The author at the start of the race. Image courtesy of Fizri Said.

I began running in 2012. Throughout the years, I have tackled many distances lesser than 21 km, but never more than that. I usually break into cold sweat thinking about the marathon.

I surprised myself by making a sudden decision to join the full marathon in the Penang Bridge International Marathon (PBIM). Caught in transition between completing a degree and job-hunting, my brain told me that this was a good time to fully-focus on training for an event that requires a high level of commitment and dedication. I was not quite mentally prepared to tackle a full marathon, but to quote my brother, “if not now, when?” Training for a marathon seemed quite appealing when there is nothing much going on in a person’s life.

I began hunting for a marathon training plan immediately after registering for the race. After much investigation, I picked a plan that seemed feasible for me. It was a four-month training plan that incorporated gradual increases in mileage as well as various running workouts for an intermediate-level runner. The plan advised five days of running in a week, with one day of rest/cross-training and one full day of rest. I also incorporated my own strength and core workouts with this routine, sourced from the Internet.

I adhered to the plan to the best of my abilities. The runs were smooth in the first 10 weeks of training, but disaster struck in the following week. I picked up a stomach bug, resulting in fever, vomiting, and stomach aches for almost a week. Recovering from that illness alone took away almost two weeks of scheduled quality runs from my training (and about 2 kg of my weight).

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I resumed training after that bout of illness, following the plan as much as I can. I sensed a slight drop in my performance, especially during hard training sessions. But all is fair in the running world: you have good days, and then you have random bad days.

The taper weeks flew by, and then suddenly it was race day. I reached Queensbay Mall before midnight, hoping not to get caught in the jam of vehicles and participants. I had no cause to worry though as traffic seemed to be managed well that night. I changed into my race apparel, packed my gels in my pocket, and left my luggage at the baggage drop zone.

A number of participants were warming up at the start point of the route. I joined them, furtively spying on their antics as I performed some drills. I felt a little intimidated watching the elite runners going through their paces. After a brief warm-up, I walked up to the starting line 30 minutes before the race and bided my time there. I remember being caught in a seven-minute procession at the starting point of a 10 km race a few years before, and I sure did not want to experience that again!

All potential marathoners that day were greeted with a brief fireworks display. Each burst of fireworks amplified the tug of nervousness I felt in my heart and tummy as I knew it was finally time to run the marathon. As the gun sounded off, I felt a strange sense of relief as I began focusing on the run instead of my feelings.

I began my run slow and steady. Legions of runners flew by me as I pottered along the road. Balloons bobbed up and down in front of me as the pacers set the various tempi for the participants. I aimed at just finishing the marathon, but found myself comfortably settled in between the pacers targeting for four hours and four hours 30 minutes finishing times.

Besides being greeted by supporters, we were also yelled at by hecklers hiding in the bushes and pedestrian crossings. Loud blares from the random vuvuzela were accompanied by the excited barks and mournful wailings of dogs roaming in the suburbs and factories located along the route of the race.

Tailgating was rampant that day, as with all races. I followed people, and people followed me. Runners ran huddled in groups due to the cool conditions that day, despite minimal headwinds. One such group I followed got told off by the person we followed, which I found to be quite puzzling and yet amusing.

I relied heavily on the water and isotonic drinks which were amply provided at the 15 water station located throughout the race route for hydration and energy, as well as the energy gels I consumed on an hourly basis throughout the race. The race seemed to proceed smoothly for me until I encountered a minor twinge on the left side of my tummy after the 20th km of the race. The twinge grew into a full scale assault as the race proceeded; I began to have severe tummy cramps and the urge to throw up all the carbs I loaded on in the last few days. By the 30th km, I was alternating my run with brief walking sessions. The mere thought of drinking was enough to turn my stomach, and I sipped only water as the race progressed.

As I approached the final kilometres of the race, I was battling the urge to stop running as well as an urge to clear a path among the legion of half-marathoners who were completing the race. Stubbornness and training won; I wanted to finish the marathon, and I was not ready to take no for an answer. It was at this point I understood importance of training the mind to finish a task. I was glad that I always finished a training run no matter how badly I felt that day. I could only look up wistfully as the 4:30 balloons began bobbing far away in front of me.

The finish was a blur. I ran, half-dazed, across the finish line, and stopped my watch: 4:38:37. I stood there for a while, basking in the pain and promising myself that this would be my final marathon ever, when I suddenly heard a voice, “Ranjetta!”

I turned to the voice and saw a face peering excitedly at me from the crowd. I was still in a daze and could not fathom who the face belonged to, until she called out to me again, “Ey! You cannot recognise me ah?”

“Gwen! Sorry ah, I am so blur right now. This marathon was so tough and painful. I sit down first ah.” I groaned loudly as I sat on the pavement.

“Ah, sit sit. Nevermind. Everyone marathon always say like that one. Later they join again, hahaha!”

She sat with me and told me stories about her running escapades, and for that moment, I was glad for her presence. Happiness was a slow and gradual process that arrived about an hour later, despite all the throwing up and stomach cramps that persisted after the race and throughout the day. I finally completed my first marathon, ranking 28th in my category.

I am also quite determined to run another marathon some day.

Ranjetta
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