The day of reckoning had arrived. It was a day to be proven or to return with my tail between my legs. With a barbeque ending at about eleven thirty the night before, I felt surprisingly alert after four and half hours of sleep.
Recalling the whopping flapper I developed on my little toe after completing the last 10km race in my Nike trainers, I made sure I had packed my New Balance runners. Also a little wiser from experience, I packed my MP3 player (uploaded with some zippy running tracks) into a waist pouch with three sachets of Power Gel, some money for a cab and a mobile phone to call for help.
I charged up with a double helping of Weet-Bix and succumbed to my weakness for my morning “pick-me-up” of that magical brown elixir. Armed with my combat girl water bottle and cap, I hit the streets even before the sun woke up.
S, D and T were car pooling and we were planning to meet up near the Lake Gardens Club. Despite the fact that we were meeting half an hour before the race began, cars were already amassing around the starting point. I scanned the multitude of faces for someone familiar but found none.
Perhaps they were already at the starting line, I thought to myself.
I parked the car and took turns ringing each of them. No one picked up their phone. I was getting a little nervous.
Please tell me they didn’t bail.
I got out of the car and started walking towards the starting point. I had barely walked five meters when I saw S and D rounding the corner. T was nowhere to be seen. Apparently, he had called up on Friday to inform D that he was not going to make it because he did not feel ready. We all agreed it was weak and D was delighted to hear that I had rung his mobile to disturb him at this ungodly hour.
D felt the need to pee. I figured it was just a nervous bladder, but we both went anyway. Surprise, surprise, it was the men’s toilets that had the long queue, while the ladies’ were quite manageable.
We stayed in the middle of the pack, the three of us pacing together for a while. The beat of the music was inspiring and I felt good all the way up to the ten kilometer mark. That was about the time when S pulled ahead and D caught up. After a while, I was not paying attention to the music any more. Even the MP3 player was getting tired because it started acting up and going silent from time to time until I jiggled it back into sound.
I could see the faster runners heading back in the opposite direction and I felt that sickening hollow in the pit of my stomach as it dawned upon me that I would also be running back the same way. I felt a great reluctance to take each step for it meant I was putting more distance between me and the finishing line. Each stride was another meter I had to run on the return journey.
The trail took us across Jalan Duta and into Sri Hartamas where one of the race marshals shouted, “Five kilometers.”
I guess my brain had malfunctioned and thought I was running twenty kilometers, because I remember thinking, Thank God, only five km more to run.
Heartened, I pick up my pace and kept running and running and running. It was the longest five kilometers I had ever run. Even with my brain weary from the physical fatigue, it finally realized that the race marshal meant I had run five kilometers after the first ten kilometer lap, meaning I was only halfway through the race, not almost finishing.
I remembered that D mentioned we had to run past the mosque in Sri Hartamas. I kept looking out ahead for a mosque that would mark the return journey of the race. As I passed Plaza Damas, my thoughts flickered to the mobile phone that sat in my waist pouch. I lingered on the tantalizing thought of running into the shopping complex and calling the hubby to pick me up.
I looked at my watch. He was probably still sleeping and I was certain he would hardly be sympathetic to the cause of rescuing his wife from a fate that she had brought upon herself, so I kept running.
The mistake I made was not consuming my powergel until I had reached the 20km mark. By that time, my throat was so dry I could barely swallow the gelatinous liquid. My energy was spent and it was taking too long for the powergel to kick into my system, so I slowed to walk. Sheer arrogance had made me lose my head to common sense. Feeling vitalized, I thought I could continue without the powergel. A grave oversight…
I spent the better part of the last 10km walking. The funny thing was that I could probably walk as fast as I had been running. From time to time, when I knew the next water station was up ahead, I would find the extra burst of energy. Perhaps it was the knowledge that respite was just around the corner.
Somewhere along the way, an elderly gentleman old enough to be my grandpa slowed down to spur me on. “Don’t stop running,” he said.
With a groan, I quickened my pace into a slow jog. If grandpa could do it, so could I… Funny to think my mind could still be so proud even when my body felt like it had been beaten to a pulp.
I kept pace with grandpa, while he talked to me about the merits of understanding a long distance route. He also explained the difference between running a race and enjoying a route. Funny, I was just there to put a tick next to my 30km mark. Apparently he had been observing me for some distance because he noted that I had the ability, but my technique was out.
I remembered running a half marathon and I had always found the “distance to go” placards very encouraging. When I hit the “3km to go” mark, I thought, You’ve got to be kidding! I’ve been running forever and there’s still three kilometers to go? The sentiment was no different when I saw the “2km” and “1km” signs. At the 1km indicator, my fatigue overruled my pride, and I told grandpa to run ahead. When he was out of sight, I stopped to walk. I felt ready to pass out.
We turned into Lake Gardens where the crowds were loitering and giving encouragement to the runners in their last leg. After some cheering, I picked up the pace again. The battery on the MP3 player was long dead, so the only musical inspiration was the song reverberating in my head – “I can go the distance”.
I went past a group and one of them shouted, “Only another five hundred meters!”
I smiled at them, but I think what emerged upon my face was more like a grimace. He could have said five kilometers for all I cared. In the last hundred meters, I pelted down the track with the appealing vision of collapsing at the finishing line where they would have to carry me if they wanted me to move.
After crossing the finishing line, a little boy handed me a bottle of water that I was too tired to hold. I walked over to where some marshals were handing out the vouchers only to find that I had to walk another hundred meters to the food stands. I swaggered across the field like an inebriate. It was such a concentrated effort to put one foot in front of the other that I felt like a baby learning to take its first steps.
When they handed me the goody bag, I peeped inside and smiled at the sight of a shiny sliver of silver gleaming up at me. All this pain for a piece of metal… I had to be out of my mind, but there it is.