Friday, January 24, 2020

2019 - A marathon is more of a mental challenge

At the beginning of last year, I wrote "I have another year to live in my 20s and do stupid stuff". I also bought a stock that depleted half of its value over the course of a year. So we know what kind of predictive power I possess.

I turned 30

To be exact, I have been 30 for 9 days, perhaps even more by the time this post is published. The first day of 30 felt pretty much the same to the last day of 29, yet dramatically different from the first day of 29. What I mean by that is rather than being another year of being 20-something playing in a loop, my 29 was a sequence of pivotal events which gradually morphed the 30-year-old me.

There was anxiety, there was an unexplainable fear of running out of time, which naturally also brought the grief of lost time into the room. In hindsight, I think this can be explained that unconsciously, I wanted to give the new decade a fresh start, which involved enormous mental load of tying up too many loose ends. Much like the rush we have right before the beginning of a long vacation. Just that this time, it lasted for a year and instead of a healthy dose of adrenaline, I had a melt down, like a dear caught in the headlights. I meant that literally, I crashed my motorbike 3 times.I hadn't gotten into any traffic accident since 2011.

Drowning in stress, I have spent an unnecessary amount on fancy food and stuff I don't even need. My left brain knew that I was getting deeper into the sink hole of consumerism. Yet my right brain hoped that the expense would somehow loosen the grip that crippled my heart and lungs. Which it did, for the whole 5 minutes before reality creeped in. Every addicts would know this. I am not particularly known for having an extravagant taste, but damn, if some of these sushi bills got to my mom, she would make sashimi out of myself.

Unexpected friendship

The silver lining of 2019, surprisingly, is companionship from where I didn't expect. Or to be more exact, the renaissance of friendship. 

I was told life-long friendships don't usually form after the age of 25. Learning that, on the edge of being 25, I made a bunch of friends, a good amount of backup like every decent database administrator would. One of them recently decided that waiting for mid-life crisis to happen was for the weak, proceeded to quit her corporate life and open a pen and stationary shop. What started as a customary visit took an interesting life on its own. I found there old friends I thought I had lost, and new friends I didn't know I would make. The slice-of-life conversations there added colors to my monotonous days and yanked me out of an endless loop of depressing thoughts. The shop at some point became my green light at the end of the boat dock. I am now frequenting the place on a bi-weekly basis and made friends with many of the staff - all while enduring occasional innocent remark that I am a whole decade older than them. Of course this cannot replace the beautiful bond that I once had with a gang (and later on shattered, it's a story for another time), but it is the closest thing to a social hub I have had for a very long time. At the same time, being around meticulously crafted fountain pens doesn't help improving my relationship with consumerism one bit. I am a sucker for utilities.

That wasn't the only one though.

A random dinner plan reconnected me to a high school classmate right when both of us were going through a rough patch in our lives. Neither of us was any relationship expert, though she might insist otherwise, yet the exchange of our stories, opening up the feelings, and courtside seats to see the events unfold was a thought provoking experience. It took many trips across the city and one too many minutes standing in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon, and a whole mixture of giving - seeking advices, self pity - sympathy for this thought partnership to form. Without which, I might have boarded a stupid plane, among countless of other dumb things.

I ran a full marathon

2019 might not be the best year of my life, but turning 30 was still an important milestone. To mark it, I decided to run my first marathon. The run was on 5th January and my birthday was a few days later. That sounded too good a birthday gift to myself to miss. The training started back in March. I got a plan, and I fought really hard to find all the excuses not to follow that. Because come on, who in his right mind wakes up at 5 in the morning! I covered the event in better details here so I won't repeat myself. Bottom line is that in a year where everthing just tried to go FUBAR on me, the rigidity of the training and the certainty that the run would happen gave some structure to my life. I also think that life would be so much easier if I can just run away from my problems like that. Or perhaps I could, I just didn't run fast enough.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Run, Forrest, Run!

Tl;dr: I ran my first marathon, and whined about it. Move on.

4 years after finishing my first half marathon, I finally did my first full marathon, 42k of sweat and pain. 2019 was horrible for me, through all ups and downs, the marathon plan is one of a few that keep me together. The cut off time was 7 hours. I wanted to do a sub-5 (complete the run under 5 hours), but ended up with a sub-6. I was squarely in the bottom quarter of my age group. So it wasn't all glory and stuff, but I am so glad I did it.

I must have started the training back in March or something, and didn't follow the training plan through and through, obviously. I got sick, which paused the plan by a week every time it happened. I got injuries which eventually put me out of action for a whole month. And when I was back, following the original training plan just gave me too much stress and guilt, which I certainly didn't need - my life was really low, so I forwent it and just ran whatever the fuck I wanted. That was probably 2 months ago.

The injuries were actually blessing in disguise. They forced me to rethink my running form. I picked up a book on running (that is not Murakami's autobiography) and tried to avoid "common sense" misconceptions, like most notably, landing on your whole foot. I finished 42k without any injuries. Yay!

The day I got the bib, it came with a shock. I was put into the 30-39 age group. Technically, it is not my birthday yet. And despite all the talks, I was not mentally prepared for this. Ouch! Oh and I also got interviewed.

I had never run the full distance prior to the run and in retrospective, wasn't a great idea. I now believe that the body would prepare for an extra few kms on top of the maximum distance you have covered but not by a long shot. And it makes sense, why would my body be ready for 100k if I have never run 50k? The longest I had done was 30k and that explained why from 34k I got cramps so bad.

It was also the first run that I got proper sleep the night before. And I wasn't hungry. I sure stuffed myself with loads of carb, so full that on the night before the run, I thought it was stupid, I couldn't possibly run with such a stomach. but above all, shout out to the organizers, the route had more than sufficient water, electrolyte, and banana.

Oh and nike app has improved a lot between then and now. It is no longer off by 30%, and comes with cooler features. Well done Nike.


If that hasn't bored you out of your skull yet, you might want to see how my run broke down. "How did you remember all of this?" - I knew I gonna write one of this post-event, so it wasn't that hard. And I made up all the bit I didn't remember, including that I ran at all. Bwahaha.

Starting line: That's right, 42k is the first wave, the first class citizen of a marathon. With all the volunteers standing around and looking, the limelight feels good. Wait, hang on. It's already 4. Why aren't we starting? Technical issue? Great, I am trying to get some work life balance and here I am, with bugs.

0km: 10 minutes in, here we go guys!!! Let me just start my run on the Nike mobile app. Fuck fuck fuck. I dropped an energy bar while shoveling the phone back to the running belt. Screw it, I am not fighting against a wave of runners for a stupid bar. What a start.

1km: An old man with a Vietnam flag on his back is making crude joke that a bunch of fit men, leaving their horny wives and young children home, to run on the street at 4 in the morning must all have mental issues. It could have been a good joke, it could have. But why did you have to be so fucking disgusting in your choice of words old man? Urgg why are you even carrying our flag?

2km: Some already making pit stops at the trees by the sides of the road. Shit looking at them gives me the urge too. Nah. If I sweat enough, the exceeding liquid will just be repurposed in time. Probably. The 42k 4:45 pacers are here, but they seem slow (1) and have loud music on. Better keep some distance.

3km: Here it is, the first major water station. Thanks to the Starting Line Incident, I am down to 4 bars now. I should have more banana. Double portion please! There are Waldo, Doraemon, and Ao Dai right in front of me. Cute, but I am not falling behind casual cosplayers. Onwards!

5km: We are joined by a group of 21k, they seem to have a shorter route. I no longer hear the music of the 4:45 pacers. I also don't want to have my pace mess up by 21k runners. Time to speed up a bit.

7km: Just gulped down the first energy bar. Entering the beast - Phu My bridge. Still have vivid memory how it wore me out in my first 21k. Some 21k runners keep passing me. Well at least they aren't 42k.

9km: The easier quarter of the bridge was easy. Neat, there is a water station before the hardest quarter. Go in for a shower. Feel so good. Kimochi!!!

10km: Wow that's the highest point of the ascending half already? That was quick. I'm feeling great. The training works!

12km: "Coming through!" I didn't yell but it was certainly loud as I ran pass a few runners. I'm sprinting! Not supposed to put stress on my feet no? But I am on a runner's high. Gotta take advantage of this slope then.

14km: Keeping up good speed. Ketchup guy wait for me! Well, he is a 42k runner in costume which, for the lack of visual detail, only makes me think of a bottle of ketchup. I might be running too fast. There is no down hill gravity to play with. Slowing down.

15km: Crossroad. Am I turning or keeping straight? Oh there is a volunteer, neat. I asked you twice for the direction and the best you can fathom is "Huh?". You, sir, are truly an idiot.

16km: "That fires we don't put out, will bigger burn". And that's exactly why I am standing here right next to a tree, minding my own business. Here comes the same water station at the 3rd KM. Banana!  I am joined by a bunch of 21ks. This group is with pacers of 2:20. Guess I'm not doing to badly myself (2). But they are loud. I am putting in some distance.

18km: This is proceeding nicely. I'm bored. Time for some music. After all what is the point of having the pinnacle of technology in my belt. And lost a bloody energy bar.

20km: I am rejoined by the 2:20 pacers. This time the topic is on the color of the underwear the pacers are wearing. I should now add that the pacers in this group are women. "You're wearing nothing!" Someone screamed top of his lungs. Look like he is having a really good time. No, he isn't carrying a Vietnam flag. I looked. I'd love to add some distance again, but I am getting slower.

21km: Canada International School eh? Funny. I'd be here again later this afternoon to watch a game of Saigon Heat. This is a massive waste of energy. Doraemon is behind me. I'm not running behind a cosplayer, not a blue fat cat with comically short legs (and balls for hands). Just a bit faster. Entering the differentiator turn, this is the part of the route that 21ks don't join. This stretch of the route seems to last forever (3).

25km: The sun is already high. I can't possibly head to a tree this time, can I? (4) Embracing myself for a stinky toilet. Wow it's actually clean. This is awesome. The toilet, not me pissing.

27km: Doraemon is behind me again, but I can't possibly run any faster than this. I tried. Ran ahead of him for tens of meters and I would fall back to normal pace and he would pass. Not just Doraemon though. I am losing count of how many have passed me.

28km: Good morning milady, can you help me with some of that muscle spray please, on both legs? Wow that was refreshing! Thank you very much.

29km: God damn, some of that spray got onto my crotch. My balls are freezing. I sure hope they don't fall off.

30km: Got tension on the thighs. I got this. I got this. I trained for this. The app announces I have 12km left. Took me a while to calculate that I have run for 30km. Math is super hard.

32km: I have never run this far in one go. From here on, it's uncharged territory. Squats, I need to do a few squats, it stretches my thighs a bit so they are functional again.

33km: The tensions have turned into cramps. Squat. Run for a couple of hundred meters. Cramp. Squat. Rinse and repeat. It hurts so much.

34km: Arrggg I fought, but I can't run any more. My thighs got cramps. My ankles hurt from all these stomping. And the soles of my feet too, for pretty much the same reason. Worst of all, my brain seems to go blank, this is stupid, what I am even doing. I have to walk now.

35km: I have run a few short dashes, a couple of hundred meters each. One of the attempts locked my legs, almost landed my face on asphalt. The cramps are still going strong. Someone just handed me a big chunk of ice. It freezes my hands. Dude, what I am supposed to do with this? My balls are gone and that's bad enough. Here, tree, your daily ration in a solid form.

36km: Here is the plan, I gonna run between one crossroad to the next, then walk till the next crossroad. I still get cramps whenever the 2 crossroads a bit farther apart, but at least my mind has come back. The sunlight is roasting me. I miss you, sunshine.

41km: Fuck no! My legs gave up on me. Completely. I get cramps just from walking. No amount of squat seems to help. I can hear the crowd from here, so fucking close.

42km: My legs are at the stage where any excessive movement would give my cramps. The last 200 meters, the finish line is finally here. Here goes nothing. The legs don't seem to be mine, I move them like two sticks. I run. I cross the line. I get a high five. A girl put this medal around my neck. Heck, I can' even recall what she looks like. But she was wearing a Bà Ba, that was a nice touch. Under normal condition, I would have appreciated the outfit, but right now I am having a strong urge to vomit my guts out.

(1) This is probably the first sign that I didn't manage my energy level well. Too cocky. But again, I aimed for sub-5, so...
(2) I conveniently forgot the fact that 42k started 30 min in advance. But we also had a longer route since the beginning. All else being equal, I was running the first half between 2:10-2:20.
(3) It didn't. It lasted for 3.5km. Running on familiar route made me feel like it was shorter.
(4) I talked to a friend about this. Pro tip is to just pee on yourself. In a race, you probably consume enough water that your pee is transparent anyway. My shorts were white, so it didn't help much with the level of confidence. Best to do this at a water station where they usually put big bucket of water for quick shower.