Sunday, October 11, 2009

Borneo International Marathon 2009—My First 42K

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you finished your run!! The weather was great..

scute said...

It was probably the best weather we could dream of. The last 2km was difficult for me too but the volunteers did well by cheering on and you just can't walk in those circumstances. No matter how tired my legs were, it moved!

The starting/finishing venue was well chosen. Ample parking space, bright lights, wide waiting area.

DBKK might consider sweeping away dead rats along the route. I saw two and one runner actually stepped on one but it was partially dry. Then Andrew may be able to look into the stench at the back of Wisma Merdeka. Running past there was very very unpleasant.

Cups were again not enough at the final stretch along Tg Lipat.

But overall, judging from the number of participants and sponsors, it is very commendable for Andrew and team to organise this event. Hopefully more sponsors would come forward so that we can have better and more road markers, cones, bananas and cups!

2 Romans 1 Impostor said...

Wah! Since you had to walk most of the last 12km, I fear for the 4 hour mark too in your upcoming 42km. My money is on you to achieve at least 4:15. (ha ha)


Cornelius said...


Yes, it was quite an unexpected, though very much welcomed, weather yesterday morning. Last year, we had an extremely hot and humid condition, so this year I was kinda prepared with a cap on. But it turned out that it was unnecessary.

Most of us runners were very pleased with the weather. Certainly, Teo, who failed to finished his full marathon debut last year, was very happy with the cold morning. By the way, he finished the race in about 5:17 and was understandably very happy with his achievement. But, Teo, if you're reading this, I think you got a bit too carried away with all the bananas and power gels you consumed throughout those 5 hours plus. How did you find the room in your stomach to accommodate all those?

In spite of the beautiful weather, however, I'm a bit surprised that the Kenyans did worse than last year. They were slower by almost 10 minutes against last year's time. Maybe in their case, they prefer the heat?... hahaha!


In my case, I'm more disappointed in not getting a finish line photo. So now both my first half marathon and first full marathon have no finish line photos. Very sad story of my life!

Regarding the last water station, I think the organiser had accounted for more cup, but the delivery system was kinda slow. I say this because by the time I arrived at that water station (which is perhaps some 30-40 mins after you did) they had plenty of cups again.

I'm also of the opinion that Shan handled the Event Coordinator job much better last year.

Another point which has been raised by many runners is that the medals should specify the respective events, i.e. 10k, 21k and 42k. What we get this year, though slightly better than last year (last year, there was not even a "FINISHER" on the medal) had nothing to specify which event - all finishers got the same medals.


It does look feasible on paper, doesn't it? (smile) But out there during the run, it's not so easy! You just have to trust me on this, towards the last few kilometres, it's mainly a matter of staying alive! So many factors involved, i.e. the weather, carbo-loading, mental readiness for the run. There is even such a thing as the "mood" on that particular day! It may sound strange, but on some days, one just don't have the "mood", and no amount of training can make you perform better!

Anyway, I'm not gonna kid myself with a 4:15 for the moment. But with 6 weeks' training remaining prior to Singapore Marathon, I will try to find ways to explore the possibility of achieving 4:30.

2 Romans 1 Impostor said...

Who says that running is not lucrative should read this article:

Sigh! If only I had known 20 years earlier (how lucrative it can be), I might have chosen this as my weekend hobby rather than 'appearing foolish on the streets staring at signboards trying to figure out how a fellow madman thinks'.

Cornelius said...


HAHAHA! To achieve that kind of fame for this particular sport, you need to be born with it, my friend! What his coach did was just to chip off the rough edges.

He ran in the Olympic last year. He practically went against all the time-tested running strategies. He sprinted from the beginning till the end in the blistering heat of Beijing to win the gold. Very, very few people can do that. No amount of training, not even for 20 years can bring you up to that level unless you are born with what it takes!

But the kind of hobby you have right now is not exactly inferior. One is training the physical health; the other is training for the mental health. But some of us try to have both for as long as we can. Of course while we're pursuing both, if we can earn some money, that's even better!

ahmad fathi said...

Well Done!!! Congrats!!! i know how you feel for the last 5km... its real nightmare..

But well done for conquering the torture...physically and mentally..

Cornelius said...

Thanks, Ahmad Fathi. I noticed there were quite a number of Bruneians running in the BIM. I hope to see more of you in future BIMs. Next year it will be on the first Sunday of April. Start spreading the news to your friends!

Anonymous said...

So how does it feel after the 42k? seems like impossible distance to run to many people. maybe if i try, i will die. he he

Cornelius said...

Oh! funny that you should ask that question, my Anonymous friend! Just this morning, someone asked me a similar question via text message.

Well, if I don't count both my sore quadriceps, both calves, right ankle, swollen toes and painful knees, there is actually no pain at all! And apart from feeling like dying, I'm physically perfect right now!

You'd be surprised what your body can do, my friend. If you trained hard enough, you can do it too. If you haven't tried running long distance before, why not start with a mild 10k in April next year? Just slightly over a year ago, I've never even ran 10km in my entire life. If I can do it, I'm sure most people of average health can do it too. It's strange what the human body can do if you put your mind to it.

Anonymous said...

I approached Sammy.. BIM 08 winner and asked him why he couldn't defend his title..

He actually complained of stomach pains before the race.. The night before he attended the pasta party and probably ate too much or the food was too oily?

He was kinda struggling before the during his run..

Oh well.. 2nd place was good enough for him.. at least he did not go back empty handed..

Anonymous said...


I think the stench along wisma merdeka is from the sea.. There's nothing much the organiser can do about it unless they change the routes..

Unknown said...

Reading your account reminded me of my experience in the BIM last year where I started to falter also at the Sutera harbour. And I finished much worse off than you and this with 3 marathons behind me.

So congrats on completing your first marathon. The timing is pretty decent. The SCSM is a easier course to run so you should be able to do better

Cornelius said...

Anonymous (October 13, 2009 12:08 PM),

It's strange that in spite of the favouarable weather condition, the Kenyans actually perforemed worse than last year when it was extremely hot.

But I now have reasons to believe that the timing chip system in this particular marathon isn't very accurate. I will elaborate further on this point when the official results are published in the organiser's website soon. But who knows, maybe there is no need; maybe changes will be made before the results are finalised.

Cornelius said...

Anonymous (October 13, 2009 12:11 PM),

I suppose you have a point there. Just to share a bit, we full marathoners also had our share of smelly experience along Jln Sulaman. I think there must have been a dead animal somewhere on the road, but I was focusing on my run and did not notice where the carcass was. Besides, it was still dark even though we had street lights.

Perhaps DBKK should've gone through the marathon routes to check for dead animals the day prior to the marathon. But if it's really the bad air from the sea, then I guess as you said, the only way to solve it is to change the route.

Cornelius said...


Based on the many conversations I've had with other marathoners, it seems that the 30km point is the turning point for most runners.

But that is not very surprising. Apparently an average human body can store up to approximately 2,000 calories of glycogen (carbohydrate), give and take. Working on an estimated standard of 100 calories per mile, that is more or less enough for about 30km. Therefore, assuming that the marathoner carbo-loaded to the full capacity the night before the event, he would have enough only to cover the 30km. The rest will have to from fats.

Now, the trouble with the human body is that it prefers to tap into the carbohydrate reserves first before fats. We need to teach the body to use fats first during the slow burn within the first half of the race. But most people can't resist the temptation to run fast during the first half and therefore deplete the glycogen reserves first. Once that is gone, it will be very hard to tap into the fats reserves.

kkchai said...

It's all so rocket science to me about this teaching our body to burn fat first, I'll say stick to vigorous training and have a good rest before the big day is the answer for better results. I salute you for the determination to run full marathon and achieving what you set out to do. You have done well in BIM and I'm sure you will do better in Singapore. Everything is favourable there, the course is mostly flat, they start earlier and you'll have many runners running beside you the whole route. So, RUN Corny, RUN!!

Anonymous said...

OMG Cornelius I am so sorry, I am just now reading this post.. I had only seen the pictures and didn't scroll down :(((

Anonymous said...

Yay!! I am so happy you made it! I know exactly what you mean when you talk about the last miles being so hard.. I felt like I was right back in the marathon struggling to make it to the end :)

You made a good time for your first. You were definitely well trained. Now the question remains of how to get rid of the cramping. Diet? I'm trying to work this part out also..

Back to the drawing board! As for me, I think I will try to excel at 10K's and halfs first, then give the full marathon another shot.

Scute said...

Anonymous (Oct 13 12:11pm),

The selection of route was well done. Running along the coast with sea breeze, less traffic and therefore less carbon monoxide. What the organisers could look into is to request DBKK's garbage truck not to spill or drip too much leachate at the back of Wisma Merdeka when they collect the garbage. Otherwise, quickly hose it away. That would have been more pleasant to us and also to runners from outside KK.

Having said that, do not let this minor things rob the organisers for a job well done. Like I said, even with so few runners and limited sponsors, they still pull through with a good job.

Bringing a marathon of international standard to KK is not easy and the few nights before the run, I saw the organisers meeting in one of the Director's house till late and his porch was a complete mess.

The volunteers did well too. They cheered on when it matters most and that really helped. The Police and Firemen controlled traffic well too. They must have been working very early that day and it was not easy standing and directing traffic through out the run.

The organisers might consider starting earlier in the next run to avoid traffic and the sun.

Cornelius said...

HAHAHA!... KK - rocket science!

There is no question that proper training and sufficient rest are very important ingredients for a successful marathon. But I'd like to find the most efficient way to utilise my body, especially my legs. That's why I researched a bit on these things. I'm not a doctor, but I did some readings of several literatures, and have found through the training that there's some truth in it too. For example, the glycogen/fats issue is given here (scroll down to "Glycogen and the wall"). I've found that by preserving my energy during the first half of the run can really help in the later stages. I just need to make further adjustments to perfect it.

It's strange that you brought up the "rocket science" thing. When I was researching about this glycogen and fats matter, I thought of those exact words too because I was reminded of the Apollo 13 mission where the austronauts had to survive on a dying space craft running only on very low power from the batteries. Even in that case, the sequence or order of the utilisation of power was the key to their survival. Otherwise, they would have all been dead long before arriving back to earth!

Cornelius said...


I've since spoken to some experienced marathon runners. They have generally said that it's a bit too ambitious to try to improve my time by a margin of more than 10 minutes within just 6 weeks of training (am taking a break this week). It's not impossible, but very difficult.

But I suppose there is no harm trying, as long as I won't injure myself in the process. And yes, I will try to reduce weight too. For last Sunday, I have only lost about 5lbs because I was careful to eat sufficiently each time after my workouts.

Perhaps I will include tempo runs during my mid-week training, and try to force myself to run slower during the long runs on Sundays. Even if I can't achieve 4:30 in Singapore, I want to at least improve over the 4:42.