Last year, at the end of my 42km race, I said to myself, "never ever am I gonna do this again."
15 months after I spoke those exact words, here I was, preparing myself for my second marathon race in Penang. :)
I woke up at 2am on Sunday 24th June, having just napped for four hours.
My head was still bleary from not enough sleep. But it was time. Time to kick ass!
Calmly, I geared up and took the lift down to the lobby, breathing a few deep breaths to keep myself as relaxed as possible. To everyone else, it was obvious that I was nervous as hell.
Timothy and Co were by my hotel ready to give me a lift to USM. The gang had only just finished clubbing at Momo, and they were clearly still high from it.
I was trying to keep myself calm but along the way, these people gave me such uplifting encouragement as "Go Kenny! We'll cheer for you... in our sleep!"
Such great friends I have.
The roads to USM were closed. By the time we reached our destination it was already 20 minutes till race starts. I thought I could just dump my bag there and just get ready.
But not so fast, cowboy.
From where the road was blocked off to where I was supposed to be, they made us walk another 1km! KNNCCB. I knew I was late so I ran as fast as I could to the registration area. Clearly I wasn't the only one. Many other participants were already working up a sweat trying to get there before it's too late. Why they blocked the road so far away, I have no idea.
I was at the starting line literally seconds before the race was supposed to begin. By then I was already panting and sweating profusely. All my calming techniques had obviously failed big time.
3am, the gun went off. And the game began.
From the look of things, it seems as if this Penang Bridge Marathon is going to be easier than the KL one that I did last year. The route is straighter, the temperature is cooler, and apart from the incline going up the long bridge, the path seems a lot flatter, which is a good thing.
With the amount of training I had put in over the past few months, I was feeling confident that I was gonna perform a lot better than I did last year.
It's only after I started the race that I realised how different this marathon is compared to my previous experience.
Sure, the island weather was cool. But the problem is, it was too cool. So cool in fact, that I was practically running there shivering in my pants.
The combination of sweat on my body and wind blowing against me was too much for the jiggly fats around my waist to handle.
The second thing is that the route was too boringly monotonous.
Imagine getting onto the bridge and you see this.
Twenty minutes later, you look up and you see this.
Forty minutes later, you look up again and IT'S STILL THE SAME DAMN THING!
It's enough to force any runner to go crazy and jump off the bridge, ending the misery once and for all.
But despite all these unexpected challenges figuring into the race, I though I was doing alright. For most of the initial 15km I was sticking to my goal pace of 6'50" per km.
Soon after I made the U-turn at the Prai toll stations, one of my worst fears came true.
An excruciatingly sharp pain attacked my right calf muscle. It's the dreaded leg cramp. Maybe it was the cold wind, but I certainly did not expect a cramp to emerge so early into the race.
I tried to mask the pain by rubbing a good amount of analgesic cream onto my calf, but medication can only work so much. It wasn't long before my left calf muscle began to hurt as well. Immediately I was forced to reduce my pace to a fast walk.
As if getting cramp attacks so early into the race wasn't bad enough, I had to miss several water stations, simply because they ran out of water. It's hardly surprising, considering there were some 21,000 participants in the race. The half and quarter marathoners had already snatched up all the drinks before I could even reach them.
So what do you do when you are thirsty like mad and knowing that you still had a long way to go?
You pick up those unfinished drinks other people threw away on the floor, wipe away the dirt and drink from it.
Trust me, when you are dehydrated like that, you just don't care anymore.
Everything just kept getting worse and worse as I exited the bridge and returned to Penang Island.
I remembered at one point during the race, some pebbles got into my shoes and I tried to remove them. But as soon as I bend my knees, my entire leg tightened and an unbearable cramp took control of my calves.
It was so excruciatingly painful I had to abandon the idea of removing the pebbles and just walk the remaining 18km distance with those damn pebbles in my shoes.
With persistent cramps on my calves, aches on my lower back, nasty pebbles under my feet, that remaining 18km was the toughest I had to endure.
From the Penang Bridge exit, I walked all the way past Queensbay Mall right up to the Seagate Factory, before U-turning back all the way past the Penang Bridge again to the Marine Police building, and then making another U-turn all the way back before I arrive at the crowded USM gates.
The end was near.
To bring a very anti-climatic race to an end, I crossed the finishing line at 6 hours 28 minutes.
A mere 5 minute improvement from my previous marathon time, and a far fetch from the 5 hour goal time I was aiming for. Needless to say, I was utterly disappointed. :(
I don't know what exactly went wrong. Everything in my training seems ok, so why did I bomb out?
Was it because I sprinted and over-exerted myself to the starting line? Did I have not enough carbohydrates before and during the race? Was I not prepared for the cooler weather here and the effect that had on my knees?
Whatever it was, this race goes to prove that no matter how confident I was, no matter how easy the track appeared to be, I should never ever underestimate a marathon race.
The sour grape in me could go on and blame the multitude of external factors for my less-than-satisfactory performance this race: that the road block was placed too far away from the starting line; that there were no isotonic drinks provided until 20km into the race; that my pedometer actually measured 44km for what was supposed to be a 42km race.
But hey, I'm better than that. ;) I accept my defeat.
They don't have to rub salt into my wound though.
From the finishing line at USM, I had to walk another 500m to the left baggage counter at another location to pick up my bag. Before the race, I had left my phone and wallet in there for safekeeping. But when I opened up my wallet, the RM30 I left in there was stolen.
BASTARD! That was supposed to be my taxi fare back to the hotel!
What to do? This is Malaysia for ya. Welcome to Visit Malaysia Year 2007, people.
Despite all the bad luck and dodgy organising, I must say I really enjoyed this race. It's an amazing experience to conquer Malaysia's Tallest Mountain, then 6 weeks later to go on an conquer Malaysia's Longest Bridge. Am I a patriotic or what?
They often say, a marathon is not a race against others, but a race against yourself.
As much as I was gutted knowing that I had only improved by 5 minutes this year, I do know that there is always a next time, in a different city, for me to exceed myself once again. Meanwhile, I shall take a well-deserved hiatus from my workout and eat all my favourite unhealthy hawker food before returning to the gym to resume my workout once again.
You'll never look at the Penang Bridge the same way again after you've crossed the beautiful structure twice on foot.
After running 42km, I am so freaking sore than my legs still hurt everytime I bend my knees.
Ever tried walking without bending your knees?
Trust me, it ain't easy. Especially with Nicole Tan filming and laughing her head off at you.
Don't laugh. I said don't laugh!