Well, the final stages of training for the 2 Marathon, 2 Continent, 7 Day challenge is here!
It’s been a rollercoaster of a trimester and has seen some simply crazy mileage on both the East and West Coasts of Sabah, and in fact I am writing this from the living room of my parents house back in the UK where i am undertaking the very last of the taper training with the start line of the London Marathon leg being now less than 2 weeks away.
This last trimester of 8 weeks training began in February, which coincided with Chinese New Year Celebrations in our sunshine state of Sabah, specifically back home in Tawau on the East coast. So whereas I usually pack our summer clothes and celebration clothing for our week back home, this time I found myself packing running shoes, deep heat and blister plasters…. oh how things have changes since I started this challenge!
I think I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs, but the temperature here in Malaysia is HOT, so especially on long-runs that are scheduled, I am an early bird and try to get on the road in the early hours of the morning. I do this for 2 reasons really, reason 1 being that the temperatures are slightly cooler, and reason 2 being that I obviously have work and family commitments. Especially seeing as we are on Chinese New Year leave, I need to spend some quality time with the family … if I want to live!
As per the schedule, shorter mid week runs are usually around the 10-12km distance, but the longer runs at the beginning of this stage were getting longer and escalating each week. 24km one week, 27km the next week and so on. I always tried to get the longer runs done on a Sunday which fall in nicely with the planned Monday rest days.
So it’s a Sunday morning in Tawau, 0100hrs in the morning to be precise and the alarm goes off. I resist the temptation to hit the snooze button, get out of bed and with blurry eyes throw the first cup of coffee down my throat. Standing on the balcony I look at the temperature on the phone which reads 28 degrees at 1am! Its going to be a hot run.
After doing 30 minutes of warm up stretches, I apply the mandatory anti-blister plasters on my toes, deep heat for the old knees, fill my Camelback with 1.5litres of water because dehydration can be a killer in this heat, lace up and get outside. The plan this morning is to run the main highway from home towards the airport and back. This will be a 28km run which I estimate will take me about 3 hours and so I waste no time in hitting the road.
Running at this time in the morning comes with inherent dangers. Back in my homeland of the UK those dangers can often be in the form of drunks staggering out of the night clubs and potential for muggings. There are no such dangers in Malaysia. Here our dangers come from dogs. Really nasty dogs.
The dogs in Tawau seem to come out of nowhere as you are running along the highway and I have had several tactics to deal with them and this depends on the size of them. The smaller scrappier dogs react quite well to being stared at and barked back at, but the bloody werewolves like the one in this picture need a different tactic which is usually in the shape of a piece of 4 x 2 wood.
Before I get bombarded by hate mail from animal rights activists across the globe, its virtually “dog eat dog” out here in the early hours of the morning in Asia. Dogs run wild, they’re not microchipped, often stray and carry some pretty nasty infections. I don’t really fancy having my ankles bitten and getting a rabies jab at the local clinic so as night time runners we have to be aware and be prepared.
So here i am, running along the highway and this huge bear of a dog comes running out in the road towards me, hurdling over the central reservation. A few loud swear words, in the form of “Fxxxk Off Bxxxxard” (sorry Mum), and hand gestures ward him off , I keep my wits about me and jog on. He thinks twice about following me and I have soon run out of sight.
As I hit the 14km turn around point, I am aware that i am likely to deal with him on the way back so pick up a piece of wood on the side of the road just in case and start making my way back along the highway. As I come over the hill, expecting to face my nemesis a second time, he is there … lying in the road … in pieces. Guess he had an argument with one of the HDV Oil Palm lorries and lost. Can’t help passing him on the side of the road and saying a little prayer as I run past him. Sleep well my nemesis, wherever you are.
Heading back into town, a police van pulls up beside me and a friendly policeman rolls down the window and says in broken English, “Wow … are you okay my friend?” I give a wave and breathlessly say that i am fine, they give a thumbs up and drive on. Guess they don’t see too many crazy white men running in the dark on this coastline.
One of my most memorable runs back on the West Coast in Kota Kinabalu was my first 35km training runs. The run was a real challenge being (at the time) my longest run so far. It was indeed a journey to say the lest and came with a full plethora of emotions, consisting of a full circumnavigation of the cities 2 mosques on opposite sides of the town, the killer elevations of Signal Hill and concluding on 3 miles of beach along Tanjung Aru.
That particular run began at 1am and took me 4 hours in 30 degrees. I saw 3 road accidents, breakdancing kids on the mall giving a friendly wave, a group of youths shouting, “Go, Orang Putih GO!” near the running track, and my usual monkey encounter at the top of Signal Hill. What I knew was coming later in the run, but wasn’t really ready for was “hitting the wall”.
Hitting the wall is a term that us runners use near or around the 3/4 mark of a very long run. It doesn’t affect everyone, but for us mere mortals it does come…. with a vengeance. Not actually a physical wall, this is a mental wall. It’s your mind playing tricks with you, thighs start to burn, knees start grinding and breathing becomes very laborous and all of a sudden and you start having an argument with yourself in your head. “I think I might just walk for a bit” – “no you don’t”. “It will be alright. this is just too much, just stop for a little while” – “NO!! Don’t you dare. Keep on going buddy.” When the wall comes like a tidal wave I begin to climb it and tears fill my eyes streaming down my face and I think of my Gracie. My little princess who faces these types of challenges, her own autistic marathons every single day. It makes me weep and I push on through it, gritting my teeth.
As I pass the second mosque, it’s 0440hrs and the call for prayer blares out of the speakers, virtually knocking me off my feet. I laugh to myself … think i am going a bit crazy!. I keep on running along Jalan Mat Salleh, my home strait before I hit the turn off to the beach front. Taking a handful of Jelly babies (my sugar rush of choice) I run on and make the final turn towards the beach.
It is then that something really bizarre happens. Okay, it’s almost 5 in the morning now and it’s still dark, but I suddenly see a shard of light in the sky and i feel incredibly light on my feet in an instant. My running form is suddenly perfect again. Leaning slightly forwards, my arms swing like a pendulum in perfect sync with my legs and my pace is increasing as I hit the beach. I stumble slightly and do a commando roll onto the sand laughing to myself with a face-full of sand. I get up, brush off and get back in pace again hitting the soft sand with ease. (Funny enough, Carol didn’t find it so funny brushing half of the beach out of the living room later in the day …. oops).
But the lightness on my feet and this feeling that i can only describe as total elation feels amazing as I converse the last 3 km down the beach along the home strait. I later learnt that our Kenyan brothers and sisters call this “Running with Spirit” which I researched heavily later in the day. It’s a real thing and I loved it.
So after the longest run, each week the long runs were becoming shorter and I began to fine tune my pacing, bringing me to the much coveted tapering phase of training. Cut down the mileage, concentrate on form, rest, recovery and eat!
I took real advantage of this phase and spent some more quality time with the Gracie and our family as a whole. We did the 5km 2016 “Sabah Walk for Autism” together and had a great day, plus with my new company, Borneo Dream, I had a great weekend of jungle trekking through the Kinabatangan River and Rainforest which was just incredible.
Now I am sat here in Cornwall, back in the UK and facing the last 13 days of tapering before the event begins. I did a great little Cliff Run along the North Cliffs and the famous Hells Mouth yesterday in 50mph winds at 6 degrees which was a bit of a culture shock but got a great pace, covering 14km of hills in less that 1hr 18 minutes.
Now, I feel ready, strong, motivated and committed. Ready to take on part one of this awesome challenge.
As I bring this blog to a close, I would very much like to thank from the bottom of my heart, all of the companies, individuals, friends, family, work bosses, that have supported me so far. We are almost there to hit the starting line, with feelings of anxiousness and overwhelming excitement for whats to come.
Tune in next week for the final instalment before we hit the start line to London.
Love ya all.