They say, if a Malaysian wants to measure how well he/she does in a marathon, he/she needs to measure it at SCKLM 2016. This is because SCKLM route is a killer one. Mostly flat in the first 30 kilometres or so, then when the legs are already tired, the course goes through the infamous Bukit Tunku where the real test commences.
So when someone asks you what is your marathon PB, it is not your fastest marathon ever, but your finish time at SCKLM. Obviously, this is BS.
Coincidentally, Kuching Marathon is held two weeks after SCKLM. Kuching Marathon is probably the flattest course in Malaysia, ideal for a PB. My heart says, run Kuching. But due to travel time, budget, and other commitments, I settle for SCKLM. After all, Kuala Lumpur is my city.
Although I do not clock as many mileage as I did in preparation for Tokyo Marathon, I still run a lot. My training is unstructured and inconsistent though.
I do not put a high expectation, sufficient if I can break my PB from Tokyo. If everything goes well, maybe a sub 3:30. My strategy is simple. I know I have to stop in the middle of the race for Fajr. Taken this into account, I need to run consistently at a pace of slightly faster than 5’00 min/km. That is the plan.
I arrive at the starting line quite late but early enough to do some warm up. While warming up, as dreaded, I have to spend some time at the loo.
Before going to the starting pen, I receive a text message from my wife.
“Remember mind over matters!”.
She knows me well enough that I am always defeated by my mind. It is something that I have not mastered.
My starting pen is Pen 2. It is filled to the brim. So I take my position at the back of Pen 2, just in front of those in Pen 3. In my hand, I have a bottle of water. The intention is to take a gel 5 minutes before the start, flush it down with water, then ditch the water bottle. But I can not find a bin so I keep a hold of it.
The gun goes off and off we go. The first 7 kilometres of the race goes through Kuala Lumpur city centre, where the GPS signal is bad due to the skyscrapers. So instead of relying on the numbers on my watch, I run by feel. I may have run slightly faster than intended due to adrenaline rush.
Not long after the start, I see a familiar face. It is Will. I follow him and exchange few jokes with him. I tag along for a while before he speeds up. I restraint myself from running his pace. Then, I see Haziq Hamzah. I am surprised to see him because he is a fast runner and he should be way up front. I am maintaining my pace but somehow I catch up with him. I catch up with him and he says that he is preserving his energy for Bukit Tunku. We are exchanging our pace, splits and distance, and our watches are giving different information. At one point, his watch is off by 800 metres, while mine, 400 metres, compared to the road markers.
Soon, we catch up with Sahlan. He seems to be struggling because he is feeling unwell. The pace is comfortable and I am running side by side with Sahlan and Haziq up till Jalan Ampang before we lose Sahlan.
We are now running on AKLEH where the GPS is stabilised. We are able to catch glimpses of leaders who are already turning back to MRR2. It is around KM11 and the leaders are at least 2 kilometres ahead of us. I do not stop at any of the water station because I have plenty of water in my bottle. I take my first gel (second if you count the one I take just before the start) just before the U-turn at AKLEH.
We pass the toll plaza one more time at KM15, where we catch up with Kak Tahira. I say some words of encouragement to her as we run past her. (I regret this because she passes me later in the race and finishes second in Malaysian Women’s category in 3:28!).
Suddenly, Haziq starts to pull away from me. The gap grows quickly without realising it. Obviously, I can not match his pace, so I run my own pace. Before we go down to MRR2, he is probably 100 or 200 metres in front of me, all gained in a matter of 3 kilometres or so. It feels slightly warmer at MRR2.
Then, comes the first real test. Going up the steep ramp to DUKE. By this time, I already empty my water bottle and ditch it at one of the water stations. I am halfway of the race. My split for half marathon is 1:37:35, on course for a sub 3:20. But I am starting to feel the stress and strain of the race. The motivation is low as I am running by myself. I have completely lost sight of Haziq.
Fortunately, I come across Azrul riding his bike. He paces me for first few kilometres on DUKE. He offers me some Coke and some snacks (I think) which I refuse. He says I am going fast.
“Indeed, too fast for my own good”.
We bid farewell and I am by myself again. I have not seen any walker yet, and I do not want to be the first one. Then I see one Mat Salleh who is walking. I say few words to him to keep him going as I am passing him.
Then, I see 3 strong runners, 1 Mat Salleh, 1 Minah Salleh and 1 Chinese lady in front of me. They seem to be running together. I catch up with them and follow their pace. I glance at my watch and the pace is 4’25 min/km. It is too fast so I back off. Later, I learn the Chinese lady is a former national athlete, Yuan Yu Fang who sets the fastest time for Malaysia Women’s category with 3:19.
Soon, I catch up with a big group that consists a few familiar faces. Will is there too. Fatigue is creeping in but at least I know I am doing something right as I run past the group.
It is now Fajr and I am feeling exhausted. I guess it is a good time to stop for Fajr. I stop at a water station at KM28 and asks the volunteers for Kiblat’s direction. They clearly are not expecting and unprepared for such request. Luckily, my Suunto is equipped with compass. In the midst of the rush, I forget the bearing though. Is it 290 degrees or 90 degrees? I use few cups of water to perform my ablution and as I am about to perform my prayer, a volunteer points out that I am facing the wrong direction. Credits to them, they manage to prepare a cloth for me to perform my prayer. While I am praying, I see Will’s group runs past me and closely followed by Jepah. I have no idea that Jepah is behind me. I am about to shout his name before realising that I am actually praying. Khusyuk much?
My starts to cool down from the lengthy break (4 minutes 4 seconds) and I am starting to feel the dreaded cramps. “Oh crap. It is here early”.
I start to panic. They have energy gels at the water station and I request for some. A volunteer hands me a gel and it is dripping. I ask for another one. It looks like that they already tear the wrapper to make it easier for us. I understand their intention but to me, it is actually unhygienic. The one that they give me is Hi5, one that I have never tried before. The texture is runny but it does not taste that bad. I am losing a lot of time and make a bad judgement. I break my own rule of thumb. I frantically grab everything that is within my sight. I take a gel, few cups of isotonic drinks and water at one time. It is a big no-no. I am now bloated.
My tummy feels so uncomfortable. I run for few steps before stopping to stop to shake the bloatedness (is this even a word?) off. I panic. When I panic, I get nauseated. When I am nauseated, I feel like puking. I do not resist the urge to puke though. I think it might be a good way to unload the air and whatnots from my bloated tummy. So I puke up till KM30 where we have to get a wristband. Soon after, Kak Tahira whizzes past me.
My tummy feels light but my body is drained. I am famished too. External calories no longer works from this point onward. I have been here for a number of times. People call it ‘The Wall’. I have no idea why people call it ‘The Wall’, because it does not feel like I am hit hard every time I am here. ‘The Swamp’ is more appropriate, I think. My legs become jelly and they are sinking slowly together with my motivation and willpower. 3:30 pacer runs past me and I am trying to follow his trail. It only lasts for 50 or 100 metres though before I give up the chase. Stream of people pass me and I am not at Bukit Tunku yet!
Just before reaching the first climb at Bukit Tunku, Abang Yim passes me. Maybe I can stick to him? Definitely, not. I cannot be bothered. I continue walking. Then, it is time for the first climb at Bukit Tunku. The first and the only (sort of) climb at Bukit Tunku. It looks steep, it looks long, but it is actually not as steep as I make myself to believe. Few weeks after SCKLM, I revisit the exact climb on my bike and I learn that it is nothing compared to one of the many climbs at Hartamas. The only climb there is segmented by a roundabout. So some may think that there are two hills but actually it is only one long climb.
I reach the highest point at Bukit Tunku where Raiju Runners cheer crew is. Zaki is handing me a jelly to fortify my jelly legs. I know it won’t do much but I accept it out of courtesy. Thank you!
Whatever goes up, must come down. It is now a long winding descent, a good stretch to gain some time. But I find myself walking down the descent most of the time. Strength, willpower, they are not there anymore. I just want to finish.
Whatever goes down, must come up. Right after the long descent, we have to climb Jalan Parlimen up. I walk the descent, so it is only appropriate to crawl the ascent. At the top of Jalan Parlimen, I catch a glimpse of Munir who is running strong. I greet and run alongside him for few metres before walking again. Adieu!
It is now the final stretch of the marathon. Before the finish line, there are two more familiar climbs that we have to face. One approaching KL Sentral, and the last one near Muzium Negara.
I know my wife and daughter are waiting at the finish line so I sprint the last kilometre or so before crossing the line in 3:45:35.63 (Nett).
It is a hard race with many mistakes and a little bit of regret. But I enjoy the suffering, and there are still a lot more to learn and understand. To sum it up, I have a good 2/3 of the race, and a terrible 1/3. It is not enough, yet I am satisfied.
I am gutted but happy. Happy to see my wife and my (then) 3-1/2 months daughter. Thank you for being there at the finish line. I will make you two proud some other time.