NEWTON CHALLENGE 2014
Venue & Date: Giant Hypermarket, Bandar Kinrara, 28th December 2014 (Sunday)
Category: 25km & 15km
Total Participants: 2,700
Year-End Tradition: For the past 2 years, I have chosen this event as my last run for the year . So, this year, I wanted to continue that tradition. What swayed my decision to join are;
– The route itself is the star-attraction. From start to finish, the route is one unrelenting hill climb after another, with variations only in elevation and length, and hardly any flat roads to speak of. Making it an excellent opportunity to test a runner’s ability to conquer multiple steep hills. Hardworking runners who do not use hills as an excuse to walk will be rewarded with a good time. While those runners, who are slow but game, can still finish within the generous cut-off time of 4 hours 30 minutes for the 25km category.
– The venue is only 15 minutes drive from my home.
Early Start: Ironically, for the last run in 2015, it was the first time in this year that I got a good 7 hours sleep on the night before a race. I woke-up early and fresh. Breakfast was half a red dragon fruit and a cup of coffee.
I got to the race venue early, real early! Even most of the race marshals and volunteers, and sponsors had not arrived yet. In fact, there were no other runner there at that time. I kept myself occupied by having a chat with some volunteers that I recognised. They were enjoying their packets of nasi lemak.
By 4:30am, the crowd of runners suddenly appeared from out of the surrounding darkness. For some reason, I noticed that there were very long queues outside every portable toilet, more than usual. Lucky for me, my bladder and stomach was very well behaved that morning.
The most popular question that morning was, “Is this your last run for the Year?”. For a few friends, there was still a fun New Year Countdown 5km Run at Kota Damansara to look forward to on 31st December. However, for me, today was my closing chapter of runs in 2014, and I took the opportunity to wish my buddies present a Happy New Year in advance.
At 5:30am sharp, the start horn blared and the anxious group of 25km runners were released unto the quiet roads of Kinrara neighbourhood.
Barefoot Challenge: This Year, I only ran barefoot 2-3 times, and those were for shorter 10-15km distances. For some reason, on that morning, I had a sudden urge to run “naked” – without shoes, I mean! Like the Call of the Wild, I wanted to run free without any protection and artificial support for my feet. Why? Because I had missed the exhilarating sensation of my feet caressing the bare ground, and I wanted to test not only my cardio strength on this hilly course, but I also wanted to know if my calves can cope with the pure fore-foot running technique which a barefoot run needs. Or was my reason for discarding my shoes alot simpler? It might even be because, this event being my last race for 2014, I wanted to make the most of it. Whichever the reason for it, I was feeling extra excited about my little experiment.
Faster Pace: I have noticed that my pace when running barefoot is faster than running with shoes. Until today, my best time for a full marathon is 5 hours 20 minutes, and that was way back at Penang Bridge International Marathon 2012 when I ran my only 42.125km barefoot distance. In my case, the faster barefoot pace occurs for two main reasons, given that my training & eating regime remains the same. Firstly, the shorter stride and greater cadence of fore-foot and bare-foot running necessarily increases my running speed. Secondly, since there is no extra layering between the ground and my feet, my respond time between my feet touching the ground and my kick-back action is shortened. After all, the less time a runner’s feet spend in the air, the greater is his propel motion forward. If you have not run barefoot before, I cannot expect you to understand fully my explanation. For now, it suffices to take my words at face-value.
Avoiding Problems: Running barefoot is similar to playing a round of golf because the outcome will depend on how well you manage the course. In golf, you need to hit and keep your golf ball on the fairway, and at the same time, avoid water hazards and sand bunkers. In barefoot running, you have to avoid hazards such as sharp objects and debris which can pierce through your feet or give you a sharp pain. So, staying alert at all times and watching your step is a necessary part of surviving the full course. Since certain parts of the route in the beginning were dark and unlit, there were times when I could not see the ground in front of me clearly, and I had to take a leap of faith and hoped no booby-traps were waiting to take me down. This real phobia of stepping on broken glass or nails, and getting hurt in the process, is what puts-off many runners from trying barefoot running. So knowing the route beforehand and assessing the conditions of the road is probably a wise move.
New Route: This year, the organiser moved the start/finish point to within the compounds of Giant Hypermarket which is just one block-away from the old venue. In the past, the race venue was just a public lane which was temporarily closed a few hours for this event. Another difference, a small part of the route had been altered which I later found-out had made the course even less barefoot-friendly. In particular, the long stretch to the first U-turn was cut-shot, and in its place, a new 4km stretch was added from the 19km mark onwards which took us into some fancy unfinished new housing area. Up to this point, I was running full swing and overtaking some runners even. From here, there were several construction sites around, and the roads nearby were unfortunately littered with fallen debris, broken stones and minute pebbles. Since I did not have a back-up plan nor was I carrying any slippers, I had to improvise if I wanted to finish the race uninjured. To make my situation worse, my feet and soles were already getting pretty tender after pounding the roads for two hours. Having switched on to survival mode, I had to find any clean landing zones. So, whenever the road surfaces were intolerably rough, I had to run on the white-painted strips along the roads, on road dividers and on grassy patches. At times, when there was absolutely no safe landing zone, I was forced to grit my teeth and just walk forward.
As the song goes, “That’s the way, ah-hak, ah-hak, I like it”. Before the run, I even told myself that I wanted a good foot massage, and thanks to the unpredictable roads of Bandar Kinrara, that was exactly what I got in the end!
More importantly, I achieved what I aimed for which was to have a good uphill and cardio workout. As an added bonus, I was happy to share my latest adventures with some of my equally nutty friends -Azmi, Peter, Allan, Jimmy, Nazmi, Karim, Nik, Karsten, Kenneth, Naidu, Lum, Richard, Harry, Kahwai, Sharon, Azlan, Leo, Kelvin, Tengku, Zafuan, Choi, Jimmy, Renee, Casey, Fendi. Special THANKS also goes to the runners who kindly gave this part-time bare footer their support along the way.
Last Thoughts: Despite being forced to slow down & walk for the last few kilometres, I was pleasantly surprise with my finishing time of 3 hours and 8 minutes. All the water stations and road junctions were well managed. The only thing missing from the event were some badly-needed post-run snacks such as a bun, fruits, cereals or milo because by the end, I had used-up all of my energy battling this tough little course. On the bright side, the heat was mild for a nice change.
Finally, BRAVO to all those warriors who conquered the Newton Challenge, and it will not surprise me one bit to see you here again next year because there is something inexplicably addictive about this course that makes you want to come back for more!
BF HUMOUR: A friend wanted to see the soles of my feet after my epic run. I replied, “Sorry, I can’t do that because I don’t want to put you off your lunch!”.