It has been a month since Brooks, and a couple of busy weeks at work had led to a hiatus from weekend long runs. As I headed out on Sunday to the MAKNA (National Cancer Council, Malaysia) Founder’s Run, I told myself to take it easy – while the ‘reverse double hill’ route in Bukit Tunku was not unknown territory as I had run the ‘double hill’ loop on Sunday runs in the past, it was a hilly route and my legs had taken a longer rest than was optimal. Traversing the route in reverse would turn out to be a refreshing view of sights I would not normally see from the other direction. To start with, Bukit Tunku, an elite residential area in the fringes of the city, is itself a scenic location. Its well-maintained roads winding through hilly terrain amid spots of secondary jungle make for an invigorating course that offers interesting sights while packing in a punch with its numerous inclines.
When the gun went off at the Padang Merbok starting line, I had barely commenced the initial uphill when a whiff of sambal came wafting by from a roadside stall serving my favourite Malaysian breakfast, nasi lemak. Hoping to stay focused, I turned up the volume on my iPod and mouthed the lyrics to ‘One Day More’ as I headed towards the crest of the first slope. It was full steam ahead for the next 2km as we ran past the Forestry Department and alongside the Mahameru Highway. The first water station was strategically located before the beginning of what was probably the steepest incline of the course. A hill at the third kilometre wasn’t a major obstacle; I trotted on, sipping water. I decided to pace myself against a chap in ON shoes with a towel hanging from his waist (he was fairly easily to spot). At Pinggiran Tunku, the amusing sight of a large, very shaggy dog pacing up and down the roof terrace of one of the houses offered a moment of distraction. Shortly after that, the downhill started. I reduced my pace, as I normally would on significant descents given my slightly wobbly knees. My pacer ran on, as did a wave of runners I had passed earlier on at the uphill, who now sailed past and onward down the slope, fueled by gravity. I treaded patiently and carefully – it is my lot that I cannot afford to pound downhill lest I bust my knees (for a brief exposition as to why I have bad knees, see notes on my Kinabalu training).
We joined the wider, flatter, Jalan Langgak Tunku at the Selangor Properties flats, where a taxi tried to inch its way amongst the sea of runners for some time before a marshal at the 5km checkpoint finally waved it to the outer lane. While the route was not a major thoroughfare as far as KL roads go, it was a little disconcerting to find myself startled, quite a few times, by taxis or vans ferrying security guards on their shift change (we are talking about an upscale neighbourhood here) making their way through our route. I considered ditching my earphones, especially when a car sped past at the Jalan Tun Ismail downhill (I don’t run with music when on roads, but I normally make an exception at races), but before we knew it we were already on the much wider streets of Jalan Dato’ Onn, passing the Central Bank offices.
The 10th kilometre was a notorious gradual incline that would bring us back towards the direction of the Forestry Department, though breaking off earlier to detour to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial before arriving at the last stretch towards the finish line at 12km. The sun was out in full force, and everyone seemed to be just walking along, probably spurred on only by visions of the Milo tent back in Padang Merbok. Mathew Bellamy of Muse was hollering motivational exhortations in my ear in the form of the lyrics to Survival (the 2012 London Olympics theme) but the only effect it had on me was the realisation that the frequency of its beats were a tad too sluggish to accompany an uphill assault, and that for purposes of my running soundtrack, I should probably obtain the Radio Edit of the song, that I was quite sure was probably a little faster.
I snapped out of that moment, and was pleased to notice that I had caught up with my pacer, but promptly lost him again as we turned into Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin. The road became narrow and winding again, and also started to slope sideways towards the inner arc of each bend. I could already imagine an uncomfortable aftermath of shin splints happening if I didn’t steady my stride sufficiently. The road opened up again when we reached the Memorial, only to lead to another dreaded downhill for wobbly-kneed me – a short but steep section between the Memorial and Jalan Parlimen – before we took to the side road that skirted the edge of Padang Merbok leading up to the finish. After hitting the Milo tent (what else?), I stood on the damp pavement (it is almost always damp at Padang Merbok) and enjoyed the view of the tree-lined field in the morning sun, happy that it was over.
My calves and feet ached – a sign that I probably did not stretch sufficiently, and of imbalances in my stride that morning. A month’s break was way too long for comfort. Time to ramp up the mileage for Project 21K!