Sub3 (拾3) part 3

(Read Sub3 part 1 here and Sub3 part 2 here)

The Singapore marathon course is flat but being less than 200km from the equator, it extremely hot and humid. The Hong Kong course is hilly but cooler in the winter time. Both places are not known for fast times. One is my home court and the other is my birth place and home town. I told myself that it would be a mockery if I ventured off to other ‘better’ (aka flatter and/or cooler, ‘easier’) marathons before I could Sub3 in Singapore AND Hong Kong.

Most people can learn – slow learners just take slightly closer to forever. I took part in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Singapore marathons in December. 2016 was probably the best ‘so far’’ as there were only 6 local runners who finished ahead of me but there was still no sub3 in my book. Based on data, I believed I was ready.

It is no secret that our bodily immunity may go down a little with additional running volume and intensity. Since 2015, I occasionally felt cold in tropical Singapore! At that point I was not sure if it was an advantage or disadvantage to be born skinny. 

My high hope for the 2017 February Hong Kong marathon vanished after I caught a terrible flu/food poisoning bug from a beautiful trip to Cebu, Philippines, about two weeks before the run. My fault. (Riddle – between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, which is faster? Read the answer later in this blog – keep your eyes peeled)

The 2017 Hong Kong marathon day was near perfect race conditions – Cool (8-9 degrees Celsius), dry, sunny, windless, and low humidity. Even in that hilly Hong Kong course, a high percentage of the participants ran a personal best time and almost every runner from Singapore improved from their two months old 2016 Singapore marathon time by 7-12minutes, which could have placed me in the low 2’50 range. I witnessed the run as a spectator from the side of the road because I had my Hong Kong tickets and accommodation arranged ahead of time. Life has no Take Two. No crying, no tears.

2017 was a near disaster for the December marathon in Singapore. Suboptimal execution was not the worst part. The sin was poor execution after a year-long mental/physical preparation. I even developed a stress fracture on my foot after that.

I had a very painful foot which needed time to heal (basic pathology training said bone take about 6-8 weeks for healing) and I was in charge of the renovation project of our new office. Meanwhile, my family was moving to a 30% smaller unit at our home front. At that point, I had no local coach so it took my mind off running for a while. The first quarter of 2018 was destined to be a total write off.

When I was on the verge of giving up, my wife, Moon, told me I was ‘too green’ for the distance! At 50+ years of age, how could I be too green?  She was right! How could I expect myself to out run younger runners who ran a few marathons a year while I had only run a few in my whole life? Against my earlier convictions, we agreed that she would sign me up for the early-July 2018 Gold Coast marathon in Australia.

Moving over to the smaller home apartment was a blessing in disguise. We were at the swimming pool level and there was only a short fence that separated my patio from the pool and an outdoor elliptical machine! I had full access to the facilities at any time for my rehab.

Running training could only resume in March 2018, while monitoring any new symptoms in the stress fractured foot. I had an advantage though – I had a dedicated group of running friends who were also preparing for the Gold Coast Marathon. I was also taking a course at a polytechnic at the northern end of Singapore, I ran home after class ends at 930pm, a 24km run. What kept me going was the milk tea after the run!!

Two weeks before the race, I clocked a decent 5km time trial. With that data, I chatted with a facebook acquaintance, Mr Ng Fai-Yeung (aka Ng Shifu, NSF). NSF held the Hong Kong marathon record of 2’24’50 for close to 30 years and he has been coaching numerous successful runners. We had never met but running was our common language. I just message him out of the blue and asked him what pace would he suggest for my Gold Coast marathon. He was very supportive, gave me a target and told me to just go for it. Speaking of being generous!

A visit to NSF in Hong Kong in December 2018

Race day was simple – I found three good looking Cantonese speaking guys from Hong Kong when we toed the start line. I chatted them up and they were friendly. I tried to hang onto their fast pace as far as I could. I lost sight of them by about 27km but saw them after we were all done. Then they told me that one was a 33min 10km runner, one was a 2’40 marathon runner (Hong Kong junior half marathon record holder) and one has been a marathon coach (Mr Chan Ka-Wai, also a sub-2’40 runner)!! In 2019-2020, Chan KW coached a young runner to break the Hong Kong records in 5000m, 10000m, and marathon! Lucky me! In that Gold Coast race, I found an extra 8 minutes in my legs and finally went under 3 hours for the very first time. I came third overall in my age group too. 😊

How did I feel being among that 1% runners? Humbled. I violated my self-imposed rule of sub3 in Singapore and Hong Kong before I headed off for an international marathon. It taught me not to be too stubborn.

Sub3 (拾3)(‘pick up’ 3) or not, a marathon is never a walk in the park for any runner. It is not about talent – it is the grind that counts.

(By the way, the answer to the riddle above is that, everyone can catch a cold, so ‘hot’ is faster 🙂

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