Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Running in Bidor

Although Bidor is not my hometown, running in Bidor always gives me a nostalgic feeling. I felt transported back in time to my childhood days growing up in a little squatter area in KL with my nanny and her family. We stayed in a wooden house which housed about 3 to 4 families. Friendly neighbourhood - everyone seemed to know and care about everyone. Nowadays we're all wary of strangers and quite rightly so.

While I was running, one old fashion yet evergreen song came to mind which aptly describes my feelings then.
I see trees of roses too
I see them bloom for you and me
And I think to myself...What a wonderful world!

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed days and dark sacred nights
And I think to myself...What a wonderful world!

The colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, saying "How do you do?"
They're really saying, "I love you!"

I hear babies cry...I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself...What a wonderful world!

Yes, I say to myself..."What a wonderful world!"
- Louis Armstrong

There are a few reasons why I enjoy running the Bidor Half Marathon :
This marathon is organized by Bidor Runners for runners and it's friendly. Friendly because there's no prize money but I could still see smiling faces everywhere. I was told that the numbers grew from 200 participants few years back to 1,600 last Sunday. The increase in number of participants surely speak for itself of how a race in small town is being so impressively managed. Bidor Runners certainly deserved the support. Bravo!

Race Course
The race course is good and never boring. Running pass kampungs and estates, it brings runners closer to nature. It is also a good escape for me to get out of running in the city. Distance markers were placed at every kilometre and refreshments were adequate.

Post Race
Everyone who finishes the race gets a medal and it is one medal that I would care to collect and keep. Over the years, the Organizers put a lot of thought and effort into creating the design of the medal. Every year we get a different one and the collection get better and better. Thumbs up to them for creativity!
And I also received a trophy for finishing 6th. Thanks!
We were all treated with a generous post breakfast after the run and unlike other bigger races in the city, they do away with the coupon system. I honestly feel the coupon system is a waste of time and lack common sense. Of course, after a good workout we can all eat to our heart's content but how much more can a runner consume immediately after a race?

Well, Bidor is a town famous for its soup noodle, wantan mee, Pun Chun yam puffs, chicken biscuits etc. It is also famous for all kinds of hybrid jambus and fruits like guava, mango etc. 90% of Pun Chun, the shop that we ate were occupied with runners that Sunday.

It was a good weekend outing for us and more so, when we got to watch London Marathon 'live' on Astro when we got back that evening.

Run - Eat - Sleep - Watch TV. Ah, what a life!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The little things in life have a strange but often pleasant way of reminding us of the big things. Sometimes a brief moment is all that is needed to shift our focus and align us back on course. Yet many times, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
Few days ago I received this from a friend via e-mail, hear this if you haven't:

Easy to occupy a place in the telephone directory
Difficult to occupy the heart of somebody

Easy to judge the errors of others
Difficult to recognize our own errors

Easy to hurt those whom we love
Difficult to heal those wounds

Easy to forgive others
Difficult to ask for forgiveness

Easy to exhibit victory
Difficult to assume defeat with dignity

Easy to dream every night
Difficult to fight for a dream

Easy to pray every night
Difficult to find God in the smallest of things

Easy to say we love
Difficult to demonstrate it everyday

Easy to criticize everybody
Difficult to better ourselves

Easy to think of improving
Difficult to stop thinking and really do it

Easy to receive
Difficult to give

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The 'right' road to Maran - Part 2

Day Three : My cup runneth over
Bangun! Bangun! (Wake up! Wake up!)…this was repeated over and over again like an old tape recorder by our dear priest Samy. As soon as he woke up, he started walking round the hall to ensure that everyone is awake. It was only 1 am. I meant to sleep in for another half hour but when I saw that Amelia was already up and getting ready, I got up. Samy was so persistent with his morning call “Bangun!” that I could even hear it while I was brushing my teeth outside!
At 2.30 am the police truck arrived to chauffeur us to Mahamariamman Temple at Temerloh to join the rest for Breakfast. While waiting for the flag-off at 4 am, the skies show signs of a shower coming. We decided to go into the temple to put on our raincoats and suddenly the heavy downpour! Later, I was informed that this (shower) seemed to be happening every year and it is considered as auspicious. Many just braved the rain and started with their journey but the officials advised us (about 50) to stay behind as the rain was getting heavy.
Since we only slept for 3 hours last night, we did not hesitate to continue our sleep on the cold floor in the temple hall. I chatted with some of the aunties there who offered me a space to squeeze in between them. Just as curious as they were about my presence there, I was also curious about theirs. They shared with me their purpose for participating in this walk which they have been walking for the past 10 years. Incredible!
At about 6 am, heavy rain was reduced to drizzle and we were all advised to start our journey for the day. The police truck then sent us to the first pit stop for some light refreshments and to join the group who started their walk earlier. So began my journey for day 3. It was still drizzling and the gloomy skies were certainly a welcome change after being burnt by the sun for the past two days. Having said that, the sun came out and started roasting us again! On arrival to the stop at Jengkak, it was only 10.40 am and we were told to rest and wait for lunch at 12 noon.
Based on Julie’s experience, she advised us not to wait but to continue walking and have lunch on our own later.
The final stretch was another grueling long section heading towards Maran. We followed the signboard which wrote ‘KUIL SRI MARATHANDAVAR 16km’ but wait, as we walked quite a distance further it said ‘Kuil Sri Marathandavar 17km’ Ah…16km or 17km? Anyway, never trust distance markers in Malaysia – they are often misleading and a waste of time if we depend on them too much. Julie, Pueh Tian and I took a short break at one of the stalls to have lunch while Amelia had walked way ahead and could not be stopped. Ahead of us was another 13km…On a normal day, 13km seem pretty easy for me. But presently, walking with 6 blisters on the heated tarmac road seemed quite a task. After coming so far, I thought I can overcome anything but not until I got to know that we need to walk barefooted for the last 4km. Ah..with my blisters???

Last 4km
Ha! Ha! It was another relief after having completed 13km. We joined all the devotees and assembled beside the river bank to walk the last 4km together, barefooted. Well, as observers, my friends and I have decided to part take the whole process with the others.
Everyone had to walk down the river to ‘cleanse’ ourselves from top to toe. (In the end, Samy suggested that we can also use mineral water..hehe! he is humorous!) As we walked forward, the priest blessed us by applying some white powder and a red little dot on our foreheads. Then, we formed a line with other devotees. Some aunties who were observing us were joyous to see that we followed this ritual. They offered me a place in the queue next to them but I told them I will stay behind the line to observe this time. After 20 minutes of prayer, we picked up one of the milk pot covered with a piece of yellow cloth that was placed on the ground and followed the group as they chant and marched to the main temple. Oh yes, we walked barefooted carrying the milk pot on our heads.

One of the St. John’s volunteers was very helpful, he dressed and plastered all my blisters so it lessened the pain. Thanks a million, Kwan!
Carrying the milk pot on the head was rather difficult as it was heavy. I placed it on my shoulders instead. As we drew nearer to Sri Marathandavar temple, one of the priests advised me to put the milk pot on my head. He explained that when the milk pot is placed on the head, you could feel the heaviness. You then transfer this heaviness (the heaviness of our burdens) to Lord Muruga. Another officer who was walking beside me said, “Today is an auspicious day for you. When you handover this milk pot to the priest, remember to make a wish.”
It was without a doubt, the people surrounding me were all willing to share their culture and beliefs and we need to respect that. I was made to see that everyone on this planet can actually live together in harmony if we make enough effort to treat each other as human beings by not looking at one another in contempt, and discriminate because of skin color, gender, race or rank.We finally arrived at our final destination…I sighted the majestic Sri Marathandavar Temple! There were already thousands of devotees gathered there to celebrate Pangguni Uthiram festival (a celebration for Murugan devotees) and almost similar to Thaipusam. Some devotees carrying the kavadis, some went into a trance, rolling on the floor, dancing etc.
There was a huge bazaar with more than a hundred traders selling all kinds of everything. It was indeed a very colorful carnival.
We walked around the temple 3 times before entering the sacred place. And when my turn came to hand over the milk pot to the priest to pour on Lord Muruga, I made a universal wish: that all of us will be blessed with good health and that man will learn to live in peace. After pouring out the milk, the priest handed the pot together with a coconut, banana, powder and some flower petals to me.

Sri Marathandavar Bala Dhandayuthapani Temple
Situated in Maran, Pahang this temple is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus in Malaysia. It is 121 years old today.
The legend goes that a large tree was marked for falling to make way for the KL – Kuantan road but as the blade of the axe struck it, the tree began to bleed. Lorries were overturned and one of the Tamil workers suddenly went into a trance and pleaded for the tree to be spared. When the authorities refused, they saw a figure of a child appearing on the tree trunk. The supervisor immediately changed his mind and then re-laid the road to avoid the tree. The place became sacred and the temple was constructed around the tree. Many who came to worship were bestowed with good fortune in their lives and they returned to the temple from time to time to offer thanksgiving to Lord Muruga.
After the ceremony, I went searching for my bags at the tent outside the temple and was surprised to discover a big mess! Hundreds of bags were scattered all over and I wondered if it’s ever possible to find mine?! Well, took me awhile but eventually I managed to locate my bags. Then I realized that my shoes and slippers were missing and still in the police truck. I went searching for the truck which was parked some distance away from the temple. I was absolutely worn-out this time especially walking around barefooted until these words suddenly came to mind and struck me: I complained I have no shoes until I saw a man without his feet!
Gratitude, haven’t I just learn?
Next, when I got to know that there weren’t any place to shower, I decided to go home with Amelia. I hastily made arrangements with the St. John’s team after learning that they were also leaving for KL that night. Mohan and Suresh from St. John’s are some of the nicest people I met here. They drove us back.
By now, my legs were screaming of fatique, my blisters were shouting in agony and my whole body began to sore and ache due to the excessive sunburn, otherwise I would have stayed back. When we were leaving Maran, it began to rain and later, I was told that the whole place was flooded. I slept all the way from Maran to KL.

As ravaged as my body feels, the overall experience is just too extraordinary to lose sight of. Now still recovering from all the aches, sunburn and record-breaking blisters, I did not regret making my foot-steps from KL to Maran.
Will I do it again? When the time comes and there are still lessons to be learned, I will.

Indeed, sometimes we can be at the right time, right place and miracles happen.
For me, the lessons I learned throughout this entire journey itself is a miracle!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The 'right' road to Maran - Part 1

Sometimes we can be at the right place, on the right time and miracles happen. Other times we might find ourselves at the wrong place, at the wrong time and everything else seemed so wrong! Well, sometimes lucky and at times, not so.

KL - Maran Walk ( 5th – 7th April)
I believe it was the right time and not by chance when I made up my mind to walk this ritual walk from Batu Caves to Maran with my friends Julie, Amelia & Lim Pueh Tian. It was Julie who introduced us to this event which she has been participating for the last 4 years. She provided us with a detailed programme so as to equip us for the event.

The walk from Batu Caves to Maran covers 204km in 3 days. This event has been happening for the last 32 years and rather popular amongst the Hindus. And all these years I never knew that non Hindus are allowed to participate. The purpose of the walk is to celebrate the birthday of Lord Muruga. It is believed that devotees who make a pledge during this pilgrimage journey will receive blessings from Lord Muruga and have their wishes fulfilled. Many came to seek blessings.

Upon arrival at Batu Caves at 12 midnight, we were welcomed by some fellow “walkers” to join them. This year, there are more than 250 participants from all over Malaysia. As it was not a race, there were no specific rules. I was there to experience a different event and respect the Hindu culture and I decided to have fun and enjoy myself.

Day One : The Walker walketh
We loaded our bags onto the Police Truck and only carried with us some basic belongings eg. raincoat, torch, slipper and water bottle. After a light supper and prayer, the walk was flag-off at 3.15 am. I was informed that Day One is the toughest and longest and indeed it was.
After walking 30km or so, the first blister visited me. I managed to meet Julie at the stop near Genting Sempah and got some Vaseline from her. We then continued our journey to our next stop which was another 20km at Hutan Lipur Lintang. We stopped here to refresh ourselves and had lunch. Our meals were all vegetarian throughout the entire 3 days. Being a prescatarian, I have no problem with that at all. In fact, our Hindu friends seemed happy when they observed that we followed their culture – eating with our hands.
After lunch, we continued walking on the tar roads on the highway with the blazing sun right on top of our heads. In between, we had tea, fruits and jelly aplenty. The support was good : 2 Police trucks, 2 St. John’s Ambulance, 20 Rela members, a Midnight Express Van (to entertain us with Indian songs) and a host of dedicated volunteers escorting us throughout and at various spots.
About more than 10km before reaching our final pit-stop, the heavens suddenly opened up and poured. It was a heavy downpour and so sudden that I wasn’t given time to put on my rain coat. The winds were so strong that it almost blew my rain coat away! I ran and took shelter at a nearby stop. Here, I met Amelia and several other walkers. I was drenched! We waited for the rain to subside and then, 2 other guys asked Amelia and I to walk together with them to complete the walk of the day. By now, we had already walked 71km – what is another 10km? So I thought and I was so wrong! When you are so physically spent, the last 10km were nothing but an absolute torture and a never-ending journey (for me).

As it was still drizzling, my shoes were all soaked making my legs heavy and the walk became more and more unbearable. My blisters were hurting too. However, those 2 guys kept encouraging me, “We are actually getting closer already. The temple is just round the corner.” Well, round the corner was actually 2 km away and what seemed like eternity! It was like we were never going to reach there!
My, I was exhausted beyond words but kept motivating myself to be patient…it’s just a matter of time, I will arrive there eventually. When we finally arrived at the Mahamariamman Temple at Karak, we were greeted by Julie and Pueh Tian who had both hopped onto the police truck earlier.
Instead of waiting for dinner to be served at 8pm, we decided to eat at the mamak stall nearby. We had a quick bath in the open as bathrooms and toilets were really limited. Our sleeping area was in the temple hall where all slept on the cement floor with either a mat or sleeping bag (depending on which one you bring). With more than 100 ladies, we just had to squeeze ourselves into any space we could find and therefore, Amelia, Julie and I slept separately.
I had the least problem as I can sleep anywhere, anytime and not for long, I succumbed to fatique and slept the sleep of the just.
Today, I walked 81km and the distance is nothing to be so proud of. However, I am proud because I have learned PATIENCE all over again today. As I evaluated myself today, I knew that all the time, I was in a hurry…rushing from one place to another and most times, wanting to be the first to get there. Rushing to talk to people and sometimes, never really listening to them. Many times, I got frustrated especially being caught in a traffic jam or even while waiting for the lift. Yet today – I overcame the sun, the rain, the blister and walked all the way from Batu Caves to Karak. 81km is certainly no easy feat but it was patience and perseverance that got me thus far. If I have the patience to endure such long and hard journey, why can’t I be a little more patient in my everyday life? Why can’t I be a little more patient with people and circumstances?
After the pain is gone, I hope to live never forgetting what today has taught me.

“Often we allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. We lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over grievances that, in a year’s time will be forgotten by us and by everybody. Instead we should devote our life to worthwhile actions and feelings, to great thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings." - Andre Maurois

Day Two : The Seeker seeketh
Today was another much anticipated “long sunny day”. Temperatures forecasted to be even higher than yesterday.
I slept fairly well last night despite the noises around me. Anyhow, it is impossible to expect peace and quiet in a hall with 100 over ladies…ha!
My shoes are still wet from yesterday’s rain and I knew I made the biggest mistake for not bringing a spare with me.
We were treated with biscuits and hot tea for breakfast before the flag-off at 4.10 am. It was pitch dark. I switched on my torchlight and tried to stay close to a group. I decided to walk slowly and carefully and most of the morning, walking and talking with Julie. Along the way, we met the priest Samy (not his real name) and we walked some distances together with him. He became my inspiration today. Samy is 80 years old and has been walking for the last 32 years without fail! He puts many of us to shame. At his age, I’m amazed that his walking pace is very consistent. He explained to me that the road conditions those days were far worse than current. I also observed that he doesn’t eat much – only enough. Yup, over a meal I sat with him and he reminded that we don’t need to eat a lot – only enough to fill the stomach. And I agree with him.
My walk today was dreadful. My legs felt like lead, only heavier. The blazing sun was so unforgiving especially when you had to go through it for 12 hours in 36C with no breeze or shade (I did put on a cap, though). There was a long stretch of road – a desolate sector where trucks roar through the intersections and the only businesses for miles is a poor petrol station and it’s the only place we could go to ease ourselves.
With another 5km to the next temple stop, the Police caught a few of us and requested us to board the truck as we were behind time for lunch. On board the truck, I saw my friends Julie and Pueh Tian and Samy were there too. Ha! Ha!
Upon arrival at the Mahamariamamman Temple at Mentakab, I went to seek medical attention to treat my blisters which had increased from 2 to 4! I decided to give lunch a miss and rested instead.
The journey to the next temple stop was another 17-20km away. Along the road, some villagers were very kind, they offered us refreshments which they prepared from their heart. An elderly lady treated us ginger tea and some cakes which she made herself. Throughout this journey, I only saw kindness and generosity in the people whom I often discriminated and judged as unreliable. Oh God, I was so wrong!
The next pit stop was at Temerloh. My skin was terribly burnt while my fingers and feet were swollen and sore due to the stagnant blood flow. Furthermore, new blisters had developed adding it to six now, I decided to call it a day. After a short break, Samy told me that he would continue and asked me to catch up with him later. This really puts me to shame because I knew I was not going to walk any further today and I was too embarrassed to tell him that. My mind was determined while my body was protesting wildly.
Therefore, my mileage today was only 46km which is already more than a marathon distance. We set camp at Mahamariamamman Temple at Temerloh. This temple hall is extremely small and again all 100 over ladies had to cramp into whatever space we could find to sleep. Needless to say, we were all like packed sardines! Elsewhere, the guys were getting no better. In fact, their hall could not even accommodate them all. When we got news that the Organizers had decided to transfer 40 of them to a newer temple that is still under renovation, we asked if we could follow the guys. Fortunately, they obliged to our request, “Well, if you don’t mind putting up with 40 guys, you may join them.”
Without hesitation, we quickly moved and packed all our belongings and boarded onto the police truck to transfer there. It was raining again that evening but was glad that this temple is so much spacious compared to the one earlier. We found a spot and without wasting time, took our precious 40 winks!

Today I learned about GRATITUDE for I know what it really feels like to stay in a Refugee Camp. Today, I will appreciate and value the little things in life more than before. I count my blessings and remember to be grateful for whatever I am given.
Back home, I sometimes complained about dirty toilets and bathrooms, here we took our shower in the open.
Back home, once in a while I made fuss over a bed that has lost its bounce and softness, here we slept on cold and hard cement floor.
Back home, I sometimes got annoyed over stain cutlery, here we ate using our own hands.
Somewhere in this world, such are the everyday lives of the poor and the homeless and being able to experience just a small part of it has once again humbled me.
We actually spent so much on things we don't really need when they are people out there who are fighting poverty and hunger and have no idea when their next meal is coming from.
I began to see that everything has a wonder to it. The tiniest of flowers, the lowliest of creatures or perhaps, the faintest of a smile…they all have a purpose, they have a place in this world. It is up to us to discover their reason of being and be inspired by the wonder of it all.

“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

Final Day (to be continued)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Running the same course but worlds apart..

After the launch of the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon (SCKLM) on 13th March saw many runners getting up and started their long distance training. Some are already running into their 30km training last week.

And John and I haven't seriously moved our butts yet!!!

To begin with, I haven't even been competing in a single race since the year began. My running remains pretty normal. Same running route and same running buddies. My training buddies are mainly from the 'Senior Veteran' group which some folks felt their pace could be slightly slower for me. But I don't mind.
After each run, I did learn something from them which actually made me wiser. So while I may not be a better runner, I am certainly made a smarter person because of them.

Well, not all runners think alike or train alike...
We have one group called "the competers" - the pros and ambitious amateurs who live like pros and devote much of their lives to running faster and faster and of course, competing for the $$.
Then there's another group - "the completers" like the rest of us who sometimes run races with the objective to complete each race for a healthier and better well-being or simply to test out our fitness level.

The mixing of the 2 groups or 2 worlds at races maybe an illusion. "They" and "we" share little else but a common course. In an old copy of Runner's World magazine, I found this comparison to be funny. They (the competers) and we (the completers) run in different worlds and these are some of the differences :

- They outrun 99.9% of all runners.
We outnumber them a thousand to one.

- They make us proud to be runners.
We make them look good.

- They are largely young.
We are all ages.

- They race long and fast.
We run long races.

- They race for place and time
We race to finish.

- They are paid to race.
We pay to race.

- They train to race.
We race to spice up our training.

- They fit their day around training.
We squeeze training into our day.

- They train as much as they can.
We train as little as we can get away with.

- They are featured in magazines.
We read the magazines.

Happy training!