Weekend Run at Penang Hill

Of all the recent events, i.e. failed attempt in Osaka for sub 3, and the mind blowing & seizure inducing experience in the Hash Challenge, I have come to embrace a whole new respect for Hill training. And yesterday, as I braved Penang Hill with Penang's own Veteran Superstar Debbie Chinn, I was, once again confronted with a pang of shocking revelation: I seriously suck at hills. 

I confess, I am a hermit when it comes to venturing beyond the quest for new running routes. Not even a passion for food had ever lured me to drive around Penang in search of good local cuisine. Having gone through 2 years of such existence since moving to Penang, I am glad to say that I am finally ending that dry streak. Time to live a little.

So when Debbie gave an invite to run at Penang Hill yesterday (16 Dec), I was eager to hop on the wagon despite having little inkling about what could entail. 'Hill' is such a deceptively benign word. Not the usual head-turning, eye-popping kind of adrenaline rush you get from the formidable 'Mountain'. And sitting just at the backdrop of my home, you tend to take these things for granted. Just like local friends we never seem to have time to call upon. Sad.

At 6 am, we met up and jogged from Tanjung Bungah for approximately 6 km towards the Penang Hill entrance adjacent to the Botanical Garden. Upon arrival, Lincoln appeared out of thin air and joined in the run. Before making our ascent, Debbie detailed us about the climb and warned that we should go at our own pace. But pace is such a relative thing. I have a specific Tempo pace. Interval pace. LSD pace. But Hill? Not exactly. I just reckoned it should be slower than LSD pace. So that became the only game plan. But whatever I visualize and postulated in my feeble attempt to take on the Hill, it was futile. Nothing could possibly prepare me for the actual onslaught. 

It was a 5km climb all the way to the top. But it took only 2.2km to make a believer out of me. The 'molehill' had become a Mountain. I was reduced to walking. And soon, Debbie charged forward with her steady pace and disappeared after 3.5 km. What bothered me was not being overtaken by her. She is a superb marathoner in her own right; factor in also that Penang Hill is her usual playground. But what puzzled me was the state of my endurance and stamina. I was panting and heaving! At certain segments, I managed a light jog where the incline wasn't too steep, but mostly, for the remaining climb, all I could do was walk. It was frustrating to be found wanting. And not to mention terrifying as well. If this is already so tough, then HK100 would be hell.... 

And that is in 1 month's time.

Eventually, we all reached the top. Refreshed ourselves with mother nature's gift of coconut drink. The fresh air was mint and crisp. The morning view across the horizon was simply breathtaking! Georgetown, Butterworth, the Bridge etc were beneath our feet. It felt as though I was standing on clouds. The spectacular view definitely made it all worthwhile.  

And to think that I have missed out on this for the past 2 years....

But all thanks to Debbie, I have unexpectedly stumbled upon another exciting discovery: Hills. 

Despite another seemingly humbling and frustrating experience, I have gained a healthier respect for hill training. I have done different kinds of hill sprints/runs in the past. But never ever on such a demanding scale of 5km straight up. My previous notion of hill runs was in fact child's play in comparison. No wonder I underestimated it. There is always a higher mountain. And for me, Penang Hill redefines it all. 

Perhaps this has been the missing ingredient all along. A 'chance' encounter with Penang Hill at this point of my life is no mere coincidence. It is Providence. This may well be the answer I have been looking for. The answer to the elusive sub 3 for which I have long coveted. 

I vow to return to the Hill again. I have unfinished business....

Well, at the close of 2012, it is good to end it with new things to look forward to. 2013 may be ridden with challenges and insurmountable hardship, but I can always count on one thing: The knowledge that I will keep learning and never stop learning. And God willing, I will break through. 

Lastly, I'll end with this quote:

I have my own unique road that has had many exciting ups and heart-breaking downs, but one thing I know is that my journey is not over and the best is yet to come.        ~Ryan Hall

Yes, I believe the best is yet to come.


  1. Hills! Ughh! I hate them but strangely enough whenever I encounter them, I push myself harder to overcome them but then I think my 'hills' can only be categorized as humps compared to the Penang hill ... LOL!

    Yes, we seldom appreciate the good things and places around us.

    1. Nick, I am sure there are more scary hills. and I am not here to put down anyone's experience of hills either. But for me, Penang Hill has given me a new perspective of hill training. 5km straight up is no joke! :) But am glad that I discovered it. Will have some serious "fun" training there!

  2. Francis, you all ran straight up from the tar road beside Botanical, or via the jungle trail? I went up a few times from the tar road, but it was walking with casual stop that took around 2 hours. And you all running up? Luckily I didn't join you all, I'll come back with broken leg.

    A saying goes "hill are speedwork in disguise". Hills are my phobia, because not only have to run up, and later have to run down. However the improvement really significant if able to train the hill. I tried it before and went into injury, and I avoided all the hills during my last training cycle. I'm planning to go back slowly.

    1. Yes, Kent. The asphalt road called the Jeep road that leads up to the top. 5.1km in total. I know, it was tough. I could only manage half with the remaining walking/slow jogging. Debbie ran all the way.
      It is indeed a good way to train for speed but if it just speed, doing shorter hill sprints will suffice. This 5km uphill goes at a slow pace. It will not just be good for speed, but I think more so for endurance. I plan to train more on that.

  3. Ya, true, the hill train for speed usually at faster pace at a shorter distance (definitely not 5 km at that kind of slop). I didn't thought of that. I heard before there are people running up, now I know it's true.


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