Sunday, November 29, 2009

Penang Bridge revisited

It's been 6 years since I last ran the Penang Bridge Run. Running the bridge had always hold bittersweet memories for me; for it was here I recorded my worst personal time of 2hr 13mins and it was here, I achieved my personal best time of 1hr 49mins for a 22.3km run. And it was also here that I DID NOT START (DNS) my first marathon race ever after training hard for it. I soon learnt that I had 'overtrained' myself and succumbed to fatique and fever just the day before the race. To Penang I went - but to the clinic instead of the starting line! How awful!!
Later, I went back to run and race year after year the Penang Bridge Run with impressive timings and often with prizes, until they ceased organizing it some years back. However, PBIM was back again and this year, they made tremendous improvements over previous years!

The Penang Bridge International Marathon is by far the largest marathon in Malaysia and probably the most famous one too, not just because it is a run over one of the world longest bridges, but also for its captivating view of the sea on both side of the bridge with the sunrise on the distant horizon. This is the second year the marathon is organized by the Penang State Government under the revamped format.
As the Bridge needs to start its operation by 9am, the organizers brought the full marathon start time to 2.30am, while the half marathon at 3.30am. Honestly, I had never ran a half marathon at such an ungodly hour and I am game to try.

Pre Race Day
Unlike previous years where we drove to Penang ourselves, this year John and I decided to car-pool with Francis, Gary and Vijay (since we were all sharing a suite as well). On arrival to Penang, we headed straight to Queensbay Mall outdoor carpark to collect our race kits. Collection was a breeze and very efficient. After that, we checked into Krystal Suite which is located 500m from Queensbay Mall where the marathon would start.
Krystal Suite is huge; covering 950 square feet complete with a king size bed, a spacious lounge with sofa, tv and a study. The kitchenette is equipped with a microwave oven, mini fridge, coffee making facilities and dining table. However, there is only one toilet. Still, the rate of RM100 is dirt cheap! I would like to thank Agnes for helping me with the bookings.

In the afternoon, Kelvin Loh (a local runner/friend) gave us a surprise when he invited a group of us to his new house for tea. It was a Big Tea! We had such a great time filling our stomachs with his homemade dumplings, yam cakes, curry with special buns. Later, we even got to view a DVD on our recent Ocean to Ocean Relay Run brought by Amelia.
Then it was FOOD again for dinner and we spoiled ourselves with a variety of hawker fare. In Penang, it's all about food and hawkers food are too good to resist! At about 10pm, we decided to call it a day while John and Francis pampered themselves with a much needed massage.

Race Day
We gathered at the lobby at 2.45am and took a stroll together to the marathon site. By then the full marathon had already started. At exactly 3.30am, the half marathon male runners were flagged off by the Chief Minister YAB Lim Guan Eng. The Women categories started 15mins later.
I ran without any goal or expectation as I was still recovering from a very sore body and am under nutritional medicine. I took this trip as a 'Makan Angin Run' and as usual, started very conservatively. The weather was extremely good with cold early morning breeze and it certainly made running comfortable. The further I ran, I realized that I was going faster and overtaking many runners who had surged ahead of me earlier. The feeling was pleasant!
After taking the U-Turn at the bridge, I stumbled upon an excited and kind uncle who cheered me on so madly. He even alerted me on my placing. According to his observation I was the 17th female runner then. He encouraged me to run faster and chase the two female runners ahead of me. Suddenly, I realized that I was running a real race and not just a 'makan angin' run. Fortunately my feet could carry me fast enough to be able to catch up with the two ladies in front, only to realize that one of them is my friend, Agnes Tee. I paced with Agnes for about 2kms and towards the last water station, I signalled to Agnes to move ahead in order to pass another 2 runners in front of us. She did and so did I.
Just minutes later, the sight of Queensbay Mall appeared down the avenue and the finish gantry waited just around the corner. As I was running towards it, I was cheered by my husband John, Lok and son. Agnes finished 11th, with me slightly behind her taking the 12th position. This time, to be able to maintain my time of 1hr 54mins was not disappointed because I came without even a thought of making it to top 15. With a poor physical condition, I am therefore convinced that the mind is greater than the body most of the time. I was awarded RM200 plus a phiten Rakumaki tape.
At that moment no dish from the local cuisine is too rich for any proud finisher. On the way back to KL, we stopped at Sauk (off Kuala Kangsar) for a sumptous lunch.

Credits and Feedback
Overall, the event was well-organized. Firstly, the Chief Minister YAB Lim Guan Eng has our respect for being there as early as 2.30am to flag the marathon. Normally, runners had to wait for these 'big shots' who called themselves ministers but they are often late or don't show up at all. Sometimes they'll send their 'assistant' to do the job while preaching to public about living a healthy lifestyle through exercise!! But this Chief Minister arrived early and stayed until as late as 9 or 10am for the prize giving ceremony. He has certainly earned respect from the 20,000 runners who were present there on that Sunday morning.

I was very impressed with the mobile toilets. Not only were there many, they were clean. This is really something rarely expected in races. A cleaner was stationed there to ensure that the toilets were cleaned and sanitized from time to time. There were no queues and for the very first time, runners had the luxury of having clean mobile toilets. A Big thank you.

There were adequate refreshment stations. In fact, I found it a lot of wastage to be handed with a whole bottle of water during the race. Runners don't drink the whole bottle of water. Feedback were given to the organizers to use paper cups instead.

After the race, runners were treated with a hearty breakfast. Generous servings of spaghetti were replenished to ensure enough helpings for even the late runners.

Collection of race kits were swift and smooth. Some participants who paid a fee of RM10 had their race kits delivered to their house a week before the event.

The upgraded timimg chip system made it very convenient for runners. Runners do not need to return the chip after the race like we used to. Imagine..after having run 42km the weary runner has to bend down to remove the chip and then line up to return it and get our money refunded?? With this new ChampionChip, the hassle of returning the chip or getting the refunds had all been eliminated.

To the Organizers of The Penang Bridge International Marathon - Thank You and Well Done!

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