Brunei Half Marathon

How long does it take a frequent runner to acclimatise from Scottish winter to Equatorial summer, where the mercury hits 30+ degrees? Longer than three weeks, you betcha….and here’s how I know.

The Brunei Half Marathon was entered at the start of 2013, as I rejoiced at finding a distance race in my new home country. I would run the same distance in the UK as a benchmark and then train on heart-rate until I was at a similar fitness and voila, everything would be hunky-dory. As time passed I was beginning to think we wouldn’t even make it over for the race, so 3 weeks to get used to the heat and humidity went something like:

IMG-20130318-029825K at 10:30am=beetroot and dying, 6K at 8am=still cream crackered and lung-less, 5K at 7am/5pm=almost bearable at a barely jogging pace. Longest run of 7 miles and 21 days in country …..oh, OK then.

But it wasn’t that bad. Race strategy was (a) don’t race (b) don’t exceed 175 bpm unless it’s a sprint to the loo or the final 10 metres (c) keep salted and hydrated (d) enjoy the city. I managed (nearly) all of those, slowed down when I had to, jogged all the inclines and had a tough but steady event, finishing in a not-too-slovenly 2:13:34 and I can honestly say, I was pleased with that.

Pace splits/heart-rate (the last 3 miles after the morning hotted up were very tough)

5K in 30.55 / 10K in 63.05/16K in 1.42/21K in 2.13

So roughly: 5K/5K/6K/5K in 31, 32, 39, 31 minutes, so you can see where the hills were but it was still pretty even. OK, important to me for this first hotter race but I promise the stats are over now for the descriptive and pictures.

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We stayed at The Empire Hotel in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan and I enjoyed being go-karted around between our wing and the main building. The complex is mahooosive and I look forward to a more exploratory return. I endured another highly painful foot torture-massage but felt brilliant the next morning for our 4 am start.

We arrived at the Hassanal Bolkiah stadium (named after the current Sultan of Brunei) P1000301and the place was buzzing with athlete’s, media and rows of food stalls serving rice and noodle dishes, fruit punch and water; all at 5 am. No queue for the loos and soon we were huddling behind the start-line, waiting to stride out into the dark. I opted to run with the Ipod in 1 ear and carrying an UltrAspire Handheld full of Aquarius sports drink, which is widely available in Seria. The race was sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank who have a series of marathons and half marathons throughout the Far East, including Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. We all got very nice turquoise/green tee-shirts and an over-sized mesh cap in our goody bags and can I just say that the expo and registration, although not well attended, was well organised and very friendly, with a personal smiley welcome and good-bye from their meet n greet team (this is proving typical of Brunei hospitality).

Back to the race! I was slightly taller and much paler than 90% of the participants and I felt there were at least twice as many first timers as there were regular runners (evident P1000295later when most of the 10K race was walking at the point where the half route merged). Of course this is fine until the last few miles when you’re tired and it’s hot and you’re weaving in and out of groups of walkers! I was in awe of the amount of fully clad head-to-foot in black, compression wearing folks, some with two layers on, including long sleeves and long socks. I saw one wheelchair entrant and at the 5K mark passed one single-legged blade-runner. There were a smattering of ex-pat types as well and I spotted a Dutch flag at the start-line. I tried not to stare at the Bruneian lady runners who were attempting to run in their Muslim headscarves: how hot would THAT have been (shudders). NIK6696_250_1Fair play to them! We were united in our goal though and we eased into the race start at 5.30 am and I waved at the cameras and tried to settle into a pace to the background noise of insects, feet falling on tarmac and ‘The Climb’ playing in one ear! I had opted to run in my grey/blue Nike+ Lunarglide 4s as they matched the outfit and also hadn’t done a long race; I wore the purple versions for my last half marathon. Rest of the attire was my usual garb: Nike dryfit shorts over Skins compression shorts, X-socks run (men’s version), Shockabsorber B4490 in turquoise, new BASIC charity tee-shirt, Scotland Buff, Worm sunglasses (not needed) and Lunarglides.

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At around the 5-6K mark, the sun started to come up just as we passed the large gold-domed mosque and the heat wasn’t any worse than I’d experienced over the prevailing weeks. I was drinking frequently, had a short-lived twinge right knee and had some crystallised ginger and some Neurofen stashed ‘just encase’. My fellow runners were friendly, smiled and I felt confident enough to tap a local gent on the shoulder to tell him his shoe-lace was undone. I managed to ditch a rather annoying girl who was overtaking me and then slowing in my line of sight continually, by running through the second water station. My other half was made to jog alongside me to capture these pictures at the next water-station 🙂P1000311

The cheering bands were very enthusiastic as we came through the main town and by now, there were people on their way to work and it was getting warmer with every passing minute. Then someone turned on the heat and day broke over the streets just as we made our way to the first of three substantial fly-overs. The gradient would be manageable on it’s own but the addition of the camber as well as the amalgamation of walking HM and 10Kers…it was getting tougher. My strategy was to adopt the classic hill running mentality of lift from the thigh, take very small steps and let gravity put your foot back down. Only stop running if someone walks passed you faster…so I continued, snail-like but steady, taking tiny steps, working my arms, lifting from the thigh and you know? I was passing people. No one around me was jogging the hills! The crest came in sight and I tried not to bomb down the far side as the camber was killing my right leg. Repeated this pretty much 3 times and by then the 10 Mile mark had passed, so mentally I was on my way home.

One last fly-over onto the main road and by now the sun was beating off the tarmac back at me, people were slowing, very fit triathlete looking guys were bimbling, blinded by their own sweat. The water stations were now handing out DEET cream and the flies from the drains as we re-entered the main town, were quite something else. I’d slathered on SPF30 with insect repellent incorporated and just hoped I hadn’t sweated it all off.

My heart-rate was now over 180 BPM but I felt a greater urgency- to get out of the heat! I pulled my buff off my head, wound it round my wrist and felt a momentary relief as my head literally let off steam. The last 2 miles were all about trying not to blow up, keeping form (I could feel my head roll back and my middle start to collapse a few times) and dodging slower runners and 10K walkers. I saw a smaller lady up in front who looked like she was slowing and I just aimed at catching her and passing her. P1000350This pre-occupied me as we turned for a very decent 150m straight to the line (although I almost ran into the 10K funnel because a group of guys were cheering right in the finish-stretch). Luckily the Other Half has seen me lose direction near the end of races before (!) and shouted me over to the 21Km mat. I did speed up at the end but it wasn’t a massive push. I passed the girl though 😉

I got over the mat and immediately walked up the steps whilst taking my medal, water and can of 100Plus There were 100s of runners lying out in the sun, stretching, some flaked out and I sat and drank in the rehydration and the atmosphere. I’d completed my first half marathon in the hottest and most humid P1000358conditions I’d ever experienced and I had no “issues” – blisters, bad belly, energy dip (and like the Lossie Half in February, I didn’t use carb gels, just the carb drinks and water). Although the time was nothing special (to me), it was apparently representative of the 13th place in the non-local Open Female category and although they don’t publish the full results, I reckon it was a top 30 finish. It makes me wonder what further adaptions I’ll gain in the following weeks and what I can do next time? Mind you, I quite like the feeling of constant effort, sight-seeing and not being dead at the end…….. Brunei is beautiful and friendly and I look forward to running here again 🙂

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When the rain comes

It’s raining today; how I miss this weather and I want to shove on my trainers and get out in it, get soaked through, feel that fresh and salty wash down my face and enjoy the cooling effects. But there will be no running in the rain today. The rain is torrential and my windscreen wipers barely blink fast enough to keep visibility up. Then comes the thunder, loud enough to crack park benches and then too, cIMG-20130330-03089omes the fizzle of lightening- so severe that there are warning sirens sounding, telling people to get inside and particularly away from open spaces. No, the rain will not be a running friend for me over here. In other news, the weather is normally too hot to go without sunblock Factor 30 (bearing in mind, I’m not exactly Scottish blue-skinned, having earned my sock n vest lines on the West coast last year). The humidity makes consuming Oxygen very tough and I run with a gawping fish mouth, valiantly sucking at air but gaining little for my efforts. Its anoxic exercise at best and completely knackering at worst.

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The one dry piece of teeshirt after a 5K run

And the efforts have been monumental. Try three miles in 32 degC with your heart-rate hammering at 181 bpm! Now I’m not the fittest person out there but, for context, a sub-8 minute mile back in the UK requires the same effort as a 10+ minute mile in Brunei going on heart-rate comparison. Not that really worries me. It’s to be expected and I will get better as I acclimate.

But there are other things that nag me. Apart from the SPF, there’s insect repellent to wear – DEET on any available flesh and remember, don’t wipe your forehead with your hand once the rivers of perspiration start- as that’ll clean the DEET off and will sting your eyes once the sweat carries the chemical there. So running vests are great for keeping as cool as possible but also highly likely to return two outcomes- sunburn and/or insect bites. I’ve experienced a couple of sand-fly bites on each hand.IMG-20130404-03114 I was bitten on the Monday evening but the bites didn’t swell until Wednesday lunchtime. My hand was puffed up and tight, pulsing red and white and the bite sites were yellow and puss-filled, requiring both anti-histamine and topical antibiotic cream. Prevention being less itchy….I am also swatting Buddhist principles to one side and if something flies, buzzes and could remotely bite me, I am squishing first and asking for forgiveness later. There are mosquito repellent plug-ins in the bedroom and living-room and the air-con is kept at goose-bump level. I sleep with full length pyjamas and my ears beneath the covers (even though it’s too hot), which I haven’t done since the farm days, when there would be ear-wigs in the bed room during summer. I will no longer laugh at (German) tourists who wear both socks and open toed sandals; keeping the feet protected from the sun and the biters, is essential. I wish I had brought more long sleeved tee-shirts.

Humidity is constantly 80% +/- 5%.....

Humidity is constantly 80% +/- 5%…..making things a bit ickier and warmer than temperature alone might suggest

But running continues- of course it does! From my fool-hardy 5K on that first Monday morning, wearing a too thick tee-shirt, buff over my head, out and back on the main road at 10:30 a.m. thinking to myself that if this was how it was going to be, that I would never manage……P1000388to starting out earlier and earlier or leaving the run until an hour before sundown and running the gauntlet with the Biters. That’s when people run, there are so many runners here, both ex-pat and local, 7 am or 5pm. The ex-pats Panaga club has a group called the Panas Runners who go for a beach run on Mondays and Fridays and also have a session on Wednesdays, although I don’t think you get to go to that until you can keep up with the main group on the beach-runs. The first Monday I ran up the beach for 1.5 miles and luckily had some buddies who were happy with a 10+ min/mile. P1000489The beach is compact and more importantly, flat with no camber issues although there is a varying degree of litter- both natural (logs, Shells, crabs and crab-mounds) and man-made (bottles, plastic tubs). There’s a light breeze as well which although not temperature cool, does have a cooling effect. To get off the beach there is a scramble up a steep concrete sea-wall, drop down on the otherside onto long grass near some nodding donkey oil-wells and then a fairly quick section along a sandy trail onto the Jalan Utara to avoid lingering in Biter territory near stagnant waters. The route continues down passed the Lapan Puluh apaP1000437rtment and onto the cycle-paths, which weave their way through the Shell housing camp and back towards the Panaga club. That route is about 4 miles and there is some shade on the return journey from the canopy which intersperses all the housing in sections F9 and beyond. The Friday runs are a variation on this by heading firstly down passed the school, onto the cycle-paths and down towards F1 and the roundabout towards the town of Kuala Belait (KB). Across through sector E1 and then onto the beach, this time running up towards the Panaga club – always with the sun behind you. The sun-sets are really beautiful here.P1000460 The sun seems to set almost within minutes and the sea and beach turn from yellow to red and then it’s night. Like a light-switch. The mornings are the reverse, although I have only seen the sunrise once during the Brunei Half Marathon….seconds after lights-on, someone turns the heat on too and that murky bathwater feel becomes over-whelming, forcing blood to the surface of my skin and the heart-rate goes up and up and up. And that’s how running is now. Slower than normal but not the slowest I’ve ever been 😉 I have a new set of base-lines to improve upon and any previous times and efforts are not forgotten but are meaningless in this context. I still strive for fitness, for improvement and for running to be more fluid, easier on the lungs and not so exhausting. I am enjoying it despite these so-called frustrations and I look forward to chipping away at my pace, upping the mileage and lowering my heart-rate a beat at a time.

NEXT UP- The Borneo Half Marathon, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, which will now be run at midnight on 4th/5th May due to clashes with the local election voting!