Penang Round Island 2011

It's the battle of 2 cities. Annually, Penang hosts this event in Dec. This year saw the reenactment of an age old rivalry. Taiping vs Penang. Over the years, we had suffered countless defeat. Much to the humiliation of the home crowd. Taiping has always outwitted and outrun us.

I was offered a place in this year's men's veteran relay. The chosen 12 were carefully and strategically placed in the 12 legs spanning the 72 km around the island. I was to run the 11th. As in the eleventh hour. It was either make or break. Talk about pressure!

The morning started at 4am with the assembly of all runners at Green Hall Street adjacent the Esplanade. There were in fact 20+ relay teams. All competing in various capacities and respective categories. We were soon segregated and transported by buses to our individual stations. But because mine was almost near the end of the relay, we had ample time for some R&R.

Home was just a few hundred yards away from my exchange point. So I had the luxury of a short nap before the showdown. At 8:30 am, I took a slow jog to the station, jump starting my hypnogogic state of mind in the cradle of sea breeze and sunshine. Soon enough, at my station, I was joined by the other relay team members, bringing uplifting news of our lead over the Taiping runners by 4 minutes. We had caught up with them after our second leg, slowly extending the lead over the subsequent sections. I sighed my relief knowing that the guys had done it! The hard work was solidly laid. Now, I just needed to sustain the lead and pass on the baton to our last runner waiting 6.5km away.

The sun was out and already, Penang traffic was building up in the wake of a Sunday morning. I waited for Richard Tan to stride into the scene with the anticipation of a school boy for his report card. O boy! Here it goes! It's been more than 20 years since I participated in any form of team competition. Flashbacks could appear in the most inappropriate moments. I recalled dropping my baton at the exchange. At 17, I was the last leg of our 4x100m relay during the State Met in 1987. We HAD a good chance of a gold medal position that day.

I blotted out the thought. No relevance whatsoever here. We had a good lead. I would not need to go flat out. Just sustain. And sustain I would. No heroics required. Simple plan. Now, just focus on executing it with some care and precision.

Richard Tan strode in. He was still going strong. I took over the baton and sped off amidst a roaring crowd. Go! Go! Go! The Adrenaline rush erased all form of logic or predetermined plans. I ran at 3:30 to 3:40min/km pace without even realizing it. It just felt GOOD! But out of the shelter of trees, the sun was beginning to scorch the skin and parch the lips. I was at the mercy of the elements. And fumes from heavy traffic not only showed little regard for what we were doing, but only defiantly served up an indifference of: We don't give a shit! I had buses spraying dark exhaust fumes as I struggled to breath in an increasing stifling atmospheric air. The sun and the heat would be more forgivable....

A reality check jolted a cautionary reminder of my pace and I eventually loosened up to a more sustainable 4:00/km. This happened when the breathing became heavier and the legs less nimble as the journey unfolded. The terrain was mainly undulating but none too taxing. I approached the designated hand over station with a longing for just one thing...water! It was a 'short' run. But a fast pace and a hurried one. Such is the nature of any competition. I had covered 6.5 km in 26 minutes.

You would expect that in any race. But that is also the promised exhilaration. I managed to lengthen the lead by another 4 seconds. Leaving the Taiping group trailing about a km behind. I was never more relieved as our last man took over my baton. All I was thinking of was some ice cold drink! And Lincoln handed me just that. Bless his soul!

I joined a convoy of Forward runners at the back of a pick up. Headed towards the finish line to galvanize our claim on the hard earned victory. And a victory it was, indeed! With our last leg clocking in at 4 hours 49 minutes, on this day, we had proudly beaten Taiping by 3 minutes 33 seconds.

It was the most satisfying experience. Not just because we were the stronger team on that day. But what mattered the most was: we came together to run our very best for the team. You could argue that we had the dream team. Because all it takes is for anyone of us to 'under perform', the whole team would not have even made it. The stake was that high.

I am proud of you guys! And thank you for a superb race!

Below are some of the highlights from the race, photos courtesy of Ben Chong.
Khir Salleh. (shirtless) R1. Superb runner with PB of 1:23 for half. And he is already 48!
Boon Yen Kian. R2. Only the fastest Vet Marathoner known. Sub 2:30 in his prime. He was the anchor man.

Jien Kuo. R3. Fast fast marathoner. Sub 2:45 in his prime.  

CK Tan. R4. Fast and Furious!

Sam. R5. Superb fast runner! The mastermind of the group.

Choo Hooi. R6. Forward's Ah Tao. Very fast runner who, believe it or not, only started running 1 year ago. Now already a 1:30 half marathon calibre. For those who know him, a true living testimony of a drastic make over. All thanks to running.

Beng Huat. R7.

Yorozu. R8. Literally like Audi R8! He ran a sub 4:00/km pace. Despite a very hilly course. And more amazingly, he is 54! Salute!

Bala. R9. Ex National 1500M runner.

Richard. R10. Superb form. Superb fast runner. 1:30 half marathon calibre. A good friend too.

Me. R11. With my wife close behind. The S40. By chance, she was on her way to church!

Quah. R12. Bringing it HOME!

These are the 12. We had a ball! We ARE the Champions...My friends!


  1. Wah... very very impressive and enviable "Dirty Dozen"... superb profile. Taiping group just tailed your team by 3.5minutes after 4+ hours of runs... very close call!

  2. Yes, YS. Taiping has always beaten us in the past few years. It was indeed a close call. None of us could really 'take it easy' despite our lead. But we did well!

  3. Superb! Gives me hope that I can get faster as I age! The key is durability!

  4. Jamie, indeed! I am so inspired by these Vets. They are TOUGH! And as we age, we are more resolute, the rest, as they say, are just.details.....

  5. Such inspiring report. Great resolution and determination. :)

  6. Thanks Jin Ji! You know how it is! I am just surrounded by a cloud of superhuman! How not to be inspired?


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