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.

P1000309 P1000310

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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Ultra-running- the Speyside Way Splash

Race selection background

See my aforementioned blog regarding my reasons to run and also, bear in mind that I did no running training from February to April this year due to a calf tear and achilles injury, resumed running < 3 miles per day in May after loads of physio and acupuncture, kept mileage to a minimum incorporating Kenyan hills and tempo runs whilst continuing core and strength exercising, “conquered” a couple of half marathons during the Heb 3 series, ran Nairn half the weekend before SSW ultra and my longest single run was 15 miles, over Ben Aigan twice with a few broken up longer runs as part of my SSW recces. Was I stupid to attempt this race? Possibly, although I don’t think it’s stupid to try your best. Despite my mileage being less than ideal, my brain was in full ultra mode and I felt ready for this event.

Stats

Miles run = 36.9 (including toilet detours), Time taken = 7 hrs 29 mins 11 seconds.

Spilts

The details: 10.32, 10.20, 10.46, 10.29, 10.07, 10.20, 10.23, 10.13, 10.43 (WC1), 9.26, 9.30, 19.34 (CP1/WC2), 15.21 (WC3), 27.09, 28.43, 16.25 (WC4), 9.28, 11.31, 11.14, 11.51, 12.23, 11.39, 12.08, 10.31, 23.04 (CP2, last solid food eaten), 10.05, 13.15 (WC5), 11.16, 12.08, 11.54, 14.36 (WC6), 12.26, 12.56, 12.04, 12.02, 11.29

Equipment list

Bodyglide, X-socks Run Sky (2 off), Shockabsorber B4490, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs intense shorts, Icebreaker 200 series light long sleeve merino wool shirt,  Gore Magnitude AS vest, Buff buff, UltrAspire pocket handhelds (2 off), Salomon XA20 rucksack with Camelbak 2 Litres bladder, Nike Lunarglide 2+ (2 off), CompresSports calf guards, INOV-8 Gaiters

Food

Mule Kicks Cherry & Himalayan salt gels, bananas, organic crunchy peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich, crystallised ginger, oatmeal CLIF bars (hardly any of this got eaten)

Drink

Organic chocolate soya milk, flat cocoa-cola, coconut water, Kara coconut milk drink, water with electrolyte tablets, water (all of this got drunk)

Race Account

We were expecting rain for the start of the race but even the torrent experienced driving through the early a.m. country roads to Buckie, didn’t prepare us for the river which met us at the start of the Speyside Way Ultra in Ballindalloch. I don’t mind the rain because you can only get “so” wet and being a slightly oversized distance runner, I often benefit from the cooling effects of the colder weather 🙂

I had decided to wear road shoes for the ultra quite a few weeks earlier, because the support would benefit me more than the extra grip from offroad shoes, however, I was fretting a little and doubting my choice. Within the first few strides my feet were completely soaked so I just had to grin and bear it; we were all in the same boat.

I felt relaxed at the start, exchanging a few words with some Cape Wrathers and spotting Andy before the off which was nice. I settled in behind two gents who were holding a full blown conversation about how to dry out their tent and I was soon in a small group who were to remain together for the best part of the day. I knew the first 10 miles of the route so I concentrated on not going too quickly and staying ‘safe’ by lifting my knees and not striding boldly through puddles but rather watching the feet in front to gauge depth of water. I did occasionally get to look up and, despite the rain, the farmland around us looked stunning.

Everything was going pretty well until around mile 8 and I started to feel a bit burbly in my tummy. A different kind of sweat came on and I wondered if I could hold on until the visitor centre toilets at Aberlour? Nope, I took a few minutes scanning around and made the first of several horrendous heaving toilet stops which were to be the real dampener on an otherwise tremendous experience. I’ll keep the details to myself but on this occasion I managed to avoid exposure to any other runners. I had to go again almost immediately but made it back onto the path in front of a running couple. Felt much better afterwards and certainly picked up the pace a little, as I’d hoped to keep my splits around 10.30 minute/mile until CP1. Then my Garmin came apart at the top strap pin! Luckily I saw it just as it happened and I ran the rest of the way to Craigellachie with the pin in my hand. Good job hubby was on hand to fix the Garmin whilst I did a sprint to the loos! I grabbed my ipod, a banana and swapped the UltrAspire handheld for my rucksack. Feet didn’t feel blistered and had actually reached a warm n happy stasis, as I started the climb towards Ben Aigan.

On the tarmac and runners were coming out in dribs n drabs, a combination of those who had spent a good time at the CheckPoint and the likes of me, who had bustled through, wary that time was draining away. [I say that because I had received the promise of more sponsorship if I came home in under 7 hrs 30 and my time target was sub 7, so I was hopeful of securing the extra cash for BASIC]. But more tummy issues and I had to just keep on keeping on. Surprisingly, I was still on target for sub 7 when I came into Fochabers, as I’d factored in spending way longer at the checkpoints and taking pictures/ tweeting. I elected to not take my phone with me from my first drop bag!

Before this stage was the hilliest part of the route, a great trail section where I had a bit of an epiphany regarding my childhood, got all emotional which I partly attributed to hormones(!) and partly because it’s just so damn mystical in the forest and on hills at the best of times and some of the scenes were postcard perfect. This was definitely the best if not the toughest running of the day and I enjoyed those miles the most. Masochist? Moi?

I knew the route until the right turn at Bridgeton farm. A long unrelenting straight on the main road lay ahead and I had a brief stop to ask about water stations and the two girls I spoke to were also running low on water. The rain had stopped and the day was warming up. My bladder/electrolyte hadn’t been full when I started but I really could have done with more fluid as I needed to compensate for the extra loo stops. Och well, on I went and someone remarked that I was “brave to run on the hills”….erm, I didn’t really count all up gradient as hills to be honest as I was now having to run when I could and use my loo stops as rest stops- you do what you can, don’t you? So on I went and I cat n moused a few people but by now I was starting to feel a bit spaced and was grateful to see Checkpoint 2 at the top of a very steep brae. Somehow I had marked my drop-bag with 56 instead of 65 (I am NOT a morning person I tell you!) and once I opened it, it was all I could do to peel the sodden Nike’s and socks off my feet, wipe the mud from my skin as best I could, apply vaseline and clean socks n shoes. The blister sites looked white but I couldn’t tell if they were blisters or just wrinkly wet feet. I wasn’t fancying any of the food but I exchanged the rucksack for a handheld containing coconut water and that seemed to go down very well.

Off towards Fochabers and I had a brief pick up in energy before I was in the bushes again….into the cricket green where the travelling folks had set up camp and I passed my hubby, pal and her baby with no time to spare for chatting, I felt I had to keep going and asked for a Neurofen to be ready for me at Spey Bay 😦 I had decided not to eat anything solid from then on because it seemed to have dire effects and I knew I had plenty fat reserves to tap into if needed.

The rain was off  and I was beginning to dry out. The gnarly tree trunks which patterned the next few miles of path were familiar to me but required concentration, so much so that I seemed to catch two gents who I hadn’t seen for some time. But no! some poor bloke had to see me squat minutes later and I blushingly asked if he had any spare TP. Ah camaraderie eh? I also got more ‘donations’ from two rather surprised hikers about a mile out from Spey Bay. A really gracious couple of runners who were sticking to a very successful walk-run strategy, let me passed as the day became a little warmer and I rolled my sleeves up for the final 1/6 of the race. It was definitely The Best Toilet In Scotland when I dashed into the Whale and Dolphin Centre to use the lavvies just before the final water station. I had a bit of grump because no one could find the Neurofen I had put in the car 1st aid kit and instead had procured two evil looking red tablets from somewhere. Nope, I couldn’t risk the unknown painkillers so the feet just had to be forgotten about for the next 5 or so miles. Grrrrr.

My time target was gone and I was just plugging away doing whatever I could as I hit the trails before the disused railwayline. The forest smelled beautiful and my stomach stayed put. It felt steady and I probably had some sort of zombie-rhythm going on but it was very slow; I kept the gent in front in my sights and slowly crept up on him and two others as we came into Port Gordon; so unfair because he had a cut leg and had clearly taken a fall somewhere in the forest. As I passed a very tired runner, I felt very guilty as I realised I had been staring at his backside for the last 10 minutes, so I had a quick chat with him and realised he was one of the tent-gents from the original chatty group. I followed the marshal who pointed us onto the shingly track but was surprised to be running towards a car parked across the path; the occupants were completely oblivious to the race going on around them, reading the paper and eating safties! It was kinda funny, especially given that I hadn’t eaten anything since Fochabers and was now relying on chocolate coconut milk for sustenance. It more of less worked but my stomach was starting to do a refuser even for the milk, about a mile away from Buckie and I couldn’t do anything with the pace as I felt the first stabs of cramp threaten my left calf. But this was my old town and the familiar sights and knowledge of the route came to my aid once again.

Och I shouldn’t complain really, I’ve felt worse at the end of half marathons(!) – I was relatively strong (perhaps having benefited from the slower pace and multiple stops) no wobbly legs, no tears as I crossed the burn and ran along the Yardie, even managing to maintain some sort of running motion back towards the finish. I tried to smile, I really did, it was part grimace part elation. Despite not thinking sub 7.30 was possible with 2.5 miles to go, I managed to scrape in with 49 seconds to spare!

However this account might read, I can honestly recommend this race to anyone thinking about upping their distance. Even in inclement weather this event is a well oiled machine regarding marshaling, signage, water stops, goodies and the overall organisation including facebook page for motivation, pictures and weather updates. I really enjoyed preparing for the race and will definitely make the pilgrimage back at some stage because it is just a stunning part of the country, with a great mix of wee towns, fields, track, forest, hills, windy woods and roads, the magnificance of the Spey river, bridges, sheep, cows, travellers, hikers…..and the odd ultra runner 🙂

After-thoughts

Nice to (re) meet: Sarah the race director, The dashing marshal who almost got flattened with a sweaty hug from me on Ben Aigan, all the lovely marshals and by-standers who took time to clap, shout and encourage, the living legend and inspiration extraordinaire that is _andy, my new mate with the gadgets Nick, Good looking Tommy, Fabulous Norma and her brilliant race chat and racing pooch, author and super-distance mogul Andrew Murray who shook my hand at the finish, all my fellow runners. My personal supporters Linda and wee Oliver (The Ver) who didn’t bat an eye at my grumpy demeanour at Fochabers and of course, my dutiful and utterly amazing husband who clearly sees the best in me, having experienced some of the worst during these longer races.