Taiping International Marathon 2012

I have contemplated not writing up this blog. Some memories are just too painful to relive.

But to be fair, bad experiences shape who we are. You can't escape that.

As many would agree, the running of the event could be summed up in a single word. Mess. It was a rather ominous sign right from the start when they could not even stay true to the supposed starting time of 4:30 am.

But more about that a little later....

I had intended this marathon to be a train up to Osaka in November. Having only done no more than 70km weekly mileage since July, I was not optimistic about doing a decent marathon time anyway even if I'd given it my 110%. That was the game plan. But as always, fickle mindedness could ruin a whole lot more than just a disappointing finish. It would seem that the lack of discipline and resolve would be my own undoing.

Starting time was a little over 5am. At the gun off, the leading group of Kenyan/Uthopian men sped off, disappearing right before our eyes in just a matter of minutes. I was running at my intended pace when I caught up with a group of Kenyan/Uthopian female runners (5 of them) clustering in the second group.

I had not planned any of this. Immediately, I noticed Debbie Chinn in this second group. She trains with us in Youth Park, Penang. A very fast female marathoner who perhaps holds the current top 3 position overall in Malaysia for distant running. She was running happily in her usual signature gait when I pulled up alongside her and decided to pace her. I was already drawn into the group without a second thought. Well, at least the pace was fairly decent, between 4:10 to 4:20. So I assumed....

When you run in a group like this, the pace set by the "leader" of the pack determines the flow. As though predetermined, they were alternating amongst themselves to take the lead. At some stage, Debbie and I were the "leader". But I soon realized that it was much harder to take the lead. It felt as though I was cloaked with an invisible burden. This went back and forth as each of us took turn to lead. At some point, De Runner (a FB friend) joined the group. He's an African who is currently resident in Malaysia (that's all I know). Another point I have noticed was that the Kenyan/Uthopian female runners worked cohesively as a team. At the water station, one of them would speed forward, swoop in and grab the bottle while the others went on with an uninterrupted pace. She would later regroup and pass the bottle among the team mates. The flow was seamless.

Pacing like this was a brand new and fascinating experience for me. As marathon running is largely a solitary event, it was a "luxury" to be paced and be able to "zone" out when you are led. But there is also a danger to this if you are not sure what pace they may be leading you into....

I woke up to this realization when we reached 25km. It seemed that the group suddenly switched on their turbo mode and dropped us. I was left with an eerie lingering thought. "You have been weighed, measured and found very much wanting!" The aftershock was followed by a sense of betrayal. Felt a little angry for being "used" and "played" with. But whether or not it was intentional, I was left to make my arduous journey back pretty much alone. I was still OK until 28km when all "hell" broke loose. This was a bit premature than what I had anticipated. With 14 more km to go, bonking right now was not good.

What options did I have but to just keep running? 3 veteran runners overtook me in the next few km. My pace dropped to between 5-5:30/km. Soon Debbie overtook me with 5km more to go. Well, that's before I managed to overtake one of the Kenyan/Uthopian female runners. I guess she faced the same predicament as I did.

During that long endless 14km where pain was a constant companion, the thought of DNF came to mind. The easy option was to stop and end it. It almost seemed sweet to savor, so alluring and comforting to just STOP.

That came to me TWICE. It was almost unbearable to have to resist it when everything about the situation seemed so right to just end it. I was craving for it. The suffering was almost excruciating. But the mental torture was what bothered me the most. It was as though the spirit within me was dying with each step that I took.

I put up a fight. But it was almost futile to resist the temptation to DNF. Somehow, beyond the state of utter exhaustion, I remember reading somewhere that Cowardice produce Fatigue. When you lose the will to fight. Then it is over. Fatigue is only a by product. Not the other way round.

I can fail but I cannot quit. I can hobble back slowly with a battered ego but I will not finish this with a DNF. That's not an option. And I was never going to open this flood gate. Not ever for the sake of future races.

Another veteran passed me with 2 more km to go. I didn't care. I just wanted to finish. And as I crossed the line with 3:31, I reminded myself: Remember this! This is what lack of mileage and a reckless disregard of my actual state of fitness could do. I never want to go through this ever again.

Some how, at the end of this writing, I have lost the interest to elaborate on the issues raised regarding the organization of the event. Unpleasant and disorganized as it was, the whole "hoo-haa" paled in comparison to what I had personally gone through. (Of course, running a marathon has always been a highly personal thing).

Somehow, PAIN stole the show. Each time when you go through something like this, you grow a little stronger. You grasp a deeper appreciation of what endurance means. You gain a better perspective of what a marathon should be. And how much more you should respect the distance and never EVER take it for granted.

Yes, I think, over all, I have become a better man at the end of the day. That's not all bad.

Nearing the end. Felt like THE end....

Benjamin, Kang, myself and Debbie (Superwoman)


  1. Reading about your experiences always inspires me to try and better myself even more. Good job on your perseverance to not give up, Francis.

  2. Thanks Nick. It would have been ideal if this story has a happy ending. But I am reminded that all runners will have one of those days. Just have to learn and keep on learning.

  3. It's eye-opening to know how the Kenyan/Utopian runners work the run. To run in a pack like this and take turn to lead would certainly not be easy. It'll certainly cause frustration when the plan was interrupted, and it's still like 30km or 20km to go.

    I had this bad experience that I couldn't find the toilet before the start and when I got to starting point the entrance already closed. I got to climb over the fence and start with all tiredness and frustration, not to say disturb the pace plan. However that was really some experience and lesson for me.

    Liked what you say "respect the distance and never take it for granted".

  4. yes Kent. It certainly was an eye opener for me to run along them. But somehow, I don't think I would ever do that stunt again. :)


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