Yesterday, I ran the 42K in the Borneo International Marathon 2009. I'm sad to say that it's a bit of a disappointment for me. But I'm ahead of myself here. A good story has to start from a proper beginning...
Mia and I went to Pizza Hut in Damai for an early dinner at 6pm on Saturday. We decided to opt out of the pasta dinner sponsored by the Tourism Board at the Likas Sports Complex. The perfect plan to go to bed by 8pm was just wishful thinking. By the time we finished preparing our stuff, it was fast approaching 9pm. And then it's not so easy to fall asleep that early too. So I tossed around in bed for a good 2 hours thinking about all the things that could go wrong in the marathon.
But finally I was able to fall asleep way past 11pm. It was a very light sleep, and one which was haunted by dreams of everything that could go wrong, e.g. waking up late and arriving late at the starting line, running in a wrong direction, cramps. I even saw myself running in a pajama!
At 2am, the alarm went off. I was brushing my teeth when the second alarm clock went off at 2:05am. And the thrid alarm clock went of at 2:10am while I was shaving. Paranoia is such a terrible thing, you know.
Mia ate some bread, but I decided to have only a banana and plain water. My stomach can never agree with most food before my long runs during training, and I reckoned I didn't want to experiment with something new this morning. Then we changed into our running gears, and soon it was already time to leave for the Likas Sports Stadium.
We arrived at the stadium at about 3:30am, and there were already so many people there. But not many were participating in the full marathon. If I'm not wrong slightly less than 300 in all the categories. Most of the 1,400 participants were in the 21k and 10k categories. I met some friends, i.e. the doctors from SMC and others who've been training regularly at the Likas jogging track. And soon, it was already time for the flag off.
All the while before the marathon, I've been having doubts of actually conquering the 42km. This would be the very first time running that distance. The longest distance I've covered during training was only about 35km. I set a modest target of 4:30 to 4:45, and I came up with a well thought-out running plan. I reckoned that if I could average out 6.5 minutes per kilometre, I should be able to achieve my target, having allowed for some stops for water or even toilet breaks if necessary.
Immediately after the sound of the horn, I started my stop watch and began the long journey heading for Jalan Sulaman in the north. From the beginning, the Kenyans showed that they're here for the top 3 spots. They practically surged ahead and left all of us mortals behind. Then there was the steady group of chasing pack, probably running at a pace of 5—5.5 mins per kilometre. I was somewhere in the last group, sticking to my plan, running perhaps at 6.5 mins per kilometre.
Soon, we were already approaching the roundabout at Wisma Perindustrian and immediately after that, we turned right towards Yayasan Sabah. Already, I could see many runners far ahead. I was a bit worried because I began to feel a bit of tiredness after only 5km into the run. Then we started the gradual climb onto the bridge over the Likas river. At the roundbout immediately after the bridge, we turned north towards 1Borneo. I didn't really know the exact route for this full marathon. But according to the description in the BIM official website, we're supposed to make a loop somewhere at 1Borneo.
Not many road markers on the northern route, so it was difficult to estimate the distance, but I reckoned by about 8km or so, my legs were already into their cruising pace, and I actually felt quite comfortable. The morning air, though not cold, was pleasant. The northern route towards 1Borneo was a bit undulating, but quite gentle and hardly affected the runners. Soon, I was already running in front of 1Borneo. But I still couldn't see the U-turn ahead. I kept running beyond 1Borneo and then I saw the Kenyans, already on their return leg on the other side of the road. That was a bad sign, because I was certain that the Kenyans were very far ahead by then. So obviously the U-turn couldn't be anywhere close from my position then. So I ran and ran, and still no U-turn ahead. Before long, I was already approaching 1Sulaman. Then I saw Judy, Ester and Dr Liaw on their return leg. Then I finally reached the forsaken U-turn. 1Borneo my foot!... the U-turn must be a few kilometres further beyond 1Borneo!
Seeing Judy, Ester and Dr Liaw a few kilometres ahead of me was quite something. Dr Liaw is of course a stronger runner than I am. I was tempted to increase my pace, since I was feeling quite good—I was still feeling strong. But I suppressed that temptation and remained true to my plan.
I was on my return leg from the U-turn when I saw Dr Peter coming from the other side. The thing about this particular run was the loneliness running alone in the dark. I was just too slow for the faster group; and was a bit too fast for the slower group. Running solo was quite a challenge. Because of the small number of participants in this event, we were more or less spread too thin.
Then I came to the first road marker with a 15km on it. I looked at my stopwatch and to my horror, saw the 1:29 on it. It meant that I was running too fast. I had to slow down to preserve energy for the second half of the run. Seeing a water station ahead, I gulped down a power gel, and chased it down with 2 cups of water. I thought I had reduced my pace, but when I reached the 21km marker, my stopwatch showed 2:05—still far too fast for my strategy.
A short while later, I arrived at the roundabout near Yayasan Sabah again. And that climb onto the bridge was the first time I felt the exhaustion of the run. Thankfully, however, it wasn't a very long climb. The other side was a gentle downgoing slope. I took advantage of it.
Approximately half an hour later, I was back to the roundabout at Wisma Perindustrian again, this time heading south towards KK City. By then I was already feeling the tiredness in both legs, but still bearable. I'd say I was probably doing a little over 6 minutes per kilometre by then. The crowd was quite huge, because the full marathoners were crossing paths with the 21k and 10k participants. Still maintaining my pace, running through KK City, passing Wawasan roundabout, leading to the coastal highway.
And then as I was just turning into the coastal highway, I was surprised to see Judy walking ahead of me. She said she had cramps in her legs. She tried to run together with me, but gave up soon after. Approaching the Sutera Harbour traffic lights, I gulped down my last power gel and followed that with 2 cups of water. My brother, Harry, was there to take my photos. I have lost faith on Suchen, the official photographer of this event, and had arranged for Harry to take my photos instead.
Then I turned into Sutera, and then I saw Ester walking. I overtook her and ran that 2 km or so to the U-turn. In the mean time, I noticed the 30km marker and looked at my stopwatch. It showed 3:08. And then I suddenly realised that I might even be able to finish the race in under 4:30! I started to increase my pace, but it was not meant to be. For very soon after that, I felt the cramps developing in both of my legs. I had to slow down again. Luckily, the pain subsided. And again, I tried to increase my pace, but again the pain came back. So in the end I decided to abandon the 4:30 target and focus on my original plan of 4:30-4:45.
By the time I emerged from the Sutera Harbour development, the cramps were getting quite serious. I turned towards Tg Aru and then shortly after I saw Dr Joseph on his return leg. He shouted out to me, "It's time for pain!"
A little further down the road, the Power Bar folks were giving out free power gels to the full marathoners just as the organiser had promised. I took one, but decided to save it until later. Beyond that point, every single step was a torture; I was fighting the temptation to quit. I dare say the actual challenge started only after KM30.
Soon it was already the U-turn for the final loop and for the final return leg to the Sports Stadium. But it's still a good 10km to go, and it became clear that I wouldn't be able to endure the cramps in my legs for that distance. I made that loop and started counting in my mind every step I made, now probably running at a miserable pace of 7 minute per kilometre. Then from a distance, I saw the water station at the 8Km-to-go marker. I tore open the power gel and chased it down with water at the water station. And then I started walking for a bit.
Having cramps in both legs with 8km to go was just too much to handle. The mental strength required to keep pushing the legs to move was not to be underestimated. I had to resign to the fact that I would fail in this event. But after walking for about 50 metres or so, I suddenly remembered that I had plenty of time left. The organiser had allocated 7 hours time limit for this event. There's no reason to just throw it all away; as long as I could still move my legs, I could just walk the remaining distance to the finish line. So I kept walking until I felt a bit better again. Then I started running—still excruciatingly painful.
I walked and ran alternately until I reached in front of the central market in KK. There were so many people looking. And then I saw the 5km-to-go marker. Now I know that 5km sounds like nothing to most people, but when the quadriceps and calves in both legs are close to the point of shutting down, even 5km can feel like 50km!
Those last 5km were a nightmare. I continued running and walking alternately throughout the Tg Lipat stretch leading to Wisma Perindustrian. When I reached the roundabout, I was at the point of giving up. I was so close to the finish line, yet so far. I kept going though, passing the Trade Centre, then the traffic lights and finally the last roundabout.
I was still walking after the roundabout when someone yelled from the pavement to say, "Only 800 metres to go!" And then I started running again—if you could call that pace "running". And then when I approach the arch leading into the stadium, I saw my brother, Harry, taking a few shots of me. I ran into the stadium, and then suddenly I gave it all of what's left in my legs. I dashed around the track to the finish line. Meanwhile, Harry also ran across the field to the finish line to be in position to take a picture of me there. As I said, I didn't trust the official photographer.
But the marathon god would not give me the pleasure of capturing that very important moment—the moment at the finishing line in my very first full marathon. Approximately 1,400 participants in this event from all categories; of all those people running, it just had to be exactly when it was my turn to cross the finish line, when it was blocked by a group of people in wheelchairs across the entire arch. You see, the organiser arranged for some people from the Palliative Care Association to push the terminally ill people across the finish line, which is admirable of them. But it just had to happen at the very same time I wanted to cross the finish line too!
Well, there isn't much more to report. The elusive 4:30 remains a dream—I finally finished in the official time of 4:42:29. Time to go back to the drawing board to find out what's wrong with my so-called running strategy. There must be something wrong, and I will find it! In about 7 weeks from now, I'll have another shot at the 4:30 target, but I'll be happy if I can improve on that 4:42:29 to start with.
Next mission: Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon on 6 December 2009.