Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Xinshe Sakura Marathon (新社賞樱馬拉松) 2015

Rosemary and I signed up for the Xinshe Sakura Marathon 2015 last year through our usual contact, Sam.  :)  It was a no-brainer to join the race as I had wanted to do another marathon during the sakura season since I completed the Nagano Marathon in April 2003 (unofficially).  We booked our flight and left everything else (from traveling from Taipei Airport to accommodation to traveling to/from race, etc) to Sam.  This meant that everything would be stress-free.  Well, almost.  Except the part about completing the race early so that I could catch the last ferry service provided by the race organisers from the race start/end point to the High Speed Rail Station, to catch my flight in Taipei.

The 2015 Xinshe Sakura Marathon!

Pre-Race Activities
So on 7 Feb, Rosemary and I took the midnight flight from Singapore and arrived at Taipei around 6:00am with 3 other runners (Cindy, Siew Ying and Teck Huan).  After we cleared custom, we met Nancy who flew with Scoot, at the Arrival Hall.  A van pick us up outside the Arrival Hall and drove us to the race start which was at the city of Tai Chung.  (Sam was running 2 marathons over Saturday and Sunday, so Nancy was the de facto "tour guide" for our trip to Tai Chung.)  We stopped in Taipei for breakfast.  I loved the breakfast in Taiwan - the traditional breakfast of 蛋饼 (egg pancake) and 豆浆 (soya bean drink).  There were many varieties of the 蛋饼 in Taiwan, just like our roti prata in Singapore.  I ordered a 肉丝 and a bacon 蛋饼, plus a cold 豆浆.  It was really delicious.

Taiwanese Breakfast - 蛋饼 and 豆浆!

The drive to Tai Chung was about 2 hours.  As there was nothing at the race start/end point, Sam arranged us to visit two local places along the way to Tai Chung.  The first one was the 龍腾斷橋 (the name of a broken bridge with a long history, damaged in an earthquake in 1935) and the other was the old 勝興車站 (old railway station in 勝興).  It was nice to experience the early spring season where the weather was cool.  After the visits, we had early lunch.  We ordered a few dishes to share and I loved the pig's blood as it was not available in Singapore.  After lunch, we stopped at a nearby Family Mart (something like our 7-Eleven) to get our supply of water and food (breakfast) before reaching the race start/end point around 1pm.  The race organiser brought us to the accommodation bunks where there were 5 double-decker beds for us.  Some of us decided to take a nap while waiting for Sam till dinner time as I did not have a good night sleep on the plane.  Sam arrived with Elaine, Gary, Ngah Ling and 邵老师 at around 6:45pm and we left for dinner at 7:00pm.  Dinner was "sponsored" by the race organiser for whatever reason I couldn't recall but it was a good 10-course dinner!  The boiled soup was especially delicious!

Sight-seeing Location 1: 龍腾斷橋!

Sight-seeing Location 2: The Old 勝興車站 - Railway Station !

Delicious Lunch!

Xinshe Sakura Marathon (新社賞樱馬拉松) 2015
I set the alarm to wake up at 5:15am as the accommodation block was less than 500 meters from the starting line.  But by 4:45am, alarm from the rest of the runners started buzzing and I reluctantly got up to change at 5:00am.  We brought all our belongings to check-in at the baggage deposit in the hall at about 5:45am.  Then we waited at the hall as it was cold outside.  Yes, even I felt cold as well as it was early morning and the sun was not out yet.  5 minutes before the start, we walked towards the starting line.  While waiting for the countdown, I met a guy who recognised me from last year's Sinyi Grape Marathon as I was wearing the same running outfit!  At 6:00am, we were off.

I warmed up nicely once I started running but compared to other marathons I ran in Taiwan previously, this was the coldest.  6:00am was still dark so I had to watch my step as I tend to fall easily.  I told myself to keep running since there was nothing much to see.  Back in my mind, I was hoping to finish within 6 hours, i.e. at 12:00pm, which would leave me with 45mins to bath and get ready for the last bus ride at 1:00pm.  Ideally, I should finish in 5hrs 30mins.  The sky slowly brightened but there was nothing much to see as we were running along streets next to shop houses and homes.  The first km marker I noticed was at the 6km mark.  There were also a few tress with full blossom of sakura!  I didn't stop to take any photos as I felt it wasn't nice enough.  I told myself I would only stop for photos during the 2nd half of the race.  But when I ran past a sakura park entrance just after the 8km mark, I stopped and whipped out my iPhone.  Then I saw Nancy and Celine running towards me!  We quickly helped each other to take photos before continuing our run.

 The Sakura Season!

Nancy and I paced each other after that, while Celine dropped off the pace.  I wasn't sure if I could keep up with Nancy as she was usually faster.  At every water station, we waited for each other although deep inside, I hoped she carried on running when I stopped for water so I won't need to put in so much effort to run up to her even if she had slowed down.  Nevertheless, our different drink intake pattern allowed us to stop and rest more.  The regular walk-breaks meant that I had to run hard in order to maintain my core temperature, else I would feel cold.  After the 19km mark, the half marathoners turned right and headed towards the finishing while the marathoners turned left.  Nancy and I managed to keep pace till the 22km mark.  Along the way, I saw food items I never seen before being served: carrot cake (菜頭粿), pancake (蛋饼), almond milk and liquor!  The liquor was especially good as it heated up our body.  After the 22km mark, we were on an upslope and I decided to jog-walk to the top.  I urged Nancy to keep up but she decided to walk instead.

From Top Left Clockwise Direction: 菜頭粿, Soup, 蛋饼, Almond Milk, Vegetables, Liquor!

And so, I continued to push myself as whenever I slowed down, I could feel the chilly wind.  I did saw Nancy again when she caught up with me at the water station after the 25km mark.  It was just minutes past 9:00am.  I waited for her to take a picture before I continued to push my pace.  At around the 28km mark, we joined back to the earlier route but running on the opposite side of the road, before making a left turn and merged with road leading to the park where we passed earlier.  By then, I knew I would need to run that part of the same route again.  More food were served along the route but as back of the pack runner (I thought I was already running quite fast), good stuff like the duck meat was almost gone.  Before I made the u-turn at the junction to make my way back, I saw Ngah Ling, Sam, 宝哥 and his entourage of runners.  宝哥 was running his 400th marathon and I wished I could accompany him for his journey.  Unfortunately, as I needed to catch the last ferry service, I passed 宝哥 and subsequently Ngah Ling and Sam.  The last 3km was the hardest as we had to run up a slope but once we summit, it was flat before going downslope.  I crossed the finish line in 5hrs 15mins (gun time) eventually, with Nancy about 2mins behind.

From Top Left Clockwise Direction: Toufu, 台湾啤酒 (Taiwan Beer), Beehoon and Duck Meat!

On The Wall: The Reminders On Environmental Issues After 40km Mark!

At the end of the race, I picked up my Finishing Certificate, a goodie bag containing water and a big towel (half marathoners got a smaller towel) , as well as a sumptuous lunch box.  The race organisers also provide hot showers but for those who were too slow like myself, we had to make do with cold showers instead.  I washed up, packed and managed to get ready by 12:30pm, after which Rosemary and I followed Nancy to look for the ferry service to bring us to Tai Chung High Speed Rail Station for the 40mins train ride to Taipei Airport High Speed Rail Station.  We made it!

Overall Verdict: 9/10
I was very pleased with my timing as I had not expected to maintain the 8km/hr pace (7:30min/km pace) at all.  This should be due to the cool weather in early February.  The marathon was very well organised with well-stocked water and food stations situated at regular intervals.  Runners were never left thirsty or hungry and in some instance, never left cold.  Although the route seemed pretty boring in the 2nd half with repeated sections, there were sufficient sakura found along the way for runners to admire.  This was indeed a great race to take part in!  :)

The Last Mile Of Xinshe Sakura Marathon!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 Coldwater Rumble 100 Miles Run

This was my first big race of the year as I wanted to complete a 100 miles race.  It was highly recommended by David, a friend whom I met a few years back in Lean Horse 100 and had since kept in touch, through Facebook and when David and Shannon came to Singapore to do the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon twice.  The Coldwater Rumble Trail Run was organised by the Aravaipa Running.  Last year, the 100M race comprised of running 5 x clockwise loops in the rugged and jagged Sierra Estrella mountain range in the Arizona dessert.  This year, while the route remained largely the same (there were several new miles due to the many trails being re-worked at the Estrella Mountain Regional Park recently), the loops were in washing-machine style.  I.e. Loop 1, 3 and 5 in clockwise direction while Loop 2 and 4 in anti-clockwise direction.  This allowed runners to meet each other face-to-face, several times.  The reason for the change was also to allow some variations in the otherwise, monotonous running of 5 exact loops.

The Coldwater Rumble 100 Miles Race Route

Prior to my flight to Phoenix, David gave me a lot of information on the race, as well as weather in Phoenix.  He also told me not to worry about bringing any food or supplies so that I won't need to bring along a big luggage.  He and Shannon also offered to accommodate my stay in their guestroom, as well as picking me and sending me to the airport since it was only about a 45mins drive.  On top of that, David also asked me what I would like for dinner the night before the race, as well as breakfast on race day, so that Shannon could prepare the food I need.  This was the most stress-free trip for an overseas ultramarathon.  Due to the few trips to USA this year, I decided to fly in on Friday, the day before the race!  David had assured me that the weather was really good and it almost never snowed in Phoenix, especially in the low altitude areas.  So it would be unlikely to have flight delay due to bad weather.  I took a gamble and the flight connections worked.  And I arrived at their place on Friday mid afternoon.

I immediately went to unpack my luggage and prepare my stuff for the race - like the headlamps, batteries, spare batteries, trail shoes, spare socks, gels and sports drinks like Red Bull and instant noodles that I had been using regularly in my ultramarathons.  David passed me my race packet which he and Shannon helped me to pick up the day before.  He also showed me the ice box which he had prepared and stocked up with chocolate milk, coconut drink, etc, less the ice.  I was really grateful to them for taking such good care of me.  I returned to my room to get ready my running attire and race bib.  By 6:00pm, I was all set and we waited for Shannon to pick up their son Elijah and come home to cook dinner.  Shannon was great in preparing the stuff for cooking.  She made everything looked so easy and simple.  Sometimes, you needed to have a lot of patient and it was something I lacked as I had no interest in cooking.  Dinner was served shortly and I enjoyed the home-cooked food, something I missed terribly these few years.  Then it was time for bed.

 The Coldwater Rumble Race Pack and Elijah - David and Shannon's Little Helper!

 Pasta, Chicken And Prawns For Carbo-Loading and Shannon, David & Me!

There were 6 races: 100 miles, 52 miles, 52km, 20 miles, 20km, and 4 miles, with each race being flagged off 30 minutes apart.  David was running the 20 miles race and his starting time was 8:30am - 1hr 30mins after I started my race.  David aimed to leave the house by 5:20am as it would take about 40~50mins to reach the parking lot.  So Shannon woke up before 5:00am to fix my breakfast.  :(  Breakfast included bacon, scrambled eggs, toasts, tomatoes and orange juice!  It was the best breakfast I had eaten for a long while!  I thanked Shannon before leaving with David.  When I stepped outside, it was cold.  So it was nice jumping into the car with the heater on.  We reached the parking lot at about 6:15am and we went to deposit our ice-box and my drop bag at the Coldwater Aid Station.  (We would be passing by the Coldwater Aid Station twice every loop so that was the only aid station where we could put our belongings).  David also assured me that the ice-box would be very safe as there were many volunteers and supporters hanging around the start/finish line where we put our belongings.  I went back to the car to keep warm until 10 minutes before start where I reluctantly went to join the rest at the starting line.  At 7:00am sharp, we were off!

What A Hearty Breakfast!

The air was cool but once I started running, I felt fine.  There were 4 segments in every loop: 3.4 miles, 7.9 miles, 4.2 miles and 4.5 miles to make up the 20 miles in a loop.  This was palatable as it meant that the most I need to run before I reach the next aid station would be 7.9 miles (around 12.7km) - unless I got lost.  The terrain was mostly rolling hills, something which I liked.  There we also a few hills but nothing too difficult.  At least, not in the morning where it was still bright.  I tried to keep pace with the runners in front of me so that I wouldn't get lost.  But slowly, the gap became bigger and bigger, while the front runners disappeared beyond the horizon.  I managed to reached the Coldwater Aid Station without any problem.  Unfortunately, our drop bags had not reached.  I asked the volunteers if I could leave my long-sleeve shirt on the chair as I didn't wish to carry any extra load.  They assured me that I could leave my stuff on any empty chair and they would safeguard them.  Besides, we were in the middle of the dessert.  :p  After thanking them, I left for the next check-point.

The next segment was mostly flat.  But there were sections of the route that were not clear as we need to descend into some kind of embankment, cross it, and go up to the other side.  On one such occasion, I went up and down the embankment for a couple of times before noticing the trail marking!  By then, the fast runners for the 52 miles race had started overtaking me.  Not long after, I saw a man sitting on the ground.  I asked if he was okie when I caught up with him.  He thanked me and warned me to be careful as there were many cactus around.  Apparently, he fell and got stuck by the cactus lying around him.  Ouch!  I left him and continued.  The sun was slowly coming out and I could feel the heat.  Running in the Estrella Mountain Regional Park was both fun and not so fun.  The fun part was about admiring the different type of cactus while the not so fun part was the constant changes in the trail footing which ranged from smooth trails (not for much), to sandy, soft trails, to small sections with small and big stones.  The guy who fell earlier soon caught up and passed me.  Before I reached the next check-point, ladies from the 50 miles race also passed me.  :(

After refueling my water, I aimed for the next check-point 4.2 miles away.  More and more runners overtook me including those in the 52km races.  It was rather depressing but I kept pressing on.  My initial target was to complete the first loop in 4hrs 30mins but I knew a more realistic target would be 5hrs flat.  I knew I had to try my best as I told Shannon that it would be great to say hi to them after my first loop.  Shannon and Elijah had registered for the 4 miles race starting at 9am and I wouldn't want to keep them waiting.  I reached the Coldwater Aid Station for the 2nd time and saw my long-sleeve shirt lying nicely on the same chair.  I went over to fold the shirt and put it into my drop bag which had since arrived at the Coldwater Air Station.  Then I continued the last segment of the run which was on undulating terrain, aka rolling hills.  I met many runners on their 2nd, anti-clockwise loop.  At just past noon, I finally emerged from the Estrella Mountain Regional Park and completed the 1st loop at 12:08pm!  I saw Shannon and Elijah who completed the 4 miles race about 15mins earlier.  After a short exchange of words, I bade them farewell and on my way for the 2nd loop.

The sun was very warm but with a low humidity, it was bearable.  The trail was not as crowded as earlier but it seemed harder on the anti-clockwise loop!  Either that was my imagination or it was really harder on the reverse loop.  After running 20mins into the park, I met David, who was running strong.  I told him that I met Shannon and Elijah when I completed my first loop.  Before we went different directions, he told me to text him should I need anything and he would see to it that I get what I need.  And if I wanted someone to pace, he would be more than happy to do that since he only ran 20 miles that morning.  I thanked him and continued to the Coldwater Aid Station.  If I found the first segment of the reverse loop hard, I had a shock for the second segment.  At one point, I was lost when I couldn't see any path or trail markings in front or behind me.  Having run it earlier, I thought I could recall the route but of course, running in the reverse meant everything looked different.  Just as I almost gave up, I found the trail where I was supposed to run on.  And so, I decided to take photos and not worry about the cut-off.  If I made it, excellent.  If not, it was fine.

At The Pedersen Aid Station - 2nd Loop!

For the next few miles, I jogged and walked while admiring the beauty of the vast dessert.  There were many cactus.  Some were very tall while others were short.  Some consist of a single stalk (okie I am not sure if I described it correctly) while others had numerous "branches" on the stalk.  Then there were shorter ones with a big head.  Once in a while, there would be runners passing me from behind and from the front.  I reached Pedersen Aid Station after 1hr 55mins (covering 8.7 miles).  I thanked the volunteers who had to stay in the dessert till noon the next day.  For the next 7.9 miles, I plodded along and whenever a runner overtook me, I would try my hardest to stay with him.  But most of the time, I succeeded only for a short distance before seeing the person disappeared into the distance.  It took me almost 3 hours to reach the Coldwater Aid Station!  Once there, I decided that I would stop once I completed 2 loops as I won't have enough time to complete the 3rd loop by 2:00am in the morning.  Instead of being stopped by the official after 3 loops, I rather stopped after 2 loops so that David could pick me up in the evening than in the early morning.

 The Vast Dessert With the Different Cactus!

At The Coldwater Aid Station - 2nd Loop!

I ate a small portion of hot noodle soup, grabbed my drop bag from the Coldwater Aid Station and left.  I jogged till the sun went completely down and took out my handheld lights.  There weren't many runners on the course as most have finished their respective races.  Those still running were attempting the 52 miles or 100 miles runners.  I text David to inform him of my decision to DNF.  :(  The last 3.4 miles seemed far.  No one had passed me since I left Coldwater Aid Station.  Nearer to the park exit, I saw lights coming from above but I couldn't recall having to run that high up earlier in the day.  There were 3 runners and I made way for them to pass.  While continuing my way up, I heard someone fell and was glad that I was ascending instead of descending, which was my weakest link.  I was both sad and relieved when I eventually crossed the Start/Finish line.  I went over to the race officials to inform them of my decision to stop.  Then I walked over to David, Shannon and Elijah who had all arrived.  Back at the Start/Finish area, volunteers were busy preparing food but I had no appetite, except to ask for a hot soup and also a bottle of coconut drink from the cooler.  After filling my stomach, we packed up everything and made our way home.

Race Start / End Area!

All in all, I enjoyed my trip to the State of Arizona.  The Coldwater Rumble was a great race and the race organiser had designed a course that's both challenging and refreshing.  The weather in January in Phoenix was just like in Singapore - hot and warm but in low humidity, although it was cold in the early morning and at night.  I had overestimated my ability for this race as running in the dessert was no easy task even though there were no mountain in this race.  I would definitely come back to take on the dessert challenge again next year but probably in the 52 miles or 52km race.  Once again, many thanks to David and Shannon who were such great hosts and had made my trip so stress-free.  :)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Yoma Yangon International Marathon 2015

I decided to sign up for the Yangon Marathon sometime in Oct last year after I received an email.  As I have not visited Myanmar before, I thought it was a good opportunity to do a race there.  The traveling to and from Yangon was favourable so there was no need for me to apply any leave.  Basically, it would be an "easy, fly-in, run and fly-back" kind of short trip.  :p  I wrote to the travel agencies provided by the race organiser to enquire about the cost and almost signed up for the cheapest package available until I learned that a friend, Berno, would be running in the race as well.  I decided to follow Berno and left him sort out the accommodation.  He booked a room for 3 pax at the highly recommended Four Rivers Hostel for 2 nights.  The damage?  A very affordable US$18 per pax, per day for a room with 3 beds that come with a common bathroom and free WiFi.  :)  Definitely cheaper than taking up the package which would have cost me about US$300 although it did come with personal pickup from/to airport, race start/finish and hotel accommodation.

eVISA Application
Before traveling to Myanmar, one had to apply for a visa.  But I wasn't sure if the visa application website provided in the official race website is genuine or not.  So I googled for the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore and booked successfully for an appointment date for in-person visa application.  After booking for a date, I saw a link in the website that linked to the same visa application website provided by the race organiser.  I decided to apply my eVISA instead.  However, there was a difference in cost: applying direct with the embassy would cost you a mere S$35.00 while applying through eVISA would cost you US$50.00.  It was more expensive but for those who were too busy to go down personally to apply in-person (take note that you have to physically send in the forms and photos, and go back later that day to pick up the Visa), applying the eVISA was a better option.  The visa would be valid for a one-time visit to Myanmar.

 The Official E-VISA Application Website!

Entering Myanmar
The currency used in Myanmar is the Myanmar Kyat (or Burmese Kyat).  As I couldn't find any money changer in Singapore that sells the Myanmar Kyat, I changed at the airport after arriving in Yangon.  I was told to bring Singapore or US currencies in good and clean condition.  Otherwise, they might not accept the notes.  The S$60 ensured I had a total of 45,000 Myanmar Kyat to spend for the 2-day trip.  With my newly exchanged notes, I booked a cab to Four Rivers Hostel at the airport taxi counter which cost me 8,000 Kyat.

I arrived at the Four Rivers Hostel after an hour ride.  Although the distance was only about 18km, traffic in the city was really bad.  Berno and Ailin were not in the room so I took a nap until the evening time when I went out to look for dinner.  I was very tempted to try the road side stalls but decided against it.  Then I saw a Yakun Kaya Toast Shop along the main road and decided to take a look what they offered.  Interestingly, they served chicken rice which cost 4,000 Kyat (about S$5.40), which I thought was expensive in such a place.  After I ordered, the waiter told me that the chicken rice come with a 50% discount so it only costs 2,000 Kyat (about S$2.70) which was okie since the Yakun is a fully-airconditioned outlet.  I also ordered a ice barley at 2,000 Kyat.  When the dish arrived, the chicken didn't look appetizing at all.  It was a little hard with little sauce.  Nevertheless, I finished everything as I was hungry.  Back at the hostel, Berno and Ailin came back at around 8pm plus and Berno handed my race pack which he helped me collected earlier.  We then pre-arranged for a taxi to come pick us up at 3:30am at a cost of 3,000 Kyat.

The Yangon Marathon 42.195km Race Route!

Left and Top Right: Chicken Rice at Yakun Kaya Toast; Bottom Right: Race Packet Goodies!

The drive from the hostel to the race start was about 20mins.  It was a small race with staggered start time for the different races, so there weren't many people.  After Berno and Ailin deposited their bags, we walked around.  Yangon was not particularly cold in January but we decided to stand next to a big pot of cooking soup to feel more comfortable.  The stall was selling local noodles which looked very delicious.  We couldn't resist the temptation and eventually, bought a bowl to share.  It was nice especially the hot soup.  The noodles cost only 800 Kyat (S$1.05).  After our second serving of breakfast (we each ate something at the hostel before arriving at the race start), it was time to walk to the starting line where I met a group of Singapore runners, including Helen.  The organiser flagged us off at 5:00am.

At The Start Of Yoma Yangon International Marathon!

Yoma Yangon International Marathon
The sky was still dark at 5:00am.  But there were street lights along the way so it wasn't that bad.  However, just turning right out from the stadium was a bridge!  While short and not that steep, I wasn't totally warmed up enough to run up.   :(  Instead, I jogged and walked the second half up the bridge.  Some portion of the road surfaces in Myanmar were not smooth so one had to pay attention while running.  The first water point was just after the 3km mark, as indicated in the guide book.  Local people were clapping along the course as runners ran past them, which was nice.  After the 6km mark, runners turned right and were now running along some ports storage area.  Again, there were people cheering us at major junctions.  But mainly, this section of the race was pretty boring, especially after we entered the "gantry", where the elite 21km runners started running past me.  I reached the 10km marker at approximately 1hr 16mins, which was approximately 8km/hr pace.  The sky were getting bright and workers started arriving to the port.  At around the 19km marker, we joined the main road.  The vehicles on the road were law abiding.  No one horned although one or two vehicles decided to make a u-turn.  I saw a group of children waving frantically at the runners and high five them as we ran past them.  There were also a few supporters handing out bottles of water and fruits.  I crossed the 20km marker at around 2hrs 32mis, which meant I was rather consistent in my pacing thus far.  :)

Between 7km~15km Marks On The Road Along The Port!

Top: Children Along The Course; Bottom: Crossing The 20km Marker!

The route was pretty flat since the first bridge I encountered near the start although there were a few slopes here and there.  The sun was up by then but the weather was still manageable.  So it was no surprised that I managed to cover 30km in 3hrs 52mins.  I was hopeful that I could complete the race within my set target of 5hrs 45mins.  After the water-cum-banana station at the 31km marker, we entered into some kind of a garden before exiting another gate about 3km further up.  Then, the route became a little undulating although nothing too difficult.  We were running against the traffic, but with one lane closed for the runners, it was still safe though the air quality wasn't good.  I knew I was approaching the Aung San Suu Kyi residence as indicated in the guide book but I wasn't sure exactly how it looked like.  Just around the 36km mark, we were directed onto a path on our left and I saw a beautiful lake in front of me.  "It should be somewhere around here", I wondered to myself.  With nothing that stood out, I snapped a few photos before continuing my race.  It was 10am plus and there were many people around the park enjoying the lake view.  It was also getting very warm. There was little shade in the last 4km. I also managed to catch a glimpse of Berno from a distance but no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't able to bridge the gap.  I reached the 40km marker at 10:19am (1hr 27mins for my 4th 10km segment, 11mins off pace) and decided to just take it easy since our pre-determined meeting time was 11:45am. The last 2.195 km was completed in a slow 20mins jog for a total nett time of 5hrs 34.51mins (gun time of 5hrs 35.11mins).

Water Stations Before And After The 30km Marker!

The Possible Sighting Of "Aung San Suu Kyi" Residence!

Finishing Of The Yoma Yangoon Marathon!

After I completed my race, the free massage service was already gone.  In fact, the workers are dismantling the tents used for the massage!  So 早起的鸟儿有虫吃 (early birds get to eat all the worms)!  I met up with Ailin (who had been waiting for more than an hour) and Berno (about 10mins in front of me) and took a cab back to the hostel.  This time round, we had some problem in communicating with the drivers as most of them did not understand English nor were they literate (which explained why they couldn't understand the address printed on the hostel business card).  We did eventually found one who knew the way back to the hostel and managed to negotiate the cab fee to 4,500 Kyat.  Back at the hostel, we were glad that they extended our time so that we could all wash up and check-out.  We then went to a nearby coffeeshop for cheap and quick recovery lunch before heading back to the airport.  Again, traffic in the city was terrible and only cleared up after we exited the city onto their motorway to airport.  It cost us only 7,000 Kyat.  :)

 Post Marathon Recovery Lunch In-Progress!

Overall, it was a great race experience.  The Myanmar people were very friendly and hospitable.  Obviously, most people in Myanmar lead a simple but difficult life so it was surprising to see some of them offering fruits, water to the runners and cheering for us.  As compared to the Sundown Marathon or the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, the Yangon Marathon had more support from the locals. who were ever so spontaneous and warm, from the start of the marathon even though it was still early morning.  At certain part of the route where we ran through the villages, the children would even run along side us for a short distance, and high-five us.  It really made me more motivated since road marathons were really boring and most of the Yangon Marathon had little scenery, with the exception of the Aung San Suu Kyi Residence somewhere after the 36km mark.  The water and food supply although limited in varieties, were sufficient and placed at regular intervals.  It was a race that I would definitely recommend to take part in.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

MR25 Ultramarathon 2014

It was a rather rash decision to sign up for the MR25 Ultramarathon 2014 but I decided to do so nonetheless as I wanted to use this as a workout to recover from the Dapeng New Year Marathon exertion 2 days earlier.  I had done this race 3 times previously.  In fact, I embarked on my ultramarathon journey by completing my first MR25 Ultramarathon back in 2006 where I completed 6 laps.  I improved to completing 7 laps in 2007 while my last race was in 2008 when I completed the minimum of 5 laps.  Probably due to my weak mind, I had not been taking part in the race since then.  The big difference then and now, besides the obvious rise in cost of registration, was the availability of finisher medal and chip timing.  Other than that, the same old uncles that helped out back in 2006 were still doing the same job now.  Plus a few more volunteers.  :)

On race day, I packed simple with just a few gels, a bottle of sports drink and my trusted Ultimate Direction Jenny's Collection - Ultra Vesta, a hydration made specifically for women.  At the start, I met up with Wendy, whom I met through Trail Running Singapore.  After depositing our personal belongings in the MR locker, we walked to the start, which was just slightly further up than the previous start/end point.  This meant that other regular users of the park would not be blocked, neither would the runners be blocked by them.  I met some long-time friends from the era - Shortlegs (Seivland), Roentgen (Lionel), Taz (Yong Wei), and Teelee (Tee Lee), who were also running the race. Then organisers flagged us off at 7:00am sharp.

Before The Start Of MR25 Ultramarathon 2014!

All along, my plan was simple: to do 5 loops and complete the race within the 12 hours cut-off.  I knew this was achievable based on my previous experience.  I was conscious not to commit the mistake of running too fast.  Perhaps the fall during my Shen Zhen trip helped in a way since I was still feeling bruise from the fall rather than from the marathon itself.  It also helped in that I was not wearing my Garmin Fenix even though I knew the time if I were to check on my cellphone.  Even so, I still felt surprised when I completed the first loop in 1hr 36mins.  It was not a fast loop but I thought I would have completed in around 1hr 40mins.  I text Elise of my progress as she was supposed to pace me for my 4th and 5th loops.  I took a gel, walked to the trail head and continued my 2nd loop.  Loop 1: 1hr 36mins (Total Time: 1hr 36mins)

 Completing The 1st Loop (left)!  With Soong Ing (right)!

By the second loop, the runners were pretty spread out.  Even so, the trail was still rather crowded as there were other hikers and runners.  Unfortunately, not everyone had the same trail etiquette which could be rather annoying when you were running in a race.  The weather was also very kind - it was not as hot as it could be in Singapore.  At the end of the northern trail, just before the 1st water point, I almost tripped while going down the gentle descend.  A runner in front shout out to me to be careful.  I took his advice and go slow on all the downhills even if they were not steep at all.  I couldn't imagine if I had fallen while my wound on the right knee was still not completely healed.  I completed the 2nd loop in 1hr 37mins!  Again, I updated Elise and she was worried she might not make it in time for my 4th loop.  I told her not to worry and just come whenever she was done with her kids.  Loop 2: 1hr 37mins (Total Time: 3hrs 13mins)

Completing The 2nd Loop!

I knew I had to slow down and I did.  For my 3rd loop, I ran/walked for all the upslopes (except for the two upslopes after the fitness corner near the end of each loop as I loved running both that segments).  I also spent some time both the water points to talk to the volunteers.  At the first water point, it was manned by Yuji and his wife Chikako.  I first met Yuji through and he was a competitive runner.  In recent years, he had been helping out to man the water point for MR25 Ultramarathon, which was very nice.  After chatting with his wife, I learned that their daughter was currently studying overseas and their black dog had since died of old age which made me kind of sad.  I thanked them as they would be handing over the pm shift to someone else before continuing my race.  At the 2nd water point, next to the fitness corner, I chatted with the volunteers there while messaging Elise that I would reach the Amenities Centre in 20mins, which I did.  The 3rd loop was completed in 1hr 52mins!  Loop 3: 1hr 52mins (Total Time: 5hrs 5mins)

Left: Water Point 1 with Yuji & Chikako! Right: Water Point 2 @ Fitness Corner!

Left & Middle: Supporters Met After Loop 3! Right: Food Offered by Organiser & Mushroom Soup Bought By Elise!

I met Elise at the Amenities Centre at 12:20pm and she bought a bowl of mushroom soup for lunch.  It tasted much better as compared to the buns and bananas given by the race organiser as I craved something salty.  At around 12:40pm, it was time to get going after a rather long pit-stop.  This was also a chance to do catching up with her, as well as on her sons and daughters.  She always made me felt I was going fast even though we were of the same speed, which was good in a race.  Sometimes, she would run ahead of me to clear the trail and other times, she let me go ahead, whenever she sensed my momentum.  But she never let me ran it too easy, reminding that she had to be back on time to feed Victoria.  :(  So I knew I had to do my part.  Just exiting the trail, I met Raudhah and took some coke from her.  It was refreshing!  Loop 4 was completed in 2hrs 21mins, including 35mins of break-time!  Loop 4: 2hrs 21mins (Total Time: 7hrs 26mins)

En Route To Completion of Loop 4!

We took a short break and walked to the trail head after I had finished the iced milo that Elise bought for me  For loop 5, Elise had a surprise for me but she didn't tell until we were after the half way point through the loop.  As I was on target to finish by 4:45pm (It was initially 5:00pm but since she said she had to feed Victoria, she set a 4:45pm target for me), she set me a new target of completing the 5 loops by 4:30pm.  She said this was reasonable since I looked and ran strong for loop 4.  So my hope of a easy loop 5 was literally dashed.  :(  I jogged/walked the upslopes, maintaining a consistent pace.  But I wasn't sure if I could make the 4:30pm deadline set by her.  Nevertheless, Elise never told me my progress throughout.  Instead, she assured me of my ability and reminded to have faith in myself.  After the second water point, I decided to push myself a little harder and completed loop 5 at 4:16pm!  This meant Elise had time to wash up, go home and feed Victoria!     Loop 5: 1hr 50mins (Total Time: 9hrs 16mins)

9hrs 16mins 50secs - Completion Of 5 Loops Of MR25 Ultramarathon!

Overall, it was a great race experience, and special thanks to the race organisers, official volunteers, friends supporting other runners and especially Elise.  Without her faith in me, her constant encouragement (and sometimes nagging), I wouldn't have completed the MR25 strongly.  It was not my fastest race but it gave me great confident to tackle the Cross Country Marathon (organised by the same group of runners) which has a cut-off time of 7 hours.  Though MR25 Ultramarathon is not a must-do race, it is definitely a race where I could use as a training run given that I had limited resources to plan for a LSD and a weak mind.  Next up is the Yoma Yangon Marathon in a week's time!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

大鹏新年马拉松 - Dapeng New Year Marathon 2015

This would be the first race for me in 2015 - on New Year's Day no less.  I first got to know about this race from 老菜, who lives in the city of 深圳 (Shen Zhen).  I met 老菜 back in Lantau, Hong Kong, at CP1 of the TransLantau 100km race last March.  We both DNFed the race (he had a recurrence of an old injury while I sprained my right ankle 8km into the race) and were waiting for organiser's vehicle to take us to the start/end point with one other injured runner.  It was a long wait and 老菜 decided to walk out to the main road to get a cab instead.  He was extremely kind to get the cab driver to drive back to CP1 to pick up the rest of the injured runners, including me.  After the race, we kept in touch through WeChat and he regularly updated me on the various races happening in China.  And so, I decided I would do the 大鹏新年马拉松 on New Year Day.  :)  Registration for the race was piece of cake with 老菜 around.  It really saved me time and effort.  Also, registration fee cost a mere 100RMB (equivalent to around S$23.00).

大鹏新年马拉松 2015!

Flight time from Singapore to Shen Zhen was about 4 hours.  From the airport, I followed 老菜's instruction and took the Airport Bus No. 10 to the city where he and his friend would pick me up.  The bus fare cost 7RMB (about S$1.55) but the journey was rather long - about 1hr 30mins due to the congestion on New Year's Eve.  The drive to Dapeng (大鹏) was another 1hr 30mins.  By the time we reached Dapeng, 老菜's friend dropped us off before leaving for his hotel at another location.  I was totally exhausted.  Luckily, I was only running a full marathon the next day.  After checking into the hotel, I went out with 老菜 for carbo-loading dinner with two of his friends who had just arrived to pick up their race packets from him.  I learnt that 大鹏 is one of the oldest district with the smallest population in Shen Zhen.  Near the place of dinner, there was a old place where old building structures are largely preserved although the fixtures and fittings looked modern.  There was an old-fashion inn like those in the olden time swordplay movies.  It was like stepping back in time.

Top Left: Bus Ticket; Top Middle: Sea-side Area; The Rest: Old Town of 大鹏!

Carbo-loading Dishes!

On race day morning, we took the bus provided for the runners free-of-charge near our hotel to the race start at 5:20am, which was approximately 10~15km away.  The weather was a little cool at 12 degree Celsius.  I was glad that I listened to 老菜 and put on the poncho that was included in our race packet.  While the poncho did not keep me warm, at least it served its purpose to keep wind out.  I felt much better once I was on board the bus and away from the wind.  The entire journey took less than 20 minutes for the bus to reach the starting line.  I didn't feel like getting off the bus as it was rather windy.  Luckily, there was a male and female changing tent and I joined a few other ladies to hide inside.  With the race not starting until 7:30am, I even had time to nap for about an hour or so till 7:10am.  Then I slowly dragged myself out of the tent for some warm-up and stretching exercises.  At 7:30am sharp, the race organiser flagged us off.  As soon as I started running, my body warm up fast enough and I was all system go.

Photos Taken At The Starting Point!

Aid Station Support
The elevation for the race was almost flat with a slight incline from the 33km (10m) mark and peaking at the 38km (70m) mark.  The aid stations for the marathon were stationed at every 2.5km apart, starting from the 5km mark.  Water was served at all the aid stations while sports drinks and wet sponges were made available at alternate aid stations.  Washrooms were also made available (either using the public toilets or providing mobile toilets) near all the aid stations, while vaseline, bananas and salt tablets (yes, they even gave out salt tablet) were provided at the 25km and 35km marks.  The water and food were plenty, except for the 25km marker where they ran out of bananas for the slow runners.  I wasn't affected as I carried my own gels.  :)  Volunteers at the aid stations were very proactive and helpful.

大鹏新年马拉松 - Race Route and Elevation!

Marathon Route
The race started at the 大鹏半岛国家地质公园 (some kind of park) entrance.  We ran away from the park entrance on the main road before the route lead us back into (probably) the same park from another entrance where the open sea appeared on our left.  It was rather scenic although those who were scared of cold would find it too chilly due to the strong wind.  There were very few spectators here and there, which was not surprising given that Dapeng was a small town and had the smallest population in Shen Zhen.  Supporters of the race tried their best to drum up the atmosphere by shouting words of encouragement, blowing the whistle, or waving their pom pom.  One must really gave it to the ladies who braved the windy condition wearing only sleeveless dress in heels.  :s

Supporters and Scenery!

Runners and Volunteers Along the Course!

Race Review & After Thoughts
As for my own race, due to the lack of speed training, I wasn't able to get into any fast rhythm.  I did maintain my pace in the first 24km, which I averaged approximately 8km an hour.  Just before the 28km mark, I felt unwell.  Luckily there was a mobile toilet not far ahead and I managed to sort out my stomach problem.  I was relieved that I could continue but after a few more kilometers, I felt unwell again.  This time, going to the toilet didn't help as I had not digested what I had ate earlier.  I decided to walk-and-jog and see if my condition improved.  Now, back near the town, there were more supporters clapping and cheering for us.  I decided to run but felt the urge to go to the toilet.  After another fruitless trip, I concluded that my stomachache (or bruise) could be due to the impact fall the day earlier and not due to what I ate during the marathon.  I worried if I should push myself to run, I might fell apart.  But I decided to knuckle down and run as far as I could as long as the pain was endurable.  The thought about missing my flight was a good motivation.

By then, the sun was high up in the sky and the weather was getting hot.  Back in the town centre, I saw 老菜 standing in front of our hotel.  He told me that the finishing line was just round the corner (although I knew I still had another 2km plus to go).  From then on, I kept pushing myself.  After I past the 42km mark, I saw the finishing clock but just as I wanted to sprint to the finish, I felt a twitch in my right calf.  It was as though my right calf was giving up on me and cramping up was the signal that it could attract my attention.  I got the signal and limped across the finish line in a timing of 5hrs 37mins.  It was not a fantastic timing but I was happy to have completed a marathon on New Year Day.  The race volunteers at the finishing line gave me my medal and a jacket to keep warm.  Our hotel was just round the corner and it took me less than 20mins to walk back.  After washing up and packing, I thanked 老菜 and apologized that I was unable to join them for lunch due to my flight schedule.  He gave me some instructions to get back to Shen Zhen city centre.

It was just past 2pm when I went back to the finishing line to get my race certificate.  Unfortunately, the queue was still very long.  I knew that taking the bus back to the Shen Zhen city centre was more important and started to look for the queue.  But there were many buses parking on both sides of the road!  After asking around, I managed to find a bus that was about to move off.  I quickly asked the volunteer who was standing next to the bus if I could get on.  (There were buses for volunteers and buses for runners, and apparently, you couldn't board the bus for the volunteer if you were a runner and vice versa).  Looking pitiful and trying to explain the urgency to get back to Shen Zhen city centre did the trick though I was still worried about the traffic.  Luck again was on my side as the traffic was fairly smooth and I managed to arrive in the city after 1hr 30mins on the bus!  A short MTR ride (about 8 stops from the Shen Zhen University) followed by the airport bus allowed me to arrive at the airport just in time for checking-in.

All-in-all, it was a great experience and good workout running in Dapeng.  It also allowed me to burn off whatever I ate over the festive holiday a week earlier.  I would strongly recommend this race to anyone who wish to set a running goal as there would be no better way to set your goal for the year by actually running a marathon on New Year Day!  But be sure to check the traveling time from the location of the race to airport as not all locations for races are in close proximity like in Singapore.  :p

 Left: Finishing Certificate; Right: Finisher Medal (Front & Back)!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014

I had always wanted to take part in the Penang Bridge Marathon.  In 2012, thinking that I might complete the Ozark Endurance 100 Miles race the week before, I signed up for the 10km race with 4 other friends.  Unfortunately, a sprained ankle during the race meant that it became more of a food trip instead of running trip.  A year later, I was so glad that the new bridge won't be ready but in a rush for work, I decided to leave the registration to that evening and it sold out when I got home from work.  :(  So in 2014, I decided to register for the race as soon as it opened for registration and worry about the flight and accommodation later.  (But with the numerous budget airlines flying to Penang, it would be difficult not to find one that suits your budget and time.  Accommodation in Penang was also affordable, given the exchange rate.)

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014!

A friend, Alan Tan, set up a Facebook Group Chat and we decided to rent an apartment instead for even more cost savings.  Per night accommodation worked out to about S$48/pax per night for 6 pax (or thereabout as I couldn't recall the exact amount paid).  Come race weekend, Alan and gang took an earlier morning flight and helped me to collect my race pack as I arrived in Penang in the late afternoon.  While at the airport, I bumped into Azhar who told me to take the public bus if I wanted to save money.  He was right!  Public bus from the airport to Queensbay Mall cost a mere RM2.00!  At Queensway Mall, I met up with Alan, Andy and Andy's mum for early dinner at Old Town White Coffee.  Then, we went shopping for drinks and bread for the next day's breakfast, before sharing a cab (which cost around RM15.00) to the apartment.

Early morning at around 12 midnight (the Men's race was scheduled to flag-off at 1:30am), instead of hiring a cab to bring us to the start, we hired the cab to bring us to Queensbay Mall.  This was because taking the cab to the starting line may entail us walking a longer distance while the official ferry service would drop off the runners right next to the starting line.  The queue at Queensbay Mall was chaotic at best.  There was no line as runners just gathered around the area.  When the first bus arrived, it stopped right in front of us and we happily boarded the bus (via the rear entrance).  The journey took about 20mins and we reached the starting line way ahead of the time.  We walked around waiting for time to pass.  As the starting time for the Women's race won't commence till 2:00am, I wondered if I should start the race with Alan and Andy, given that they were much faster runners and would be waiting for even a longer time if I start at my actual time.

Race Pack for Penang Marathon and At The Marathon Start Line!

At around 1:25am, the VIPs were ushered to the stage and and they let off a series of fire crackers.  But the fire crackers were tiny and small, with no impact whatsoever.  Nevertheless, it was the first time I saw fire crackers in a marathon in Asia so kudos to the race organiser for doing something unique.  At  1:30am sharp, the Men's Open Category was flagged off.  As I was in the starting line with them, I decided to took off.  A few minutes into the race a male runner commented that I should not have started the race when he ran past me.  I felt guilty but I could not stop as we had by then ran onto the bridge.  I tried to keep to the side of the road so that I didn't block any men.  Most of the men who ran past me also didn't notice my existence or ignoring me altogether.  This continued until 15mins after 2:00am where runners from the Women's Open Category zoomed past me on the other side of the bridge.  Slowly, more women overtook me, including all the fast runners from the Men's Veteran and Women's Veteran categories, which started at 2:00am.  Then I saw Karen Loh, Elaine Pang and Doris Teo.  They must be shocked to see me when they passed me.  :p

Lion Dance Performance!

After I was back running among the ladies,  I began to notice more of my surroundings.  But to be frank, there was nothing much to admire or look at because it was totally dark.  However, there was still some kind of support with some lion dance performances.  Even the nurses from St John Ambulance were clapping and encouraging us.  Other than that, it was truly a boring experience.  Luckily, I slept early enough or else, I might end up sleep-running.  Near the vehicle gantry at the end of the bridge, I thought it was time to make the u-turn.  Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  We had to run beyond the bridge and further, before making the long awaited u-turn.  I was glad when it finally happened.  Just past the same gantry (now on the other side of the road), some volunteers were holding a water hose and spraying water.  As I was not hot (since it was still early in the morning in the dark), I stayed away from getting wet.  The water stations (which were 5km apart) were at the same point on the bridge as the first half although most of them were not co-shared as the roads (for both directions) were not connected at most part.

 Somewhere Near The Vehicle Entry!

At around 10km from the finish, i.e. the 32km mark (around 5:30am), I saw some back-of-the-pack half marathoners (whose starting time ranged between 3:00am and 4:00am depending on which category they fell under) who were really struggling.  I was motivated to run well, and in even greater spirit as I could count down the last 10km and seeing the sky got brighter!  I also noticed that the bridge got more crowded as I caught up with more half-marathoners and at times I had to find my way around them.  The sky was bright around 6:45am.  A while later, I heard a voice calling out.  I slowed down and looked around where the sound came from and saw a familiar face waving at me!  Karen Loh was standing at the start of the 10km race which would be flagged off at 7:00am!  42.195km was apparently not long enough for her morning workout.  :p  I acknowledged her before focusing back on my task at hand which was to finish strong.  I picked up my pace towards the end although we had to make a little climb before exiting the bridge to the finishing which I completed in 5hrs 43mins.  It wasn't a fast time but I was glad that I ended the race strongly.

After the race, I went to pick up the finisher tee and medal.  I also took a few cups of iced-milo from the milo truck.  There were other food available and many runners were standing / sitting around the finishing line, eating, drinking and chatting.  I decided to take the ferry service back to Queensway Bay so that I could get back on time to wash up and check-out.  Luckily, the volunteers were able to point out the direction where the buses were although they were a distance away.  After a short queue, I boarded the bus and made my way back.  Overall, I was happy that I could strike off this race from my To-Do Marathon list but I realised my effort might not be rewarded with an official time as I didn't start at the allocated time.  I was right after the official results were released as I was DQed.  :(  I couldn't blame anyone except myself since I had chosen to start with my friends due to a moment of folly.  Would I do so again, definitely not.  Lesson learnt was to ensure I study the details of the race before I tie down any accommodation with friends, even though some races released details till late.  At the end of the day, what's more important to me was not to inconvenient friends whom I was sharing the accommodation.  If getting a result was what you aim, then make sure you and your friends understand the different start time may result in having to wait for one another - i.e. a longer waiting time especially if the faster runner starts earlier.

 Finishing Line Of The Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014!

Marathon Time Completion: 5hrs 13mins + 30mins - A Disqualification!

Course: Almost flat course on most part of the bridge less the section where one enters and exits the bridge.

Weather:  The weather was as humid as in Singapore although it was cooler as the race commenced in the dark.

Aid Station / Volunteer Support: Aid Stations were situated every 5km apart with water and sports drinks served.  However, the food choices were limited to bananas and gels.

Verdict: It was a very boring race as there was nothing to see along the course in the dark.  The different start time for the different categories was not the best way to segregate the faster runners from the slower runners.  There are definitely fast and slow runners in the Men's Open, as well as fast and slow runners in the Women's Open.  Being a Men or Women's Veteran doesn't mean they are definitely slower.  So the way the race organiser  flagged off the runners is flawed.  (I am assuming that the reason for such stagger timing is for the faster runner to start off first).  A better way would be for the runners to submit a race time (say limited to the past 1 year) so that faster runners could be grouped in the front and slower runners at the back.  6/10

Monday, January 19, 2015

Taiwan Marathons

I did 3 marathons in Taiwan in 2014 - (1) 信義鄉葡萄马拉松 Sinyi Grapes Marathon; (2) 艋盃马拉松 Monga Marathon; and (3) 阿公店盃马拉松 A Gong Dian Marathon.  Every race had its own uniqueness and these 3 marathons each has its own highlights.  I won't say if one race is better than the other but to share with you the highlights so you can decide for yourself if this is the race for you.  :)

信義鄉葡萄马拉松 Sinyi Grapes Marathon (5 Oct 2014)
The town (信義鄉) hosting the race was about 2-hour drive by car from Taipei.  Sam, who helped me to register all my 3 Taiwan Marathons, arranged his friend, 邵老师 to pick me up in Taipei City.  After meeting up with the rest of the runners in the town late afternoon, we went to a nearby restaurant for a carbo-loading dinner.  Dinner was great and we returned to the hotel for an early rest, especially for those who completed a marathon earlier that Saturday.

The hotel provided early breakfast for the marathon runners, which comprised of porridge, chinese-styled salad and some simple dishes.  But it was delicious, just like another carbo-loading session!  As there was limited parking space at the start point, we had to leave the hotel immediately after breakfast at around 5:30am for the 30mins drive to the start.  Luckily for us, the traffic police opened up more car park spaces in Schools, and other government agencies and we managed to find a parking lot just 1.5km from the start line.

Top Left: Carbo-Loading Session; The Rest: At The Start Prior to Start of Marathon!

The weather was really nice.  There was a mass warm-up exercise led by the locals.  At a corner of the starting line, we saw a group of volunteers busy barbequing potk!  And we could count that there was a lot of pork to be barbequed!  Sam told us that after the marathon, every runner would be given a set of food items, including some pork to fill our stomach.  After more photos and toilet breaks, we proceeded to the start and waited patiently for the organisers to flag us off, which they did so at 7:00am sharp.

Prior to the race, Sam prepared us about the race course.  From the start to the half-way point of the marathon, it would be hilly and undulating.  Thereafter, it would be mostly downhill.  The highlight of the race would be the running through the 6 local villages.  As I had not been training for a speedy marathon (which to me is a sub-5 marathon), I knew this would be a tough race although I should have no problem in meeting the cut-off of 6hrs 30mins.  True enough, after 2km, the hills would just come up upon you before leading you down again and the cycle went on and on.  I saw the front runners ran past me to enter the first village.

Before reaching the first village, there was a rather steep uphill - and so came the chance to take a walk break.  At the village entrance, children were excited to see us and put their hands out for a hi-fived!  This was also where the water station stationed.  After passing through the village, it was downhill and most runners, including me flew down it as fast as we could.  The pattern stayed the same for the other five villages: uphill to enter the village and after passing through the water station, downhill till we came to another uphill.  At the third village, I saw Sam and his friends power-walking the upslope.  I was not surprised.

True enough, by the time I passed though the six villages, where Sam said it would be downhill for a few kilometers, I was unable to run down fast as my quads were totally trashed.  Sam and his friends flew passed me one by one. In fact, Sam flew past me so fast that he almost tripped over a pothole!  That was around the 34km mark.  I decided to take it easy as my knees were hurting.  A check on my watch confirmed that I was ahead of the 6hrs 30mins cut-off.  At the 40km mark, I took a cup and filled it up with grapes.  Then I ate and enjoy the last 2km walking and jogging to complete the race in just a few minutes after the 6 hours mark.

At the finishing line, we were able to get a our Finisher Certificate printed on the spot, as well as collecting our lunch entitlement, which include the barbequed pork and bamboo rice.  Overall, I enjoyed the run as I was able to get close-up and personal with the locals, which I would never had the chance of meeting even if I signed up a tour package as that was not the typical touristy place of interest where tour agencies would recommend.  Not a must-do race but certainly an interesting race where you can see the other part of Taiwan and the beauty of its people.

Course: Hilly and undulating terrain.

Weather: Nice, cool and not humid.

Aid Station / Volunteer Support: While water and food choices were limited, they never ran out of them! There were also many locals supporting and cheering us.  Excellent!

Verdict: If I had been traveling alone and making my own arrangement from Taipei to the town, and to/back from the race, it would have been very tough.  This was due to the small race setup and the town was not accessible via public transport (even though there was a train station next to the hotel we stayed). 7/10

Running Through The First Village!

Running Through 久美 Village!

Supporters and Performers from Two Other Villages (Left and Right)!

Top: Bamboo Rice; Bottom Left: Pork; Bottom Right: Beef Noodle (Bought)!

盃马拉松 Monga Marathon (26 Oct 2014)
This marathon was held in the Taipei City and was organised by a good friend of Sam - 宝哥, whom I got to meet after the aborted Taroko Marathon in 2013.  (宝哥 was also the one who arranged the Ping Tung Marathon in Nov 2013 too.)  Although I couldn't say I knew 宝哥 long enough, I knew it would be a well-organised race.  The race was held within the 華中河濱公園 - something like our Park Connector.  Sam and Nancy chose the nearest hotel which was across the other side of the bridge, about 30mins walking.

On race day, we checked-out from the hotel and lugged our luggage to the race start.  There, I handed over my "over-sized" luggage to the volunteer who placed it nicely according the bib numbers.  Sam and Nancy introduced me to their friends, a few of them either ran very fast or ran a lot of marathons (mostly completed 100, 200 or even 300 marathons).  Most of them were marathon maniacs who could run double marathons (one on Saturday followed by another one on Sunday) or multi-day marathons.  I was very impressed and yet intimidated by their achievement.

At The Start Of The Monga Marathon (盃马拉松)!

The race organisers flagged us off at 6am sharp.  This was a 2-loop course in a figure-of-8: comprising of a shorter 9km small loop and a longer 12km out-and-back loop.  The morning air was cool but I felt humid.  As the path was not wide, it got a little congested at the beginning of the race.  But soon, after 3~4 km later, the crowd started to disperse and we even see the top runners ran past us.  Since this being a 2-loop course, I decided to concentrate on running the first loop and taking photos for the second loop.  The course was pancake flat with 3~4 insignificant slopes.  The first water station (also serving runners going back to complete the small loop) came at around 3km and the second one came next after 5km.  After completing the small loop, we ran past the starting point and proceed to do the longer out-and-back loop which had 3 water stations (serving runners in both directions).

I usually had a cold start and this marathon was no different.  During the second loop, I stopped at every water stations to snap photos.  I also noticed they served fruits that I never seen before, like salted eggs, limes, 豆干, pomegranate, etc.  Just before completing the small loop the second time, I caught up with Nancy - which was a surprise because Nancy was a stronger runner than me.  Just before the u-turn point for the out-and-back loop, I was even more surprised to pass Sam.  Perhaps their exertion in yesterday's marathon took a toll.  Or perhaps they wanna run/walk with their friends and have fun.  I told myself since I was younger and fresher than them, I better run faster.  With some determination, even with the weather getting hotter, I managed to psycho and push myself to run all the way, only stopping at water points for a quick sip of water, before completing the marathon in 5hrs 29mins gun time (5hrs 26mins nett time).

 Food and Fruits Served At The Water Stations!  My Taiwanese friend, RD and Me!

With the marathon done, the next part of the event was a huge surprise!  At least to me!  Runners were grouped in table of 10s and served with a 10-course lunch!  Beers were also served freely and everyone were either busy enjoying the sumptuous food or happily cheering everyone with free beer.  It was certainly something very different from the rest of the marathons I ever completed.  I could replenish my body with food almost immediately after the run which would aid my recovery process.  This is one race that I would definitely recommend to anyone who enjoy running a marathon and feasting after the hard effort!  :)

Literally Like Attending A Wedding Dinner - 6 Of The 10 Dishes!

Hungry Runners Feasting (Top Left); Rest of the 4 Dishes!

Course: 2 loops of rolling terrain but otherwise 99% pan-cake flat course.

Weather: Cool in the early morning but hot when the sun rises.

Aid Station / Volunteer Support: Plenty of water and sports drinks.  Food choices were plentiful and you better watch your time spent at each aid station.  There were also volunteers on mobile bike replenishing aid stations with ice.  The mobile bike also stopped to ask any runners who needed ice.  However, there was little support from the public as the run was held in a park

Verdict: The race was held in the city of Taipei so traveling to and from the race start/finish was fairly simple, even for a tourist.  Although the race commenced at 6am, the sun was out in full-force by 9am.  However, never miss the highlight of the race: a 10-course lunch (FOC for the runners) held after the race!  9/10

阿公店盃马拉松 A Gong Dian Marathon (14 Dec 2014)
This race was held somewhere near Kaohsiung (高雄) City.  To reach Kaohsiung, you need to take the high speed rail from Taipei Station (near airport) and the whole journey took about 1hr 40mins with 5 stops along the entire journey.  Once you reach Kaohsiung City (左营站), you need to change to their local MTR system (about 9 stops) before taking a cab (about 20-25mins journey) to nearby hotels.  I decided to take part in this marathon because I was fascinated by the uniqueness of the marathon name.  I thought the shop at the marathon location was called A Gong (Grandpa).  Turn out I was wrong.  The name A Gong Dian (阿公店) is truly the name of a local place in Kaohsiung.  In fact, the dam near the location was named A Gong Dian Dam.  After reaching at our hotel, we went for a quick dinner before returning for an early rest.

The weather at Kaohsiung was warmer than Taipei as it was further south, which was cooler as compared to Singapore's weather.  But of course, no matter what, weather in Taiwan would never be cold enough for me.  Still, it felt cool early in the morning before the sun rise.  Sam, 邵老师, 宝哥, Bayson and me squeezed into a taxi who drove us to the stadium about 10mins drive away.  Once we arrived outside the stadium, we went to the bag deposit area.  Sam and Bayson found it too cold for their liking and decided to delay the depositing of the bag until 5mins before flag-off!  I enjoyed the light breeze blowing across the stadium, which was the end point of the marathon.  At 6:25am, both of them knew they had to deposit their bags.  Once done, we quickly made our way to the starting line.  We reached just in time for the organizer to flag us off at 6:30am.

 At The Start And Just After Starting!

The race took us around the city for 3km before we enter their military air force school!  Although there were signages that forbid us for taking photos, runners did not take heed.  Me included!  Being in the military air force camp, there was nothing much to see except that the camp was pretty big with a huge field.  The aid stations were about 3-4km apart serving a variety of food.  In total we ran about 8-9km inside the camp compound before exiting back to the city.  There, we ran till the 14km mark before the half-marathoners made a right turn to go back to the start while full-marathoners ran across a small bridge before turning left.  With the half-marathoners gone, the run felt more lonely.  Along the bridge, the breeze suddenly got very strong, before dying down when I reached the end of the ramp.  At the 17km mark, I saw a runner on his way back!

 R.O.C. Air Force Academy!

From then on, it became a rather mental race as there was nothing much to see except for the occasional fishing ponds and cheering by the locals.  The other highlight was the entry into a power plant station just after the 23km mark.  It was supposed to be the biggest power plant in Taiwan using coal to produce power (or I could be wrong).  We ran slightly more than 2km within the power plant (which showed how big it was) before exiting from the other entrance.  After that, I slowly plodded along till I caught up with 邵老师 and his group of friends, who were walking, at the 30km mark.  A couple of photos later, I excused myself as I wanted to continue running.  Further up, I managed to latch on a group of middle age uncles until we came to the slope after the half-marathoners left us earlier that morning.  Then, I could finally overtake them.

 Local Support (Top);  It's A Lonely Run (Bottom Left); Power Plant Entrance (Bottom Left)

It was less than 8km to the finish point after the bridge.  I managed to maintain my pace although I saw 邵老师 and his friends not far behind (after yet another u-turn).  The sun was out by then and it was rather warm.  Luckily, the water stations were still at regular 3-4km apart.  Just after the 40km mark, I heard something like the sound of firecrackers exploding from the direction of the stadium!  I looked at my watch which showed that I just ran 5hrs 30mins.  Surely that was not the cut-off time as I recalled Sam told me the cut-off time was 6hrs 30mins.  I panic a little and decided to pick up my pace and ran towards the stadium, which I crossed at a time of 5hrs 40mins (gun time).  Luckily, the cut-off time was really 6hrs 30mins.  So I was not sure what the firecracker was about.  Perhaps it didn't come from inside the stadium after all.  :)

I went for a quick bath at the tentage nearby provided by the race organiser instead of walking over to the stadium for a hot shower.  Then, I met up with the rest of the gang and went to redeem our food item.  Yes.  Most marathons in Taiwan provide food for their runners after the run.  For this marathon, runners can choose between vegetarian, mutton, 風目魚 (a type of fish) and 石班魚 (another type of fish).  I got myself a mutton beehoon soup and gobbled down the delicious meal before following my friends to catch a train back.

For this marathon, I noticed quite a few runners who cross-dressed as ladies and they were not shy to pose a picture for you.  In fact, most of them could run fairly fast and even when they ran at the back, they ran effortlessly, probably to encourage the back-of-the-pack runners.  Also, there were quite a few runners who use this marathon to qualify for their 100-marathons, 200-marathons and 300-marathons achievement!  It was inspiring and very intimidating.  I couldn't see myself completing 200 marathons in my lifetime, let alone 300.  I will continue to dream towards my 100-marathon achievement so kudos to them.

The Cross-Dressed Guys (all photos less Bottom Right); Mutton Beehoon Soup (Bottom Right)!

Course: Loop course and about 99% flat.

Weather: Cool and breezy in the early morning.  Not as humid unlike running in Taipei.  However, once the sun is out, could get warm.

Aid Station / Volunteer Support: Aid Stations were about 3-4km apart and serve with enough water and sports drink for the slower runners.  Food choices were pretty standard: banana, water melon, biscuits, although they have macarons.  One unique thing you will see in this race was the cross-dressing of male runners wearing beautiful or sexy ladies outfit.

Verdict: The race was held near the city of Kaohsiung so one needs to factor time to travel to and from Taipei for overseas runners since most international flight to Taiwan is through Taipei Taoyuan International Airport.  The food provided at the end was delicious although not as sumptuous as the Monga Marathon in Taipei.  8/10