Whoop! Completed my first full marathon recently at the Standard Chartered KL Marathon. It was an amazing, heart-stopping, mind-draining, tear jerking experience…… with an unexpected podium finish! This is a long one. Grab yourself some popcorn and read on!
How I got myself into this mess (joining the Full Marathon):
Dirigo Events held a 5KM speed trial to select athletes for the Dirigo Athlete Development Program. Trying out for Team Dirigo was something I did out of curiosity. I wanted to see where I stood, and what I was capable of. I didn’t expect to be picked for the team! Also, I didn’t know that I was required to run the full marathon with Team Dirigo. This was after I signed the contract. I only knew about it during our first training session with Coach Mark (back in July).
At that time, I still had mixed feelings towards running a marathon. I hadn’t plan on doing so until maybe a year or two later. But I went on with the program, thinking that if I wasn’t good enough they would pull me out anyway. I had nothing to lose.
All of our training sessions together were done on the track. From there, it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t a distance runner. I didn’t have that kind of endurance to run a marathon (at my goal time, at least). They expected all of us to finish on the podium and I knew that I was nowhere near it (I couldn’t even see myself in the Top10). Not just yet. I am glad that Coach Mark didn’t give up on me. He continued to encourage me and push me during our training sessions. It was really tough, but also very satisfying. The first time I ever felt like puking while running was during his training session.
The hardest part for me was putting in the mileage. That meant more time spent on the road and less time with family and friends. I thank them for being so understanding and putting up with my horrible schedule (you know who you are!). I had to make a lot of sacrifices, even time for myself.
There were many ups and downs along the way, both mentally and physically. Physically, at the beginning of stamina phase, every part of me was hurting. Ankles, hamstrings, calves……EVERYTHING! There were the tough times when I was so frustrated and so drained of energy that I just wanted to give up on the whole thing. I felt that I wasn’t good enough to be running under Team Dirigo and Coach Mark. Every time Coach Mark reminded me of my goal time, I can’t help but to think that he was out of his mind. I shunned his goal time for me by giving myself all sorts of excuses: never ran a marathon before, no experience etc (Sorry Coach! But this is the truth). Mentally, I wasn’t prepared to run a marathon.
Week after week, I continued to press on. Run, run, run! Dragging my feet to put in the mileage. I got a slight confidence boost after my first Half Marathon followed by my 2nd Half Marathon 6 days later. That was 2 weeks out from race day and finally, I felt ready. I was mentally ready, if not physically. There was no better time to run a marathon. I told myself that the time was NOW. Still, I wasn’t expecting much from it. Anything between 3:45-4:00, that was my goal (I was being realistic).
I had the usual pre-race jitters, except that it was magnified 10-fold. I was overwhelmed by the wave of emotions that I was feeling. Excited, worried, happy, anxious…… you name it, I felt it! I only managed to put in 2 hours of sleep the night before. I was also suffering from gastric the past few days leading up to race day, probably because I wasn’t used to the amount of carbohydrates that I was putting in (more on that in my next post!).
At 1.30am, my eyes were wide opened. I fuelled on a powerbar and a slice of bread. I didn’t want to eat anything more because I didn’t know what 42.2KM would do to my stomach.
Upon arrival at the race venue, I went to look for Coach Mark (because he asked us to but he was too busy with the pacers). Bumped into the sister (Chooi Fern) who apparently had gastric issues as well! Oh, the pain! I didn’t have time to do a proper warm up because I decided to change my shorts 20 minutes before the flag off. The shorts that I changed into had zippers and a bigger pocket to store my gels (3 packs). When you’re out there for 42.2KM, EVERYTHING MATTERS.
I was given the privilege to enter Pen A. I was right up front with all the pros. I certainly did not belong there (Haaaaaaaa!). Standing there, I couldn’t believe it. I was about to start my first FULL MARATHON! I was still unsure of my goals. My final mind-set was to DO MY BEST! And that was it.
We were off at 4.30am. I was running alongside the sister and Yu Fang. We started off at a pretty good pace, a bit too fast but still relaxed enough.
Once we hit the major highway (AKLEH), they sped off. I slowed down to the pace that I was supposed to be running at. After about 15KM, negative thoughts started to creep in. I was already thinking about the miles ahead and how it was never going to come to an end. I wasn’t even halfway through! It affected my performance and I felt extremely tired. I had to focus my energy on shutting out the negativity. I kept telling myself: “YOU GOT THIS!” And, it worked. Just like that.
The whole event was really well organised. Dirigo Events nailed it! Volunteers were found at every major turn which made it impossible to lose your way. Water stations, sponges and toilets were placed at every 2/3KM. The only problem was that the other runners took Team Dirigo’s pre-prepared drinks. We were told that we had a separate drink station and that our specially prepared drinks were labelled with a black sticker. None of us managed to grab any.
I had to make-do with whatever that was provided. I made it a point to take a sip at every drink station. After what happened in Terengganu, skipping water stations was a big NONO! I didn’t think or plan which drink to consume (water or the isotonic drink). I grabbed whichever was convenient. And of course, THE SPONGES! Miracle sponges! I turned back twice just to get em’. Once was because Zi Shen took the sponge from the volunteer that I had planned to take it from (STEALER!) and the other was because the volunteer didn’t let it go! Oh, and when Zi Shen caught up with me all he could say was: “4.45 pace”. SPOT ON, i thought.
I was pretty much alone throughout the journey along the 2 major highways (AKLEH and DUKE). It was a long lonely run. Just me and my iPod. I kept talking to myself, smiling to myself, checking out the view, thinking about life, work, family, friends etc. I was also busy calculating my average pace whenever I came across the distance marker. Oh, the things you do when you don’t own a GPS. At least it kept my brain occupied! Sounds pretty crazy but this is what you have to do to keep yourself on track. Also, my mind was consumed by the fear of someone overtaking me along the way (thankfully, nobody did).
I think I nailed it pretty well, even without a GPS! I try not to rely too much on gadgets. Know your pace, feel it and lock it in. I was still on track (to hitting my goal time) all the way till about KM 40. And then it went downhill from there. Whoops!
I suffered side stitches (after 10KM) and signs of gastric pain along the way. I had to deal with the pain by not thinking about it. I consumed my gels at KM 15, KM 20 ish and KM 30 ish respectively. The gel taken at KM 30 ish had 1X caffeine. Thank God my body didn’t react to the caffeine in a bad way. Every time I drank or took my gel, I had this lingering fear that my stomach would reject it.
I expected to hit the wall at KM 30. Before this, I’ve been told countless of times that the real challenge begins after 30KM and that I WILL HIT THE WALL. Thankfully, I didn’t hit the wall (at least not until KM 35-36) or suffer any serious cramps (I was also expecting this to happen). I felt the onset of cramps whenever I slowed down to grab a drink. The solution? JUST KEEP RUNNING. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, KM after KM. I held on to whatever that would keep me motivated: a smile from a volunteer, a wave, a cheer, the view, the sunrise…… anything! I also made it a point to acknowledge their presence (the volunteers). Thanks to Hui Xin, Cindy, Vic, Elaine and Yuki who cheered me on during the run! So much love!
By the time I hit the Bukit Tungku hill, I was tempted to start walking. But I knew that if I had started walking, it would be very hard to bounce back to the pace that I was at. Also, I wouldn’t forgive myself if someone were to overtake me at the last few KM!
At KM 38, we merged with the Half Marathon and the 10KM group. I knew that I was close to the finish line! SO CLOSE! Just 4 more miserable KMs! My toes were numb and my feet were burning. I wanted to speed up but I just couldn’t. I caught up with Yu Fang and I tried to stay as close to her as possible. But I was going REALLY SLOW. I couldn’t calculate my pace because the timer on my watch stopped at 3 hours and 12 minutes. I had a few seconds of happiness when I saw that my watch read 3:12 during the last 2KM (but in actual fact it had already stopped ticking). It did give me some motivation though. Chee Wai bumped into me at the last 500m. Thanks for cheering me on and partially wanting to wait for me. The last 500m felt like 5KM. KILLER!
I cannot quite describe how I felt running down that last stretch to the finish line. FINALLY! 42.2KM! My dad and brother called out to me as I ran pass. I did not expect to see them there and I was just so happy. Kevin recorded my finish and grabbed me by the side after I crossed the finish line. I could barely walk after running for over 3 hours. At the same time, I was choking up in tears and trying to catch my breath. Everything was blur and fuzzy. I was just too overwhelmed (and very relieved that it was over), exhausted too.
The volunteers hung the 3rd placing badge over my head and I was immediately ushered to the winner’s tent. The next thing I remember was the sister screaming and running towards me to give me a hug. So happy to see her! She went straight for the gold! Awesome stuff! Coach Mark came to check on us and that smile on his face was priceless. I still couldn’t believe that I managed 3rd place!
We had to be quarantined in the winner’s tent until we went through the procedures for the doping test. They expected us to pee in a cup after running a marathon (at least 90ml). Seriously? We were already so dehydrated the last thing we could do is pee.
When the adrenaline started to wear off, I suffered a major headache and felt so sick in the stomach. I felt a lot better after drinking the 100plus provided. The tent was filled with yummy food but I didn’t have the appetite for it. I didn’t have anything to eat until about 12pm. I was too caught up with everything that I was required to do. Filling up forms, getting my IC checked etc. I was very frustrated that I wasn’t allowed out of the tent. I couldn’t meet up with my friends who were there too!
3 minutes off my goal time but definitely not what I had in mind. I remember what Coach Mark said to us in the car on the very first day of our training: “You guys will be up on the podium and I will be there with you. And you will remember this moment in my tiny little car where it all began. It is right there for you. You just have to believe in it.”
I never would have believed him, EVER!
Muhaizar! Team Dirigo’s Male Champ! Daniel and Uma did really well too. GO Team D!
After the prize giving ceremony, the sister and I stuck around for a good 2 hours before we could give them our urine sample. We left at about 1pm. Dropped Daniel off and headed home.
What a roller coaster ride! I still cannot put into words about how I feel about this whole experience. Too amazing. I am very grateful and very humbled by it. Hats off to everybody who has ever attempted to run a marathon. Standard Chartered KL Marathon was the perfect place for my Marathon debut. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Once again, thank you Dirigo Events (Rainer Biemens, Gloria Ng), Coach Mark Williams, Team Dirigo (Chooi Fern, Daniel, Muhairzar, Uma), Darnis, Maarof, Nik, Brooks, Powerbar…… Your support means the world to us.
I’m still new to this whole marathon thing. I wouldn’t consider myself as a long distance runner, far from it actually. But I am slowly learning what it takes to become one. I am truly honoured to be part of Team Dirigo and to be training under Coach Mark Williams. I have never pushed myself so hard and so far before. I have achieved PBs that I never thought was possible. There really is no limit when it comes to running. You just have to believe in yourself and see what you can do. If you put your heart into it, anything is possible.
I am very excited and anxious for what is yet to come.
This is just the beginning!
When we remember that our STRENGTH is a result of God’s GRACE, we are kept humble.
All Glory, Honour and Power
belongs to You.