It felt strange and almost a privilege, being able to take a car down right to the heart of the city on raceday for the Standard Chartered KL Marathon. Why this folly? I had signed up for the Full Marathon category – my first at the SCKLM, my previous two having been at the Borneo International Marathon) – and, being the first wave of the various distances, the 42K runners managed to get in before most road closures kicked in.
I walked down to the Start Pens at Dataran Merdeka from the Lake Gardens, bumping into a few friends along the way. The Race Village was in a festive atmosphere; one wouldn’t have guessed it was 3:30 in the morning, a time when most people would be fast asleep! The iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building was beautifully lit, providing the perfect backdrop for what is Kuala Lumpur’s biggest running event on the running calendar, attracting about 30,000 runners every year.
I found my way into Start Pen 4. That was when I realised I didn’t have my headphones with me.. for some reason instead of clipping them to my vest and having theme around my neck like I usually do, I had hung them on the strap of my waist pouch when I got out of the car. They had probably slipped out and fallen off while I was jogging across the field towards the start pen entrance. It was too late now.. I would have to do my 42K without my carefully-curated music – which turned out to be a liberating experience, just listening to the sounds around you in the early hours of the morning.
We were flagged off at 4am to the sound of pounding drums. It was a thrilling start as we headed down Jalan Raja towards Jalan Sultan Ismail. Everything looks and sounds different when you ply a route on foot. The sights and sounds help take the edge off the monotony of footstep after footstep on the asphalt – the sound of the LRT trains bringing in the Half Marathon runners, the silent twinkling of decorative lights draped on trees, Eric Cantona hovering over you at the YES 4G advertisement boards… Before you know it, you’re on Jalan Ampang headed towards KLCC.
And that was where I came across the most inspirational sight for me that morning – a runner pushing his father on a modified wheelchair on the 42K route, who passed me at KLCC and went on to finish below 6 hours. I take my hat off to the both of them – pushing a 3-year-old on a jogging stroller for 4K is tiring enough for me; manoeuvring an adult on a wheelchair for 42 kilometres is really something!
There were more drummers at the Ampang-KL Elevated Highway (AKLEH). It was somewhere after just 10K, and I was starting to think, I’d like to be a drummer on the AKLEH at the next marathon.. then I wouldn’t have 30K more to go! The wide, breezy expanse of asphalt of the AKLEH felt good after the congestion of the early-morning traffic on the Middle Ring Road (MRR); although the Klang River, which the AKLEH hovers above, unfortunately did emit a slight not-so-pleasant smell.
After doubling back on the AKLEH, the running crowd emptied onto the MRR for a brief stretch of roaring 6am traffic, before taking the turnoff to the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE). There were various checkpoints for the Full Marathon route this year, to keep runners within the 7-hour time limit. The entry into DUKE marked the 21K checkpoint, where more RapidKL buses were parked ominously, ready to swallow up anyone who fell behind.
I had expected DUKE to be a long stretch of monotonous tedium but it was surprisingly scenic. At KM26, this sight of the KL city skyline being illuminated by the morning sun was certainly a sight for sore eyes (and feet…):
It was an undulating stretch of road, but not too punishing on the legs.. yet. At about KM30, after a toll plaza, a bus drove past us. It was filled with runners. It was the first time I had ever seen a sweeper bus ferrying runners, and I wasn’t sure how to react – being just an hour away from the cut-off time, relief seemed to be tempting fate. If you’re reading this and you were on a bus on Sunday morning, this is what I’d say – Kudos for having gone out there at a crazy hour of the day and to have made your mark for at least 15, 21, 31 or 37km; you’ve already levelled up so much from the general population who were probably still asleep when you got home!
The most emotional part of the race was just around the bend – I almost wanted to hug this lovely puffy blue inflatable arch – the 31K cut-off where you got the souvenir for your hard work – the wristband that confirms you reached the cut-off point in time!
The DUKE was over, and we were on Jalan Kuching, headed towards the Segambut Roundabout and into Bukit Tunku. The sun was not out in full force yet, and I wondered if I could make a sub-6 hour timing.
Bukit Tunku was familiar territory to me, and I enjoyed the familiar sights; even running the short steep hill at the Tijani condo at about KM35.
I hit the proverbial ‘wall’ at Jalan Parlimen, KM38. I knew it was almost completely a mind game – my quads and calves were stiff but they weren’t actually cramping up yet, and although each step was starting to feel laboured, I knew I still had plenty of energy reserves still.. if I could dig deep enough to gather those reserves.
The sun was high in the sky and as usual, the last few KM were the most laborious, and where the real mental challenge was. By the time I saw Dayabumi, I was almost ecstatic. Straight on to the finish line.. and there it was. I’d been running for hours since the wee hours of the morning, and I was finally done. Unbelievable; I thought it would never end! I was past my target of completing sub-6 – I finished 9 minutes over 6 hours. Looking back it wasn’t too bad – it was a 20 minute improvement from my last 42K time!
Of course I’d do it again, are you crazy? 😀