My first Marathon – KL International 2006

In the book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, it was discovered that the meaning of life was forty-two. Well, if forty-two truly was the meaning of life, it would be synonymous with the KL International Marathon for me.

KL Marathon

The day began at an even more ungodly hour than all previous races. The alarm went off at 3:30am and I felt remarkably alert in one of those rare moments where only a blue moon could be more extraordinary. It was ironic that the hubby was just preparing for bed, even as I was getting out of it; it was as if we were trading places for the next shift.

With a breakfast of Powerbar (for I had decided to up the ante on the energy levels), I obediently traded the morning coffee for two glasses of water.

I decided to dispense with S’s advice, who replied my review on my multiply blog on “High Sierra Quench Lumbar Pack”. It was not that I thought the advice ineffectual, but since it was more of a leisure run for me, I figured I might as well do so with all the comforts of home – some funky music (on the MP3 player), plenty of water and various refreshments (namely Powergels). Of course, I should not omit the ultimate reason for carrying the pouch: it was a very thoughtful present from the hubby.

Five minutes to 4am and I was on the road, cruising to the beat of “Godskitchen”. I arrived before the others and serially started dialing their mobile phones. Not surprisingly, there was no answer. An SMS beeped on my phone – it was a “good luck” message from Z.

Thanks, I thought, I’m going to need all the luck I can get!

All marathoners had to attach a funky device to our shoes so it would record our distances and times, and ensure that we did not cheat along the way. Although, why anyone would think of running a marathon and consider taking a short cut was beyond me. They might have succeeded in fooling the world, but they would never be able to fool themselves, and to me, that has to be infinitely worse than not completing the race.

On the way down towards Dataran Merdeka, I had to thank my Powerbar(s) breakfast. I was like a lamb heading for the slaughter but I was still decidedly peppy. There could be no other reason than the fact that I was delirious with energy. The race had yet to begin and I had already woofed down two bars and contemplating my first Powergel. A person could really get high on this stuff.

You could say I was being “super kiasu” (in English: “afraid to lose”), but to me, I though it was more like being “kiasi” (in English: “afraid to die”). How on earth would I make it through forty-two kilometers with an “I’m gonna die” attitude, I hear you wonder. Well, I did.

They say you can run a marathon and either “enjoy it” or “survive it”. Now I understand the difference. I clearly belonged to the second category. The following is an account of a runner (yours truly) who survived a marathon with a minimalist training regime, and a maxed out carbo-diet. Warning: please consult your doctor before attempting this program.

I remember reading up about marathon trainings the day I signed up. The majority recommended, at the minimum, a year of solid running, and the shortest training program I found required at least twenty-one weeks of preparation. Having only a month to train, I decided it was time for more drastic, scientific measures. I researched about carbo-loading and marathon diets, and foods to eat before, during and after a marathon.

Regrettably, I didn’t make the most of my one month’s training. In week one, I ran twice. In week two, I ran once. Most of my runs were about five to ten kilometers, no more. In week three, I went for my honeymoon in Japan, where all I did was “carbo-load” to the max (not!) and walk until my feet fell off. I spent much of week four on my rear and the most activity I did was climb once.

When the gun went off, SKT and T quickly disappeared into the distance – that was the first and last I saw of them until after the race. D wanted a slower warm-up pace, so I left her behind. She overtook me at some stage later in the race. By then her pace was too quick for me, so I gave her the lead and continued at my sedate tempo. Surprisingly, I saw her again at the 20km mark. Alas, that was the last I saw of her until the end of the race as well.

I met a few interesting characters during the race. During a chat with one of them, we both agreed that companies who manufacture sporting goods should really use athletes to test their products so we can tell them what works and what doesn’t.

Since the trial run at TTDI, I found that my High Sierra Quench lumbar pack sat more snugly against my body when I hung it upside-down over one shoulder. So that I could still sip my water, I had to up-end the bladder inside the pack as well. Forty-two kilometers later and I can say that it worked pretty well with barely a chafe mark to show for it.

The other matter that I still can’t get the hang of, are the placements of my MP3 earphones. No matter how I adjust them, they keep falling out of my ears as I run. Surely there must be some design on the market that can address this?

One thing I did right was pack about five Powergels for the run, because I felt fighting fit up until the 20km mark and then some. It was somewhere from the 25km mark and onwards before I felt the decline in my form. Instead of running half an hour and walking five minutes, I had dropped to ten minutes of running and five minutes of walking. Shortly after that, I gave up on the rhythm altogether and ran whenever the music on my MP3 inspired me, or even when it did not.

The technique of alternating between running and walking was provided by a kindly gentleman who was visiting Malaysia for a holiday. He had given the posers this little snippet of advice during our last training session at TTDI. His suggestion was to run two miles and walk a minute (or something to that effect) and he also strongly encouraged that we carry some sort of power drinks. Since it was not convenient to measure every 2 miles during the race, I decided I would modify his method by the clock.

When we reached Bukit Bintang, we were joined by the 7km fun runners and the half marathoners. The streets were riddled with people and I could taste the spirit of the race which fueled me to continue. We turned onto Jalan Sultan Ismail where Nike had set up a booth of sorts bearing a number of placards screaming their encouragement. It concluded in a spray mist and some weird music in the background. If they were hoping to advertise a product, I’m afraid it was lost on me. I’m sure it was a branding exercise well worth its cost considering it was set up where it received the most traffic, never mind the fact that the marathoners still had some 15-20km to go.

After the race, MT asked me what had been the real mental point for me. It was probably at this point. Shortly after we dropped off the 7km runners at a point near Dataran Merdeka, another sign separated the Marathoners from the half. As I passed the sign, I became acutely aware that no one ran with me. They had all turned right to continue the path of the 21km race.

All the while through the race, I had flickering thoughts about the wisdom of running a full marathon when I should have elected to run the half. Never were these thoughts more rampant than they were at that point of the race. The rest of the race was a raging battle between my head and my body – to run, to walk, or to quit… When I ran, I no longer cared that I looked like I was demented, for as long as the spring in my step was taking me further than the speed of my walk, I was satisfied that it was worth the energy expended to do so. Even when I walked, the fastest I could manage was a totter.

I eyed every bus and taxi longingly, the way a person trapped in a dessert eyes an oasis. It was as if they were all there luring me to knock on their inviting windows and ask to be let in. I even thought a few times about resting at a “mamak” stall for food and maybe even dialing the hubby for a rescue. Why, why, why did I think I could do a marathon? What possessed me to sign up, for even something like this had to be beyond the limits of my insanity?

We turned onto Jalan Tun Razak and I had created this fantasy in my head that the trail would take us up through Jalan Parliament and back to the padang. Even though I had studied the map the day before and distinctly recalled having to make a u-turn on a highway, I steadfastly refused to acknowledge that image in my head. As we neared the turn-off to Jalan Parliament, and I could see the faster runners returning in the opposite direction, I felt the tears of pain stinging the back of my eyes. It seemed that the end was still as elusive as it had been ten kilometers earlier.

An officer on a motorbike slowed down beside me to ask if I was okay, all I could manage was a wave.

No! I screamed, silently. I can’t be the last person running!

I turned to look behind me. I thought I could just make out the image of a person and I relaxed a little, although I picked up the pace again. I glanced at my watch and wondered about the others. They would all have completed the race by now. Perhaps I should have told them not to wait for me…

By this time, my abdomen felt numb and ready to burst. At first I wasn’t sure if it was my body’s empathic response towards D’s “time of the month”, or a very severe need for the “loo”. Since we were on a highway with no shops or petrol stations in the vicinity, I scanned the foliage for offerings of privacy. It was not until we looped back on Jalan Duta that I was able to duck into hiding. For a while there I was almost afraid my thigh cramps would not allow me to squat. I was also wondering whatever happened to my sympathetic nervous system that was supposed to shut of my “need to pee” functions during “flight”.

On the home stretch, two sweeper buses slowed beside me to check if I wanted a pick up. As alluring as they appeared with their darkened, air-conditioned cabins, I resisted the urge to quit and continued on foot. My perseverance was primarily driven by the following mantra I recited in my head, “If I quit now, I’ll have to run this again.” The 5km home stretch lay before me, and I thought to myself, Screw those bus drivers if I am going quit here because f*** if I’m ever going to run this distance again!

When I passed the sign marking the start of the final kilometer, I willed the screaming body to run. The pain in my feet was intense and I could feel the tears banging on the flood gates. I forced them back, concentrating on the music of “Godskitchen” playing on my MP3. As I reached the round-a-bout, I saw a bunch of familiar faces. It took a while for my brain to register that they were from FYC. I gave a half-hearted wave as they cheered me on, and concentrated on the finishing line.

In most races I had participated in, the sight of the finishing line alone would have spurred my body into a sprint. In this particular instance, all I wanted to do was slow to a walk. Needless to say, I was not moving very fast, but even at that pace, it was a struggle to continue.

An interesting point to note was that I never really paid much attention to the distance markings. I counted how much farther I had to go based on the duration I had been running. Initially, I thought I could make it in five hours and fifteen minutes. That extended to five and a half hours. After that, I was just hoping I would finish before the six-hour mark. In the end, I only wanted to finish.

A friend asked me what happened when he checked the results on line (see: http://www.klmarathon.gov.my/results06.php) and failed to find my name there. That was because I had clocked in after they stopped recording the times – at six hours and eight minutes, plus or minus a couple of minus, but by then, who’s counting? SKT clocked in at four hours fifty-seven minutes, with T close behind at five hours and nine minutes. I could not find D’s time.

After a much needed recovery over Nasi Kandar, I found I could hardly keep my eyes open on the road. By the time I got home, I fell asleep on the toilet. I barely made it into the shower before collapsing into bed. I felt just as wasted as I would have been the morning after an intoxicating booze night out. Probably the only differences are the areas of bodily discomfort. Most of the remaining part of Sunday was spent in bed, with a brief moment of consciousness that was my dinner and a bath.

Why subject myself to the agony? So that I can now say, “I completed 42km.” So that I have a medal I can show to my grandchildren and say, “Look, your granny was once a sporty person.” The only people who would ever admire my medal are the members of my family and they are not the least bit physically inclined. To them, there is no difference between a “placement” medal and a “finisher’s” medal – a medal is still a medal, in any shape or form.

KL Marathon Finisher

In summary, these are some of the significant insights I uncovered on this tumultuous journey towards the meaning of life:

1. The “aero plane” chafe mark that I developed on the small of my back during the Great Eastern Pacesetters 30km run was not due to the waist pouch I carried, but the seams of my bike shorts, for I had developed another similar mark during this race. Surprisingly, I did not get the usual chafe marks on my thighs and arms…

2. The lengths of various roads I normally travel by car are a LOT longer on foot. I will never take my car for granted again, for even 60km/h will seem like lightning speed to me now.

3. If I vary the type and tempo of music on the MP3 player, I am less likely to tune out as quickly. Even at the 20km mark, I was still “hearing” the music.

4. Powerbars for breakfast are a GREAT idea.

5. Powergels during a race are another GREAT idea, although they have no obvious effects after twenty kilometers.

6. There are numerous little parts of my body that function everyday without my knowledge. I am only aware of them when they start aching – like after running forty-two kilometers.

7. If I half shut my eyes when I run, or if I concentrate on the ground about a meter in front of me, it’s easier to continue running.

8. The right music can empower the body and mind, but only to a limited extent. That is, forty-two kilometers is beyond that extent.

9. Physical extremes can bring you to tears and so can pain in your feet.

10. The mind easily wavers when times are harsh.

During a period when I was almost defeated, I persevered and here I still stand.

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