Let’s just get straight to the point here. The Kuala Lumpur marathon was the most difficult race I have ever run! The heat index, the humidity, the 4:30am gun time and the HILLS, oh man the hills, paired with long stretches of highway running with little, to no spectator support/cheering make for one physically AND mentally grueling race. Thank god the race route was well planned with water stations like clockwork every 2kms. The volunteers were a godsend. Not only was there water, but most stations had wet sponges you could quickly cool yourself down and also take a shot of the energy-inducing 100Plus drink as well.
Let’s take a step back in time to when I signed up for the race. Last year, the old course ran right behind our house in historic Brickfields – after just giving birth a few months prior, I went down at 4:30am to see the runners go by… as it was kilometer 2, so very early in the race. I vowed right then and there that this year I will cheer, next year, I will run. And run is what I did. At first, I had lofty ambitions of a 4:30 even 5:00 completion time, but as training progressed in the heat and hills of Kuala Lumpur, my legs and my split times definitely didn’t go with those goals. Additionally, still breastfeeding my baby girl, my runs were always contingent upon and in between her milk feedings, and if she’d go down for a nap or not! I remember my first long run… I was supposed to do 10 miles outside. I ran 5 outside, quickly ran out of water and motivation, and had to finish the last half indoors on the treadmill. That was the first time I doubted that I could actually finish the race! Doubt flew around my mind and I kept thinking, “WTF am I doing, I can’t do this.”
I would train at night during the week when C came home from work and fed Ana dinner. My during-the-week-runs ranged from 5k to 10k, and my weekend runs gradually got longer and longer, culminating in a 32k run. I had a training schedule, but let’s be honest – I ran when I could, and for how long I could. I didn’t have a nanny or babysitter for the baby, so my running schedule was always subject to approve from my “spirited” and “strong-willed” little monster. Here is the schedule I created that I used as a guideline:
Looks perfect doesn’t it? Well, in life, as in running, you just do the best you can under the circumstances, and that’s exactly what I did! If the baby was behaving, maybe I got in an extra km or 2 during my weekday runs… if not, i was called back early to help ‘deal’ with the situation. During the weekends, forget the early start time, I would always leave for my runs in the middle of the morning during her first nap. Which, I actually think that helped more than anything, get my body used to running in this unrelenting heat and humidity! I mean, I’m telling you, I sweat like I have never sweat before. Think Bikram yoga!
Anyway, fast-forward the to the end of the training plan, I adapted my loftier finish time goals with a “just finish” goal. I found out that the marathon had a strict 6-hr cut-off time, whereby a sweeper bus would then pick up the stragglers. I mean, 6 hours isn’t exactly fast, but it’s not exactly too terribly slow either. Especially considering the brutal hills that riddled this tough course! The sweeper bus swept through my mind all week, and I vowed that I will finish before the bus comes — I did NOT want to get picked up by the bus.
Pre-race night. Of course, I’m supposed to be in bed early getting a nice, uninterrupted sleep, but let’s get real, I have a toddler who hates to sleep. She kept us up, until nearly 10, by the time I could get to sleep with nerves and pre-race jitters it was midnight.
Race Day. Alarm goes off 2 hours later so I can pump fresh milk for A, eat a light breakfast, and be out the door to ride the train to the start area. I got to Dataran Merdeka – the start and finish of the marathon – around 3:45am, giving me 45 minutes to survey the scene and work the nerves out. Of the 35,000 runners signed up for one the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon events (42.2k, 21.1k, 10k, 5k, and various kiddie events), only 5,000 were signed up for the marathon, of which only 3500 even ran. This was by far, the smallest marathon I have ever been a part of! Still, somehow, I managed to only get a spot in the back of the line, and when the gun went off, I spent my first 5k trying to catch up to my pacing group!
The first 10k breezed by in a short 1:01 time. I was feeling great! Light, strong and fit to finish this beast! It was dark, and humid and that first 10k was the first time in months that I thought to myself, that I could not only finish this marathon, but I could score a decent time as well. The tables had turned, my runs had paid off, my late-night squat sessions worked to improve strength in my legs, and those difficult training runs through the unrelenting hills of Bangsar and Damansara came in VERY handy to prepare me for the course.
The second 10k went by fast as well.. now it was 2:07 into the race. Still on pace for a kick ass time. I could beat the sweeper bus, i knew I could! Ha! The third 10K was a little more difficult, but nothing I couldn’t manage. I finished that around the 3:20/30 mark. I would do this, I could do this! Just another 12k left! Then, disaster struck. Around the 32k mark, with just a 10k left, my left knee gave out! I have no idea what happened, but the excruciating pain on the outside of my knee rendered my running ability useless. I tried to run, but my knee failed me. I looked more like a toddler trying to jog. Unsteady and unstable, and waddling. I texted my husband and told him I had just a 10k left, to get ready to come to the finish line with baby A. He too was surprised at how fast I had reached the 32k mark.
Unfortunately, that last 10K, was plagued with walking/fast jogging until I just (stupidly) ignored the pain in my leg, mustered every last bit of courage inside and RAN. I ran through the pain and finished the marathon under 5hours (4:53). It was the most gratifying, yet frustrating experience of crossing that finish line. Gratifying because I had just completed the hardest race I have ever run in a pretty decent time, and frustrating, because had my knee not given out, I could have finished 20 minutes early! For the first time EVER, I was fit enough to keep going, I wanted to keep going, but injury got the better of me.
After the race, I iced and iced and iced, and limped and limped and limped and now, 5 days later, my knee is about 70% pain-free. Which isn’t bad, considering post-race I could barely walk.
Now, of course, i want to do the race again, next year! At this weight, and half-training, I was on track for a 4:30… if I can do that… the next year, with proper training, incorporating a bit more SLEEP, and perhaps some strength training into my schedule, I think I can hit 4:15. THAT is my new goal. THAT is what I want to work towards. Can’t wait for next year.
Last thing I want to say before closing, is people, especially expats that are used to the races in the US, like say perhaps the Rock’n’Roll series that have 40,000 runners, bands every miles, corraled starting times, and basically organized to a “T”, like to rag on how unorganized and lame races in Malaysia are. While that may be the case for other races, I would like to congratulate the race organizers and volunteers of the Standard Chartered marathon. Everything was smooth, the volunteers were phenomenal, and the water and power stations, and bathrooms were literally everywhere. Great job!
Until next time, happy running!