TAKING up running could be one of the best decisions I have ever made despite the challenge it poses.
Training for and running long distance is not an easy task, but at the end of the day, I have a strong sense of accomplishment when I cross the finish line.
Running has helped me find like-minded friends and has taken me to amazing places.
For my third official run, I was given the chance to run the 2018 Bali Marathon (MBM) organised by the Maybank Group.
“Ibu di sini untuk marathon? (Are you here for the marathon, madam?)” This was the first question I was asked at the Immigration counter and by a few acquaintances in Bali, Indonesia.
A cool breeze greeted me in Bali as soon as I stepped out of the airport.
At 24°C under a bright blue sky, I reckoned it was going to be great weather for running on race day.
A check revealed that the months between July and September were among the best time to be in Bali as it was the dry season with low humidity.
One of the most important factors in any running event is the weather. For instance, during the 2018 Boston Marathon, the downpour and blistering wind was a brutal challenge even for elite runners.
It even affected reigning champion Geoffrey Kirui’s race, causing him to finish in second place.
The road in Bali was busier than my previous visit, partly because of the marathon. I was informed that there would be close to 10,000 participants at the eighth Bali Marathon.
The MBM is now a global event, and the number of participants increased by almost 13% from 9,000 participants last year.
Slots for the race were filled up within two days with runners coming from all over the world.
I collected my race pack from the collection point located on a white sandy beach at Taman Bhagawan in Nusa Dua.
It was a beautiful morning with a cooling sea breeze. But, I had no time for that because I needed to plan my race.
The race pack collection area had a beach-festival feel with Balinese traditional songs playing in the background.
As I was waiting for the launching ceremony to begin, I uploaded some photos on Instagram while sitting on a bean bag in the lawn with two scoops of ice-cream which I paid for using the Maybank app before researching my race route.
Among all the running events I had entered in the past, this was the first time I was provided with such a thorough race map.
The map even showed me the exact location to expect a climb.
The MBM 2018 organisers had definitely given a lot of thought in preparing the race kit.
According to the 10KM course map, there would be a 60m climb for 1.5km stretch starting from KM4.
I was horrified to learn this and I wondered if I was going to suffer.
I sent a quick text to my chat group called Rabbits and A Tortoise, which I started in February with my colleague Tee Lin Say while running at TTDI park.
Everyone in the chat group are experienced runners with a pace of between four minutes and 5.3min per km, with me being the slowest at 7.3min.
Whenever I take part in a running event, I do not simply want to just complete the race. I want to run while maintaining a certain speed which is not easy as it requires immense practice and mental strength.
For the Bali Run my target was to go sub seven minutes per km on average, which meant I had to cut my average running time by six minutes and complete my 10km race in under 1 hour 10min.
My running coach, Yuthika Peiris, gave me some tips to help me prepare for the race, especially at the slope area and told me to remember my training runs at Bukit Kiara and Bukit Chinta in Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
“You got this, it’s a rolling hill, you probably will struggle at 1.5km stretch but don’t slow down,” he said.
On race day, it was hard not to feel nervous seeing seasoned runners preparing themselves by doing all kinds of warm-up exercises from stretching to jumping jacks.
At 4.30am, full marathon category runners took off, followed by half marathoners at 5am.
The 10km runners, including me, were flagged off at 5.30am.
I was struggling in the beginning to set up my pace in a sea of more than 2,000 runners.
But I managed to break free from the crowd after my first km.
As the path became clearer, I was greeted with the rising sun and lush greeneries.
Steadily keeping up pace, I made it to my 4km mark, when the path deviated from the main road to a village area. Going up the slope was tougher than I imagined and I was behind my targeted pace.
“I need to keep going, I must! Stay strong!” I told myself.
The backdrop for the 1.5km slope was a sight to behold.
As I struggled to keep up with the pace, I found myself running past padi fields where cows grazed and birds chirped in the trees.
On the narrow streets, we passed houses and temples with intricate Balinese architecture.
Almost at the tail end of the slope, children from the village were shouting semangat (spirit) as they jumped, clapped and extended their hands to high-five the runners.
Their cheers gave me a much-needed boost to complete the slope and make my way down the hill.
This year, Maybank roped in 4,500 students and 172 teachers to help out along the race route.
They also extended their support to earthquake victims in Lombok in the form of cash 350mil rupiah (RM100,000) for the Lombok rehabilitation programme channelled through Mercy and PKPU (Pos Keadilan Peduli Umat).
Interestingly, villagers offered their shops’ toilets for the runners for any emergency toilet breaks.
At KM6, my legs were in a lot of pain but I kept pushing forward.
To my surprise, I was running close to 6.3minute pace per km.
I started to sprint on my final 2km, only to realise that I did not have much energy left. I crossed the finish line in 1 hour 11 minutes, the fastest run I had done in my life!
It was below my target but I was happy that I completed my race five minutes faster than my previous run.
A range of emotions came rushing in, from happiness to pain.
I thought about how far I’d come to reach this point. Earlier this year I could not even run 1km non-stop, and in less than seven months I was completing my third and my fastest run to boot.
After collecting my finisher medal with cramped legs I went to check on the winners. Thankfully, there was a booth for ice baths and a stretching corner for runners.
Seasoned marathoners Cosmas Matolo Muteti of Kenya clinched the championship title at MBM 2018 clocking in at two hours 15mins and 25sec.
Cosmas was also the fastest marathon runner at the KL Marathon in Kuala Lumpur in April.
In the women category, Rebecca Jepchirchir Korir of Kenya bagged first place in 2’45:29.
For the half marathon, the winners were Joshua Nakeri of Kenya under the Men Category in 1’04:41, and for Women category it was bagged by Rosemary Mumo Katua from Kenya with 1’13:14.
In the 10km category, the fastest was James Gikunga Karanja (Men Category) and Alice Koigi, both from Kenya, clocking 30 minutes 26 seconds and 36 minutes two seconds, respectively.
Also present was Maybank chairman Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsudin, 69, who completed her 10km run in less than two hours.
When it comes to running, pushing yourself in a race can be brutal, but it is worth every second when you cross the finish line and realise you’ve beaten your best time. It was a pure bliss!
Maybe next year I could push myself to participate in the half marathon instead.