Our intrepid journalist tackles a rustic running route graced with chickens, ducks and hearty cheering.
It was a dark and rather chilly morning on Sept 14 when I reached the starting point of the marathon at 4am (after a 2:30am wake up call) from my hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali, just before the local authorities started to close the roads. I was standing in a neon yellow sea of some 4,400 participants, the highest number recorded since the inception of the BII Maybank Bali Marathon in 2012.
It was hard not to feel a dash of fear seeing seasoned runners preparing for action – jumping jacks, ankle bounces, stretching. I could almost feel their adrenaline rush rolling off their skin. Never having to run a marathon in my life, I could only hope for the best as I slowly attached my assigned bib, number 3329, to my shirt.
With the sharp sound of an air horn at 5am, the full marathon runners took off to the cheers of spectators.
Half marathon runners like myself were flagged off at 5:30am, as I set off to tackle my path of 21km. Steadily keeping up with other runners, I mentally punched the air as I made it to the 6km mark, when the path deviated from the main road into more village settings filled with the scents of poultry and canines, just as the first light of the rising sun kissed my skin.
As I struggled to keep pace, my sprints down-shifted into walks, and I found myself passing by watery paddy fields and farm animals – including ducks waddling around in a large group. On both sides of the narrow marathon route through the villages, the houses were adorned with intricate Balinese architecture.
The schoolchildren from villages along the way stood in groups, holding their inflatable clapping sticks, shouting “Welcome to Bali!” repeatedly. Some bellowed the word “semangat!” (spirit!) to runners.
These children of the Gianyar regency (a sub-province of Bali) were part of Maybank’s Indonesian banking unit PT Bank Internasional Indonesia Tbk (BII)’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, to show the bank’s appreciation towards the community for supporting the marathon since two years ago.
Amidst the tightening grip of exhaustion, their cheers injected my body with new-found zest and I began running again – for a short distance.
While the children greeted the runners with their carefree innocence, the adults in the villages played a more practical part in rolling out the welcome wagon by offering their rustic abodes as toilet stops, should nature call. This was one of the many uniquely heart-warming features of this Bali marathon.
Sadly, even though my heart was not about to give up, my muscles were beginning to. Yes, the event’s theme was “Pushing the limit”, but at times, one also needs to know one’s own limits, yes?
With that self-consolation, I bid the marathon goodbye, beckoning for one of the volunteers to send me back to the finishing line after I had made it to the 11km marker.
Amazingly, as I approached the masses of people gathering at the finishing line at 7:30am, the first few runners from the full and half marathons had already completed their races and were ready to receive their prizes. I marvelled at their speed and perseverance.