Borneo International Marathon 2015 would have been my first full marathon race. However, due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to give the race a miss and find another one. I had only heard good reviews regarding Kuching Marathon despite its relative young of age (the race was established in 2014). Relatively flat route, great crowd, great city, and since I had never been to Kuching before, I decided to choose Kuching as the first city to run my first full marathon in.
My training started on 11th May 2015, a week after Borneo International Marathon. I secretly followed a 3:45 marathon plan from RunKeeper app and adjusted it to fit the timeframe. Instead of 64 sessions over 16 weeks, I altered the plan to 54 sessions over 14 weeks. The plan was doable but I had to train through fasting and festive seasons which made it a bit difficult to follow religiously. I only managed to complete 42 sessions out of 54 sessions. Some of the sessions, especially during the fasting month, were not followed exactly as in the plan. Out of 12 sessions that I missed, most if not all of them were hard marathon-specific sessions. I would pay for these missed sessions. In between, I competed in two trail running races as well, Hasuu Tasu Night Run and MARDI-MAEPS 18km Trail Run, and there was a week where I did not clock any mileages at all.
Weeks = 14
Hours = 52 hours 14 minutes
Mileage = 517.6 kilometres
Shoes = Saucony Kinvara 5, New Balance 1400v2, Nike Zoom Air Streak 5, Nike Terra Kiger 2
I flew to Kuching on Friday to give myself some time to explore the city and rest. I backpacked at Lodge 121, about 800 metres from the starting line. I stayed at the same hostel as the Kenyans who swept all the top prizes in full and half marathons, and met few other runners from Malaysia and Thailand. I spent the eve of the race strategising about my race. This included pace, nutrition, and where to stop to pray. Since I skipped many hard marathon-specific hard sessions, I planned to run a 3:50 marathon instead of 3:45. It was still a tough ask, but Kuching was believed to be a fast course. I have two more full marathon races before the end of the year, which are Standard Chartered Kuala Marathon and probably, Penang Bridge Marathon, but Kuching was my best bet to do a personal best (PB). But deep down, I would be satisfied if I could finish my first marathon in less than 4 hours. I promised myself to get myself a pair of New Balance Zante if I could achieve my personal goal. I scribbled my race plan on a piece of paper to be brought along me while racing.
I could not decide which shoes would I race in, so I brought two, which were New Balance 1400v2 and Saucony Kinvara 5. My first choice was to race in Kinvara 5 as the average pace needed to achieve my goal was 5’27 min/km, which was relatively slow. I found 1400v2 was more suitable for low 5’00 min/km or faster. But if it was wet on the race day, I would have to wear 1400v2 as Kinvara’s traction was poor.
I tried to sleep early but I could not force my eyes to shut. It was well past 10 o’clock when I finally succumbed to sleep.
The start time of full marathon was 3:00. I woke up at 1:45 and I thought I had ample time to get ready for the race, but I was mistaken. I arrived at the starting line barely 15 minutes before the flag-off, dropped my bag, and only had less than 10 minutes to warm up. I lost the ‘race plan’ sheet along the way.
While frantically warming up, the announcer announced that it was a minute before the flag off. I rushed to the starting line and to my surprise it was not barricaded. So instead of going to the very back, I was lining up at the side, close to the starting line.
Few seconds before 3:00 am, the race was flagged off. The race was not as big as other major races in Malaysia and since I was quite to the front, I did not have to zigzag my way avoiding other runners. Many runners sprinted past me and I found it frustrating. I told myself to keep calm and stick with what I had planned. This was a marathon, not a sprint. All the hard work would count to nothing if I pushed myself too hard too early. I convinced myself that I would pass many of them at later stages of the race.
STAGE 1: START-KM8 (Target pace: 5’30 min/km)
The plan was to run 5’30 min/km for the first 8 kilometres. This was to enable my body to warm up and acclimatise to the strain slowly. Although I thought I was going slow, the pace showed that I was actually about 10s/km faster than planned. Other than average pace, I constantly kept my heart rate in check. My heart was beating in the range of 161-169, well above my target to keep it lower than 160. It must be due to race jitters. I ignored these as I was feeling good and my body and heart were not feeling strained (yet). The frustration of getting past by many played a role, but many others were still passing me. I should be running at this effort in Stage 2 (KM9-KM32) instead, but I believed I could sustain the effort until KM32. This would give me a bit more breathing space to stop and pray at KM32. I was quite happy with the pace as it did not vary a lot. With the exception of the first kilometre, the variance was merely 7 seconds.
I ran past the first two water stations as my first refuelling and rehydrating stop would be at the third station around KM9. The temperature was quite warm in the first few kilometres before starting to cool down a little bit after the route passed local villages. There was a little bit of headwind and I enjoyed the breeze.
My first frantic moment was when I stopped at KM9 water station to refuel and rehydrate. My strategy was to gobble a PowerGel few metres before water station, followed by two caps of Hammer’s Endurolytes which I carried in a tiny chewing gum container, then flushed them all down with water. I had a difficulty to get the Endurolytes out of the tiny container as I was nearing the water station. This disrupted my rhythm a little bit. My heart rate started to spike up in consequence.
STAGE 2: KM8-KM32 (Target Pace: 5’20 min/km)
I was now in the second stage of the race. I had to keep running at 5:20 min/km until KM32 before stopping to pray. Since I was running at about this pace during the first stage, I had a bit of leeway. I was afforded to stop, take some sweet time, and not rush at the water stations.
I was now mostly running by myself, which I very much preferred. At a point during the first few kilometres, I was running behind an elderly man. He had this weird running style where his arms flailed excessively while running. This distracted me a lot. I had to quicken my pace a bit, ran past him and fortunately he was out of sight.
I started to reel few closer and passed the front runners. This served as a motivation. I focused on a front runner at a time. Passed one, and moved to the next one. However, I did not pass as many runners as I had anticipated. At this point of race, it dawned on me that the field was quite competitive. All of the front runners were runners who were capable of running a sub-2 half marathons.
At about KM15, there were a bunch of runners who seemed to be running at a steady pace. This included a woman. She was leading the group. I followed them closely but was not able to close the gap quickly enough. It demotivated me. After 3 kilometres tailing them, at an uphill stretch, I finally managed to get past the group.
My half-marathon split was 1:51’24.8, about 2 minutes ahead of target time. But I started to feel the strain. I was working harder to maintain the pace. After getting past the bunch of runners which were led by the lady, the runners became sparse. I could see few runners way ahead. That made it even more difficult. I was on my own. My heart was beating at almost 180 bpm but my pace was becoming slower and slower. I was sweating profusely despite the relatively cool condition. I felt like I stepped in puddles with every stride I took. My foot were wet and the weak squishy sound and feeling they made irritated me.
At one of the many roundabouts, just before the turn to Jalan Bako, there was an uncle standing outside of his car with a stopwatch in his hands. He was telling the elapsed time to the runners. When I was running past him next to another runner, he was shouting “2 hours 17 minutes!”. We were at about KM26 mark. Although I could quickly glance at my watch to know the elapsed time, somehow it was good to have somebody telling you.
Unfortunately, a good feeling did not translate to a good pace. I, with another runner alongside me were running along Jalan Bako, where there were trees on both sides of the road. It was a long boring straight road that stretched to a little less than 5 kilometres. I tried to maintain 5’20 min/km pace but I could not summon the strength needed. The other runner was struggling as well.
At KM28, he asked me to tear open his PowerGel and wanted to share it with me. I tore it open and passed it back to him. He asked me to consume it first but I refused as I had few more in pockets. He was in veteran’s category. I was exhausted. Few hundreds metres after passing the PowerGel, I decided to stop to pray, way earlier than I had planned, which was at KM32. I told the runner to keep running and go after sub-4. He told me he was only aiming for the Top 200 finisher tee. He seemed to be trying to motivate me to keep running. But I needed this break.
The organiser informed us that there would be surau (prayer place) along the route but they did not inform exactly where. I saw one earlier in the race before KM10 and a runner had to go off course for 100m to get to the surau. Even then, it was still early to perform a prayer. After that, I was not aware any other suraus along the route. This was one of few complaints that I had for the organiser, who otherwise organised the race well although it was only their second year.
I slowed down and stopped at the road side along Jalan Bako. I quickly searched for the direction of Qibla using my trusty Suunto Ambit2 watch and prayed. While praying, few runners ran past me, including a guy who was running in a Superman suit, with his famous red cape. My prayer break costed me 6 seconds shy of 3 minutes.
My legs still felt lethargic. And now, I was feeling cramps on my legs due to inactivity. I tried to shake it off but I could not. I was not so bad. I planned to take two more Endurolytes at the next water station. At the next water station, I shook the chewing gum container but nothing came out. I was perplexed because I thought there were few Endurolytes caps left. (Later after the race, I found out that there were two caps left. But they were stuck to the wall of the container).
People say a marathon only started at KM30. But it seemed that my marathon started about 2 kilometres earlier. On top of the niggling cramp, I was now starting to cough. I was not suffering from flu and cough into the race but now suddenly I found myself coughing. It was a dry cough. I had no idea where did it come from. Was it THE WALL? I did not know what THE WALL was, but it might be it. I might have just hit THE WALL, unknowingly. A soft and wet WALL it was.
The coughing did not go away and I started to throw up. The coughing and puking reduced me to walking pace. I was only throwing up liquid. I could taste my own puke. My puke tasted Revive. These coughing and puking lasted for two kilometres. Before the puking stopped, I could taste the chia seeds that I mixed with water few hours before the race. It was disgusting.
After two kilometres, the puking went away but the coughing stayed. I guessed the puking stopped because there was nothing else in my body. I felt so weak. I tried to consume PowerGel, but I could not. My body seemed to be rejecting anything that I tried to force in.
I knew my race was over. Many runners ran past me and I was hapless to prevent that from happening. I could see my 3:50 marathon slipping away. Then more runners flew past me. Now Sub-4 marathon was slipping away too. I promised myself that I would reward myself with a pair of New Balance Zante if I could achieve Sub-4 marathon, but this did not seem to motivate myself. I was planning to run Tokyo Marathon next year and posted a good time here in order to be in a good position in the ballot. But this failed to inspire myself too.
STAGE 3: KM32-FINISH (Target Pace: 5’12 min/km)
It was true that I threw up and had problem with nutrition. But stepped back and I knew that above all, I was mentally defeated. I was being a wimp (again). I tried to draw inspiration and motivation, but to no avail. I split KM32 at 3:01’46.8. I was still in the chase of Sub-4 marathon. All I needed was 5’41 min/km pace for the final 10.2 kilometres. It was very much doable. But I could not summon my mental strength to overcome the stumbling block. My mind told my body that I could not. My motivation, determination wavered. And that was it.
There were few bridges to cross with uphill ramps in the last 10 kilometres. This weakened my mind further. I just walked whenever I came across one. I forgot that this was a race. I forgot how much sweeter it would be if I had kept my heads high instead of succumbing in despair and sorrow, while munching ice that they gave at water stations. It would much sweeter to gloat than to whine.
“Pain is temporary, glory is forever“. I forgot.
In the last few kilometres, we were joined by the half marathoners. There, I was greeted by my college friend. I was surprised to see her. She was running a half marathon. She ran past me, and that also failed to motivate myself to drag my sorry ass to the finish line. She was as far as 100m ahead at a time. But I managed to catch up with her and passed her.
We were entering the city and the marshals seemed to be giving up with their task of controlling the traffic. There was “Hari Koperasi Negara” carnival going on along the last kilometre of the race and the traffic was so bad. I, together with other runners risked ourselves zigzagging the oncoming vehicles to the finish line.
With less than 600 metres left, I was still contemplating to stop and walk. It pretty much summed up how defeated I was. Luckily, I told myself to finish strong and continued sprinting and crossed the finish line in a disappointing time of 4:17’34. As soon as I crossed the line, I asked the guy at the finish line whether I was among the Top 200 finished. He nodded while handing me a black Top 200 finisher tee.
1st Half Marathon = 1:51’24.8 (5’18.3 min/km)
2nd Half Marathon = 2:26’09 (6’49.8 min/km)
Last 14.4 km = 1:47’23 (7’27.4 min/km)
Full Marathon = 4:17’34 (6’04.5 min/km)
I was disappointed with myself but I learnt a lot from this rollercoaster experience.
Marathon is not a physical battle, but instead a mental one. It is true that a marathon only starts after (in my case) 28 kilometres. The only solace is that I ran a faster first full marathon than the quickest Malaysian on the day who ran 2:41’14 to finish 7th overall. I vow to come back stronger in Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon and Penang Bridge International Marathon to achieve my 2015 target of 3:45 marathon.
It is back to square one and training ground (road/track).
ETA to Standard Chartered KL Marathon = 45 days.