As I sit at my computer writing this story, my blistered feet are sore, my legs ache and the skin on my thighs is raw with abrasions from the skin rubbing against my running shorts.
But my mind has already begun to forget the pain of the gruelling 42.63km run and I’m feeling on top of the world for having completed my second Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Full Marathon on May 21.
And what a run it was. The full marathon flagged off at the historic Dataran Merdeka in KL at 4am, with 8,381 runners from Malaysia as well as neighbouring countries like Indonesia, China, Singapore, Thailand and more. We were all hoping to complete the race (or improve our running time) in one of the country’s biggest running events.
The course took us through the city, on two major expressways – the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE) and Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway (AKLEH) – up and down the scenic but oh-so-hilly Kenny Hills and back through the city to the finish line.
It was a challenging route and at several points along the way I wondered why I’d signed on, having sworn three years ago after my maiden full marathon that I’d never do it again. But, running is addictive and the temptation to test limits time and again was too big to ignore.
A big takeaway from running a race like this is the inspiration and motivation from other runners. Sure, the elite runners – who make running look effortless, finishing well within three hours – are generally inspiring. For me, it was the ordinary running enthusiasts trudging alongside me, pushing their limits, that truly raised my spirits.
One such person was Dr Earnest Yong, a medical practitioner based in KL. The 69-year-old doctor was running his 20th full marathon; he started when he was 49. He’d just got in from Kuantan early that morning and went directly to the run.
Clearly, for him and the many senior runners, age isn’t a barrier and I made a mental note never to use my age as an excuse. As a seasoned marathoner, he offered me some tips and urged me to better my time. Dr Yong, I’m glad to report I did!
When I signed on for the race, I had about three months to prepare. It was ample time to follow a proper running programme and get myself mentally and physically ready.
I had fully intended to attend a few of the running clinics the organisers had scheduled to improve my technique and increase my pace. But sadly I ended up missing all of them. I was either travelling or bogged down with work. In short, as with many recreational and veteran runners, life got in the way.
So, I ended up training as much as I could whenever I had the time. I was slightly more confident than I was when I did my first 42km, though. I clocked in six hours back then and I was hoping to shave 30 minutes off in my second marathon.
As it turns out, I did a little better this time around. Although the official results aren’t up yet at press time, my clock time was 5 hours 45 minutes – and though it’s still pretty slow, I am happy.
When it comes to marathons, having a strong mind is as important as a strong body. It is a really long distance and at points, the finish line seemed elusive.
At 20km, as we were running onto the DUKE highway, I was aghast at the thought that I still had more than half the distance to complete. At that point, my shoulders (trapezius muscles) were cramping and the blazing sun combined with the incline of the highway seemed just too much.
It took all the mental strength I could muster to run, and not walk, up the incline. However, I must admit that at other points, particularly along Kenny Hills and the trek up Jalan Parlimen, I walked.
I usually thrive on downhills but in a 42km run, after a while there is little difference between inclines and declines, and what’s really important is keeping a steady pace and pushing myself to run short blocks at a time.
The water stations, positioned roughly 2km apart, were my markers and I stopped at alternate stations and pushed myself to make it to the next one where I could take a few seconds to catch my breath and refocus. On hindsight, I think I consumed too much water simply to allow myself a break.
A great addition to the water stations this year were the buskers (from Negri Sembilan and KL) who encouraged us on with both their music and enthusiasm. And then there were the cheering volunteers, many of whom had to stand at their stations long before the race started. Also heart-warming were members of the public, who came out in groups to support us runners, setting up make-shift stations to offer us coconut water, sweets and such.
I told myself and my friends that I wouldn’t do it again but my resolve is relenting. Ah, next year, then. Wait, oh help, what did I just say? But more seriously, I really want to give myself a chance to clock a better time with proper training.
Truly, there is nothing quite like running a marathon. Although it’s painful and arduous, it’s an experience of a lifetime.
If you want to up your long-distance running game, check out the country’s oldest ultra trail marathon, The TMBT or The Most Beautiful Thing. In this race, competitors will run along the base of Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu as well as its surrounding kampungs and areas.
There are four categories that you can take part in: 100k, 50km, 30km and 12km. This year’s TMBT will be held over two days on Sept 16 and 17. The race is now open for registration and will close on July 16.