Monday, November 19, 2012

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2012 - Running the "old" bridge for the last time

Crossing the finishing line (photo courtesy of PBIM 2012)

As I was running down the nicely-laid blue-carpet finishing straight, I guessed I was in Top 15 position for Men's Veteran. As for how well did I do, I wasn't sure untill I crossed the finishing line.

I came in to this PBIM 2012 with the nostalgia of my previous Full Marathon here in 2009. It was a run of my life then. The first time I broke sub-4 timing and I did it quite unexpectedly. It was only my second FM then after finished my first in a time of 4:40.

Having missed this event last year due to family commitment, I was not going to miss this again as this would be the last time PBIM would be ran on this bridge. My wife also took part in only her fourth half marathon.

Having arrived early on Thursday, the race pack collection was a breeze for me. The event this year saw around 34,500 registered participants. Actual number of runners on race day could be lower, but still this would make this event the biggest turnout marathon event in Malaysia.

I arrived just before midnight. The event venue was already full of people. Outdoor carpark already 60% full and some people already parked at road side. Arrive early at the race venue was very important to avoid the stress of finding parking or traffic jam.

With some fellow barefoot runners before the race. Kahwai, me, Sarah,Jason, Michael.(photo courtesy Kahwai & Jason)

As there was still time before the race start, I managed to meet up with some runner friends, some of them are barefoot runners doing their maiden full marathon. There were quite a number of other barefoot runners in various categories this year. I estimated around 16. It seemed trivial and negligible number if compared to normal shod runners, but it was quite a crowd with the barefoot runners get together to meet up and take group photo session. I was happy to meet so many barefoot runners, some for the first time here.

More barefoot runners before the race.(photo courtesy Kahwai & Jason)

The race started on time for the full marathon at 2:00am. The weather condition was clear, warm and humid. It had not rained since I arrived in Penang. Before the race started, I could see the shining stars in the clear sky, signalling a hot race ahead.

I was following the 3:30 pacer from the start. Having trained for the 3:30 target, I decided to give it a go. Although that was my target, I approached the race with "expect nothing, prepare for everything" kind of mentality. Race preparation on the training part, I had already done and nothing much I could do to change that. So I just need to prepare for potential conditions during the race. If I fell short of my target, I won't feel bad as long as I had prepared and run the best that I can.

The first 2 kms was at around 4:30/km pace, so I decided to slow down and not follow the pacer closely. I knew that pace would not last me for long. The split at the 4km U-turn was 18:53. It was a bit fast pace than I have expected. From there, the runners were heading towards the bridge.

I stayed on the white lines most of the time in this race as some parts of the course was really roughly or with pebbles. However, the white line bridge was not all smooth. There were some small little "humps" at every 10m interval.

On the bridge, there wasn't much breeze. The race was getting warmer from then on. The split time for me at 10km was 49:04.

At the next water stop, the volunteers were giving out water in their original plastic bottle. Although in normal circumstances, I would not like it, but it was a good thing to have. I grabbed the bottle and poured the water on my head and body to cool down. I was still carrying the bottle along the section of the bridge until the next water station where a new bottle is available. For the remainder of the race, I was cooling myself by doing the same,

The U-turn near the mainland toll booth was about 19km mark. After the U-turn, I moved ahead of the 3:30 pacer. He was slowing down and showing sign of trouble. So I left with no one to pace with and had to rely on myself for the rest of the race.

Coming back to the island on the bridge was a surprise as I started to overtake many fast runners who started strongly. It looked like the warm weather could have affected them. Having trained with a plastic water bottle in my hand while running was a good thing. I have learnt to hold it lightly without spilling the water and putting too much strain on my arms.

Then came the dreaded section of going towards Georgetown after the bridge section. This part of the course was mentally-draining. It was uninteresting section with 3 flyovers to tackle (6 in total for the return). This section also was the roughest for the barefoot runners. However, I was able to keep my pace until 33km U-turn point.

Three kms after the U-turn (~36km mark), my pace began to drop. There was no more water bottle available for me and the water stations seems to be too far apart. My body was heated up and my arms were getting numb. This was a sign of running out of fuel or an inflection point for me normally toward the end of the FM.

At around 37km mark, I met up with the half marathoners who were blocking the full marathoners path. It was not easy to thread my way through these runners. This time, I did it more patiently but it didn't help me to get back on target pace.

I could guess I was off the 3:30 target finish time since I started slowing down. With the sea of half marathoners in front of me, the job was not getting easier. I just did the best that I could and was really happy to see the last 1km sign.

Boy, the last 1km still lasted forever for me. I knew the course quite well, but still, the last 1 km seemed to last a lifetime. As I was running down the nicely-laid blue-carpet finishing straight, I guessed I was in Top 15 position for Men's Veteran. Then, upon finishing the race with a time of 3:34:24, I was given a winners' tag of 7th placing, enough to get a trophy and my first cash prize, for my best ever finish in a road race event.

I was really exhausted at the finish and almost fainted. Still amazed at myself for able to stay on my feet. I immediately asked for water. However, the volunteers directed me to the full marathoners' tent to collect my medal and goodies. I immediately took the water bottle from them and gulped it down. I knew I was a spent force and decided to take a free massage provided by the organiser to rest.

I met up with my wife late who finished her half marathon in 2:45. She suffered from knee pain and cramps on both legs. I did some stretching for her to relieve her cramps and gave her isotonic drinks.

I purposely wore and showed off the Bare With Me T-shirt in the prize-giving ceremony. (photo courtesy of my wife)

We just rested near the runners tent to wait for prize ceremony. It happened around 7:20am and I collected my trophy and cash, took some photos and went back. Had to miss the group photo session with the barefoot runners. Congratulations and well-done to fellow barefoot runners who completed their run regardless of finishing time. Some were doing their maiden full marathon here.

Fellow barefoot runners in PBIM 2012 post-race. (not all were present in this shot, photo courtesy Rich Chai)

It was a good event this year. Quite well-organised. Thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors. I still dislike the part where half and full marathon runners merge around 37km mark. Maybe one more water station at Jelutong highway would be better as well.

See you all on the new Penang bridge next year! Teaser here of what should be coming for next PBIM in 2013!

Photo of new Penang bridge in the making at ~75% completion (photo courtesy of Leong Kwan Weng)

Total distance of second bridge is ~24km one-way, compared to existing bridge at 14km.