Part 2: THE RACE
Full marathon route
My timings at various check points, which can be followed on fb or twitter
The race starts at 2 am and I am only 50 m from the starting line … the pacers with their balloons are in front at the start line, with the different colours (yellow, red, blue, green, etc) for different finishing times such as 6 hr, 5:30, in steps of 30 min, all the way to 4 hours; my plan is to keep between the 4:30 hr and 5 hr pacers.
One minute after gun time, I cross the start line and start my stopwatch … the crowd is thick at this point and we are all going really slowly, even as the roads are fairly wide. There is one small bottleneck at a left turn (to join the expressway heading SSW?) but after this, it is less crowded as the runners spread out heading towards the 4 km turn-around point (about 10 min since start). I have already lost sight of the balloons carried by the pacers at this stage!
Soon, there was the sound of motorbikes and horning – the traffic police were clearing the SAME road (there was no barriers for those doing the return leg) to my right most side of the highway, as the elite runners start to come from the opposite direction. As usual, leading the pack were several Africans…
Near to the 4 km turn, I overtake the first group of pacers – 6 hrs finish! 😦 “Hey, going way too slow, must speed up!” were my thoughts. At the 4 km mark, my watch shows 28 min+ which means 7 +min/km = more than 5 hrs finish … I tell myself to speed up a bit, but not too much as it was still early days (38 km to go!)…
Before hitting the bridge, the beach and trees on the coastal side of the route (Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Highway) becomes a field toilet (including for me, haha!).
Soon, I go onto the start of Penang Bridge, after running for about 9 km (the bridge span is 13.5 km, with 8.5 km above water). After a little while on the bridge, the 10 km mark appears … a gradual up slope takes me to the highest part of the bridge (somewhere in between the 10 km and the high-point, I caught up with the 5:30 pacers, and was overtaken by the elite women half-marathon runners who had to zig-zag their way pass us; their race started at 3 am). A light drizzle and moderate headwind accompany the runners as we head to the mainland side of the bridge.
Continuing past the highest part of the bridge, most of the road is either a gentle down slope or flat/banked … my pace picks up, and I take some drinks at alternate drink points. The turn-around at 19 km near the mainland side is near, and I decide to eat my cereal bar knowing that the drinks point will come up soon … after the turn, the 19 km marker appears and I am heading back to Penang island on the opposite side of the bridge from earlier on; the highest point of the bridge looks super far away!!! (Note – the whole bridge, each side having 3 lanes, was closed for the event!)
after 19 km turn-around, the high point of Penang Bridge seems very far-off (see middle, right side of photo)
Pressing on, I reach the turn-around point for the half-marathoners (9 km) (before the highest point) and it suddenly becomes rather crowded as both the men and women half-marathoners do a U-turn from the opposite side and join in to head back to the island. Many are walking already, so it becomes rather irritating to dodge and overtake them; some who are still running shout “walkers, keep to the side”, but to no avail!
Somewhere along the bridge, I have overtaken the 5 hour pacers (hooray! :)) and pass the 25 km mark! And then, I am back on Penang Island, on the highway heading north towards Georgetown, and the 33 km turn-around point.
This stretch is where the crowd really thins out, especially after the half-marathon runners are out of the scene (when they turn around at 17 km). I am starting to feel just a little bit sore here and there, but tell myself “this is what you trained for” and “doing well”. There are three bridges in this part, but I take them easily, overtaking many who are by now walking – the faster runners heading for the finish are coming from the opposite direction but there are very few of them – again, there are no barriers separating us, we just keep left.
Two 5 hr pacers with their blue(?) balloons catch up with me, and I stay with them for a while, before pulling ahead … I talk to myself: “keep them behind” (… indeed, this happens for the rest of the race). The 4:30 hr balloons then come from the opposite direction and I wonder if there is any chance of catching them … not sure how much ahead they are, but not too concerned as long as I am between them and the 5 hr balloons – my target of finishing between 4:30 and 5 hrs would still be met!
The POWERGEL “station” appears – this is just two men at the roadside, with some cardboard boxes holding the gel, and they hand it out one by one to the passing runners – haha, I thought there would be at least some tables where the gel was placed, for us to pick it up. I take the gel and finish it off, getting a small energy boost in the process (like playing Wii, the Mario racing game speed boost, haha!). Next, looking forward to the banana station, which is at the 33 km turn-around point.
After what seem like a long stretch (passing the final one of the 3 bridges in this stage), I start to see runners holding/eating bananas … good, means turn is near. About 3 hr 48 min, I reach it and grab two bananas; finished off one immediately to keep up the energy level, and held on to the other for a while to spread out the food intake to a few minutes later. On the “home stretch” now and feeling strong still … (with aches, but not bothering me too much; unlike first marathon in 2010, where I felt very tight in the groin area after 33 km and had to mix run with walk for last 9 km).
Estimating that there was about 5 km left to go, I finished off my pack of gel that I was still carrying (as a morale/energy booster and reward) … very crowded now just after passing the bridge, as all the 10 km and 21 km people were together in this final 3 km stretch back to the finishing line at Queensbay Mall (But luckily avoided the FUN run group, who had not yet started, and who would be using the same final part of the route).
I finished strongly (i.e. with energy to spare) with a PB 4 hr 51 min (unofficial time),
crossing the finishing line …
quickly collected my medal and finisher t-shirt (bright orange! not black), and took in whatever “breakfast” was provided for the full marathon runners – hashbrown, tomato soup, orange juice, milo, vitasoy, 100Plus – and went to look for my sole on-site supporter.
Chien, at the ASICS booth the day before …
Bless her for coming along for this entire journey, and to bring me my change at the end – its really great to change into clean clothes and slippers at the finish, and to have your favourite and most important supporter with you at the end!! And thanks to all my friends, and ex-students for your support on fb!
medal and finisher tee
a photo before leaving race area, in clean clothes …
the scene at the finish, with bodies everywhere …
(Part 1: getting to the starting line) (Part 3 Post marathon)