Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2013 - Report

Revisiting Penang's Bridge

Where the journey began 

5th Full Marathon of the Year

Last year I lost my full marathon virginity on the Penang Bridge. In retrospect it was the craziest thing I ever did in all my 49 years on planet Earth. The running gods must have been laughing at me. That fat old man thinks he can run? This fat old man had trained bloody hard for Penang. I had never run competitively on the road beyond 5km before that. I had trained to run up to 32km for Penang though. My best pair of Asics had looked like it had gone through the washing machine one time to many. Yet it was my lucky pair so I ran with it and earned my purple hearts for two bloodied and later dead toenails. Learned the hard way what happens after 42.195kms to my crown jewels. Never heard of compression shorts in my life. Just went for it. Didn't even know much about nutrition but knew I had to take gels and hydration salts. That was enough to save me from the dreaded cramps. Learned about Deep Heating Rub along the way. It completely kept me going. Learned to stay away from the pesky ice cubes. Even those ice sponges can be hazardous to step on.

PBIM 2012 

Never expected to come home in 6:27. Proudest moment of my life! Then had to queue for the medal and finisher t-shirt. Thought my legs would never hold up. That was beyond cruel guys. Lost my friends since I had not brought my mobile phone with me. Then found them or more like they found me looking all zombified. We took the obligatory pics. The main highlights for me was meeting Uncle Oliver Ker for the first time while on the run and shaking his hand. This year I would meet him again and we shook hands like we did last year. This time he realised I was much quicker and praised me for it. Trust Uncle Oliver to have such an awesome memory for his 72 years. What am I but a mere kid next to him? Heard and then saw Mohan Marathon for the first time last year. Wondered who that insane person was. Now we are best buddies so I dare say the truth. Don't think the man has a bad bone in his body. He is the happiest runner out there. The only person I know who can out grin him is of course YK Foo. That's another runner of insane mental fortitude. What's more like Mohan, he is three years older than me. Missed Mohan at this year's PBIM.

I like my number...

This year I was more prepared for the dreaded Penang Bridge. I knew what to expect. We were supposed to run the new bridge but alas because of a ramp falling down it was back to the old bridge for safety's sake. My mind knew what to expect. My body had been put to the test - five marathons in the bag. I had gone nuts and run two full marathons in 8 days just so that I could be like my hero Mohan and get myself that Marathon Maniac jersey. It was an honour to become Maniac #7614. I urged my friend and fellow blogger Hafiz Aizat Yanan to do the same and now he is Maniac #7618. The two newest Maniacs in Malaysia. Right now I am just a beginner in the running scheme of things. Have met runners who have wowed me with their achievements. I cannot and never aspire to scale the heights that they have. Just knowing that I am running in their company is enough to inspire me. I will never have the leg speed. However I can go on forever if I have too. What has always been paramount for me is that I enjoy the run.

Me with Kuching runners and KMA officials at the airport

Yes it is true I would like to still be running when I am Uncle Oliver's age. I know I will never run as much as Mohan. Like Tey Eng Tiong, the only man I know who runs with not one, but two cameras, one big ass one, and another more compact one, I will only run long a certain amount of times a year and then stop. I must know my limits. As for this year I did go overboard by attempting five full marathons in between my other 'shorter' runs. Of course the price was paid. My right foot began hurting. People can give it a fancy name. I just call it nerves that hurt. It was always there. Going into PBIM I was really worried. The pain meant it was harder to train. So unlike last year I was under-trained instead of being over-trained. Only my closest friends knew how bad my condition was. Sadly I had to resort to 3 kinds of medication for Penang. One was to kill the pain. Have taken similar stuff years back when both my knees troubled me. Hate them. However for me it was the last resort. There was no way I was going to quit on that bridge. 

Revisting an old friend

People tell me PBIM is a boring run. I tell them I love Penang. I love the people there. I love the history of the place. I love the buildings in Georgetown. I cannot get enough of Penang. If I lived nearer I would come to Penang to run in that four run series they are having. I can remember the taste of their laksa and chendol from last year. Even the durian coffee from there is close  to my heart. So of course the first thing we did when we landed in Penang was go eat. Only then did we get our race pack. Was pleasantly surprised at how extra friendly the staff at the pick up counter were. Needed help getting two of my friend's bibs and they found out for me what I needed. In a roundabout way was able to get their bibs thanks to Nadia Ali. Also gave me a good reason to go to Komtar and try the nicest chendol and popia dipped in laksa gravy ever. Met Karen Geh, the woman who never seems to tire, and has legs that men should fight wars over. She was trying to get people to sign up for her Newton Challeng in Penang next year. Unfortunately I wouldn't be able to make it.

Nasa Zaidul, Karen Geh and me

Then it was off to Georgetown by bus. First time I travelled by bus there. It's hard to stand in a bus while carrying a knapsack and bag. Suffice to say would later pay the price when my right hip started to hurt since I was compensating for my injured right foot. Remember I wasn't on medication. Was saving it for the run, even though I had a week's supply on me. I am not a pill junkie. My old injuries weaned me of such things. The bus driver dropped us off where too early thinking we wanted to head to the jetty instead of the bus terminal. So we had to walk carrying and dragging our luggage. There goes my legs. Of course we would go on to do even more walking but that's par for the course in a heritage city. Stayed next door to Little India. So no guesses on the type of food I would be eating there. Brought my trusty camera with me and just went snap crazy. If I liked it I digitally immortalised it. What's more there was so much to like all around me. Distance was never a problem. Besides all that walking was good for me, though it did look painful, and it actually was.

I actually ran up  those stairs earlier

Our friends from Kota Kinabalu came in later on Friday. They would be running 10km for the smaller medal. I kid you not. Refer to the pic below. The 10km medal this year is actually smaller than the HM and FM medal. The reasoning could be there are just far too many runners running that distance - 19,000. Now that's a lot of metal. Yes we made the Guinness Record Books for having 47,000 people on a bridge run. For something called a marathon only 4,700 ran the actual distance. As for the 21km, 13,300 runners braved it. That meant 10,000 souls did the fun run. More on those Wiley E. Coyotes later. MBF was hurting too. Made it a point to play doctor and slip her a painkiller. Like me, there was no way she was going to quit. We were too insanely determined peas in a pod. She was graduating from 10km to her second HM. Having one FM in the bag, distance was never a problem for her, but like me, speed was. I knew for certain I could make the cut off even when injured. MBF wasn't so sure.

Saturday cometh

The plan was always to stop eating by 2pm. Needed that twelve-hour window to make sure I didn't use those portable toilets for anything but pee. Tell that to someone who absolutely goes gaga over Penang food. However I did just that. I stopped eating at the designated time. From that you can tell how much those portable toilets scare me. I would rather pee on the grass than in them, which I usually do at least once a race. Of course I yet again did the thing I said I wouldn't do - walk all around to visit the tourist spots and take pics. Did in the end get back to the hotel by three-something. Slept because of sheer tiredness. Then some time in the evening was awoken by a extremely loud talking next door. It was hard to sleep after that. However I did manage to get another hour's worth of shut-eye.  Woke up to rain. All the indicators had shown that the sky would fall on us runners that morning. So braved the rain to the shuttle at the bus terminal at 11.30pm.

Miranda and I before the start

Wore the official run top, knowing full well it would get wet on the journey to Queensbay Mall. It did. The shuttle was awesomely efficient. Didn't like the walk from the shuttle drop-off point to the race site.  Though I was wearing slippers it was still messy.Would later dry up my feet at the tent area and change into my race top which was the Marathon Maniacs singlet. Met up with Dayangku Miranda from Sabah. Gave her her bib. She had arrived late. Because of the rain I decided not to use music or bring my camera. Just didn't want to risk it. Besides I already had my mobile phone with me. Ate what I could of my power bar and also sipped on my energy drink. In fact took my sweet time to get to the starting area. There I met up with Willie Liew and some of the gang from Kuching. They were all much faster runners than me so this would be the only time I would be seeing them. Had promised to run with Cynthia Andrews who I had first met and run with at this year's Borneo International Marathon. This would be her third FM and she was looking to PB.

A running we go

Off we went at 2am. I just took my sweet time since I knew what to expect. The road was so crowded with runners. There were times it was difficult to even run, so we just kind of shuffled along. Cynthia's sister Claire was there too. At times I was flanked by both of them. A sort of Andrew sisters sandwich. To the first check point we went. I started slow but still thought I could follow my 5:45 pace band. Though there was a big part of me that knew I was not well trained and also harbouring injuries. Cynthia was always nearby, lost in her music. That in itself was comforting. Hafiz was easy to spot. I knew he had been unwell. This time he looked serious. He had his game face on. We chatted. More like I chatted and he ran on. When we arrived at the bridge the rain came. It wasn't heavy. Tried my best to keep to the dry spots near the center divider. Just didn't want my shoes getting wetter than necessary. Though I was wearing brand new socks I will still afraid of injuries to my delicate feet. Am happy to report that my feet were 100% blister free and all my toenails were fine.

It was only after the second time check going back to the toll that I knew I didn't have it in me to maintain my pace. My right knee started hurting a bit. Please let it be known that I am really paranoid of any sort of knee pain, having endured a lot of knee problems in the past. So I slowed down and tried to walk it off. Cynthia would try to urge me on by calling my name. I didn't see the 6:00 pacer balloons yet so was not that worried. In fact I would keep them behind me longer than I thought possible. By km25 I knew I was going to struggle to reach home in six hours. What surprise me along the route was the lack of isotonic drinks or 100 Plus. Water was in abundance. My hydration bottles were filled with cola flavoured Nuun. I sipped sparingly from them. The buns at the toll area I didn't dare take. If it were Twiggies that would have been a different story. At some point along the bridge Hafiz passed me on the way to his PB. Then I lost sight sight of Cynthia. That didn't phase me out as I was happy if I could finish better than last year's 6:27.

The slower runner sees what many at the front never see. For one thing I will always run with water bottles having learned my lesson the hard way in a couple of races. With all my gels and chews I am bogged down by even more weight. However I need that fuel. Am always happy to reach the island and head towards Georgetown. That meant two things for me - a gel station and a banana station. That was what I wanted and needed. Was surprised that one water station had run out of water. Drank up what was left of my Nunn and filled both bottles to the brim with water at the next station. Just couldn't take the risk of more stations without water. The firemen got into the act by spraying us with a fine mist of water. That's always welcomed by everyone. Used a small plastic bag filled with ice cubes to cool myself down. Kept it on my head for the longest time. I never use ice on my legs. It doesn't do me any good. Ice is reserved for my neck and head. Was surprised to see so may slower runners than me. 

The final stretch

At KM33 it was a banana and another time check. The banana was a good as last year. Took off my pace band as it was useless now. Saw quite a few victim of cramps. Was finding it harder and harder to keep the 6:00 pacers behind me. My knee wasn't acting up but I was just too under-trained. Saw a guy lying on the road. Turned out he was posing for a photo! The things youngsters do nowadays. The final 9km is not as hard as many people would expect it. The only trouble comes if you want to run it towards the end when the fun runners join the pact. They are full of energy. Several of them don't seem to want to let this old uncle through. My legs are screaming by then and there they go bouncing about like bunnies in heat. I so hate the sight of those fresh legs. Trying to pass them is like going through an obstacle cause. I have only eyes for what is ahead of me. Those behind me come from every possible angle. Luckily I am big otherwise I would have been jostled left and right. This happened last year too.

Like last year I always seem to end next to someone

Of course when I had to turn left to the final roundabout towards the homestretch the Mo Farah wanabes had disappeared. This was the route for the full and half marathon finishers. No fun run hares were around. Ran as strong as I could but my right foot was starting to hurt no thanks to the fact that the painkillers were wearing out. It had done it's job by bringing me towards the finish line.  The rest was up to me. I trudged on. Heard people call my name. Saw a pretty lady who knew who I was. All I can say is many thanks for reading my blog. It was a bit crowded towards the finish line with people slowing down for pics. Thankfully I was slow enough that they managed to take a good pic of me. MBF even took a very short video clip of the fat old man running. Yes nothing beats the sound of female voices cheering me on to the finish line. I can live with those sounds at every marathon to come. Pom pom girls would be even better. Anything to make me finish on my feet. Yes I admit my time amazed me. I thought I had done far worse.

After the run

What surprised me in a wonderful way at the finish line was how I didn't have to queue up for my t-shirt and medal. This time around I could get the 2XL finisher t-shirt I wanted. They even chased after me to hand me my lucky draw ticket. It looks like I have to wait another year to win a car here. Took the food they offered but didn't eat it. Instead drank two cups of Milo. Had trouble finding my gang. In fact met up with Cynthia (who had gotten her PB) and her sister first. Then MBF found me and handed me my isotonic drink. Wanted cola but that sufficed. Was later to learn that Gila Bola Karim (another Marathon Maniac) was around. Pity we were all unable to pose for a group pic. All I wanted to do was sit after that and munch on some recovery bars. Our gang from Sabah, Jason Ku and his wife Donna, and their friend Erin, were especially excited to have run at PBIM. Jason had previously run 10km at BIM. Here he was accompanying his wife on her first international class run, so they both ran 10km. Erin though took the biggest risk going straight to 21km.

Never met up with any of the Kuching gang after the run because I was the slowest finisher in the group. I did see the photos they took. They look a happy bunch with our Philip Chua managing the fastest time among them all at 4:10:51. I want to know what hydration he drinks before a race to ignite the running fire in him. Our largest group of runners from Kuching were from the Hornbill Pacesetters Running Club. They were entertained by Manson Chew and his group from Desa Petaling Runners. From the pics I saw it looked like they really had a good time eating. As for me I did finally get to try authentic nasi kandar. Pity it happened in the night, so my tummy had not much space, after the whole day makanathoning. Had the pleasure of meeting up with Maggie Kim, who finished 5th among Malaysian women in the full marathon. I tip my running cap to her for coming back from knee surgery and doing so well. It shows that for us runners impossible continues to be nothing. That's the sort of spirit that keeps us running. Run happy always everyone and hope to catch up with you in another run soon.

Uncle Oliver with Aeda Fateema Fuzy
Gila Bola Karim, aka Maniac #5095
Thuan Lin Goh, aka Maniac #7489
Hafiz, aka Maniac #7618
Philip Chua
Cynthia poses with a Marathon Maniac
Me, Ran Kumar, Jason, Nasa, Donna and Erin
Notice that the 10km medal is smaller this year
No elevator after run, no problem
Having nasi kandar beratur 
Met Maggie Kim Hong Yeo at the airport


  1. Love your blog. Keep it up. I'm 50 next year and attempting my first FM @ PBIM14. Hope to see you there.

  2. Am happy to hear that you are going for your first FM. Just make sure you train well for it. Your mental strength is very important too. I do plan to run at PBIM next year. Have already booked plane tickets. Do keep in touch so that I can follow your progress.