Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Island Ocean Marathon 2013

Third race of 2013



Langkawi here I come...


Looking for another challenge

In Kuching there aren't many long runs. We usually have 5km and 10km races. The biggest events are the Spring Live Active Run (16th June) and Half Marathon at Bukit Aup in Sibu (12th May).  So those who are looking for more challenges will have to look beyond the boarders of Sarawak. The Island Ocean Marathon did not catch my eye at first. What caught my eye was the River Jungle Marathon held last year at Batu 16 in Hulu Langat. Having read many a positive review on the run I was really interested in joining it. Then The Marathon Shop announced the Island Ocean Marathon, to be held on 21st April, as part of it's The Volkswagen Marathon Series.  Since it was a given that I wanted to join RJM, I thought why not give IOM a go, because I had never been to Langkawi before.  None of my gang wanted to join me, concentrating instead on preparing for the Borneo International Marathon (5th May, but later changed to 4th May  because of election day).

My race route, courtesy of TMS

Island Ocean Marathon was advertised as a boutique marathon for first timers.  There would be no time chip and thus no cut off time.  What impressed me the most about at last year's RJM was that they waited for the last runner who I believe finished in 9 hours 38 minutes! Plus they gave each runner fresh coconut and ice potong.  Never in my life had I heard of a marathon giving such treats to runners! Time didn't matter to me as I had already run the Penang Bridge International Marathon and knew what I was capable of.  What I wanted to do was use IOM as a kind of training run before I ran BIM. Yes, I signed up for the full marathon there too, and would have to run it two weeks later.  Lucky for me it would be run at night.  So I was prepared to run a slower race, telling myself 7.5 hours would be more than adequate.  If I went too fast there was a worry in me that my old legs couldn't recover in time for Sabah.


Resorts World Langkawi here I come!

Awakened at 4am on Saturday to get ready for my flight to Langkawi.  Had to catch the 7.20am Airbus 320-200 and wanted to make sure all my gear was with me.  Was traveling light, with only one hand luggage that weighed exactly 7kg.  Yes, I weighed it.  That's the Virgo attention to detail in me. The ground staff at the airport were a relaxed bunch and did not weigh my bag.  The flight was uneventful, with the usual horrendous landing.  The pilot proudly announcing we were 20 minutes early.  Pray tell how that happened with an airline notorious for flight delays? Was really hungry since I only munched on three oatmeal cookies for breakfast. Ate a curry puff from my favourite stall facing the exit of the arrival area at LCCT.  Now you know which airline am talking about! As the clocked ticked down for my noon flight I decided to indulge in a McD breakfast burger.  Added an apple pie. I do have a big tummy to feed...

Waiting for boarding I saw many a stranger wearing finisher t-shirts and knew they were going to run at IOM too.  Yours truly chose not to bring any of his finishers, and I did the right thing too, considering what I saw on display.  Anytime I see 100 printed on a t-shirt I know I am in the presence of monster runners! It would only get more impressive at the hotel, but I wasn't to know that yet.   Chatted up a storm with the guy sitting next to me on the plane.  He was a season runner, having run numerous marathons before, and like me, he was looking forward to the first IOM.  Didn't bug the lady on the other side as she seemed to need her shut eye time.  The landing was pretty scary but we arrived safely.  Found out the ride to Resorts World Langkawi would cost RM22. Luckily managed to hook up with a couple going there so saved some bucks.  The lady was a talker so we got on well.  She had run 50km at TMBT (The Most Beautiful Thing) and I was suitably impressed by her finisher t-shirt.

Mohan and me, pic courtesy of the maniac himself

Mohan and Farah Fasu (back) and June Malik and me

Resorts World Langkawi was the official venue sponsor hotel of the race.  I know I should say run, but I just like the sound of race.  Guess who I met when I walked into the lobby? It was the marathon maniac himself, Mohandas Kandiah, better known as Marathon Mohan.  We were friends on Facebook, and I already knew he had just run over 200 marathons! My room had a superb view of the ocean.  It was sheer joy in being able to lie down and take a short nap before the carbo loading buffet at 5.30pm.  Being a people person, I hate eating alone, and as luck would have it, there was Mohan again. That man can talk! Me thinks he can out talk anyone in the room. Between chomping on the buffet spread before us, he imparted some words of wisdom to a newbie runner like me. It's good to know what drives someone like him to run week after week.  This man has run in races that others only dream about, and he is only three years older than me! To think he failed his physical as a young man.  Wasn't able to meet Oliver Ker, another running machine, because he checked in later and I needed my sleep.

Carbo loading buffet

Powering up... 




Set my alarm for 2am! We were to have an early breakfast. Ended up going down at 2.30am as needed to put on my early morning face. Thankfully I did manage to breakfast alone. Mohan was moving from table to table taking pictures, and got me good.  Didn't overdo the meal.  Ate what I deem as just enough to keep me fueled for the morning.  Then it was upstairs again to prepare my weapons for the challenge up ahead.  For the first time I would be running with four water bottles of 200ml each.  In them I put my special formula made up of hydration salts.  Also stored four energy gels on me, as I knew two would be given at the stations, and I normally take one every 7km.  Unlike Brooks Half Marathon, I had come prepared.  Went down just before 4am.  Did my stretches.  Listened to James Wong, the man behind this dream marathon, and we observed a minutes silence for the those who lost their lives and limbs at Boston.  In fact many of us wore an extra bib to remember them.

We kicked of the run at 4.30am sharp with an air horn blast and a fireworks display.  Now that's what am talking about! Admittedly the route was dark.  The going was relatively easy though.  The fun part was when we detoured to run at Pantai Cenang at the 3.5km mark for about a kilometer.  Many jokingly said we would all be ultra runners because of the extra distance.  Some would clock their Garmins' in at 43.4km!  No matter what, to me I was running a full marathon.   We were close to 1,000 strong.  The largest contingent coming from Singapore with around 300.  There were runners from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Europe.  Some wearing their running club vests proudly, while others chose to wuse their favourite running tops from previous races.  Some even wore their finisher t-shirts.  I just wore one of my training tops as I felt it would give me more protection from the sun.  Besides I was running with a new cap, a new set of calf compressions, and new socks.

How far can you go?


Running in the dark

Darkness enveloped us in the early going.  Thankfully the safety cars stopped and shone their lights where it mattered the most. Yes, we were warned about the darkness, and it was recommended that we wore headlamps, but not many did so.  The rest of the time we were running by the light of stars and nearby buildings.  It was not as bad as it sounded because our eyes adjusted.  The road condition was not very good after we left the airport area so we just had to run carefully.  I was on the lookout for buffaloes though, but ended up avoiding running over a kitten.   There was a really dark U-turn at around km12.  We could now see the runners coming towards us.  I know it can be a discouraging sight for them, but there was still a long way to go.  Felt the need to pee. Found a suitably sheltered spot.  That was one of the main complaints of the marathon - the lack of toilet facilities along the race routes.  For guys it isn't a problem in darkness, but for the ladies it's a different story...

Was very happy with my pace, what I called my turbocharged snail power.  Hit 21km at just under three hours.  Knew I was going good.  Would stick to my plan.  Unknown to me the route would keep me to it too.  Did try to take pics but the flash on my camera wasn't strong enough.  Made a habit of taking pics at the 5km markers.  At least at the end of the day it would show me how I looked like with each passing marker.  Lets just say I had a good laugh at the many faces I made.  Worse was to come when I discovered that Langkawi was actually very hilly even at the southern tip of Tanjung Malai.  It may look like we were running far, but the island is huge, compared to say Singapore.  If I had to run loops I would go nuts very quickly indeed.  Hard to imagine only last year I started running in races.  Here I was knowing I could do what it takes to complete the distance.  The feeling was really good.

Here comes the sun...

When you run slow you know what to expect... We saw the rising sun and it got hotter and hotter as we progressed.  Was always so thankful to reach a water station.  It was so well stocked with isotonic drinks.  Runners could choose between Revive, Gatorade and water.  There are hardly runs nowadays that give you such choices.  The gels came as advertised.  Having never used GU before I was apprehensive at first, but it went down well with a big gulp of water.  Kept the gel I would get at km32.  It always comes in handy to have extra gels.  In fact I would have two gels with me at the finishing line since I wasn't pushing myself.  Most of the way it was all about the heat.  The sponges helped but I didn't overdo it as I was wearing headphones.  My sweat was more than enough to mess things up.  How I wished I had used some sunblock.  There was a part of me that wanted to look more like a Kenyan or as things stand now, an Ethiopian.

A moo moo posed for me

Saw my blogger friend Hafiz Aizat whiz by.  Managed to take a blurry pic of him with those cute cat-like ears he was wearing.  Trust him to always run in style.  From km20 onwards the route was a challenge.  That's when the hills came into play to slow me down.  Plus the condition of the roads worsened a bit.  Those who put in lots of road runs should know what to expect.  Saw many a squished critter, some I could identify, others looked like something from another planet.  It came to the point where I was walking up the hills and running down them.  Met a fellow runner who was on his maiden marathon.  He hailed from Trengganu.  We chatted along the way.  His father had planned to run BIM but had cancelled because he wanted to vote.  Ahmad Hafiz would later slow down as he had issues with his legs.  I know he made it.  Hopefully his experience was a good one.  Am sure I will see him in many more races in the future.

Ahmad Hafiz on his maiden 42.195km

Will it ever end?

There were no sound of music in them hills.  It was pure slog work.  How does one brighten one's already sunburned day? Well all it took was to reach the water station at km29.  There was where we were all served with chilled coconuts.  Oh my goodness! Coconut water tasted so good.  I wish my tummy could take more.  Read somewhere that a lady drank three! Some people even spooned out the fleshy bits.  What a treat! This was even better than the banana two kilometers earlier, which was much bigger than the beauty I ate at PBIM.  At this point applied lots of Deep Heating Rub on my legs.  As I was wearing calf compression for the first time I didn't bother to peel it down.  Instead I did get that part sprayed by the uber helpful safety car people.  To think sixty were doing it for their friends and family running in the race, and all they got was a Brooks t-shirt and RM50. Way to go guys! In fact the support crew was 300-strong.  That ratio is simply unheard of nowadays!

A fellow runner quenching his thirst on coconut water

Farah called me by name and rushed to me with sponges

When will it ever end? My blisters began to bug me really bad after km32.  What do I blame this time? My shoes were well worn.  My new socks? My 96kg? It was at that point in time that I couldn't care anymore.  The island teased me with views of the ocean and tormented me with even more hills.  James had said that would be an ultra marathon at Langkawi, the date is yet to be finalised, but this one would be a real race, with it culminating at the top of a mountain.  Being a stranger to the island I would never know what I was up against.  However in retrospect that is a good thing.  If I had known how many hills I had to face, I may have chickened out.  That's when I envied those who ran in groups.  They would wait for their gang near the top.  Nothing beats that kind of support.  People were starting to pay the price with cramps and pains.  The pace slowed down completely.  Only a few brave ones challenged the hills.

Cola power!


  Wearing Julbo sunglasses

With all four of my hydration bottles on empty I flagged down a safety car and was given the bottle of water I asked for.  Sipped slowly on those precious 500ml.  The final straight was really that. Nearly a long never ending line.  Could see lots of homestays and roadside cafes.  Later came the resorts.  Shops selling eats and bikes for rent.  After running alone for hours, seeing the hive of activity and all those vehicles wasn't a pleasant sight.  The roads seem narrower.  More than ever I had to watch my step.  All I wanted to do was finish. I had long since past my PBIM personal best, so there was no question that I was going to speed up.  Some runners went past me and urge me on, but I just told them I had nothing left in my legs.  Having come this far unscathed, I wasn't about to injure myself.  Then at the final water station at km40 another surprise awaited me.  They were giving us cola.  I gulped down the isotonic drink only to have a sweet lady hand me cola.  Don't be greedy Yahya, said I to myself, so I just took one small paper cup.  It turned out another hotel housing the runners had set up their own station.  Thanks guys! Truly needed that caffeine boost.

Hafiz Aizat with dessert in hand at km42

On I went with the kms being eaten up ever so slowly.  The runners who had finished before me urged me on, while others on their final spurt raced past me.  I passed two runners with slight foot injuries.  Then there was that guy with the most horrible sounding cough.  Luckily he had a friend with him.  The more IOM banners I saw the more excited I was at the prospect of finishing the marathon.  Then went I reached the gate of the resort, lo and behold, people were serving ice cream and buffalo milk yogurt! Took the yogurt and ate it greedily.  There was still 195 meters to go.  The supporters urged me on.  So I summoned up a slow run to the finish line.  The lady there put the medal around my neck and someone gave me a can of imported Red Bull.  It was so nice not having to queue.  Found the nearest chair while waiting for them to search for my goody bag.  Got my finisher in the right size, which is always nice.

Mohan and a fresh smelling me

All Rasid Shariff and me

Lim Kian Huat and me (pic taken on Saturday)

My tired legs took me to the makanathon section.  It was more Gatorade for me.  Attacked the nasi lemak.  After that had several slices of deliciously sweet and chilled watermelon.  Quickly went back to my room.  Had to pack as need to catch my 3.20pm flight back to KL.  Showered and then made some strong coffee while I ate the packet of nasi lemak I had brought up with me.  With bag in tow I went looking for the others two hours later.  That's when I found Mohan again.  Sadly I again missed out of meeting Oliver, who had finished while I was upstairs.  Also missed out on meeting YK Foo for the first time.  That's the problem with running marathons at different speeds.  I did meet up with the amazing Lim Kian Huat, who had just ran the Boston Marathon.  He did 3:33:46, which is simply incredible considering his left knee gave way at km30.  He had to walk and jog the last 7km.  Even in a small marathon like this the big guns come.  It was such a thrill to hook up with them!

The Aftermath...


The journey home

Managed to hitch a ride with another talkative lady to the airport.  Runners like to talk a lot.  Maybe we do so to make up for all the silence during our runs.  Who knows.  I was happy.  I set out to do what I had planned at the beginning of the race.  Though I had planned to run IOM in 7.5 hours, I hit the finishing line at 7:05:40.  I didn't feel that I pushed myself.  If those pesky hills were taken away and there was less heat and I didn't have to run another 42.195km two weeks later, am sure I could have bettered my PBIM time.  Yup! It does sound like am making excuses for myself.  However one lady did mention that IOM was tougher than the Bali Marathon! Now that sounds scary I know.  As things stand, I had survived my longest run of the year yet.  My legs hadn't let me down. Of course I didn't push myself.  They may call this a boutique run.  There will be those who scoff at a race with no official winner or cut off time.  However this run gave many runners the first taste of what running a full marathon is all about.

The fact that the last runner finished at 11 hours 40 minutes and the organisers waited for her, with the safety car pacing her the whole way, should tell anyone all they need to know about this race. I so look forward to meeting her at the River Jungle Marathon on 1st September.  We are now friends on Facebook and I hope to follow her progress.  My flight was delayed.  No surprises there.  Ditto the landing in foul weather.  At LCCT had a Big Mac.  They were weighing carry-on luggage.  Mine was 8kg! So I put my shoes and t-shirt in a tote bag.  It reduced the bag weight to 6.2kg.  I was good to go! The lady never even gave me a second glance.  Bet she could guess my weight too! When I learned my flight to Kuching would be delayed I downed two Dunkin' Donuts and more caffeine.  There was no way I was going to fall asleep till I got home.  The rain came the moment we were in our seats.  Never a good sign.  A very bumpy ride home.  The only consolation was that the landing was super smooth.  I want that pilot again!

My reward...

Back view of my medal and finisher t-shirt

"Why does that man wear a t-shirt that says finisher 42.195km pa?"  Those are words I never want to hear a child ask his parent, or a wife ask her hubby.  It's the answer I dread.  Not many people outside the running fraternity know what those numbers stand for.  Just like only us runners know that any run over 42.195km is an ultra marathon.   To all my fellow full marathoners: wear your finisher t-shirts with pride.  You earned it! Not everyone can do what you have just done.  This is only the beginning of more adventures to come.  Who knows, we might meet in another race in the not to distant future.  I am old, so I might not remember all your names.  Don't be shy.  Come up to me.  I am always happy to make new friends.  The Island Ocean Marathon was a revelation for me in how a small group of people could organise a highly successful marathon.  We in Malaysia need more of such races.  We in Sarawak need even more! Races for people who just like to run.

Kudos to James Wong and all his crew.  I made friends with some of them.  The memories I bring home with me are precious.  This is one marathon I highly recommend to first time runners.  Don't aim too high at first.  Start slow.  Avoid those runs with a 6 hour cut off time.  In trying to meet that time you might injure yourself and notch up a DNF.  Work towards your goal with easier runs.  That's what runs like The Volkswagen Marathon Series are for.  Here there is no shame in finishing last.  We all know your name.  We all are proud of you.  We all also hope to see you back in another marathon when you are ready to meet the challenge.  Running is a journey that never ends.  For many of us it is our happy place.  That is why we keep on running in such big circles.  Seeing all those IOM finisher t-shirts at the airport made me smile.  One thousand of you are wearing them now.  Come next year who will be back for more blisters and sunburn?