Nagano Marathon Race Report

A short a trip to Japan but what a trip it was as I caught the Sakura season and there was a marathon too! Read about the race here.

Gear Reviews

All the reviews here...

Trans Nuang 2013

5 runners. 42km. 16 hours. Elevation gain 2,878 meters / 9,442 feet. All here.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014 Race Report

After a long long wait, I finally nailed it. Full story here...


Tag Archives: Gold Coast Australia

GCAM15 Training Update: Trackwork Is Hard, But Fun!

It’s mid-March and the GCAMers have now accomplished 2 sessions of trackwork at the MPSJ sports complex. The workouts are always kept simple and have been relatively short thus far. Due to the intensity of these sessions, I was careful to limit these to the more experienced runners. The last thing I want to see are runners injuring themselves.

1st session: 2K warm up jog > Dynamic stretching > 12x400m with 400m recovery > 1K cool down jog
2nd session: 2K warm up jog > Dynamic stretching > 8x600m with 400m recovery > 1K cool down jog

While I’ve my own timing to hit on each rep, those who weren’t sure of theirs based their workouts on their 10K pace/effort. The sessions turned out great although the first few reps were a little off as everyone was working to lock down their paces. It’s so easy to go too fast or too slow.

The range of the intervals will be increased with each passing week. This will eventually include ladder intervals before progressing into long intervals in June.

GCAM15 Training Update: 2 Weeks In

It started with this group. This was taken after the year-end group run 2 years ago. Everyone from this group is still running together to this day.

I don’t usually post training updates because it’s tough enough for me to keep to a fixed routine. The worksheet with the workouts penned down will usually go through several iterations in the 18 weeks it’ll take me to being race-ready. You won’t be wrong to assume that at times I’ve had to wing it as I go along :) This time around, with so many friends joining me in preparing for GCAM15, I thought I’d do the occasional update.

It started out small.

The first two weeks of training evolve around building up consistency with mid-60Ks of weekly mileage. This number is slightly on a higher side this early into a marathon program and I’m trying my best to stick to it. It’s a constant challenge, given the fact that I spend 2.5 hours daily in non-productive traffic jams. Some days’ workouts have to be modified by breaking up the day’s mileage into 2 sessions. It may not be ideal but in these conditions, I’ve to maintain a big-picture view.

Then it grew bigger.

And bigger!

Jumping is part of training too!

The plan I’m following is based on Hanson’s, riding on specificity and accumulated fatigue. On paper, the plan may invoke a “meh” to the uninitiated but executing it does present a challenge. By the time I get to the weekend workouts, all the miles logged during the weekdays would’ve been baked in, increasing the toughness of the comparatively short long runs. Last weekend’s checkpoint tempo was an eye-opener when I could only hack half the distance. Definitely need to respect the training plan and the body if I’m to survive.

We welcome new faces!

Thankfully, other than the solo weekday sessions, I’ve had the pleasure of training with a large group on the weekends. The group comprises of beginners, intermediates and several strong runners (always good to have these folks around to motivate you!).

There are no shortages of shoes to be sure. I’ve rotated between the GORun 4, Flyknit Lunar 2, Kinvara 5, Boston Boost 5, Gemini, GOBionic 2, GOSpeed 3 (for trackwork), Ace 6, and recently the Breakthru (logging miles in them for the review!). It’s never boring when it comes to shoes!

Last week’s group of 33 was the largest thus far.

The group always welcome runners to join in our training runs, whether you’re training for GCAM or otherwise. I post the group training updates on the GCAM15 – Team Malaysia in Training FB page.

The 2015 Gold Coast Airport Marathon will be run on July 5th. It’s Australia’s only IAAF Gold Label marathon and the venue for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Early bird entries run up to April 30th 2015. Head on to for details and to register. Then, do join us for training!

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014 Race Report

“Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”
Seth Godin

The Preps
I mentioned in my post [link] prior to departing for the Gold Coast that fueling and hydration are the 2 most important factors in how my race will unravel. Less obvious was my strategy for a conservative start to avoid the wall. There’s a reason why going out slow and adopting the right fueling and hydration strategy have been harped to death by coaches, yet they’re the most common mistakes a runner commits. I’ve been guilty far too many times and thus scuppering a personal goal which I’ve always known to be within reach.

My marathon PR was a 4:03 in NYC 2008. Since then I’ve been dithering between 4:20s and 4:50s, the slower ones being more of just going through the motions and the quicker ones being failed attempts, where my training were impaired. There wasn’t really much to whine and complain given the circumstances. The enjoyable ones were last year’s PNM (4:23, then my best in 5 years) when I ran the first 21K in 2:10 and the second in 2:12. Considering 4:23 was done after a 10K training run the same morning, and a 61K event 6 days prior, it was a pretty good result for me. After PNM, I continued running some long races  and training runs before kicking off my 2014 marathon with Nagano [link] where I basically raced with just one or two long training runs logged. The 4:18 of course, was no PR but I learned a lot from the race, which was my fastest since 2008. I learned that I could maintain concentration and that I had some strength and pace, and if not for the lack of preparation, I would’ve hit close to 4:08. The takeaway from Nagano was tremendous because I knew that I was on the way back.

It was fortuitous that the Starlight Ultra was postponed from May to August, which meant that I had 2.5 months to patch up any weaknesses. It wasn’t much time but since my Q1 2014 was littered with 50Ks and regular running, my legs had plenty of miles in them. I started leaning towards building intensity and strength, throwing in 2 days of doubles a week. 5:40 soon felt comfortable but that didn’t mean there weren’t roadblocks. The most accessible running spot for me, the KLCC Park saw a partial closure due to construction works and towards the end of the training phase, water rationing, heatwave and the haze returned. With the exception of weekend long runs, I was forced to do my weekday workouts on the treadmill. The positive bit was that I have access to weights and environment to cross-train and work the core. There were far greater variety in my regimen than I’ve ever undertaken. Together with fellow GCAMers Nick and CY, we started adding variety to our training routes from purely Ammah to USJ and even Putrajaya. Before the USJ track reopened, we even resorted to doing intervals on a stretch of road in Subang! We had to be resourceful :) .

Even so, my weekly mileage never hit the highs of pre-NYCM where weekend B2Bs were plentiful albeit at a pedestrian pace. In place of 100-110K weeks, I had to count on intensity and consistency. Even if I only had time for a 3K (whenever pressing work or family matters arose), I headed out. And hit the 3K hard. It went well enough that I thought I’d peaked too early with 5 weeks out. With 4 weeks to go, I started tiring, enough for me to urgently pull back on the number of sessions and intensity. I even gave a couple of long runs a miss and shorten another 2 32Ks to more manageable 25Ks, just so that I didn’t slide into Burn Out Abyss. Instead of a 2-week taper, I was forced into a 3-week one.

Finally, with 4 days to departure, I was hit by dizzy spells. A visit to the doc revealed an unusually low BP of 92/60. I’ve never had issues with BP but that probably had been on the boiler and explained my fatigue at the onset of the taper period. The inconsistency of my iron intake (not that I’ve ever been anemic) hadn’t been that great. Training has a way of robbing iron from the body, so runners in the midst of marathon training should supplement with iron, if FE intake from natural sources are insufficient.

Race Eve

The Comrades Marathon booth at the race expo.

This time around, I had slightly better snooze time on the red eye to Coolangatta – a grand total of 4 hours, up from 2 :) ! The fellow travelers also agreed that we should spend as little time as possible at the Expo in order to get back to the spacious apartment – Wyndham – to settle in before heading out to a much needed late lunch. That was an excellent plan as 1.5 hours should be more than enough to collect and shop at the Expo. We settled for teppanyaki at one of the eateries at Cavill. Nick agreed that we needed a shakeout run in the evening, which we clocked in at 6.03K (6:01 pace) towards Broadbeach and back. Besides stretching out the legs after the long flight and a day of moving around, the shakeout run was useful as it allowed me a final opportunity to gauge my likely form and if needed, reassess my race expectations and strategies. I didn’t feel as sharp as I’d like to as my legs felt sore, tight and heavy.

Dinner back at the apartment was 3 servings of rice with eggs and chicken, a mini pack of chips with sea salt, a banana and a pot of tea. By 10:15pm, it was lights out.

Race Gear
90% of my training had been done in the GRR3 and GR3; the GRU and Energy Boost for long slow runs; GB2 for gym and treadmill running; Hitogami for trackwork. Nevertheless, when I was passed the Kinvara 5, I felt good enough that it would be the race shoe. My backup shoe was the GRU. GCAM temps can be quite cold at the start for us from the tropics but it warms up very quickly once the race starts, so I opted for the Columbia OmniFreeze sleeveless top, Skins A400 shorts, Compressport calf sleeves, Asics socks, TNF cap and the trusty Oakley shade. I train with an iPod shuffle on the treadmill, so that came along for the very first time too, preloaded with a loaded playlist of choice. 7 gels (5 GUs @ 100 cals each, 2 Hammers @ 90 cals each) in the Salomon belt and a tiny laminated sliver of a note with my pace targets and gel intake stuck into my watch strap. 3/4 bottle of Gatorade with which to sip from until the 10K mark.

Pre Race Meal And Ritual
Breakfast was a banana, 3 bricks of Weet-Bix with soy milk (to reduce the risk of gut issues). These were consumed at 2:30am and wasn’t much but the purpose was to fill the any gap from the previous night’s dinner (7 hours ago). The coach pickup was again very early at 4:30am in order to get the half marathoners to the start. As expected, it was very cold and only the comfort of a hot cup of long black helped me contain the chill. While waiting and soaking in the atmosphere, I chowed down 3 bars and another banana. All the bars were consumed within 105 minutes of race start. It may appear excessive but the plan was modelled after my NYCM approach, and thus it worked for me.

With Mei and Sharon. Both completed their first marathons in GCAM14.

Ready to make a move to the start line.

Between then and finally heading to the start area, I visited the loo twice, did some warm up jogs and performed some dynamic stretching. The warm up jogs and stretching prepares the body and mind for what’s to come.

The Race
I entered the B corral (as marked on the bib) at 6:50am and positioned myself right at the back of it, just in front of the 4-hour C corral. I spotted the bobbing red balloons tied to the 3:45 pacers way ahead. Goes to show how packed B corral was. So many fast runners! Having shed my MPIB Volunteer top, I sought out a sliver of sun ray to keep me warm. As I stood waiting for the start, I reassessed my readiness to run in this fast group and decided rather quickly that I should play it safe and not fall into the trap of starting too fast. I ducked under the tape and moved to the C corral just behind the 4:00 pacers with white balloons. This corral was also a stacked field but I immediately felt at ease having made my decision. Being forced/drawn into the caffeine/endorphin induced pace of the B corral would’ve been suicidal.

Up ahead the Emcees were working the crowd when suddenly the race started. Not that I was anxious but we finally got things going! Although we got off to a running start, it was about 3 minutes before I crossed the Start line. Almost immediately the 4:00 pacers started to move up the crowd but I kept to my pace. Too much preps and planning had gone in for me and I wasn’t about to flush everything down the toilet by being pulled along faster than what I’ve set out and it looked as if these 4:00 chaps were going for it right from the get go.

The sunshine was brilliant and before long, the body was warmed up. There was little to no wind even as we ran along the coastal road heading towards the iconic Surfers Paradise signboard. The legs, distressingly, still felt as heavy as the night before but I tried not to dwell on the sensation but get into the music and took comfort that my breathing was easy and effortless.

Planned Race Strategy
Things were kept very simple

  1. Run a very conservative 5K at 5:50 pace before shifting up by 10 secs until the halfway mark
  2. From the halfway mark, move the pace to 5:35 until the 32K mark
  3. Get to Burleigh Heads turnaround (15K) fresh and not let the massive crowd sway me into a mad dash.
  4. Get to the Halfway Point fresh.
  5. Cross the Southport Bridge (30K) problem free and ready to battle it out.
  6. Hold the effort till Runaway Bay turnaround (37K) without speeding up.
  7. Hold the remaining miles at 5:38 (allowing for slowing down)
  8. If I’m still in with a chance at 38K, to make a go for it.
  9. Take in gels every 5-6K, and drink consistently.

I had the pace objectives printed out and tucked into my watch band as you can see from one of the photos below. The initial 5K had several objectives – ease into the race, loosen the legs, maintain minimal stress to the body to allow maximum absorption of fuel and fluids. A stressed body will shift its attention to other critical functions reducing the rate of carb absorption. Therefore, even if you continue to take in your gels, they may not work as effectively as you’d expect them to simply because your body has shifted its priority into maintaining a “survival mode”. Hence it’s very important to stay on a conservative pace, allowing your carb intake to work for you.

How It Panned Out
The challenge I faced in this first quarter of the race was my legs. It took me exactly 10K to untangle them and got them spinning smoothly. I was always checking my form and splits yet even with the monitoring, my pace was a little quicker than expected. You can see how easy it is to get carried away in a marathon. On our first pass, the crowd along The Esplanade was still thin, which was fine as the later stages were where we needed their support the most.

Data from the watch.

We hit 10K somewhere south of Pratten Park. The chill was no longer a factor by that time and the sunshine was not too warm and intense.  I was just bobbing along to the tunes when the tight legs suddenly loosened up. Perhaps it was the sight of the elites on the opposite side that fired me up. I spotted the American, Jeff Eggleston and Arata Fujiwara amongst the lead pack but Kawauchi who received the loudest cheers from the runners, was trailing by some distance. I squeezed the 2nd pack of gel in and got on with business. My splits weren’t quite 5:40 at the start of the 2nd quarter but I started seeing some consistency after 16K. The southern part of the race course down to Burleigh Heads has always been an awesome place to run and this year was no different. The folks were out in full force and cheering and hooting like crazy. Again, it would be easy to put in a surge here but from the 5:48 you see below, it was obvious that I intentionally slowed down to avoid that. It’s still too early to pick it up with the tough sections yet to come.

The 2nd quarter

Just after the halfway mark I made a decision to dash into a potty. The first 2 had locked doors, but when I yanked the 3rd door open, some was inside! Luckily it wasn’t a girl so, “All good, mate!”. I ended up in the 5th cubicle. Having drank copiously at all every station, it was just a relief to get the pee out. I felt instantly lighter and leaner. No more having the discomfort to hold it, I immediately got on with business. I probably lost about 25 seconds (6:09 split) there but I was back on pace the very next kilometer. My first half split was 2:00.36. A little slower than expected but more importantly, I was still very fresh as compared to previous years. IMHO how you feel in the later part of the 3rd quarter (i.e. 25-30K) of a marathon determines how well you’ll tackle the dreaded 4th quarter. I felt good yet apprehensive enough to harbor thoughts of hitting the wall anytime soon. According to my plan, I was supposed to start hitting consistent 5:35 splits up to the 32K mark. The watch readings showed that I wasn’t too far off after averaging the splits between 21-30K. Again, I didn’t miss a single gel intake. I was also burping which was always a good sign during a race, signs that my gut was still processing the carbs.

Around the 27K mark, heading towards Southport.

3rd quarter

30K mark, crossing the Southport Bridge.

With the fuel line working fine, having energy on tap with the legs seemingly having a life of their own, I started passing other runners. Many runners. Yet I was very wary of what was to come, the 30K mark where thousands are waiting to scream and cheer. Unfortunately the Southport Bridge will always be the traditional spot for demise for many a runner. Tired legs and weary minds will have to make a push up the incline which isn’t steep actually but even a mole hill is a pain at that stage. I dug in and didn’t drop pace and cleared that in a jiffy. It’s important to just shut oneself from taking in the sights of suffering and walking runners just because the mind needs all the positive affirmation it can get.

Up to this juncture I’d gotten to the point where there were only 12K to go. I had to make a decision to go or hold when I remembered what the 4:00 pacer dude from GCAM2011 [race report] had stressed – “Stay with me. Hold your pace. Resist the urge to take off until you get to the turnaround at Runaway Bay”. So I bid my time and though I dropped some seconds after McDonald’s, I was still pretty good. 12K meant a 6K in and another 6K out. I felt that I could take the last 6K since I was still passing plenty of runners.

To the finish!

No Wall, No Problem
The Runaway Bay turnaround marks the 37K but after mentally calculating the pace I should be hitting to clinch the goal time, I knew I had to start picking things up. All the positive signs were there and I thought to myself that it was time to make a go for it and not chicken out. So I made my move at 36K and started to race. All that steady running and holding back the first half of the marathon was just to get to this stage feeling good and I felt really good.

Just after the 37K mark.

If you’ve been running for some years, you’ll know the feeling of actually competing, not necessarily against another runner but with yourself. The feeling is that of exhilaration. Both quads were tightening up but there wasn’t going to be any cramping. Instead, there was just single mindedness in getting to the finish line.

I was astonished reading my splits which were getting faster and faster. I wasn’t exaggerating when I told Nick later that day it was easier to run fast than to slow down towards the finish. The last 3Ks just flew by and utterly felt surreal (to quote Nick). The crowd was 4 deep and as I hung left, a large sign that screamed “250m to go” was right in front of me. It was only then that I soaked it all in.

250m to go!

150m to go!

A few more steps!

Mission accomplished!

I kicked past a few more runners and crossed the line in 3:58.55, a minute slower than planned. The 2nd half was ran in 1:58.19 making it a negative split race for me. After crossing the halfway point, I overtook 967 other runners. I was ready to hug someone, but everyone seemed too wheezed while trudging off towards the refreshment tables. There was no tears of joy but in its place, an intense sense of accomplishment. I learned that many other friends ran their personal bests that morning too. After collecting my belongings I texted the wife that I’ve finally done it on my 27th marathon, 11 years after my first which was run to commemorate the birth of C1 and 6 years after my previous best in NYC. It’s been amazing, training in a group with each of us driving each other on. So, thank you to Nick, CY and Kiew for coming along for the many early morning runs. And to Frank, Julia, Piew, YL, Leong, Foo, Zane and Skyrunner Yvonne for the moral support.

With Nick and CY with PRs, under our belts.

It’s been such a long wait for me. And for it to come together this year in Gold Coast on a year they’re awarded the Gold Label rating just made it extra special. There’s much to work on to get the timing down and the 3:58 will be bettered. I hope more will give GCAM a go next year. Mark your calendars, folks – 5th July 2015!

In closing, I’d like to congratulate the race organizers who did a wonderful job in growing the event, and thank the thousands of volunteers without whom we runners won’t be running our best. Not forgetting, my heartfelt gratitude to the hardworking folks at the Tourism and Events Queensland, who took great care of me.

9 Days To The Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014

In-flight, pre-race, and during race fueling.

One of the greatest things about training in a group is that you always have people keeping you honest. There are less tendencies to miss training sessions and for folks like me whose spouses don’t run, another runner to whine to :D . This year marks my 4th year of returning to the Sunshine State. Even though the GCAM Training Group has shrunk to a smaller size, we’ve stuck together. Such is the friendship that has developed over the 2 years.

This year, I’ve Nick and CY, along with their spouses, for the adventure. You can read how excited Nick is, anxiously waiting for D-Day in his post. GCAM14 will be my 26th marathon (I ran my first in 2003 hence I’m far from being a prolific marathoner both in numbers and timing). Other than a couple of weeks off here and there since last October’s B2E, I’ve had a busy season of running by my standards – B2E was followed by PNM, RJM, TNF HKG, Titi50, Nuang and Nagano in April. With all that conditioning, my legs are way stronger than they were, say, a year ago. The 8 months of activities between B2E and GCAM has been the smoothest I’d experienced. The occasional sniffles and cough didn’t mess my training in a significant way. Even the air quality remained good with the annual haze descending only recently, by which time it was already the tail-end of training. The only challenge I had was the construction works at the KLCC Park where I do my weekday runs, forcing me to invest in a short-term gym membership.

My highest weekly volume this time around was lower than my highest during my preps for the 2008 NYCM (PR race) but the weekly trend has been more consistent than in the past. Scrolling through the training logs, there had been greater variety in my workouts, more “pacey” workouts, some weeks of core work, but largely still dominated by long slow miles due to several 50Ks adventures in-between months. It was by no means a fantastic training period – there are still noticeable dips and valleys in the charts – but it’s been one of the best and sustained period of racing in many years. My race strategy next Sunday will be on the side of conservative, focusing on taking in calories regularly during the initial stage of the race. Hydration is the other key factor that will determine the outcome of the race.

I’m truly a “work-in-progress” item as far as racing is concerned, and given my other commitments, I may very well remain that way trying to find what works for me. It’s this WIP status that has been drawing me back year after year. Come what may, these long long months have been an awesome ride. I’ve truly enjoyed the company of training partners who have all got much much stronger over the last 4 months. Whatever the outcome of the race may be, it’ll be an awesome race weekend. GCAM14 is getting the top billing it deserves and the returning elites (Go, Yuki!!!) will be there duking it out for the course record. I’m sure Nick, CY and other runners toeing the starting line next Sunday will agree with me.

Tips For First Time GCAMers

This will be my 4th GCAM (2 FMs, 1 HM prior years) and for those who will be there for the first time, this post may be of some help. I’ll be traveling on the 5D/3N package and will write from that perspective. If you’re on a longer stay, just adjust your plans accordingly.

Leaving KL
As we will be flying off from klia2, we should allocate enough time to get to the airport. It’s a much larger airport than the LCCT so do arrive earlier. The klia2 website  has the details on how to get there. If you’ve compression socks, put them on prior to boarding as it’ll help keep the legs fresh over the 7-hour+ flight. Hydrate well!

The AAX captain will probably speak to you in this manner as he guides the aircraft down to the runway. “Good morning ladies and gentlemen. As you can see to your right, our aircraft is approaching the runway with the gorgeous beach to your right. Watch how the sunshine catches the surf. At this altitude you may not be able to spot the migrating pods of humpback whales but those gentle mammals are sure down there! If this is your first time in the Gold Coast, be sure to book your whale watching tour – simply unforgettable, folks. The weather is expected to be sunny and cool with temps between 14-18 Celcius. On behalf of AAX and the crew, I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure to have you on board and to passengers who will be running the marathon this weekend, have an awesome race. We look forward to hearing your race stories soon. Woo Hoo!” That’s how I’d speak into the PA if I was flying the aircraft :D ! Tip: You may request for the later serving of your inflight meals and sleep through the red-eye flight to GC. Having your meal before arrival will stave off some hunger pangs as we will be in continuous transit (airport-apartment-expo-apartment) until around 2pm when finally you’ll be able to grab some real food.

The path taken by the whale watching boat I was on last year. I tracked it using the Garmin Fenix.

Regardless, the 5D/3N travelers will arrive at the GC Airport in Coolangatta (south of Surfer’s Paradise) before 8am. By the time everyone clears the customs, it’ll be around 8:30am. The on-ground tour company ADU Holidays staff assigned to the travelers will be holding up a board to identify themselves and take your attendance. Please don’t wander off around the airport. The quicker we get on board the coach, the sooner we can get going. The drive into Surfers will take between 40-50 minutes depending on the traffic, which is smooth. It’ll be a scenic journey and those on the right side of the coach will have a nicer view with occasional sights of the beach. If we go by previous year’s experience, the coach will get us to the apartments where we will drop our bags and then hop back onto the coach for a 5-7 minute drive to the Race Expo at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. Or we could very well head to the Expo first – either way, we can trust the driver to make the best call.

Efficiently managed.

2XU at 50% off.

Endura booth, where you can sample the drinks and gels.

The GCAM Race Expo is where you’ll collect your race bib. The race pack is a minimal package and collection is a very quick and efficient affair after which you will have some time to check out the expo. Typical buys would be the event merchandize by asics. I’ve found that compression gear are sold at low prices and if you can find the size you want, purchase is a no-brainer – 2XU and Skins are after all Aussie brands. You can pick up your pace band from the RunnersWorld AU booth too. Then there’s the Endura booth where you can sample the sports drinks and gel served during the race. I’ve personally found Endura products to be quite agreeable with my gut – no tummy distress at all. Prices are not too bad either and they usually bundle a water bottle for free. It’s however not advisable to try new stuff prior to a race. Kobe Marathon which is a sister race of GCAM, has a booth and each time I pass it, I’m reminded that I’ve to run it some day. Due to budgetary prioritization, it hasn’t happened yet but one day. The size of the expo is just nice, not too small (like Nagano’s) and not as gargantuan as NYC, Tokyo and Osaka’s.

Note: We can have our group photo taken outside the expo (time to be confirmed).

Once the collection and shopping are done, it’s back to our apartments and the remainder of the day is free for your exploration and/or relaxation. I’m going to grab a hearty lunch and do some grocery shopping for the race morning as well as post-race refueling. Sanitarium Up&Go Chocolate Milk? You bet!

Wyndham Apartments
The apartments are fully furnished and very well appointed. You could cook if you choose to what with the utensils, fridge, oven and hob at your disposal. Coles and Woolsworths are located nearby as are smaller grocers where ingredients are easily found.

Nice view and well appointed.

Race Morning
The marathon starts at 7:20am by which time it’ll be bright and sunny. Those who booked their travels with HTT will be picked up from the Wyndham Apartments by the same coach. Independent travelers can ride on the free shuttles plying the route. Going by 2013 experience, the coach will leave Wyndham very early so that the Half Marathoners can get there in time for their earlier start of 6am. It will be cold when we leave the apartments, low 10s and windy. Make sure you stay warm.

The coach will probably need to take a detour due to road works (Goldlinq tram construction) and road closures, so we could be looking at a 4:30am pickup from the apartment. The driver will confirm this with the group on Saturday. Please be on time, else the Half Marathoners will get to the race site late. Independent travelers can check the GCAM website for information on the free event shuttle pickup points [link]

Found a warm spot after checking in the baggage. Get your hot drinks here!

There’s a short walk to the race precinct at the Southport Broadwater Parklands after we’re dropped off which is just as well since it’ll be a good warm up. Marathoners can continue to keep warm, use the toilets, have a hot drink (some shops will be open already, so bring some cash) and stay relaxed. The baggage drop is efficient so you can start to shed off your warm clothes closer to the race start.

GCAM has several pace groups, with 2 to 3 pacers leading each group. A pacer will run according to gun time and the other will follow the chip time, so if you’re hunting for a goal time, be sure to latch on to the appropriate pace group. Over the years, I’ve found that there were several types of pacers – those who truly engage the runners and those who remain quiet. If in doubt on which strategies your pacer will employ (either even pace, or positive/negative splits) don’t be shy to ask. This is so that you know if you’re going according to your plans.

A typical winter morning in GC is sunny therefore sunglasses and caps are advisable. It’ll warm up significantly from approximately 10 Celcius to 17-18 Celcius. Don’t overdress as you could overheat. I found that the hard way during my 2011 race [race report here]. It’s always a great idea to check the weather a week prior to your travel period for a more accurate forecast. I typically rely on Accuweather and here’s the direct link to the Gold Coast weather for July.

Drinks are plentiful throughout the course and they’re served diluted. Those with penchant for stomach distress as a result of over-concentrated mix of sport drinks will be happy to know this.

Once you’ve crossed the finish line with a personal best timing, continue walking. Pick up the orange slices along the way and a bottle of water. Then collect your hard earned medal and finisher t-shirt before heading to collect your baggage.

Just follow the crowd and keep walking once you cross the finish line.

Don’t forget your hard earned medal!

Relax, change out of your soiled clothing and soak in the atmosphere on the lawn. There will be drinks (alcoholic and non alcoholic, coffee) on sale as are snacks and food.

Post-race meeting point. Counting on the man on the screen to break the CR.

Oh if possible, let’s gather in front of this jumbo screen post race for some photos! That’s all for now. Shoot me any questions you may have. See you soon!

Why I’m Returning To The Gold Coast

Click to enlarge poster

As you’re drawing up your racing plans for 2013 – something which I’m sure most of my running kakis are doing – this is a race which I’d recommend you. What follows may come across as hard selling but please bear with me.

In completing 3 large marathons – Tokyo, Gold Coast and Osaka – I probably exceeded my previous overseas racing quota the last 3 years. You won’t be wrong to assume that I’ve a special spot for Japan as a travel and running destination, something I’ll probably write more about in future posts. Right now, it’s about the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM). A few days ago, I posted on my Facebook Timeline that the travel packages have been worked out between Tourism Queensland and Holiday Tours. So here they are – just click on the posters to enlarge for viewing. Reason I’m getting this across early is so that you can make your plans ASAP. Incidentally I understand that GCAM would be the last big race before the Muslim Fasting Month, so it could also be the last big bang before the holy month.

Click to enlarge poster. I’m surprised to see the finishing photo!

As usual, there are 2  travel packages 5D/3N and 7D/5N and the fabulous Wyndham Apartments have been retained as the accommodation of choice. You can see from the photos I took earlier this year of the apartment.

The package includes the hotel, air fare, baggage and shuttling. Because the winter is mild, Gold Coast is a place you can get away with packing light. A fleece top is all the warm clothing you need for early mornings and evenings. Plus there’s the washer and dryer (plus a basin for hand washing) with provided detergent at the hotel. The modern kitchen is equipped with utensils way more than I needed.

GC is also a runner’s heaven as you can literally run the entire coastal stretch (incidentally that’s also the marathon route). It was so conducive that I did a 8K recovery run at 9pm a day after this year’s marathon. After the body warms up, you could get by in a technical t-shirt and running shorts even at that time of day.

View from the hotel balcony.

The beach is just a short walk away.

Let’s talk about the race, comparing GCAM with some of those I’ve done. 2013 will be the 3rd consecutive year I’ll be visiting GC. As recent as 2 months ago, my plan was to run 2 distances in the race – the 10K on Saturday and the Half Marathon the next day, to complete my medal and T-Shirt collection. As luck would have it, I’ve yet to achieve the personal goals I’ve set out to nail this year and so I’d still be attempting the marathon distance next year.

Just like anyone who lives in the tropics, I’m naturally partial to running in cooler temps. It makes the traveling bit nicer and different too. New York was cold and so was Tokyo in February this year. Other than the early morning freeze in the corral, Osaka wasn’t as bracing as I expected. Gold Coast was even warmer this year compared to 2011. All, however, were very well organized in their own way. As you can imagine in the order of scale (prestige, budgetory, participation, viewership and pretty much everything else), NYC was the marathon. Next comes Tokyo and Osaka respectively, with the very unique experience only Japanese races can provide.

So where does GCAM stand? Let me try to break it down:

  1. All the races I’ve mentioned are urban races. Most of us race in urban marathons anyway, so unless you’re looking for the trails and small town races, you wouldn’t have got this far of this post. With the under 20,000 participation, GCAM is the smallest among the 4 major ones I’ve done. But 20,000 on the streets of Gold Coast is just a nice number.
  2. Osaka is flat except for the killer climb at 37K. Paced well, Osaka will still give you a PR race. GCAM is even flatter, with hardly an incline worth mentioning. I’ve not run Berlin and Rotterdam but going by course elevation alone, I believe GCAM ranks up there amongst the fastest courses. The organizers are really working hard to get the word out about the fast course. Course elevation is a matter of preference though, as I know some prefer a bit of a rolling course to “balance out” the leg fatigue. In general though, you’ll not get a better chance at a PR, if all other factors like training and race day feel, pan out.
  3. Large Japanese and American marathons are spectacular in sights and sounds. Japanese urban marathons have passionate supporters 3 rows deep, buffet lines and runners in costumes which will evoke childhood memories in many of us. On the other hand, GCAM is laid back kind. There are supporters for sure especially leading to the 15K u-turn and around the Southport race precinct, but lesser and more sedated in the other sections. You’ll get to really focus on your own race, with less distractions. The downside is when you’re hurting in the later miles, you’ll need to dig deeper.
  4. GCAM is coastal. There are several skyscrapers along the stretch but the race route is never in their shadows. Low rises, cozy residential homes, beach apartments are what you’ll be passing. And there are the waves hitting the shores just 100m off the road at certain stretches.
  5. GCAM has visible pace teams. If you find yourself chaperoned by the right pacer, you’re in luck. I’m hoping that this guy, Steve, returns to the pace group that I’m joining. For a lesson in pace duties, I strongly recommend learning from him. Another thing is that in GCAM, you could be paced by an Olympian marathoner (read Francis’ race report here)!
  6. Everything is close by. The weather is just nice to walk, winter is usually dry and not rainy. Gold Coast is working to have a rail transit system up before the 2018 Commonwealth Games. If you choose a quiet 2 days before the race to rest your legs, there are plenty of relaxing things to do around Surfers Paradise or Broadbeach. If excitement and touristy things are what you seek, then you already know of the tourist attractions there.
  7. AAX flies to Gold Coast. A no-brainer for Malaysians. By taking up their package, you won’t have to crack your head over accommodation choices (the hotels are excellent), you’ll be met upon arrival with a shuttle to the expo and hotel and next day to the race site. After checking out, you’ll also get to be shuttled back to the airport in Coolangata.

Here’s hoping you will join me in 2013. There are some plans shaping up on the training aspect – once that’s finalized, I’ll be sure to update one and all. Meanwhile if you’ve any questions relating to travel to GC, please drop me a comment!

Note: You can read more about my past GCAM experiences from the top menu of my blog. Or click on the Gold Coast Australia tag.

Race Report: Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2012

Now that the dust is a little settled and I’m coming to terms of resuming the humdrum haze filled days, there’s a wee bit of time to do this race report, and then some. Once I got over the initial disappointment, my 20th turned out rather well, if a little different. It has a lot to do with what the Gold Coast has lined up for visitors, the presence of many familiar faces and meeting of new friends.

Arrival and Day 1
I’ve mentioned more than a few times of my loss of training the 3 weeks prior to taper due to illness so there’s no point in flogging a dead horse. That pretty much left me with insufficient quality long runs when it mattered most. As a result I went into the race with only 1 28K, 5 24Ks, 5-6 21Ks. The flight into Gold Coast was not a good one, sleep-wise. Many passengers were either coughing or sneezing, a testament of the poor air quality in KL. Just before landing, I had my first episode of migraine. Up till that moment, I’ve been migraine-free all my life. There’s always a first time but I’m hoping that was the last too!

Pick your pace band.

As was last year, I was again held up at the immigration when my visa needed some alterations to the First/Family Name data. No big issues, but as long as I visit Australia, this is something I’ve to face unless they update their visa application form. Thanks to Francis who was on the same flight, I’ve enough pain relievers on standby should the attack return. Once all the AirAsia Go (AAG) travelers were through customs, we promptly loaded up and were shuttled to the expo. True to the forecast, the rainy weather had been replaced with sunny days. At the Convention Centre, we still needed to wait a little before the doors opened. There were plenty of time to the 12:30pm shuttle pickup, so the lot of us made full use of the window to sample Endura gels and drinks, getting our feet taped up at the Rock Tape booth (KT had their own too) and I also couldn’t resist a session with the EMS device. Before we left the expo, I had a nice chat with Andrew and Sue O’Brien, of the well known Couple On The Run.

View from my balcony

AAG’s choice of tie-up with Wyndham Hotel was excellent. Located just diagonally across the Q1, the rooms offer very nice amenities, from a fully equipped kitchen to the laundry room (you needn’t even buy your detergents!). Critically, its central location provided excellent start points to the Cavill Mall (8-10 minutes’ walk), to the Islander Apartments (where the Chap Ayam Runners stayed, 6 minutes’ walk) and a block to the beach. All my breakfasts and 2 dinners were eat-ins.

Checking out the Festival stalls

The first evening were spent loitering around the Surfers Paradise beach front, soaking in the Festival activities. There were performances, light shows and stalls.  I’d done a bit of grocery shopping earlier and so I was back at the hotel by 9pm after linking up with Lynn and Pat to pass them a couple of event slingbags. Took the cough mixture and nasal spray I bought from Tower Chemist 2 blocks away from the hotel before drifting off to sleep.
Day 2
The plan was for a morning run and to visit the race precinct to witness the 10K race and possibly spot Yuki Kawauchi early next morning but sleep deficiency got the better of me and I slept right through the alarm. The nasal spray worked wonders for the congested sinus but the cough was still bothersome. I’d to jump to the next agenda in the itinerary where I had Vivianne for company (Roy couldn’t be located, presumably out on a training run in preparation for his 100-miler) for the bus ride to Harbour Town. The ride took a long time as a result of road closures due to the 10K race. Bumped into Leslie at the crowded shopping centre where we found Dean Karnazes’ book going for only AUD5 at the TNF outlet. Ralph Lauren was having a 70% storewide sale and most of the other brands had plenty of good buys as well. The damage to my wallet were for a couple of Nautica shirts, 1 really nice yellow Livestrong tee for the wife (AUD30) which she said she’ll need some slimming to squeeze into, 2 white Nike Pro Combat tops, of which 1 is a regular version and the other a Livestrong edition and a pair of red surf shorts. Lunch was chicken and lamb kebab before hopping a ride back to Surfers to catch the fireworks display. The Chap Ayam Runners were there too. Back at the hotel I dug into pasta and soup I’d bought earlier from Woolsworth. A banana completed the meal before I laid out the race gear, with The Simpsons playing on TV.

Race Day
2 alarms woke me up and there was no rush in getting ready. The air was expectedly chilly (but not as cold as last year) before the start. There were many signs that pointed to a hot run. Hence my gear was just the WhyMarathon vest over the Nike We Run KL tee. Bottoms were the Swift tights while a cap and a pair of sunglasses were used for sun protection duty.

With Tay Poh Chye and Chan. The half marathoners have been let off behind us, running right to left.

Next year, I'm gonna be among of the half marathoners and run with reckless abandonment.

Sunrise over Broadwater Parklands, Southport.

Together with Chan and his wife, we strolled the race precinct and took some photos and hung around keeping warm. I even had time to join the long queue for the toilet before dropping off our bags.

There were reportedly around 5,700 marathoners yet the area wasn’t congested due to the size of race precinct. The half marathoners had been let off and the marathon start into the opposite direction helped prevent any gridlock. Based on my goal time I was assigned to the B corrall. As I wandered into the section, I saw to my horror that this section were where the 3:30 (5-minute average pace) pace group was! 3:30 was way too fast. I stood there for a moment to consider my options and strategy – do I try this thing out just for the heck of it, knowing that I’d probably crash and burn at the 13K mark or be wise and move deeper into the back. I opted for the conservative option. Located the 4-hour pacers and stood next to the 2nd pacer in that group. Together, we were just in front of the 4:15 pacer, Asian Dude (AD), who led the 4-hour group last year [read my 2011 report]. I’ve high regards for AD and I believe I heard him introduce himself as Steve. Unlike the 4-hour pacers, who were pretty aloof, Steve was rallying his brood and told them that his race plan was even splits while dispensing tips and encouragement. Very interactive and truly my vision of an ideal pacer.

After the singing of the Australian National Anthem, we were off. The start was very relaxed 5:48 pace, and more importantly my breathing was clear and I wasn’t coughing. The sun was up and it was already warming up. Even at this stage it was becoming clear that the 4:00 pacers were really hammering it. By the 2nd K, I’d hit my goal pace of 5:42 yet my pacer was already yards ahead. That’s when I spotted Mohan. The 3 following photos were taken by him.

The gap became wider by the 3rd K and that got me really confused. The Polar was showing that I was hitting the correct pace and I was running really really comfortably, like an easy run despite hitting my goal pace. Yet the dude was pulling away! I even took out the GPS pod from the SPIBelt to validate if it was functioning. There it was, the green LCD still blinking away showing sat lock. Nevermind, I thought to myself, perhaps it turned screwy like the faulty heart rate strap. I gave the pacers my benefit of the doubt and played along to their script, whatever that might be.

By the 7th K the pacers were still way ahead despite upping the pace to 5:30 the last 2Ks and I’d already just ran a 5:23 split. At that point I thought, dammit, to heck with the pacers! I’ll rely on my own breathing and timing. Luckily I was still breathing very very easily. Not a hint of panting. I was enjoying the race so far and spotted Francis in the 3-hour pace group. Nothing to report then as I lapped up and enjoyed the miles past the Burleigh Heads u-turn (15K). Like the crowds, the sun was already making its presence felt and the rim of my cap was constantly slanted to one side to prevent the glare. I checked myself every 5K and I’ve been ticking off the pace goals up to this point. 5K later at the 20K mark, my timing was to the minute, 1:53+. Another kilometre later, it was still to the minute, 1:59+. I’d been restraining and my leg turnovers weren’t even quick. And so it came to a decisive moment for me – to maintain this progress or to slow down and preserve, conserve and shuffle past the 30K. The decision was to just adopt the “come what may and deal with it when it comes”. I was enjoying the race too much and hitting the wall was already a given no matter how much I slow down, since the longest I ran in training wasn’t that long anyway. Might as well see how far I could go in the given fitness condition. I was also especially curious to see if the cramps that hit me running at this pace last year would surface again this year. It was still game on and I kept thinking that it’s only a half marathon left. I thought back to the PJ and Bareno halves and pretended that I was just running the same race.

I covered 6 more Ks when my legs stopped churning. Momentum was lost and I ground to a halt. I wasn’t even panting nor in any pain. And I realized that that was it. That was the end of my race. I wasn’t entirely surprised but it was still a blow and major disappointment. You see, despite steeling one’s mind and preparing to face the blowup, I don’t think one can ever get used to the feeling when the cogs finally stop moving. It was still a gut punch.

Yet, I was strangely relieved because there was no cramp despite the pace. The philosophy behind the FIRST method worked. I’d simply ran out of steam. My body’s energy systems were simply not efficient in managing its fuel consumption. I got to nearly the same longest distance I’d covered in training at that given pace. It was harder for me to hit 5:50 than 5:42 or 5:40 on a training run these days, such was the pace memory in my legs. So, slowing down more than a few seconds wasn’t an option. For me at least, it has come down to 5:40 or nothing.

The 4:00 pacers were long gone and I suspected they were putting in 5:15 splits (3:42 finish) from the 2nd K onwards which if true, was just too fast. I’m sure the 2 of them would’ve no issues finishing according to their timing but it would potentially ruin the runners tagging along. Roy would later inform me that his 3:45 pacers told their group that they too will be running positive splits. In contrast, Steve, the 4:15 pacer, made it clear of his strategy and that his charges would have enough time to drink at all the hydration stations. True to form, he repeated his orders for them to hold back and surge only from 37K onwards if they have enough left.

My race then involved plenty of fast walking. Runners have begun looking for shady parts of the route often taking to the far side of the road. The windless conditions meant there won’t be respite from the searing dry heat. It was at this stage when I started feeling ashamed of representing the WhyMarathon Ambassadors. The vest weighed heavily on my back. I tried looking for reasons that I should still be running marathons. Why has it been so hard to improve? Then I started slinging blames on the haze in KL and my subsequent illness. Legitimate reasons or otherwise, it all began to look like I was looking for excuses. That realization made me snap out of the self pity and to find the little blessings I can scrounge up. I was quite firm, however, that I would step away from the marathon after Osaka to rediscover the joys of training.

Anyways, it was mostly 3K of walking right up to the starting point when Steve and his group pulled up. He was still rallying his team not to dare slow down. Caught up in the energy I shuffled alongside. He grabbed some gummies handed out by spectators and even passed me one. Now that’s one heckuva pacer! But 300m later I had to drop off and watch them go ahead. 2 more K of walking followed and I spotted Tay Poh Chye on the opposite side. A little further back was Karen. They would finish in 4:03 and 4:04 respectively. The Labrador section is always tough with little support but this year was a little better. Still crampless but worn down by the sun, there was nothing more to do but to try to enjoy the cheers of the spectators and volunteers. Approaching the Runaway Bay u-turn (35.6K), I hopped off the route to the loo. Then I jogged a bit more often. I even spotted Adam the One-Arm Runner on the opposite side of the road. It was around here that Lynn and Pat caught up with me. Lynn was pacing Pat for her debut marathon and their clean shaven heads (for charity fund-raising) were already stubbly. It was such a pleasant surprise to see these two, just when I was questioning my reason of running. So we ran together, pulling each other along and I helping to snap a few of their shots.

Secret spy shot by Lynn. I was still unaware that they were tailing me.

It went this way right till the finish when we crossed the line hand in hand. Despite all the misgivings I had of myself, despite all the frustrations of wanting more, despite walking for so long, it was one of the most memorable and happy marathon finishes I’ve had in a long long while. Grinning ear to ear and urging the crowd to cheer for Pat, it’s wonderful to see how much fun one, when unshackled by the burden of timing, can have. If I can find a way to detach myself and like what Donald Sutherland’s Bowerman character said in “Without Limits“, “find the meaning in the running that you do”, perhaps I will discover the joys of training.

Finally some boring stuff i.e. numbers. 4 points stood out.

  1. My 2011 and 2012 timings at the 25K mark were the same to the minute. The splits from the 30K onwards expectedly saw a decline when compared to last year.
  2. The total distance recorded by the Polar is 43.07K. The only explanation I have for this overdistance, as in the case of the 2011 race, is the deviation on the route I took in seeking out the shady sections of the course as well as a short detour for a pee stop. Still, 1K seemed like plenty of yards.
  3. The Weather Channel reported the actual race day temps to be a high of 22 Celcius and low of 12 Celcius.
  4. A mind boggling gap between the number of entrants and finishers (see table at the bottom). The non-finishers for the marathon and half marathon were over 600 and 979 respectively! What gives?

I did mention in my Facebook update that I will take a step back from the marathon after November’s Osaka. I think it’s a good break from the distance. This will allow me to run shorter races. The marathon can be such a heart breaker and just like fishing, perhaps letting go a little will eventually reel in the objectives.

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