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MWM14: Unfazed by the Haze

I suddenly jolted awake and noticed that it was 3.20am. For some reason, my phone alarm didn’t ring, again! I thought I had sorted the alarm settings carefully enough the night before.. the only explanation had to be that of ‘mommy brains‘ a.k.a. maternal absentmindedness.. (fast becoming my perennial excuse for everything from alarm clock mis-cues to total non-recall of the last location of my running shoes.)

I sprang out of bed, rushed to get ready, gulped down my obligatory muesli-and-chia-cereal and banana, and met up with Lini just in time.

Well, good morning! It’s mid-March 2014, about 3 years after I first started running, 18 months after childbirth; the Malaysia Women Marathon would finally mark my maiden 21K, and I wanted to get there well in time for it!

Hazy Sunday

We headed down the Federal Highway in the southerly direction. The clear skies and wet evening of the day before had unfortunately deteriorated to a hint of an early-morning smog. Will we end up running after all? We decided to see how conditions would be at the start line when we got to the Dataran Kemerdekaan at Shah Alam.

The road to Shah Alam was not unfamiliar to me – I have plied the route in my parents’ cars many a time years ago whenever I had piano practical exams – they were almost invariably held at the (then) Pan Pacific/Plaza Perangsang. As a result, I knew exactly where the turnoff from the Federal Highway was, and even felt a little deja vu of pre-exam cold fingers and butterflies in the stomach as I circled the ramp up to the main road that led to the Shah Alam city centre.

I had planned an early start from home in anticipation of parking issues, but parking turned out to be a breeze. In fact, we were so early that the Full Marathoners were themselves only just arriving. (It’s possible, too, that many may have stayed home due to the onset of the haze that morning.) My car-pool mate, well-known in running circles, exchanged greetings with runners and crew. I caught up with Asha and Maryati who were all set to run their 42.195K. Most conversations ended up on the topic of the weather (so very literally). I bumped into the Gaited Community runners as they were contemplating the matter of the haze vs. going home to sleep. We waylaid Lee Fong on his way to the Secretariat tent, and pondered on the inexact science of API (Air Pollutant Index) readings.

Decisions, decisions

At around 4.30am, before the Full Marathoners’ warm-up session, Race Director Karen Loh took to the microphone asking if the participants would be happy for the run to be non-competitive in view of the haze, with cash prizes to be donated to charity and sponsors’ prizes being converted into lucky draw items. There was a resounding positive response to what I felt was a sensible decision. Runners were advised to turn back at any point if they did not wish to continue, and would still be entitled to their finisher items despite not having passed through all checkpoints. (Runners would also be entitled to their finisher items if they DNS’ed.) I went to the start line and clambered atop a bench to take a few shots of the festivities.

The FM flag-off at 4:45am, by Race Director Karen Loh, 4-time Boston Marathon winner and Olympian Catherine Ndereba, and the General Manager of Tourism Selangor.

The same announcement was made by the Race Director to the larger crowd of Half Marathoners, prior to our 5.45am start. The atmosphere was also positive despite the unsettling overtone of not-entirely-desirable weather conditions. There was a whiff of smoke in the air, but the surroundings looked clear enough. Behind the glare of the spotlights, I could see the minarets of the blue mosque distinctly enough in the faint early-morning light.

and the Full Marathoners are off!

and the Full Marathoners are off!

I decided I would start the run, and re-evaluate my decision at all water stations / potential turn-back points. There was no hurry after all in getting a maiden Half Marathon under my belt – there would be another Half coming up soon enough at Borneo in May.

I met Ben at the concourse, and the usual exchange of selfies ensued before Ben sprang into Zumba action to the warm-up soundtrack pounding from the stage. Ben would also be running. We were optimistic about the haze clearing up at sunrise.

An hour passed really quickly – it was time for the Half Marathon flag-off! Some decided to sit out the run, preferring to go home or remain at the concourse seats to wait for their friends. After a kilometre or so into the route, runners started to turn back at junctions or roundabouts. At each aid station, I took stock of how I was feeling. I felt fine; the fact that I was completely drenched in sweat by KM2 due to the humidity was bothering me more than anything else. So I soldiered on.

The Half Marathon flags off! Yours truly is somewhere in the centre. (Photo credits: Kelvin Tan)

The Half Marathon flags off! Yours truly is somewhere in the centre. (Photo credits: Kelvin Tan)

As more people broke away from the pack at convenient locations, I started to wonder if I was being foolhardy in even starting the race at all. Then again, I told myself, I have made reasonable judgments in the past; in my first few months of running I had known when to stop in view of my pre-running knee dislocation injuries, I knew when to stop when I was running up to the 7th month of my pregnancy, and I would like to think that by now I knew how to listen to my body well enough not to put my life at risk. However, I was aware of potential herd behaviour, too; were positive reinforcements from people concurring that “it ain’t so bad and it should clear later” clouding my judgment?

I realised I was thinking too much and deviating from the big picture. I had promised my friends and family who knew I was out here that I would turn back the moment I felt any discomfort that was not the usual fatigue from running. I would stick to that, plain and simple. Now, to tackle the hill up to the Selangor State Secretariat…

Aid stations aplenty

Water stations were in abundance, something that I was very grateful for. I refilled my bottle at every station, and splashed whatever water I could spare on my face in an attempt to stay fresh. I must have downed more than 2 litres of water during the entire 21K.

Who doesn't love running into a massive shower? (Photo credits: Running Malaysia Magazine)

Who doesn’t love a huge spray of H2O? (Photo credits: Running Malaysia Magazine)

At KM11 or so, a fire engine had its hoses aimed over the route. I would imagine this to be a fantastic respite from the heat if the sun was up, perhaps for the Full Marathoners on their second loop, but 7am it left a bit of a chill. I wondered how the folks affected by the water rationing in Selangor this month would feel about this luxury.. However, who can resist running through a massive sprinkler? I leapt through in glee, and hoped that none of my electronics would bust a circuit!

Shah Alam's main landmark

Shah Alam’s main landmark

The sun was up, and we could see the blue mosque in the distance as we crossed the bridge of Persiaran Sultan in the 12th kilometre.

The good people of team 2ndskin set up an independent support station, where one of my favourite shots of the day was taken (many thanks to the photographer who had his hands full with a camera in one and a water spray can in the other!)

The last five

Beyond KM16, it was unknown territory. The past few months had not been conducive for training for various reasons – work, childcare and, of course, the haze. I had decided in early March that if MWM did proceed, I would attempt the 21K anyway, telling myself that 21 was just 5K more than my longest distance to date.

It was day #9 of the search for the missing aircraft. #prayforMH370

It was day #9 of the search for the missing aircraft. #prayforMH370

The additional 5K fortunately did not feel too much of a burden (possibly because I was also running at very low exertion levels given sub-optimal weather conditions), other than the mental agony of having the route run through the Kayangan Roundabout only to turn back to it, twice over, before it felt like any headway was being made towards the finish area (though, again, not before one final U-turn was necessary!).

Another independent support station near the Concorde Hotel (probably KM20) was serving up isotonic drinks.. and slices of banana cake! Bless the chaps who set up that stall! I happily munched up my in-race breakfast, and was quite glad for the sugar rush at that stage of the run.

The air started to look somewhat greyer as the finish line approached, but there were also signs of imminent rain. I later learnt that the race was stopped at 8am on account of the worsening haze, and that many of the Full Marathoners would therefore not have finished beyond 30+ kilometres.

Thumbs up! (Photo credits: Team 2ndskin)

Thumbs up! (Photo credits: Team 2ndskin)

Nevertheless, I actually enjoyed myself despite the overhanging gloom of the bad weather, and doubts as to whether I had done the right thing by running the entire distance. I completed the 21.0975K (or 22.4K (?) according to my GPS app) in just over 3 hours with an average speed of 8:38min/km. Considering the fact that I was probably running at 60% of my maximum heart rate (a guesstimate, as I don’t normally wear my heart rate monitor at races) and was expecting to finish around 2:45 given my current fitness levels, I was quite happy that I finished in high spirits, and even almost wishing I could go on for a little more.

The route map (click to view larger image)

The route map (click to view larger image)

I did a little dance in my mind as I looked for the Half Marathon finishers’ tent, and wondered how it would feel to do a Full Marathon distance. In the case of the MWM route, it would entail running the entire route I had just done all over again. It would be fun, I think, though I’ll wait till this haze clears up first!

Next year’s MWM 2015 is set to be on March 8, 2015 – so do save the date!

Results and photographs

In the meantime, MWM14 ‘results’ are available at the MWM website. (As the race became non-competitive and called off midway, there are no official rankings. Personal timings are recorded for those who crossed the timing mat at the first split and did not stop their run.)

And if you’re looking for photographs, run photographer extraordinaire ET Tey as made a useful list of known sites, official and unofficial (mainly Facebook pages) with photos from MWM14, here. With so many thousands of shots, you’re bound to find at least one or two of yourself if you ran on Sunday!

About speedshuffle (75 Articles)
Wen Li is a runner, blogger, mother, educator and artist. She is the Co-Founder and Cartoonist of Malaysia's first comic strip on running, Running Toons ( and is a Compressport Ambassador. Her running story was featured in Marie Claire Malaysia's April 2016 issue alongside several other notable women running bloggers. She runs wherever the road takes her, come scorching sunshine, stifling humidity or relentless rain (and preferably to a Nasi Lemak breakfast!). Apart from pounding the asphalt, she also enjoys hiking and pilates, and is now attempting CrossFit!

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