Friday, December 21, 2012

River Jungle Marathon 2012

Breaking dawn at Semenyih Dam Reservoir

The run was to start in a few minutes. Chatting with some new friends did calm the nerves a little, but nothing could hide the fact that I came unprepared. I was, at the same time, thankful that I made it to this run, having just returned from China for work. Throughout the trip, I was insistent that I wouldn’t extend my stay there and miss the run. You may say that I was being unprofessional. Well, in the end, the job got done and there I was, standing at SJK (C) Choon Hwa with my hydration bag strapped to my back, ready to experience this boutique marathon run that promised a scenic route around the town of Hulu Langat. The hydration bag wasn’t meant for the River Jungle Marathon but I thought it would be a good study of how my shoulders would react to having constantly loaded with 1.5 liters of water, plus a few energy bars. This exercise was part of the preparation for my next run – the North Face 100 Singapore, a self-sufficient 50 km trail run.

There were no rankings or prizes for this run. Runners were just advised to complete the run within a certain timeframe. So I started slow, keeping a constant pace that didn’t leave me begging for air. Despite the name of the run, runners were running on tarmac, along highways and narrow kampung roads. The highlight of this run was definitely the 300 meters ascend to the peak of Bukit Hantu (Ghost Hill) at the 17th kilometer, spanning 3 km, which a friend described as running up Genting Highlands. And it was really as difficult a climb as she had described.

I began the climb just as the day brightened. Given the altitude and forestry, the roads were cooling and mostly misty. Running through the mist was such a liberating experience that I couldn’t help spread my arms wide as I ran. Runners started walking instead of speeding to the peak. I decided to keep running despite my much slower pace. With every step, I reminded myself not to walk. If I can’t endure this, I will not survive the North Face challenge, I told myself.

Isn’t the view amazing?, asked a fellow runner when I overtook her during the tough climb. Go! Go! It’s just another 1 kilometer to the top!, she added. She must have been a regular RJM participant. That’s one of the countless good memories I had from participating in the RJM. A non-competitive marathon, this is a run for those who really appreciate the joys of long distance running. The organizers did an excellent job in making sure that runners have a good time by providing a beautiful route (especially along the Semenyih Dam Reservoir), sufficient water points, supportive volunteers (one even helped to splash iced water on my head!) and at the 37th kilometer, the mother of all surprises – chilled coconut water! As the sun burnt and tiredness grew, every gulp of the coconut water was blissful.

Rehydrated (but slightly brain-frozen), I pushed on. The final few kilometers, passing through the kampungs, were disastrous. Runner’s diarrhoea had hit again. I’d feared but somehow expected this, given the lack of training during my business trip, causing the bowels to be reactivated during this longer distance run. I wished for some distractions but the roads were just too plain and quiet in the morning. There were times when I was tempted to unload behind the bushes.

The final kilometer was the worst. I was on the verge of, well, explosion. Still, I decided not to walk, but stood still for a good minute, clenching my cold fists while watching a few runners passed me by. I took a few deep breaths and waited for the bowels to relax before starting to run again. Turning to the main road and passing by a morning market, the finish point was now in sight. The bowels started to misbehave again, but this time, instead of stopping, I ran faster and even managed to flash a smile for the camera. Receiving my finisher’s medal and T-shirt, I dashed into the mobile toilet.

Given my lack of training, the undulating terrains, diarrhoea and the dreadful Bukit Hantu climb, I managed to finish my run within the targeted timing. However, at the end of this run, I was still unsure if I was ready for TNF100. But running is an honest sport. To improve is to increase one’s mileage, be it on the road or trail. Instead of getting worried, I knew I had to run longer trails and intensify my core muscles training, in hope that by 13 October, I’d be ready for TNF100 Singapore – my first 50 km run, or what some termed – ultramarathon.

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