hammer nutrition, I should say I found my Nails too.:)

Below are some of my data points for those who are interested to chew on analysis: (yes it is intentional to make some hard to read, ask me for the full copy if you really interested to read...)

Heart rate zone distribution for the 1st 100KM

Some stats for the 1st 100KM
Pace/HR/Cadence/Temperature chart for 1st 100KM, it showed that I took 3 big stops, in which one of them was visiting the medical tent for physiotherapy.
Result of the top 23 who hit above 120 KM in 24H

1-61KM CPS splits + Garmin Connect data

62-124KM CPS splits + Garmin Connect Data

125-152KM CPS Splits + Garmin Connect data

Photo credits to:
Rany Tan, 24H crews, AKU Wong, ET Tey, Duta Photo Malaysia