After finding my shoes and finally attaching my race number last night, I didn’t manage much sleep, largely being afraid that I would snooze through all my alarms. At the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, our car was directed into Carpark B, which seemed to be an unmarked parking area that was accessed by driving in front of the staging area and amongst groups of runners milling around. Well, at least it was near the starting line.
At the starting line, I found a comfortable space in the middle of the pack. My 10K personal best is 1:10, set in 2011 in a year when I had summited Mt Kinabalu and then started running, with participation in a 5K and three 10K’s. The Brooks run is just 6 months after my C-section delivery of Dragon Babe, and although my legs have been doing well on long runs, I hadn’t regained all core muscle strength or pre-pregnancy stamina, so I wasn’t expecting to match an hour and ten minutes. I figured I should be able to finish within 1:30. At the back of my mind, I hoped the conditions would be right for a sub-1:20. I wasn’t familiar with this part of town, and so had no expectations of the terrain except for the general description that Bukit Jalil would be ‘hilly’.
Start time (~6.45am) approached. Uncannily reminiscent of the unceremonious start of the PJ Half Marathon 10K in 2011, no countdown was heard, and before we knew it, the gun had gone off. I scrambled to put on my headphones, then started the playlist shuffle and the running app on my phone. The pack inched its way to the starting line timing mat. I finally crossed it, hit the start button on my stopwatch, and off we went.
The initial three kilometres were on rather dimly-lit narrow residential roads. The roads were lined with trees – something that would probably be welcome in daylight; but at the break of dawn, the jagged shadows they cast on the ground amid the faint glimmer of streetlamps the made it difficult to gauge the evenness of the road surface and whether potholes lay waiting in hidden nooks. I treaded carefully – the thin soles of my Vibram FiveFingers meant I would be able to feel any stone and pebble that may turn up beneath my feet; I didn’t want to risk tripping and falling. Some time was probably lost here; indeed, the first kilometre turned out to be one of the slower laps in my split times.
It was an extremely humid morning, too, and the feeling that you were running into a wall of vapour in a tight pack of perspiring runners was not the most agreeable of circumstances. The pack finally started to spread out after the first water station at about 2-3km into the course. I had a full bottle of water with me, and so was quite happy to run on past the water-station crowd to get some badly-needed fresh air.
The route soon made its way to the Bukit Jalil Highway, where we were met with a deceptively gradual incline. I was thankful for the timely coincidence of the long hill with my iPod playlist – ‘One Day More’ from the Les Miserables soundtrack came on, and the rising modulations and orchestral swells lent that stretch of asphalt a hint of light being at the end of the tunnel. The track ended on a high note right at the top of the slope, and the next track that came on as I greeted the descent with relief, was Flo Rida’s ‘Good Feeling’. Perfect.
Things seemed to be going well for the rest of that highway that would lead to a ramp down to the KL-Seremban Highway. Then I caught sight of the first distance marker of the race – one that said I had 5km to go. It didn’t feel like I had done 5km yet.. it seemed far too soon. I took it at face value. I glanced at my watch – 43 minutes. Decent enough. The distance markers then started to get somewhat erratic, and at some point during the KL-Seremban Highway stretch, a sign told me I had 1km to go. That was when I felt something didn’t click. I knew this junction – it would take us back towards the road we had come in earlier in the morning, towards the stadium entrance. If the finish line was at the same spot as the starting line, by my reckoning we definitely had more than 1km to go. I was only just over 60 minutes at this point – if it was indeed just 1km left, this could actually turn out to be a race in good time. Perhaps the finish line wasn’t in the stadium grounds, maybe it was on the access road outside? But there was no reason for the finish line to be different from the starting line.. Doubts started to set in. I was analysing too much. Things started going downhill. Deceived by the 1km sign, I tried to estimate where one kilometre would end (I don’t have a GPS watch, and it would have been too much of a hassle to take out the phone to check the running app), and kept wondering if I would glimpse the arch of the finish line around each bend.
But of course, the finish line was right where we started, inside the stadium grounds, which was probably at least a good 1.5 km, if not more, from where the 1km sign was seen. The last “1km” lasted an eternity, and it didn’t help that the very last stretch before the entrance into the stadium grounds was another incline. At this stage, many were reduced to almost running on the spot, if they weren’t already walking. My legs felt fine, but it was obvious at this point that my stamina had not returned to what it was during that 1:10 race that now seems so long ago. I reminded myself to not make the mistake of walking, as it would cause the legs to stiffen up and it would be near impossible, especially in such conditions, to resume proper running form.
So I trotted on, and finally, the finish line was in sight. The iPod was dishing out pomp and circumstance in the form of John Williams’ ‘Summon The Heroes’ – the theme of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – but I was too knackered by then to ride on its fanfares of motivation.
I crossed the finish line. My stopwatch showed ~1:19. I laughed – it was my slowest 10K ever (my first 10K race, the Siemens Run in 2011, was 1:17), but I was happy enough as it was within my target of finishing within 1:20, on a route filled with inclines.
The finishers’ ‘medal’ took the form of a miniature trophy – a nice memento. I made a bee-line for the food tents, where we were greeted with isotonic drinks, slices of watermelon, a bun, read bean broth, and my favourite – a welcome bowl of tau foo fa (soybean pudding). At least the food was good! I joined the line at the Milo vans – an institution at Malaysian sporting events from primary school sports meets to marathons. (It is a well-known fact that Milo tastes its ice-cold best when vended out of one of these vans.) I found my friends, snapped photos, and returned home for my second breakfast.
Two breakfasts, a nap and a late lunch later, I felt refreshed enough to contemplate plans to train for the 21K through KL city that I would undertake in June. Lessons learnt – I would look less at my watch and the distance markers, and just simply enjoy the route all the way to the finish.
And hopefully there will be Milo vans again.