Sunday, February 03, 2013

Near miss

I almost didn't make it to the MacRitchie Reservoir 5k time trial today, which would have been greatly aggravating after all the training I've been putting in.

Last night I couldn't sleep. I don't think that was due to the excitement of watching Max Payne, so much as two bottles of cider and one of beer. That was enough alcohol to disrupt my sleeping patterns (but sadly not enough to let me pass out cold). I didn't fall asleep until 2am, and even though I slept in until 9, I still had that dreadful gritty feeling in my head that only sleep deprivation can bestow.

I was planning on a calm and relaxing day: perhaps a short walk to the bakery in Tiong Bahru, and then working on my novel. Instead, we ended up walking around and around the Vivocity mall, visiting a maternity wear shop that literally smelt of shit, and buying more and more heavy electrical goods.

Of course, you need to fuel your body properly for a race, so part way through this extravaganza of commercialism (when we both felt faint) we stopped at Secret Recipe for lunch. The secret recipe was never revealed, but I think it involves an awful lot of grease. In everything. My wife had soba noodles (greasy) with a garnish of lettuce (also greasy). I had spaghetti alio oglio, which as well as being greasy pulled off the feat of being incredibly bland _and_ too spicy. When the satays and the fried potatoes in the shape of smiley faces are the healthiest things on your order, there's something wrong.

We found a second maternitywear shop that didn't smell as if somebody had just emptied their bowels in the corner. I know that the first few decades of childrearing involve an awful lot of fecal matter, but I don't think that has to be made so abundantly clear to you at the point where you're buying clothing to accomodate your gradually-increasing bump. I don't want to damn the second shop with faint praise, but frankly, anywhere that doesn't stink of shit is a good place in my eyes.

These adventures weren't very relaxing, and when we struggled out of the mall (down three floors, and then back up three floors to street level) I was not pleased to find we were in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. It hasn't rained since I got back from Seattle, and it felt like all the water had been saved up for today. We took a taxi back home, and with the central business district disappearing in the mist, I was worried that the run might be called off.

Never mind: I went back to bed and awoke at four, feeling dreadful. I must still have the gift of the gab, because I persuaded my wife to accompany me to the reservoir, rather than snooze. It was still raining, which made all the taxis dissolve, and at 4:30 I was panicking that we'd not get to the reservoir on time. I could see a perfect combination of events where, like two months ago, I'd arrive and miss the start, and that the time trial would have been called off due to the rain. I'm not sure how I'd miss the start if the race didn't happen, but you can't be too careful.

When we did finally catch a taxi (a split second before his dispatcher tried to allocate him to somebody who'd called to reserve a ride), we made the mistake of not telling the taxi driver which way to go to the reservoir. Always tell them to take the CTE; don't let them take a long and windy route through every back street, because when you fall out the car with five minutes to go, you won't be in a great frame of mind.

I ran up the grassy bank from the car park towards the race start. The grassy bank turned out to be a bog which my legs vanished into, and although my legs returned as I attained the summit and ran all the way to the start, they felt empty, devoid of energy.

I signed in with three minutes to go. My fingers, numb with the driving rain and dumb with exhaustion, struggled to make sense of the safety pins to fix my number to my shirt. I exchanged a few words with a man who came from Croydon (they get everywhere) and then we lined up for the start.

The organiser announced that they were going to call it off, because of the rain, but everyone had turned up, and so it would go ahead. And then off we went. Five guys surged ahead right away, and I found myself jogging slowly at the back. That would never do.

You have to go hard on a 5k from the start. There isn't really the opportunity to claw much back, so I stepped up and went past almost all the field. The top 2 guys were already putting a gap on everyone else, but I worked my way up to a comfortable fifth place. I did the first half k in under four minute pace, which I guessed wasn't sustainable, and as the trail ground on, I felt weaker and weaker. Still, it was never going to be that long.

The rain hadn't turned the course into a quagmire. There were some large puddles, but no soul-sucking patches of deep mud, and I kept the lead guys in sight until the turn around point. By then, I was fading. One consequence of training for speed over the last two months rather than distance is that I've sacrificed some stamina. I'd done well enough on the outwards section to get under 25 minutes, but I wasn't sure what I'd hang on to for the end.

People started passing me: not the main pack (although with around 20 people racing, it was never that big). I tried to keep up with them but I couldn't reel them back in. At least they weren't going further into the distance.
Three quarters of the way through, we ran past a monitor lizard, maybe a metre and a half in length, looking supercilious from the side of the trail as the humans ran past. The last kilometre is a blur: more mud, a gentle descent down onto pavement (a last chance to catch the person ahead of you, which I couldn't quite manage) and then over the line in 21:07: comprehensively smashing both my time from December when I missed the start, and my little dry-run a month ago.

I'm glad that I cocked up in December. I don't think I would have made such an effort in training if I'd managed to just do an acceptable official 5k back then. I need to see what I can do to break the 20 minute barrier now: given the fairly big improvement I've made, I'm really not sure how much more potential there could be to explore. I was also the only person drinking on the course: perhaps I should explore if it's possible to run a 5k in Singapore without hydrating en-route. Either that's worth some extra time, or I'll be at the side of the trail, foaming at the mouth.

I picked up my wife from the cafe, where she was too polite to mention my wrinkled fingers (it looked like I'd had a four-hour bath, and then been pelted with mud). We walked over to the garden centre, bought some plants and then took a taxi back to Chinatown. Even the extra New Year decibels sound sweet tonight.


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