For every runner, there is always one race in particular, out of the hundreds that take place in a year, that resounds the most with them.
I know of runners who have to be a part of the Standard Charted KL Marathon every year by hook or by crook; I know of runners who have to run at least the full marathon at the Putrajaya Night Marathon; maybe they have sentimental ties to those races, I’ll never know.
For me, it is without a doubt the Penang Bridge International Marathon that has a special place in my runner’s heart.
How about I’m a Penang girl born and bred, for starters? For us Penangites, the Penang Bridge is like our ultimate pride and joy. (Sorry KOMTAR, but you just haven’t been really that outstanding in recent decades). On top of that, it’s also the race at which I did my very first full marathon last year, so it’s something like my first love — for risk of sounding corny hehehe. You know what they say about firsts.
This year, I signed up as early as February for this race, especially when it was announced that we will be running on the second Penang Bridge. I thought it was highly apt — I had had the opportunity to experience the first bridge, now it’s time to take on the younger sister.
The whole running crew drove up North for this — that’s how big a deal this race was in the running community. Every newsletter and race announcement emails talked only about this second Penang Bridge run and expectations were soaring high for its maiden marathon.
It’s the longest bridge in Southeast Asia, yo. Every runner who participated will get their names keyed into the Guinness Book of Records Malaysia for being part of this.
Even Goku of DragonBall came for it! HAHAHAHAHAHA.
The atmosphere did not disappointment. It was like a full-fledged carnival when I arrived at 12.30am, approximately an hour before my flag off. Live music flooded the air and people swarmed around buskers who added to the excitement of the morning. Dance performances from the traditional Penang Boria and lion dance entertained friends and families of runners who were there for support.
There was even a 15-minute long fireworks display to mark the official launch of the marathon followed by quite the heart-moving speech by our beloved Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. His thank you was met with the loudest cheer and claps and whistling from the crowd.
As a Penangite, I couldn’t have been prouder to watch the unity of my statesmen.
One of the main reasons why I chose the PBIM to do my first full marathon last year was because the full marathon flags off at 1.30am. Even if you take 7 whole hours (the cut-off time) to finish, you would still come in latest 8.30am. You are hence protected from the hot sun during the bulk of your run, a big deciding factor in your performance.
Can you imagine having to endure the horrible 9-10am sun during your last 10km of the race when you’re already an inch away from dying from exhaustion as it is? No, thank you.
I was so caught up with the festivities that the one hour flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to gather in the starting pen and we were all counting down to flag-off.
I remember the clenching in my stomach. I remember hugging Khai Sim as if I might not see her again. I remember feeling the sandpaper at the back of my throat. I remember how cold and clammy my hands felt as I tried to untangle my earphones and select my favourite playlist. But most of all, I remember the loud, shrill, deafening buzzer that cuts through the air like a hot knife on butter.
We were off.
Happy face before I stare death in the eye again and claw my way back home from another gruelling 42.195km. Just typing out the numericals to that distance makes my knees weak T_T
A total of 60,000 runners signed up for this year’s Penang Bridge International Marathon this year, but out of that staggering figure, only 1,126 are full marathoners. Everytime I put on a bib that says ‘Full Marathon Women’s Open’ I can’t be any prouder to be a part of what I like to think are the elite category hehehe.
3 years ago, I was looking at Meng Leong and Michelle and the other Full Marathoners, thinking wow, how amazing it must feel to be able to finish 42 whole kilometres. It is every bit as rewarding, as amazing and as fulfilling as I envisioned it to be.
Having done it last year, I was most mentally prepared for what laid ahead for this journey. I paced myself the first half so I don’t completely tire myself out. I rehydrated at every water stop and accepted every piece of fruit, bread and power gel — I am not making the same mistake of thinking I didn’t need every bit of help I could get.
I was strong all the way until I hit kilometre 30 when I ran head first into the dreaded Wall.
My feet felt like they were on fire and my back felt like it was going to just break in 3 places — my lower back, that area in between my shoulder blades and the base of my neck. I couldn’t, for the life of me, feel my arms. Pins and needles have completely overtaken every finger and it just felt like I had ants crawling all over my lower and upper body. Totally gross.
I even cried when Yellowcard’s ‘Believe’ came on. I started thinking about the Ninja, my Walruses, my family, my dog, and felt completely overwhelmed with sadness at the smallest possibility that I may not see them again. I know it sounds ridiculous now but that’s exactly what happened.
Then I started crying which caused me to choke and and slow down because I couldn’t breathe hahahaha. Super lame.
Running a marathon really pushes your furthest boundary and stretches your thinnest limits. I was angry, I was devastated, I was suddenly happy when I saw the ’2km to go’ sign then I was back to feeling completely hopeless because I was in so much pain.
Running a marathon really reminds you what it feel like to be human.
I totally get it now why some people come in the finishing line crying, some bawling their eyes out with their faces all red and puffy. You just have so much emotions coursing through you that you can’t even begin to comprehend how to deal with it and your body does the first thing it learnt to do as early as when you were born — cry.
Once that is out of the way, then comes the elation, the pride, the satisfaction that you finished.
Mr Muscle Man Kuan Ming did his first full this year too and came in at record speed according to the Ninja who took this photo. But he also said something that left me in tears from laughing.
“I am never doing this again. At 10km, I was still feeling comfortable. At 21km I was beginning to worry. At 30km I wanted to cry.”
This veteran marathoner put me to complete shame. He looks about 70 and came in super strong while I looked like the human equivalent of a salted fish. He’s the definition of bad ass right there.
I came in at 6hrs 5 mins this year, shaving a whole 31 minutes of my last year’s timing and I couldn’t be happier.
The goal was to do it sub-6 hours. Close enough. I was too tired, in too much pain and too overwhelmed to even think anywhere further than when I get to get off my legs and sit down then.
I did it. I finished my second full marathon.
Despite a torn meniscus, Meng Leong still made it to finish his 10th full marathon in 5hrs 39 mins!! I told you this guy is a running machine. He had already collected his finisher T, medal and having a breakfast of mee goreng by the time I came in lol.
Jack finished his first full too! Just last year he told me he never wants to do the full because it’s a crazy distance. He has done countless halves, averaging at the lightning speed of 1hr 45mins or so (that’s crazy fast FYI) but refuses to try the full. This year he did it and I am so proud of him! Never say never! He finished it despite an ankle injury too. Are all my friends made of stone or what — they are are tough as nails!
Our running Goddess Michelle did the half because she was still recovering from winning one of the top 5 places or something at the Standard Charted KL Marathon just last month. Needless to say she swept 4th place here too and walked home with 2 trophies — one for international and one for the local category. My new nickname for her is The Flash.
Can’t end this post without a photo of the person who brought to you all these amazing photos — the best boyfriend and support system rolled into one – my Ninja! He and Kaartig are the standards to which I evaluate all boyfriends now. How many boyfriends do you know wait around for hours for their girlfriends to finish their marathons just to make sure they have everything they need when they come in the finishing line — usually a hot mess of sweat, potentially tears and, in rare cases, blood?
Marathons, when you break it down to the fundamentals, are not anything I would call remotely fun. A lot of the time it’s more pain, anguish, suffering and exhaustion rolled into one, times by 12.
But I guess that’s what makes it all worth it when you persevere through all that finish one. You are stronger than all the pain, you are more than all the exhaustion. You are a marathoner.
And I couldn’t be prouder to have done it again.