Monday, 2 September 2013

River Jungle Marathon 2013

The Marathon Series

Tough hilly run

Fourth Marathon

My legs were still feeling sore from exertions at the Borneo International Marathon when my feet touched ground in Kuala Lumpur. A week after running my third full marathon I would be running my fourth full marathon.  Please don't call me crazy.  People who spend their lives as armchair quarterbacks channel surfing will never understand what running long is all about.  We are a different breed.  We push the boundaries and go beyond what 'normal people' do.  To us their lives are boringly mundane.  Training for a marathon is no joke.  However the mental aspects are even worst.  The longer it takes someone to run it the more mental strength comes into play.  If your mind isn't strong then 42.195km can be a very long run indeed.  Jamie Pang once called The River Jungle Marathon the toughest marathon in Malaysia. That's enough to scare anyone attempting it for the first time. However for me it meant completing the second run in The Marathon Series.

RJM route

RJM elevation

The Island Ocean Marathon showed me how much fun running a full marathon could be like.  I made so many new friends.  So of course I was looking forward to RJM.  Unfortunately there had been landslides at Hulu Langat and the route had to be changed.  Instead of one big loop there would be two u-turns.  So the slow runners would see the fast ones coming back at them.  In many cases it could be tough on the body and spirit.  However at RJM everyone seemed to be running on happy juice, so it was always a joy to meet up with familiar faces and stop for photos.  Never in a full marathon have I taken so much time out to pose for photos.  So for me running a fast time in RJM is an impossibility.  RJM is about enjoying oneself.  It's about bringing back the joy of running for those who have run one too many marathons.  For the marathon virgins it is about introducing them to the joys of running long.  Everyone was running happy.  In no marathon before this have I seen so many happy faces!

The Three Virgins: Bee Choo, William and Nasa

Getting to Hulu Langat is a tough ask for those staying in the city.  Thankfully my friend Mohan Marathon solved this by renting a van.  We also had Winnie Wong in another car. GPS was our friend and she worked like a charm.  The Singaporeans had come to run.  In our group were three full marathon virgins:Nasa Zaidul, William Woo and Low Bee Choo. MBF had trained really hard for her first full marathon unbeknownst to her friends. She had never run more than 10km in any official race.  In fact she skipped running a half marathon to go for 42.195km.  I did the very same thing when I jumped from 5km to the full marathon.  It can be done.  All it takes is enough training.  What a better way to run your first full marathon than to run one that has no cut off time.  Yes I know this is a so-called boutique marathon.  However tell that to anyone who has run The Marathon Series and they will most probably laugh at you.  IOM was very hard because of the heat and the hills.  RJM has even higher hills. It reminded me of my climbs up Serapi Mountain in Kuching.

This would be the first time I was running a full marathon without music.  I decided to do so because I was running with MBF.  She needed all the support and encouragement I could give.  Besides I wanted to soak in the sounds along the route.  It worked like a charm for me.  There is no guarantee that this will work in a big marathon like SCKLM or PBIM though.  Those feel so impersonal compared to IOM or RJM where almost everyone is a familiar face.  Yes more people know me now because of my blogging.  I get people asking whether I am that 'fat old man running'.  Those are the times I feel glad that I still have a tummy. It's a way to stick out in a marathon of 1,200 runners I guess.  The familiar faces from BIM were there. Mohan of course runs nearly every marathon in the region.  There was Uncle Oliver Ker.  Tey Eng Liong would be there with his trusty cameras.  There was so much snapping.  Were we running or entering a photo shoot? When race director james Wong gave his safety talk there was so much chatting going on too.

Uncle Oliver, Nasa Zaidul and me
Nasa and Zeana Marie Benjamin
James Wong briefing the runners
Tey Eng Tiong caught on camera
Good to go

The race started with a bang at 5am.  There was a fireworks display and we were off.  Yes it was dark.  So dark in fact that many of us were running with headlamps and army grade glow sticks.  Hulu Langat Pekan Batu 18 is a village road.  It is narrow with a lots of trees.  The street lights are few and far apart.  Luckily the road was in very good condition.  Many runners ran in groups.  The musky smells of over-ripe fruits filled the air. We also heard the azan or call to prayer from the local suraus along the way.  The roads were virtually devoid of traffic.  Surprisingly there were people sitting around outside closed coffee shops chatting away.  Am sure our presence much have surprised them.  Yes we be crazy people.  Some of us even looked the part. Was wearing my 2XU compression shorts for the first time to go with my 2XU calf compression.  My race cap, running top and socks were also 2XU. Never felt so 2XU-ified.  MBF was wearing her 2XU compression capris and 2XU calf compression. Her race cap and running top were 2XU too.

Nasa with the cheerleading crew
How high are we now?
An all too familiar sight
Hafiz Aizat and me meeting up again on another run
The characters we meet along the run
Ultra runner Teng Lew and me at the first u-turn
The Golden Runner returns
Nasa with Yimei the Shark Queen

MBF tried to stick to her Jeff Galloway running technique.  However in extreme darkness and in hilly conditions it was hard to keep it up but she tried her best as long as she could.  She did really fine until the cross-roads at km11.  Then we headed left towards our first u-turn at km16.  Our reward was a GU energy gel at km17.  Now I can honestly say a GU gel goes down much easier than a Power Gel.  The yucky caffiene taste I often have to endure is not noticeable at all.  Saw many a runner running back so fast.  How do they do it? On the way back I realised that they just powered down the declines.  That's what we did too.  Galloway had to wait another day.  Going downhill we would run.  Of course along this route the scenery was really beautiful.  Surrounded by mist it was like we were running in the clouds most of the time.  Where possible we tried to capture the beautiful surroundings digitally. Km21 saw us running towards the second u-turn.  It was either uplifting or disheartening running past and seeing the km30 marker on the other side of the road. The best part of about the u-turns is that the slower runners could meet up with the faster runners during the actual run.

At km23 it felt like we were at a fruit station.  We knew of its existence from many a runner who were running back.  Over and over again they were telling us of durians.  By the time we reached the fruit station the durians were gone.  Who in their right mind would consume durians during a marathon? Apparently there were many.  Instead the rest of us settled for langsat, mangosteens, wild rambutans, rambutans and longans.  I had as many longans as I could because it was so sweet.  Gulped down lots of Gatorade too.  They were serving my favourite flavour -grapefruit! Then it was off to the u-turn and a banana at km26.  Talk about keeping my tummy happy.  What next? A burger stall? Too much imaginings on my part. At km 29km was the coconut station.  It was chilled coconut. They gave us a straw to suck out the sweet water and also a spoon to scoop out the fleshy bits inside.  A couple of runners were guilty of having more than one.  How can we blame them? One even chose to lie down on all the used coconuts...

2XU super model
Chasing the flying monkey
Beware of landslides when taking a dump
Nasa meets up with Jennifer Kinipela
Fruit market time!
All you can eat fruits
Nasa with the 72 years young Teresa Goh
Me with the oldest runner - 77 years strong
Mohan finds true love
Mohan with the goody bag lady
10km to go
Only two more km to go

How many runners run towards the km30 feeling totally satisfied? I know I did.  So too did MBF.  To run RJM is to forget the kms but experience how much fun it can be when people go all out to make it fun.  There were the cheerleaders supporting us the whole way too.  The support cars would drive slowly by.  It was so easy to get our sore muscles sprayed too. I was not worried when my hydration bottles were running on empty since I knew I could get whatever I wanted at the next station.  Another gel waited for us at km32.  MBF surprisingly missed hers so I gave mine to her.  Like in BIM I didn't feel the need to take my 2nd Surge gels.  To think both my 2nd Surge gels had survived two full marathons...  What I needed though was a cold drink with caffeine boost.  It was BIM all over again.  The roadside shop had Mountain Dew in Pitch Black flavour - another of my favourites.  The 500ml bottle would suffice.  Forget Kopi Jantan, stick with the dew, it helps power me on. I also did manage to have a nice chat with the kakak there.

After km32 it was getting really hot and the traffic was starting to pick up.  We decided to run facing the on-coming cars.  My legs felt fine. There was none of the heaviness from BIM.  I know, I know I wasn't straining, and I knew I would be running a slow time.  This run was for MBF to complete her first full marathon.  It was her day and I had promised to be with her from start to finish.  This was the same woman who was worried she would finish last.  When she saw the last group of runners after we made our u-turn she must have breathed a sigh of relief.  And yes the safety car was behind them the whole way.  The two ladies would later come in 10 hours 15 minutes. By the way, the lady who came last in IOM managed to finish in 9 hours this time around. That's a tremendous improvement! We all know your name and are friends too. The water stations at km35, 38 and 40 were all about ice. Used ice cubes to cool my neck and face down.  Am not really a sponge person you see.  The last couple of kms were tough because it was getting hotter and hotter.  So it was a big relief to finish.  Yes my time was a very slow 7:10. It was even worse than what I had done at IOM. What mattered was that MBF had done her first full marathon.

Nasa completes her first FM. YK Foo griining at left
Me, Nasa and YK Foo
Promoting our marathon in Kuching next year

At the finisher's tent gulped down a whole bottle of Gatorade.  Then cowed out on nasi lemak and mee hoon goreng (fried vermicelli noodes). I am shameless after completing 42.195km.  I will eat and eat as I know that my body needs it.  Later would take 500mg of Vitamin C and two time release painkillers for my muscle and joint relief.  My legs still felt good at the very end. So there is no question that I can run with only a week's rest.  Next weekend am running two 8km runs.  There's no worries there. If I can do RJM I can run any short run.  The mind knows now what the body can do.  If big numbers don't scare me then small numbers only make me smile.  Was proud to unfurl the Kuching Marathon Association banner at the finish line.  Who doesn't want to run a marathon in Kuching?  It's such a beautiful city with so much to offer the runner cum tourist.  Am so looking forward to the time when my friends and fellow runners can share in the joy of participating in a full marathon in my own hometown.

Nasa Zaidul may appear small next to me.  I am after all the fat old man running. However she has a big heart and never backs down from anything she does.  This is one determined lady.  Here she showed that impossible is nothing to her.  Not many women in Kuching have run 42.195km.  Of course her next goal is to run an officially timed full marathon race.  Hopefully that will happen some time next year.  A run with a 7-hour cut-off time would be ideal for her.  It's all a question about building one's confidence. After that any run will seem easy.  Am glad she was introduced to the joys of marathon running at the River Jungle Marathon. In fact after the success of Island Ocean Marathon, many more people wanted to sign up for RJM, and The Marathon Shop opened up registration for even more runners.  Those who had initially registered for both were rewarded with an additional finisher t-shirt.  In fact only 500 men and 195 women went home with the bonus Finisher! So wear it with pride guys. Where else does that sort of thing happen? So I would be surprised come next year many more people will want to join these marathons.

I am also glad that I  took the trouble to locate The Marathon Shop.  Met those people behind the runs. I am an impatient man yes but I will wait a year more for the ultra they promised.  Right now I will stick to running marathons even if my friends are persuading me to run longer.  It's hard when I am not a fast runner.  Yes I know I can finish the run, but the big question is whether I will meet the cut-off or not.  When a marathon has a 6-hour cut off it puts a lot of pressure on me in my runs.  In fact it sucks away a bit of the fun element for me.  The clock will always be ticking in my hand.  Yes a pace-band does help.  I will use it again in my future runs.  As of today am undecided where I will run long next, even if I have already registered for two more full marathons.  As for now I will savour my two long runs in one week.  To date it is my biggest accomplishment.  Now I know how the regular runners feel like.  It's not hard if you do your training.  Just know your body's limits and stick to your game plan.  I run to run another day.  Happy running everyone!

My swag
My dad's favourite pic of me running
Now the two medals in the series become one



  1. A very interesting write-up. I missed signing up in time this year and hopefully I'll make the sign up next year. It looks like a not to be missed event. Congrats on your completion.

  2. So inspiring. Can't wait to finally do it next year as I had to sit this year one's out due to injury. :(

    And Kuching Marathon sounds interesting! :)