Monday, August 18, 2014

Running Your First Marathon or How to Suck it up!

Kuching Marathon:  Robert Raymer with his sons Jason and Justin
I just completed my first marathon; yes, that’s 42.195km, or 26 miles, 385 yards.  I won’t tell you my age (other than I’m one of the latter baby boomer from the US) nor my time, which isn’t all that impressive.  I did beat the seven-hour cut-off time for the in­augural Kuching Marathon (located in Malaysia, in the state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo).
“You came all the way from America?” several runners asked me, impressed.

“No, I live here.  I’m a writer. 
They seemed less impressed.
My wife wasn’t impressed either.  When I announced that I was running a marathon, she flat out told me, “You’re insane!”

The insanity began when I saw this guy around my age and I could tell from a distance, he was fit.  He wasn’t muscular, but he had this pres­ence about him, and I thought, OK, that’s my goal for 2014, to get fit.  Then I read an article about a woman who ran her first marathon at age 60; she ran one every year for the next 18 years.  I thought, if she could do it . . . . I figured if I could get myself into shape then maybe in two years I could run a marathon.  Then I heard a radio an­nouncement about the Kuching Marathon only to realize it was the final day to enter, so I impulsively signed up.  I thought, OK, I still had four months, plenty of time to get fit.

Clearly I had been thinking too much.  Not that I’m all that out of shape; last year I did compete in my son’s primary school jogathonPrior to that, my last competition was 30 years ago in a pair of 5K fun runs at a company picnic back in America.

When I told my brother Bill I was running a marathon he thankfully didn’t laugh at me.  Having run in marathons himself back in the 90’s as did another brother Terry, who also ran in triathlons and Ironman competitions, he sent me helpful articles on how to run a marathon, so that got me thinking and training a little.  Very little. 
I did run to my wife’s village Quop, which took me forty minutes from where I live, and ran twice more, there and back, for one hour and twenty minutes without stopping.  In my mind I planned a series of longer runs, but, well those didn’t pan out since my knees were throbbing and who wants to run a marathon on throbbing knees?

The marathon was slated to start at 4 am (it’s the tropics).  I thought that was pretty insane time to start a marathon until they pushed the starting time back to 3 am and we had to be there by 2 am, which meant I had to wake up at 1am.  I was starting to wonder if my wife was right: Am I truly insane?

I was glad my wife convinced me to check into a hotel so I could walk to the race; she didn’t trust me to drive at night without sleep).  The day before the race, I went to sleep at 4 pm, but my two boys woke me up at 6 pm, and then I twisted my own arm to join them for a pizza.  I was back to bed by 8 pm, but didn’t fall asleep until around 11pm, just in time for the alarm to go off.

I took a quick shower to wake up, ate some granola bars for breakfast, and applied generous doses of Vaseline on any part of my body that came in contact with my clothes to avoid chafing, especially those safety pins attached to my number A1-0445; I even put plaster across my nip­ples after seeing a photo of a marathoner whose nipples were bleeding from the chafing.  Who needs that?

Before leaving, I put on a blue headband and a silly hat and slipped out of the hotel room only to bump into another guy dressed like me, also running in the marathon.  I was glad I wasn’t the only fool staying at that hotel.

After some monkey-see, monkey-do stretching, I made my way to the starting line in the middle of the pack.  The front is reserved for the Kenyans, those competing with the Kenyans, and those taking selfies with the Kenyans.  (Kenyans took 8 out of 9 top spots; the other went to an Ethiopian and a Malaysian took tenth!  The winning time: 2hr 22min 9sec.) 
Altogether there were four races 5K, 10K, 21K, and 42K (plus veteran categories for those of us above 45), with a total of 5,500 runners from 30 countries.  Thankfully the starting times were staggered:  The race finally started for those in front.  For us in the mid­dle we still had a ways to go before we got to the start.  I was impressed by two things:  how far ahead those Kenyans were as they curved around Padang Merdeka and by all the people lining the street to cheer us on.  Did I mention it was 3am?  Don’t these people sleep?

Once we got out of town, people gathered in front of their homes to watch us run by.  Some made a party of it, banging on drums, chanting and holding out their hands for us to slap. 

“Good Morning,” the children would say to me in English and I’d reply in Malay, “Selamat pagi!”  But was it morning?  Hell no, it was 3:30 am!  Shouldn't they be in bed?

Then there were long stretches when there was no houses, no people.  So I noted the road kill, includ­ing a scorpion and a couple of snakes, hoping I wouldn’t join them.  In marathons people do occasionally die, usual­ly of a heart attack as did Pheidippides, the legendary messenger who ran to Athens after the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

A 54-year-old runner from Brunei did die that morning after fainting a half hour into his run, not the marathon but surprisingly the 5K fun run . . . . Always make sure you’re fit and healthy; if in doubt, consult a doctor before your race, even if it’s chasing your grand­kids around the dining table.  Those miles do add up.

Some runners ran in groups, some ran with blink­ing reflector lights on their backs or the back of their shoes.  Others ran barefoot.  Some carried special backpacks containing special fluids with a special hose that could reach their mouth.  Others wore specialized fanny packs for their drinks and energy gels.  Many ran with head­phones and a few Mickey Mouse ears.  This one guy sang as he ran.  I was im­pressed with both his voice and his repertoire and was so disappointed when he ran out of range.

Many brought their phones and cameras and took plenty of  photos of their com­pan­ions and new-found friends and some selfies, too; they would pose at every pose-able locale from Slow Down signs to scenic bridges with middle-of-the night fishermen.  One lone fisher­man with four poles was eyeing us as possible bait. 
With hardly any traffic, we had the roads to ourselves.  Just had to avoid running into other run­ners like those who ran four abreast carrying on a lively conversation.  If I found myself getting hemmed in or stuck behind the same monotonous runner I knew it was time to pass.  Running marathons, I dis­covered was a lot like playing leapfrog.  I kept passing people, then they would pass me and this would go on for hours, and I’d say, “You again!”

Pretty soon you made friends for life, like Mohan Marathon from Singapore, who ran in the New York Marathon twice and the Honolulu marathon countless times.  Bald-headed and in his fifties, he made every­one laugh and kept calling me, Mr. Pennsylvania, and would introduce me to others and tell them to make sure they finished ahead of me.  When another runner had leg cramps he stayed with her to make sure she got some help, and kept helping her throughout the marathon and made sure that she got her t-shirt and medal, a true gentleman.

Most runners, by the way, are cheer­ful people; less than cheerful people don’t wake up to run marathons at 3am!  They also encourage you any way they can to keep you moving toward your goal of completing your marathon.  Some are road warriors, best to stay out of their way if don’t want tread marks up your back, or they'll sneer at you as you pass them.  A guy running in front of me was talking to another runner about a recent 84K race.  Who in their right mind would run two marathons back to back, but then I saw this guy with 100K t-shirt, which I found either encouraging or discouraging.  Are runners truly in­sane?  I’m not even talking about Triathletes and Ironman competitors, let alone those who run 250K across the desert!

One runner I kept bumping into had a helpful slogan on the back that said, “Never Quit.”  Another, “Run Till You Drop!” Before I did drop, I had to stop now and then to have my legs massaged.  One time I had to sit off the side of the road to relieve discomfort to my left foot.  I removed my shoe but was afraid to remove the sock to see what was going on, afraid of what I would find and then use that as an excuse not to finish.  (I did tape my toes to minimize any blistering, not that it helped.)  Next time, I know, get better shoes.

In the days leading up to the marathon, I kept giving myself reasons why I shouldn’t go through with it, like lack of adequate preparation, lack of sleep, potential knee injuries that would require surgery, falling and injuring myself (I had a nasty fall in January that gave me a black eye), or even something fatal like a heart attack.  Who was I fooling?  I figured the odds were so stacked against me, and that didn’t include all those Kenyans!  But then I thought, well that line of think­ing isn’t helping me. 
My whole reason for running in the first place was to get in shape.  In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, but then that’s like a lot people wanting to be an author; they just don’t want to write the damn book!  Who in the right mind wants to run 42km at 3am in the tropics?  But I figured the only way I would ever run a marathon is by run­ning a marathon.  No guts, no glory!  Then I realized, once I actually showed up my odds were 50-50!  Either I fin­ished the race or I didn’t.
Having a 50% chance at anything in life are pretty good odds.  Then if you back that up with a valid reason (wanting to prove to my wife that I’m not insane), some sheer stubbornness (I paid for this so I’m finishing it!), and a self-motivating mantra to help your­self get past the pain and that proverbial wall (they said it was proverbial not real!), those odds start to shift in your favor.

Around the half way mark, in the middle of nowhere, like a mirage, all these people popped up playing tambourines, singing and dancing.  Or maybe it really was a mirage . . . .  By the time the call to prayer came at 5:20 am, followed by the sun rising 6:38 am, I was still hang­ing in there, though at times walking and sightseeing more than running since my legs were killing me and I felt really, really pooped out.

“Hey, are you a tourist!” another runner called out to me, as I was enjoying the view from a bridge just as the sun was coming up.   

Oh, yeah, the marathon!   

Lack of training, I realized too late,  is the consummate marathon killer.  Either you put the miles in or you didn’t.  But then I noticed how some runners walked really fast by pump­ing their elbows.  By walking at a brisk pace you don’t fall too far behind before you get your second, third, or fif­teenth wind. 
Then you play games with yourself, I’ll start running after the water station or until the next road kill.  Basically you do what you have to do to keep going.  At the 34K mark they gave us a banana for breakfast.  Along the way I tried energy jells, Red Bull, isotonic drinks, granola bars, dried fruit, and gummy bears, some of which I carried in a fanny pack.  I carried my own bottle which gave me the flexibility to drink or sip when I wanted to and could refill it at the water stations, every three kilometers.  Glad I did.

The whole final third of the marathon, when you felt like your legs dropped off a few kilo­meters back, I kept pushing myself, staying focused.  I also relied on my past experience of completing the Big Loop Trail at Bako National Park with my son Zaini when he was 16 and climbing Longs Peak in Colorado with brother Bill when I was 22.

My writing mantra for the year going into the mara­thon was “Believe and Do!”  But during the actual running it became “Suck it up!”  By 7am the traffic came, and it got worse once we got back into town.  We now had to avoid cars at inter­sections, at round-a-bouts, and when double-parked!  Aware there was a mara­thon going on (signs were everywhere as were helpful policemen), most drivers were courteous (or curious) and gave us a chance to live.  Others, well, we were fair game.

When I got to those final two kilo­meters, on the last of my rubbery legs, a short, stout woman leap­frogged me and urged me on, and I thought, hell if she can do it . . . . Besides, I wasn’t about to run a full marathon and not get that t-shirt and metal!  My wife needed proof! I needed proof, too, so years from now I could look back on that day 17 August 2014, knowing that I came to the Kuching Mara­thon, saw all those thousands of run­ners, and conquered the course (but not the Kenyans).  Or in non-Roman terms, I sucked it up.

Later, I planned to use the marathon experience to lord it over my kids, “Hey, if your father can run a marathon, you can at least clean up your room!”

Then I began to wonder, why do normally sane people put themselves through the pain and or­deal of running a marathon (and do it again and again)?  Do they do it for the camara­derie, for the challenge, or because they can?  Does it even matter?  Then I remembered an expression I once heard, “You never know how far you can go until you’ve gone too far.” This not only ap­plies to running and writing books, but also to all creative, business, and pro­fessional en­deavors. 

The real question you might want to ask yourself, how far can you go in your life?  You may not want to run a mara­thon, but then again, why not?  If you can run a marathon, then nothing can stop you from pur­suing your dreams.  When things go horribly wrong and you feel like giving up or quitting life for good, you just do what you had to do to complete that darn mara­thon, including those nasty hills they throw at you when you least expect (or want) them . . . you suck it up and keep going!

Then there it was . . . the finish.  Before I knew what was happening, a pretty woman put the metal over my head, knocking off my hat in the process, and then another made sure I had the correct size t-shirt.  And it was all over except the pain . . . . You would think that the pain ends when the marathon does, but, sorry, it doesn’t.  Taking your shoes off does help. 

But you still have to make it home or to your hotel; unfortunately, the days of porters carrying you in style ended a few generations ago.  So I walked with my wife back to the hotel in my socks along with our sons Jason and Justin, with Jason proudly wearing my metal around his neck (he got first dibs).
Then the cramps set in.  For me, that happened while I was soaking in the bathtub.  My wife had to help me out of the tub in a very painful, undignified flamingo stance. 

“Do you need me to dry you like the boys?”

“Please!” I said, and then Jason stepped on my aching, blistered toes.  “Please, watch the toes!”

I thought I would collapse asleep for at least a week, but I wasn’t all that sleepy, so we checked out of the hotel at noon and headed home with a few stops in between.  Getting in and out of car, in and out of chairs was an ordeal, but the staircase at home was pure torture.  I had to hold onto the banister and take baby steps sideways in an effort to minimize movement.  Any jerk like motion such as lift­ing a leg to the next step was excruciating painful.

When I finally did collapse, I slept wonderfully well except whenever I changed positions, then I’d feel that throbbing pain in the lower legs and toes.  But the knees were fine!  The following morning, the pain was still there, a lot of stiffness too, so I had to walk Frankenstein-style around the house.  But at the same time, I had this incredible afterglow.  I ran a marathon!  I really did!  My blue t-shirt and cool metal were proof!

Now, instead of calling me insane, my wife calls me her “marathon man”.
–Borneo Expat Writer

*A fun, practical way to raise your self-esteem, list down 25-50 of your personal achievements (even if they mean nothing to anybody else except you!

**Get a jump on your New Year resolutions

*** Here's a link to my second marathon. (2015 Kuching Marathon)
      And to my third marathon (2016 Kuching Marathon)

Here are links to four of my author to author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Act of Theft – Finalist for 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom for Novella!

The Act of Theft has been named one of the finalist in the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Novella.  (In 2013 it was a short list finalist.)

Also my novels A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit (finalist 2012) and The Lonely Affair (The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady) were short list finalist for the 2014 Novel category.  

Plus I had "three" more novels in the 2014 semi-finals, including The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady (short list finalist above and in 2012), An Unexpected Gift for a Growling Fool (short list finalist in 2013) and The Girl in the Bathtub, (a finalist in 2012, short list finalist 2013 Novel-in-Progress, and a sequel to A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit set in Malaysia).

This is the fourth time that one of my works has made it the Faulkner-Wisdom finals in four different categories:  novel, novel-in-progress, novella and short story (“Malaysian Games”,  runner up in 2007).

All finalists for the Novella will be sent to the finals judge Moira Crone, a previous Faulkner-Wisdom Novella winner, who has published two novels and three books of stories.

Let’s hope The Act of Theft can pull off a winner.
                  —Borneo Expat Writer

*Reading out loud to improve your results. 
**Six lessons I learned from joining Amazon competition. 

Here are links to four of my author to author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Faulkner-Wisdom: Two Novels Short List Finalist 2014!

Two of my novels A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit and The Lonely Affair  (The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady) were named as short list finalist for the 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Competition.

The sequel to A Perfect Day for an Expat Expat (finalist in 2012), The Girl in the Bathtub was named a semi-finalist in only its second full draft.  The Girl in the Bathtub, however, was a finalist for the 2012 Novel-in-Pro­gress (and a short list finalist in 2013).  Both novels are set in Malaysia, famous this year for its missing flight MH370 and then MH17 shot down flying over Ukraine.

This year I was determined to send in the early draft of The Girl in the Bathtub so I would be forced to revise it in time for the competition.  Since then, I had been continually revising the novel draft after draft, cutting the 493 page manuscript down to 419 pages determined to make this my best novel ever.  I hope to get it down to 400 pages by mid-September before I send it to a writer friend for a complete reading, then after further revisions, if necessary, start submitting it to agents, my first new novel in a while, which I find exciting.

My novel An Unexpected Gift from a Growling Fool was a semi-finalist this year too, dis­appointing since it was named a short list finalist in 2013 as was The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady (the revised version of The Lonely Affair) also a previous short list finalist in 2012 (and a Quarter-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards).  I had actually submitted The Lonely Affair in 2013 along with my other four entries and somehow this got overlooked so they carried it over for 2014, a pleasant surprise and an extra short list finalist, giving me five entries instead of four for the novel (two short list finalist and three semi-finalist for 2014!).

I’m still waiting for the Novella results for my entry The Act of Theft, a short-list finalist in 2013.
                      —Borneo Expat Writer

Update: The Act of Theft was named one of the a finalist for 2014.

Update: Winners of Novella and Novel

*Reading out loud to improve your results.

**Six lessons I learned from joining Amazon competition.

Here are links to four of my author to author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I