I never thought that I would run a full marathon barefoot when I started running 3 years ago. Well, I did it, and it was one of the best FM that I had run.
I registered late for this River Jungle Marathon 2011 because I wasn't sure I would have time to train for it. The organiser informed me that they would accept my late registration but I would not be guaranteed a finisher medal and T-shirt. It didn't bother me at all even if I come back empty-handed. I already set out to treat this as my training run for SCMS 2011. After all, I read about the good reviews about this run before and I thought it would be an experience for me.
The course was situated near Pekan Batu 18, Hulu Langat, about 30km from KL. Unlike the name suggests, it was not a trail or off-road run. In fact it is a road race on asphalt surface. But the route would take you to beautiful scenery of villages, jungle, hill, river, lake etc. It was unlike any FM that I ran before. All of them were in background of concrete jungle and busy roads.
I did a survey of the route one week earlier. In this course, there is this grueling 5%-gradient 3.5km uphill climb that has a nickname of "Spirit Breaker". I just had to see it myself. Boy, after I saw it, I knew I was up against the most challenging FM course (but also the most beautiful course for the scenery it offers). For many days to come, the uphill climb route was etched in my mind and I was trying to figure out how to tackle it.
Fast forward to the race day, I arrived early about 3:40am in the morning. The race director, James Wong was briefing his 60-person-strong volunteers. He gave clear instructions to the volunteers on what to do. From observing at the sideline, in my view, he has the leadership quality and the know-how to organise a run event.
I met some familiar faces (and many more unknown faces) in the race. I saw June (of Full Marathon Virgin fame) and Elaine Pan. Both were part of the volunteers or crew members. Thanks for the support. I also catched up with Karim who would run his 4th FM this year. Thanks for the cookies. [Smile]
It was announced that about 370 runners registered and there were many foreign runners, most of them were from Singapore. There were also maybe a dozen first-timers in the crowd.
Anyway, at the foot of the climb, I emptied a pack of GU gel and put it in my mouth. But I didn't swallow it immediately. I just put it in my mouth and take it in bit by bit, little by little. Why? I figured this action would help me to control my heart rate and prevent it (heart rate) to skyrocket. Thus, I would not huff and puff. The result? I could maintain a pace between 6:30min/km to 7:30min/km all the way without stopping or walking. The feel good factor came when I overtook a runner and then a cyclist who was off his bike and pushing it. From then on, I knew I had a good chance to dip below 4 hours.
Another tip that I can share here was that instead of let the hill broke my spirit, I "broke" the hill. By that, I meant that I ran the grueling 3.5km uphill as smaller sections. For example, if I could only see the road until the winding turn, then I would just focus to run to that. Then I would target the next section of uphill, and the next. Before long, I reached the top of the climb.
At top of the hill, there was a water station and this was the shot by Mahizzan. It was breaking dawn then, and not breaking spirit.
Going downhill was actually not good section for me because of the rough road surface and the impact to the barefoot soles and knees. I didn't gain back much time in the downhill section. In fact, I was overtaken by a runner, who called out at me as "barefoot runner".
At end of the downhill section, the road condition became even worse. I had to slow down to minimise the pain. Yes, the pain. It was painful when I stepped on sharp pebble stones and rough road surfaces. A foreign runner, (by the name of Scott) overtook me before the U-turn at km 24.3 mark and asked me how I, my feet rather, were doing. (Scott, if you are reading this, please drop a comment here to keep in touch). This section of the course was the most beautiful with the scenery of the Semenyih Dam Reservoir with the backdrop of green mountains and blue sky.
After the U-turn, I saw Rich Chai on the opposite direction, perhaps 1 km behind. I could sense that he was also facing the wrath of the rough road and sharp stones. Then Daniel Tan (Raja Bukit, or King of Mountain, aka PM3) gained on me and slowly overtook me by km 29. I knew he gained a lot of time on the hill as he is a damn good hill runner.
The road surface was becoming worse and worse. I could match Daniel's pace only for a couple of kms and then just had to run my own pace. The last 12 km I stopped a few times, because of small sharp pebble stones kind of stucked in my soles. I just had to stop to remove the stones.
By now, I saw many cyclists riding from opposite direction. Apparently, this route is also popular among cyclists. Most cyclists waved at me and a large group of riders cheered me on. Thanks!
In the last few kms, I managed to pick up my pace a little bit and overtook the runner who overtook me earlier at the downhill section.
At the finish, I was overwhelmed by emotion. It was a painful, painful run. But I had done it! My maiden barefoot FM. All the way, 42km, without anything between my soles and the road. I stopped my timer at 3:57:18. Some technical data from my Garmin shown below.
The chart at the centre is the elevation chart of the route. You can see that the gain of elevation and the gradient of the uphill climb. Crazy.
I had a couple of bananas and some isotonic drinks, then some stretching . I chatted with the some volunteers, and Daniel (who finished about 2 minutes ahead of me) and also Andrew Loh, the first to finish in 3:40:xx. Scott finished third, I was forth. (There were no official results as this was not a competitive run.) Some of them were amazed and jokingly asked if I had a iron plate under my soles. [Laugh]
After that, I quickly took out my camera and started shooting photos for the runners maybe about 50-100m from the finish. I had promised that I would support the runners for this event. I believed I took photos for all the runners (published on my Facebook RJM 2011 photo album) who finished the race except those finished earlier than 4:13:xx.
During my photo-shooting, I noticed some runners struggling to finish the race. Some were walking very slowly, and a few were limping. I recalled there were many first-timers in this FM (declared during briefing before the race). I really hoped no one was seriously injured because of the grueling route. And you will run your second, third and subsequent FMs in the future, with more training hopefully.
I snapped photos for runners even during the 1 hour downpour and waited until the last runner in. Uncle Sonny Ng was the "sweeper" runner and ensure last runner came in.
Overall, the organiser had done very well in this event. Bravos to all the volunteers for the support. Thank you to the sponsors. This was an event by the runners, for the runners. And if you love running, you would love to run the River Jungle Marathon.
Until the next race, do train hard and stay healthy.