Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Island Ocean Marathon 2013 - Volkswagen The Marathon Series First Leg

  At the finishing line. Thank you also to a fellow barefoot runner/supporter who paced me for the last 800m or so. Andrew was covered by me in this photo. (Photo credit: MeiLan)

For the first time, I had tears in my eyes as I was crossing the finish line. The pain on my soles was great, but when suddenly I thought of lives lost in unfortunate events, I knew the pain on my soles was nothing.

I was overwhelmed with emotion. A tough full marathon and thinking about what happened for the past few days. And I was happy to see my family waiting for me at the finish line.

Andrew finished slightly earlier and was there a few metres before the finish line to wait for me. I hugged him as I saw him and said thanks for being there.

My family was behind the finish line. I hugged my children as they approached me after I crossed the line. I gave my wife a kiss.

The day started when I woke up at 3:15am to have something to eat before the race. Did some "water-loading" too. Kissed my wife and kids who were sound asleep before I went down at 4am to the race start line. They were all tired from the island-hopping trip the day before.

There were already so many runners gathered and chatting away. The whole hotel lobby were full of runners. The hotel staff must be wondering why this group of people, not sleeping at this hour on a Sunday morning but instead putting their bodies to extreme physical demand of running a full marathon. Only the runners would know the answers.

The event was Island Ocean Marathon 2013. It's the first leg of the Volkswagen Marathon Series inaugurated this year.

The run: a non-competitive full marathon with no official cut-off time to complete. The course was around the southern tip of the beautiful island of Langkawi in Malaysia.

Andrew called me from behind as I was heading to the starting line. We chatted for a while and I went to the front of the line. I also met Rich a fellow barefoot runner and called out his name.

  Photo credit: Vivien Tay.

Before the race, the race director James did a safety briefing to all the runners. Then a minute of silence was observed for the victims of the bombing in Boston marathon. James asked all runners to dedicate this run for Boston. I had put a black tape around the shoulder area of my vest earlier to remember the lives lost and the affected families and friends.

 Photo credit: Vivien Tay.

The race started on time with the sound of the horn. From Resort World Langkawi Hotel, about 1000 runners were heading to Pantai Cenang. At about 3.5km mark, the runners were directed to the run on the beach for 1km.

It was still very dark at the beach. I couldn't see where I was stepping on. I had to believe my instinct. One wrong step, and I could get hurt. There could be sharp seashells, broken bottles at worst case.

The sound of the wave and the breeze made the run at the beach so refreshing. I looked up to the sky. There was it, the most starry sky I have ever seen in years. It was just... beautiful.

Exiting the beach we were back on the main road again. We were running near the airport around the perimeter of the runway. It was still dark without streetlight but luckily got two safety cars stopped at the roadside and were shinning their headlights to the roads for the runners.

At this stretch of the route, the sky was really beautiful. I just stopped for a second and looked up. The shining stars reminded me how small I was amongst everything in the universe.

I met Kelvin Ng who was helping out the water station at km 8. I thanked the volunteers and Kelvin told me he would see me again in km 39. (Little did I knew then what 'surprise' I would get)

The road surface was not good from then on (in fact it was rough also all the way from start). I had to rely on the white lines wherever possible. The asphalt surface was simply too rough. It was ok to walk on it, but the issue was and always has been, to run it with pace.

I was pacing with a runner from 5km to 10km point. Then I had to let him go because I was slowing down.

There was a U-turn at about 12km mark. After the U-turn, I could see many runners running towards the U-turn.

Photo credit: Chandru

At about 14km mark, I saw 2 buffaloes came running towards me. One was running diagonally across the road very close to the back of two runners. I shouted "Careful!" to the runners and luckily the animals didn't hurt anyone.

Then I turned left heading towards the airport. I ran alone from here until the roundabout where we went straight heading to Kuah town after the airport.

A lady runner overtook me soon after. Then a male runner also passed me and said hi. I thought he was Dr Francis  Yeng who ran Boston last week. But I was not sure as he was wearing a cap.

I picked up the pace a little later and managed to catch up the lady runner later after a hard climb. She was pacing with another lady runner. I didn't recognise them as Malaysian elite runners (I thought they must be from other countries).

I overtook them and then also another lady runner later. As I turned right to km 26, I was feeling pretty ok.

I didn't check my watch much for this race. The only time I 'peeked' was at about 20km when the timer showed about 1:55. Next time I would check my time again was at the finishing line.

The route was increasingly hilly and winding from 20km onwards. The roads from 26km onwards was consistently rough and I slowed my pace down and chose to follow a lady runner instead.

Then when I reached water station at km 29. A surprise was presented to the runners, a chilled refreshing coconut drink. Now, please tell me where you can find a full marathon event that serve the runners coconut?

I continued on but at slower pace. I wasn’t aiming for any timing anyway but just to run with my own feel and see how far I could push under the warm condition. Some more I had just recovered from flu and fever two days earlier. I didn't want to risk any injury.

Just before km 30, I felt tired and I thought I had hit the wall. At the next water station, I took isotonic drinks and it helped me instantly. The tire feeling was gone and I continued on. The view from 30+km was scenic with the sea on the left.

Then a sharp pain suddenly popped up under my left big toe. I stopped and sat on the road to check. There was a splint. I took about half a minute to remove it using my finger nails.

I reached water station at km 32 and saw Sonny Ng. He was manning the water station. He asked the volunteers to cheer for me too. I said thanks to them. In this event, I made a point to say thanks to the volunteers at all aid/water stations.

Just before the km 38 water station, I saw Tey Eng Tiong and Vivien Tay. They were taking photos for the runners. I was really happy and grateful to see them supporting the runners.

                                             Photo credit: Eng Tiong

At km 39, I saw a group of supporters including Kelvin Ng, cheering for the runners. One supported offered me a cup of Coke. Kelvin gave me a hug for support and I said thanks.

As I continued past 40 km mark, Andrew caught up with me. He was running comfortably and I just couldn’t match his pace. I just tried to follow as close as possible. The last climb to the hotel was tough, but I managed to conquer it. The reward was another surprise at the entrance of the hotel: ice-cream. It was very tempting but I politely declined it. I didn’t think I could run with that or stop to eat when I knew my family was waiting for me at the finish line a few hundred metres ahead. Nevertheless, it was a very nice thought from James and the organising team. I was certain then it would make many runners happy and surprised.

I finished the run in 4 hours 4 minutes. It was the first time since my maiden marathon (4 years ago) that I completed in more than 4 hours. I was quite satisfied as this was the most challenging marathon route on barefoot that I have completed so far. I got a small blood blister on my right toe but no other injury, and I recovered quite fast without any muscle soreness.

My soles after the run.

It was a very well organised event. The crew and volunteers were very helpful and supportive. The view was scenic, the route was hilly but the runners were all in great spirit. I knew that, since more than half a year ago, James and the organising team put in a lot of effort to make sure all aspects (e.g. transport, hotel, race venue, aid stations etc.) of the run experience were good. Thank you also to the photographers. Thank you to the sponsors too. Without them, the event would not be the way it was.

 Medal design
 Finish line just by the sea with great view.

 Mohan and a group or runners pacing Cheryl Tham, running for her maiden FM, to the finish line.
With Andrew at the finish line. (Photo credit: Gan)
This was a special run event for me. An event that captured the heart and souls of the runners. An event that all runners were united and showed our support for a cause. An event that runners shared calming wave sounds, sandy beach, beautiful sea view, scorching sun, hilly route, torturing last 12km, great support from the volunteers, coconut drink, ice-cream, champion-like finishing, great friendship and lots of love. That’s The Island Ocean Marathon 2013.