Saturday, December 31, 2011

my dream marathon: part 4 | “i've got a pocketful of dreams... and gu's!”


After months and months of anticipating, planning, training, raising funds, etc., 6th November 2011 finally arrived.

Nana and I pre-booked our 7am ferry to Staten Island (Shanaz went with her Autism Speaks teammates) where the starting line of the NYC Marathon was set up. This meant that I had to rise at an ungodly 5am even though my wave's flagoff time was at 10.40am.

The early-morning autumn weather was pretty unforgiving. Even with our thick hoodies—purchased just the night before only to donate to the biggest charity recycling drive in NYC by dropping off our unwanted warm clothings at the starting pens that morning—I felt like my ears and fingers were gonna freeze over!

Taking the ferry over to Staten Island. Sejuk!

Camwhoring on the ferry  ;)

Bird's-eye view of runners exiting the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
and entering Brooklyn. There were 47,438 starters in the 2011 

race, the most in race history, and 46,795 people crossed the
finishing line, the most of any marathon in history!  

Anyways, upon reaching Staten Island Nana and myself had to catch a bus to the marathon village, where we met up with Shanaz. We tried keeping warm by refueling ourselves with bagels, buns, and the like. And when the loudspeakers called for our respective waves, we hugged each other and bade our “good luck” farewells.

Soon after, the sound of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” filled the air and off us Wave 3 runners went onto the first of five bridges, The Verrazano-Narrows, which took us from Borough #1 into Borough #2.

The minute we hit Brooklyn, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people all around. The New Yorkers came out in full force, which pretty much lasted throughout the five boroughs (#3 was Queens, #4 was The Bronx, and finally #5 was Manhattan, finishing in the beautiful Central Park). The support was nothing short of amazing… it’s like the whole city erupted into a big party!

Throngs of people crowded the streets handing out fruits, chocolates and the lifesaver for my sinus, tissues; the amazing street performances and cheers were endless. My favorites were Brooklyn—where screams of "BROOKLYN LOVES MARATHON RUNNERS" were in abundance—as well as Harlem for its multi-genre live music extravaganza and “YOU’RE THE SH*T!” posters that would put and keep a smile on any runner’s face :)

My favorite posters. Harlem.
(Photo courtesy of ING New York City Marathon)
(Photo courtesy of ING New York City Marathon)

This one made me chuckle!
(Photo courtesy of

On a personal level, I’d never worked so hard for anything in my life. Fatigue set in early for me (KM 17!!) and though my whole body continuously begged for a break, I focused on eradicating non-running thoughts. Silly me forgot to wear a pace band, which was a blessing in disguise as this kept my mind active with ways to not stray too far from my targeted 35-minute-5K-chunks as well as limiting my walk breaks to only 100m per kilometer.

I also kept repeating the words from Alicia Keys’s “Empire State Of Mind” in my head, and they proved to be priceless mantras that kept me going. My favourites were …
“There's nothing you can't do
now you're in New York, New York, New York…”
“These streets will make you feel brand new... 
Big lights will inspire you…” 
And especially “I'mma make it by any means, 
I got a pocketful of dreams… and GU’s! Hehe  ;) 

The ONLY time I posed for a cameraman, believe it or not.
This was very early on in the race in Brooklyn

The insane elevations throughout the NYC Marathon 2011 course.
Note that the second-highest bridge was at 24-26km. I basically
brisk-walked up the 130-or-so-feet-high Queensboro Bridge;
my only walk-break which stretched for more than 150m!

As usual, I got over The Wall at KM 32. Fortunately the second wind hit me, but unfortunately by this time my lower back, right hip flexors and left ankle were screaming for a good, long stretch break. The only thing that stopped me from doing so was my hunger for a sweet n’ sublime sub-5 finish in my dream city and birthday month. I knew that if I slowed down now, I would never forgive myself.

Before I knew it, I was at Mile 22 (note: I reckon following the markers in miles instead of kilometers makes it way less painful mentally!). Braced myself for the rolling elevations of Central Park and picked up speed. When I arrived at the Last Mile, I psyched myself up with a reminder of why I did 1,600m speed intervals during trainings. The “Last 800m” signage was my cue to sprint like I never sprinted before and the “Last 200m” mark was where I unfolded the Jalur Gemilang and waved the Malaysian flag high above me as I crossed the finishing line.

Last 250m! Getting ready to unfold the
Jalur Gemilang for my sprint to the finish :)

4:58:37! I did it! What an astonishing and emotional ride! Although this was my fourth 42K race (done exactly 11 months after my maiden Full Mary), never before did I wrap up the journey with tears in my eyes. Hell and back. Absolutely overwhelming.

A Personal Best by 42 mins at the 42nd New York City Marathon... That’s one minute faster for every km on average. The best (advanced) birthday present ever to myself. I never thought that I could run almost all the way for a Full Marathon. Okay, okay, so I actually did a combo of run 900m/walk 100m from KM 15 onwards, and pretty much resolved to brisk-walking for a whole klick when walkers were overtaking me on the godforsaken Queensboro Bridge (I’ve since christened it as Jambatan Haram Jadah, by the way!) at KM 22. But still.

What made it sweeter was that each step I took was dedicated to Shoe4Africa and its star effort at the moment: building the very first children’s hospital in Africa.

Some random person caught me while I was
sprinting to the finish. This total stranger turned
out to be a friend of Shanaz's sister's  ;)

What an experience! My face says it all.
BTW the clock is showing gun time

At this point, I was holding back tears of joy.
Thanks for this color treatment, sweet mama Kash  :) 

So overcome by emotions was I that I held my
Malaysian flag up the wrong way  =P

My G sistas and I each received flowers from a guy
called Pakwe (bukan nama sebenar) for our PB's...

... and we made it into The New York Times!  ;)

One hand in the air for the big city! And the other hand in the air for everyone who was involved in this unbelievable journey of mine: My fellow OG’s, Captain G and Princess G (you ladies totally rocked it with your first sub-4:15 and sub-4:30 finishes respectively! I’m still so very proud of the both of you!); Apprentice G and Glory2 G for burning the midnight oil to keep track of our progress; Heazry for being my #1 supporter; Kim and Rob for your hospitality in NYC and New Jersey; everyone who contributed to my cause; all the people who gave their endless words of encouragements; and last but not least, my parents and siblings for being so proud of me, and especially my Abah who partly sponsored my trip as a birthday present. TERIMA KASIH from the bottom of my heart.

So, there you have it. My dream marathon in my dream city done during my dream 11/11/11 birthday month... and completed in my dream time of sub-5 hours. I ♥ NY!  :)))

Thursday, December 29, 2011

my dream marathon: part 3 | “empire state of mind.”

Part 3 of 4 | "EMPIRE STATE OF MIND."

Pejam celik pejam celik (a popular Malay saying which means “Before you know it”), the day finally came for me to pack up my bags. Destination: New York City, baby!

I opted for Qatar Airways which took me from Changi Airport to JFK via Doha. The great thing about Qatar is that the planes are super-duper new, and the seats are tres comfortable. And I was lucky enough to get my tickets on a promo price of SG$1,550 return. Pretty affordable if you ask me  ;)

The crappy thing was that I had to endure a torturous EIGHT-hour layover in Doha’s tres sucky airport all alone. What made it worse was on that fateful day, the wireless internet over there wasn’t working. Thank goodness I didn’t die of boredom, for serious.

Anyway, almost 40 hours after leaving home, I finally reached Park Central Hotel where Nana and Shanaz were staying. I had to bunk in with them for four days (long story!) which was perfect for me to explore this unfamiliar city—that I've been dreaming of visiting since forever!—with friends.

The OG's very first shot together in NYC  ;)
Times Square, yo!
Freezing my ears off at
the Empire State Building
Making like Lady Liberty  ;)

We visited many places together: Liberty Island, Times Square, Top of The Rock. We had a blast camwhoring everywhere—even on the subway, which, consequently, made us miss our stop, hehe. And, of course, we did our final training runs at the gorgeous Central Park.

Everywhere the three of us went, our excitement only grew stronger as the whole city was filled with Marathon decos. They were EVERYWHERE. Even shops and cafes put up posters to welcome us marathon runners.

Pre-marathon training run at Central Park
The beautiful autumn leaves made me so happy  :)

Posters such as this was
scattered all over the city
NYC really welcomes marathon runners

Lots of time (and money! hehe) was spent at the expo

Us with Bart Yasso, the man behind the 'Yasso 800' 

The next thing we knew, it was time for us to collect our bibs at Jacob Javits Convention Center. I gotta say that it was the best racekit collection I’d ever been to. Even though they were expecting over 47,000 runners, the process was smooth and quick. As for the retail part, well, Shanaz, Nana and myself spent over 3 hours looking at and buying stuff. It was runners’ heaven, I kid you not!

I must, however, highlight that I’m not much of a shopper outside the sports stores. My sweetest non-running memory of NYC actually involves Food Glorious Food. I swear, every single day I ate as if there was no tomorrow! It’s a miracle I didn’t end up looking like pancakes, cupcakes or pasta at the end of my trip...

Speaking of pasta, I still can't believe that I actually stepped foot in Anthony Edwards's tres chic Upper East Side apartment. The actor was kind enough to host Shoe4Africa's pasta party in his private home, believe it or not. Running for S4A totally rocks!

New York Cheesecake Pancakes from IHOP. To-die-for!
Sprinkles's Red Velvet as well as Vanilla Cupcakes
are the best in the world
Pasta party for Shoe4Africa, the charity I represented 
at NYC Marathon. Anthony Edwards (Dr Greene in 'ER') 
was generous enough to host us in his private home! 
Also pictured here are running celebs Toby Tanser 
(aka founder & CEO of Shoe4Africa) and 
Sally Kipyego (holder of various running titles)


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

my dream marathon: part 2 | “train, forrest, train!”

Part 2 of 4 | “TRAIN, FORREST, TRAIN!”

So I got through the first hurdle, which was to gain entry into the New York City Marathon 2011. Next up was a bigger challenge--to start the first of my three-month training during Ramadhan.

This wouldn’t be my first attempt at training for a marathon through the fasting month. Last year, I had to do the same in preparation of my maiden 42.195km race. Drawing experiences learnt from then, I opted to maintain the three-days-a-week running schedule consisting of one short (5-7km) + one medium (7-10km) run on the weekdays, and one long run (anything above 10) on either Saturday or Sunday. I also stuck to the suggested intensity level as best as I could: went ahead with the tempos and intervals so long as I didn’t puke  =P  Took it easy on the long runs, though; made sure I reached the prescribed mileage without caring too much about the timing.

Not gonna lie, I found it super-tough to keep the faith during this month. My only chance to run was late at night, i.e. 2-3 hours after breaking fast. Had to be very disciplined with food during iftar because if I ate anything more than oatmeal + eggs, then I’d definitely feel sick while running. But after going through 14-or-so hours of starvation, it’s not easy to refrain yourself from eating whatever it is that your tastebuds desired… especially if you love food as much as I do!

The run Celeste (pictured) and I will never, ever forget...

I gotta sidetrack here for a bit to tell you what happened during one of my training runs during Ramadhan. On this particular night, I had a friend, Celeste, with me. To cut a long story short, somewhere along the way we both inhaled a really foul stench right outside the Istana gate. I kept smelling it over the next four days while walking back from work as well but had no idea what it was. Can you imagine the horror Celeste and I faced when we found out that it was actually coming from a decomposing human body?!

Anyway, back to training. Other than the NYC Marathon, my second most-anticipated race for the year was the TNF 50K Duo Challenge. Set exactly three weeks before NYC Marathon, the 25K that I had to complete fit perfectly with my scheduled long run for that weekend. Plus, since the NYC route is far from flat, the trainings required to tackle the hilly TNF trail race was befitting. And living in Singapore meant that I could conveniently opt for the jungles of mystical MacRitchie as my training ground. Sweet  :)

With my Sole Sisters, Endon & Linda, at MacRitchie

By early September, my weekly training schedule consisted of two runs on the road and one trail run. A tad worried about my lack of mileage on asphalt, come the last weekend in September I went into hardcore mode: added an extra session per week by doing back-to-back runs on weekends.

It started with my 24K trail run done on the last Saturday in September, followed by a 4K recovery run the next day. The following weekend, I did 14.5K’s of trail run at FRIM back home in KL on Saturday, then a 16.8K race at the Malaysian installment of the adidas King of The Road + 4K recovery post-race run on Sunday.

Whee! I love trail running  :)
Goofing around with my Freedom Freaks mates
Planking on Bukit Timah!
My first climb up the nasty Steroid Hills at FRIM.
I've since renamed it Bukit Haram Jadah  =P

On the third “hardcore” weekend, I did a 20-miler (my longest training run) on Saturday, and ran the Nike We Run SG 10K at recovery pace on Sunday. Finally, I completed my share of the TNF 50K duo challenge on the Saturday three weeks before NYC Marathon, and did another so-called recovery 10K at the NB Real Run on Saturday (my very first time participating in two races in one weekend!).

A very productive weekend  ;)

Call me crazy but honestly I reckon that these double-trouble shots of runs on both weekend days helped my legs’ endurance tremendously during The Day.


Coming up:  Empire State Of Mind     

Friday, December 23, 2011

my dream marathon: part 1 | “i'm in.”

Part 1 of 4 | "I'M IN."

The New York City Marathon. One of the five World Marathon Majors alongside Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin, and, arguably, the biggest marathon in the world. Just a year ago, this was but a dream that seemed absolutely out of reach.

Many have asked me the golden question: “How on earth did you gain entrance?” And a fair question this would be. For those not in the know, NYC Marathon is one of those that require sheer luck—you enter your name into a lottery and pray to the heavens above that it gets picked.

Perhaps I should have prayed harder because I wasn’t amongst the people who were ecstatic on draw day. My running BFF and fellow Original G, Shanaz (who got lucky in 2010), also shared the same fate but everything was about to change when our other BFF and final member of Original G, Nana, gained entry.

Nana, Shanaz & myself took this "gedik" photo at the 
SG Marathon expo in Dec'10. This was the birth of The Gediks, 
these days better known as "The G's" of Kuala Lumpur 
which is now 7 members strong  :)

Shanaz and I lamented the idea of Nana running NYC’11 solo as us three were really hoping to run it together. And so she suggested going down the charity route. We went through the list of charitable organizations on the New York Road Runners website, and each shortlisted a few that caught our eyes.

I initially chose about 8 different ones. After communicating with them, I felt a strong pull towards Shoe4Africa for one simple reason: I’ve always wanted to do something to help out the children of Africa, and this was the perfect chance.

The only thing, though, was that I had to raise a whopping US$2,500 in order to represent any of these charities. Shanaz and I were pretty nervous about this but we decided to just go for it since we had about 6 months to get it together.

I pretty much went straight into fundraising efforts. The first order of the day was to target some people on my Facebook list, and seek their interest and advice. Most of them gave positive feedbacks, citing that my cause of building the very first public hospital for children in Africa was something that they definitely would want to sponsor  ;)

Also, I took advantage of the fact that I work for The Comedy Club Asia. Once a month, we bring international stand-up comedians to entertain hundreds of patrons here in Singapore. My director announced during some of our shows about how I needed to raise moolah to represent Shoe4Africa at the New York Marathon and this gave me almost half of the required amount.

The official badge for those who got into this year's race  ;)

Slowly but surely, the dollars kept piling up and thankfully I hit my targeted amount within the stipulated timeframe. I must give a huge shout-out to my best friend and her hubs, Farah MK and Azmil, who were the highest contributors. I’m still so touched that you guys were generous enough to part with US$500!

Anyway, I eventually got a guaranteed entry invitation from Shoe4Africa, paid the US$285 registration fee (very expensive, I know, but worth every penny!), and the rest, as they say, is history.


Coming up:  Train, Forrest, Train!   

Saturday, December 03, 2011

run forrest run

It’s been 22 months since I last posted in here. The title of my previous post ironically relates to the main thing that has been occupying my time since then: races and running.

Now here I am, on the eve of my second anniversary. Just two years ago, I was freaking out at the thought of my very first race—10K at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2009. What if I couldn't finish? What if I pass out in the middle of the course? All the “what if’s” only served as fuel to my fears.

Thankfully, I had my fellow Wildcatz Rose, Nyna and Nana to calm my nerves  somewhat. At the time, Rose and Nyna were about to run their second Full Marathon, a distance I couldn’t fathom at all back then. Nana, on the other hand, made her trip down south to run her Half Marathon #2. These three ladies, who were the ones who inspired me to start racing in the first place, ensured me that I would be fine, and that I should just run and have fun.

And run and have fun was exactly what I did. The racing bug totally bit me that day, and the rest, as they say, is history.

A few steps away from completing my maiden race 
(6 December 2010 @ StanChart Singapore Marathon)
Wildcatz reprezent. From futsal teammates to running buddies ;)
L-R: Nana, Rose, myself, Nyna
Taken right after my second Half Marathon 

(18 July 2010 @ Ipoh International Run)
Nyna and I "ran as one" together-gether all the way from the 7km mark on my first Half Marathon,
and crossed the finishing line holding hands and all smiles :))) 

(27 June 2010 @ StanChart KL Marathon)
*pic courtesy of

Fast forward a year later—exactly one year ago today—I did what I thought I never would do: complete my very first Full Marathon at the StanChart Marathon Singapore 2010 in a sub-6 time of 5hrs 52mins.

The Euphoric Runfool  =)
(5 Dec 2010 @ StanChart Marathon Singapore)

 My precious: A year of running (Dec'09-Dec'10) in a snapshot. 
That's a total of 11 races in 12 months, made up of 
one Full Marathon, one 30K race, four Half Marathons, 
one pseudo Half Marathon, three 10K races, and one charity 6K race.

Today, 30 races later, I’m mentally preparing myself for my fourth Full Marathon for 2011. Most people outside my running circle cannot comprehend why I am running tomorrow.

My original running mate, Ree (the person who was kind enough to accompany me on my "longest runs"—including chaperoning me to three races—back in the days when I was first starting out), said while I was huffing and puffing during my yucky 10K training run on Wednesday that perhaps I should have just ended my year on a high with my dream sub-5 finish at the NYC Marathon 4 weeks ago**.

Ree and I right before my pseudo Half Marathon.
It was supposed to be my first 21K race but ended
up being 18K's only instead
(29 May 2010 @ Sundown Marathon)

Maybe she's right, but in all honesty it's hard for me to resist running tomorrow since the Singapore Marathon 2011 marks my second-year racing anniversary.

And so I will soldier on, taking it one easy step at a time until I cross my fifth 42.195km finishing line just 12 months after my first.

May the force be with me!

~ * ~

**Coming soon: My Dream Marathon