By JOANNA TAN
I was never a runner in my school days, and never liked the idea of pounding the tarmac. Even when I joined a gym in Kuala Lumpur, I chose group exercise classes over the treadmill.
But all that was set to change when I moved back to Ipoh in 2008. Being a new mother at that time, I did not have the luxury to attend group classes and the nearest place for me to work out at was the Polo Ground. When I ran my first round there, it was a torture to finish that 1.3 km! My calves hurt and I was out of breath! (Oh well! I could also blame it on the lack of exercise after giving birth.
Later, I learnt about Kelab Roadrunners Ipoh (KRI). I first joined their Lang Indah Charity Run and it was an eye-opener as I never knew the running community was big in Ipoh. I survived the 5km and later took part in their KRI Annual Road Race for the next few years. I knew I was hooked when I started to take an interest in running gear, be it shoes, apparel or equipment.
Usually, the running events organised by KRI are based in Ipoh. However, the Pangkor Coral Bay Run, held several weeks ago was the first event that was held out of Ipoh. It was in collaboration with Setia Awan Holdings Sdn Bhd as part of their objectives to promote Pulau Pangkor as a tourist destination and to create a healthy lifestyle through running. This event attracted 473 participants, both local and foreign.
I was told that the route was a scenic one and the distance was only – yes, ONLY – 13km. I signed up almost immediately and started preparing for it. However, during the race kit collection, the President of KRI, Chong Him Shoong, told me that there are hills and the route is “quite tough”.
If there was one fear I had, it was the hills! To be honest, I did most of my training on flat road and if possible, excluded hills as part of my training (now I know escapism is never the answer!).
The flag-off was at 7am and away we went to conquer the hills! I started at a good pace in the first 2km or so and even managed the first hill without panting. However, my joy was short-lived as I soon found out that that was just the beginning and *gasp* I had more hills to tackle!
Those hills reminded me of Bukit Kledang and Bukit Kinding in Ipoh. Those never ending slopes, those steep inclines that leave you breathless and your leg muscles aching!
The funny thing about running events is that everyone you meet along the route seems slightly familiar. Nothing beats a runner waving their hand or smiling at you when both your eyes meet, like a silent encouragement that runners give each other.
I was at the 5km mark when I saw Phan on his motorcycle leading the first runner (yes, the first runner!) to the finish line. It was Godwin Kipruto, a runner from Kenya and when I looked at my watch, it showed 40 minutes.
I was not even close to the half way mark, and I believe that he must have been flying as he finished in 45 minutes, 26 seconds!
It turned out that we did not have to run around the island. Instead, we did a U-turn after the 7km mark somewhere after Teluk Nipah. Besides the stunning scenery, cool sea breeze and great weather (God heard my prayers), the route had more than enough hills to challenge the participants.
I could not help but admire the stride and pace that some of the runners had, especially those in the Senior Veteran Category (50 years and above). The tenacity in some of the participants who were running for the first time is worth a mention here too. They kept to their pace and never gave up, even when they hit the hills!
One of the most touching moments before reaching the finishing line was this group of runners who came out and cheered their friend. He was the last one to arrive in his group and was totally worn out. One of them supported his shoulders while some ran along his side. They even gave him a small banner (Utara Runners) to hold as he reached the finish line.
This reminded me of a scene from a war movie where the comrades of an injured soldier risked their lives in order to get him to safety. It was no different in this situation – the runners came in a team, and they ensured that nobody was left behind!
The prize presentation for the various categories was held with trophies and cash prizes presented to the winners. Every participant who completed the run was given a medal.
Executive director of Setia Awan, Datuk Jimmy Doh, hopes to make the run an annual event on Pulau Pangkor and that there will be more sporting events such as mountain biking to be held in future.
It was a well organised event, right from the race kit collection to the water stations, finish line and the prize presentation cum lucky draw. KRI President Chong added that “we are totally enchanted by the beauty of Pulau Pangkor and look forward to organising more sporting events on this island”.
I finished the run in one piece (as my sister would say, everyone can finish the distance; it depends on the state that one finishes in). The hills made me eat humble pie. But with every step I took, this point was hammered into my head: “Make the hill your friend! Make the hill your friend!”
Joanna Tan never expected to fall in love with running after completing her first 5km event. She firmly believes that the process of completing a run is very much like life – the struggles faced during a run only make one stronger and more resilient.
Apart from her love for chocolates, coffee and books, running now occupies a special spot in her life, too!
Her favourite motto is by Silken Laumann (a Canadian Olympian): “It’s important to know that at the end of the day, it’s not the medals you remember. What you remember is the process – what you learn about yourself by challenging yourself, the experiences you share with other people, the honesty the training demands – those are things nobody can take away from you whether you finish twelfth or you’re an Olympic Champion.”