Monday, 12 May 2014

When a Fire Starts to Burn

This post is related to my maiden full marathon but rather than start from the beginning I thought it would be more informative to report on the aftermath and then come back to the race.

I thought the title song was apt in the circumstances as when the race flagged off at 3am the temperature was sitting at 26C with a lovely 80 percent humidity. The problem right there for me is that I come from a country where if we were to experience temperatures of that during the day everything would shut down. Businesses would close, people would flock to the parks and beaches and smother themselves in baby oil and start sun bathing. I maybe exaggerate slightly but the reality is that I come from a very cool climate so despite being here for over three years my body is never fully going to adapt to the humid conditions. The mistake I made was to think my early morning long runs in Kuala Lumpur would be exactly the same as my marathon in Borneo when it was actually a few degrees higher and the humidity much higher. In essence I started cooking from flag off and the oven pinged before I got to the finish. I didn't managed to finish the full marathon as I collapsed at 41.4 km with heatstroke and was thankfully stretchered back to the stadium nearby where they quickly got me to the local hospital by ambulance.

This seasons colours from Cooking Scotsman
When you run, your core body temperature naturally rises, and your sweat glands produce droplets that carry excess heat to the surface of the skin, where it evaporates. But humidity prevents sweat from evaporating, so the heat stays put. So with the humidity on Sunday I lost a key ingredient in my running set-up to allow me to run not only efficiently but safely. Everything felt okay until the last 5k and then it hit. I started feeling nauseous but put it down to the sun coming up and it being the last 5k. I'm sure you have all been there and fought the same battle in your mind?

"I've come so far I can't stop now", "one more km and i'll see how I feel then", "you've almost got this, man-up!"

Your body temperature continues to heat up and then goes into survival mode. It starts to prioritise blood flow to major organs so they can continue to function so less blood flows to your digestive systems. Any gels I ingested were rendered fairly ineffective. Continuing after the 30km once the sun had come up I added another monkey to my back. I had left my running cap back at the hotel. It's only an hour in the sun right? Should be okay right?

The additional heat to my pale Scottish napper (Heed) was probably the final nail in the coffin. As the temperature in my brain (I do have one) increased I lost the ability to think rationally.

I had all the warnings but choose to ignore them, I battled on and pushed to the finish line. Unfortunately I collapsed at 41.4km and then rushed to QE2 hospital where apparently they kicked of the ceremony by cold showering me to lower my body temperature and then quickly got me on a drip and started re-hydrating me. Saline drip, not my normal Vodka drip.

I re-gained consciousness approximately three hours after admission to A&E and didn't have a clue where I was. I initially thought I had clashed heads with another player playing football, scoring the winning goal in the FA cup final obviously. When I came round a second time I thought I had been hit by a car back in KL and was recovering in A&E. I was eventually discharged on Thursday lunchtime.

I wanted to highlight the above as It's a lesson I have learnt the hard way. I hope that it helps other runners out there in Malaysia and prevents this happening to someone else. You need to have a little chat with yourself and weigh up what you are going to do when those little demons starting whispering in your ear that it's time to stop running up that hill, to slow down and walk or to miss the next drink station. Think of them as friendly telephone customer service reps from your brain who are not trying to derail you best laid plans but to let you live and race another day.

The race itself was thoroughly enjoyable apart from the out come obviously! I met some fantastic people during the start. Friends from F-1 Runners, local bloggers and local runners alike were all in attendance and there was a very supportive atmosphere. Flag-off was at 3am and very efficient despite the large number of runners. The initial 11km took us in a loop round the city and for the most part was fairly flat. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of volunteers around the course mostly cheering and offering encouragement despite the early start.

After reaching the stadium at around 11km it was then off out along the coastal route towards UTM for another 10km. I managed to maintain a pace of around 5:30 per km for the first half of the race and was feeling really good about things until turning the roundabout at UTM and then there it is right in front of you, a massive bloody hill. It wasn't as bad as I had anticipated but i'm sure it took a bit out of me.

It's followed by quite a steep downhill section and I couldn't help but think I was going much further down than I went up. What goes down, must come up right? So next followed quite a long progressive incline which again at the end of the day wasn't quite as bad as thought it would be. I can't help but think there must be a marathon out there thats completely downhill?

After exiting UTM you then head out towards Sepangar Church and the 29km turnaround point. I have to say I thought the turnaround point would never arrive and after passing there that's when I started to struggle. The KM's got longer and the hills seemed larger whilst my legs seemed to shorten and my stride reverted to that of a midget.

I struggled on and was grateful for each drink station when it came. My last memory was turning in towards the road to Likas stadium after just being offered a ice lolly by a group of volunteers. Looking back now an ice lolly would have been a lovely mental distraction to the last few kilometers but at the time i thought it was utterly preposterous that you would offer a runner a ice lolly. I mean how do you run and eat an ice lolly. Monsters.

I have now downloaded my GPS data and can see I managed to reach the 41.4km mark before collapsing like a meths fuelled tramp and decorating the street with a cocktail of Gu Gel and water. Not my best look.

That means I ran for about a kilometer on autopilot. I have no recollection of the last kilometer and that worries me. I was lucky enough that there were people who new me. I was lucky enough that the race organiser was prudent enough to collect emergency details and be able to contact my next of kin. I was extremely lucky that I have such an understanding wife that was there in KK at the time of the race. I spent the next four days in hospital in Kota Kinabalu on drips trying to lower toxin levels in my kidneys and liver following the race.

What I have learnt is the following -
  1. If you feel bad during the race, tingling, hot or cold flushes, nausea stop. Just stop. It's very easy for things to accelerate to a position where you are no longer in control. 
  2. Ensure you have identification. I'm planning on buying a Race ID bracelet to wear during my runs. More about them here The Expat Runner. If you can't afford one then one of those charity rubber bracelets that are popular at the moment will suffice. Mark your emergency contact with a permanent marker. 
  3. Be aware of the conditions. I automatically assumed that KK would be the same temperature as Kuala Lumpur. With hindsight I should really have gone out much slower and enjoyed the race and bagged my maiden marathon. Maybe stopped at the drinks breaks and poured water over my head instead of drink it although given the size of my heed, thats a lot of water. 
  4. Choose the correct clothing. I wore black. Not a good idea when the sun comes up. Choose light colours that reflect the sunlight and wear a hat. 

Hopefully some one will take something away from the above and not have to endure the same.

To end I'd like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the BIM organisers for taking care of me and for the special note awaiting me on my return to the hotel after being discharged from hospital. Cheered me right up so it did.