Borneo International Marathon 2014

If anyone care to notice, the welcoming banner that read: “May the 4th be with You!”, coupled with the Runners Tee’s catchy: “Your Pace or Mine?” and finishing with the final punch line on the Finisher Tee’s: “It went on forever…”, leaves little room for imagination that the organizer has really gone out on a limb here with taglines. And not just any taglines like the ever so serious “Run for a Reason” in SCHKM; This one’s rather amusing and may even be construed as rather ‘suggestive’. But ultimately, it most certainly wasn’t intended to be taken too literally. Despite the corny connotation, I am rather happy to see that someone’s not taking it too seriously! J

Evidently, BIM has gathered some momentum over the years. Since my 2012 participation, now, it appears, BIM has attracted significant international attention. The crowd was mostly Malaysians but there is a noticeable presence of quite a few “orang putih” or Caucasians, Japanese, Hong Kongnese, Chinese, Thais, Philipinos etc… and let’s not forget the Kenyans. It’s a healthy sign of BIM’s viability and recognition. Kudos to the organizer!

Out of the 7000 participants, I was told that 900+ were full marathoners. This is an impressive figure for a relatively small event. I didn’t realize that BIM was becoming such a hit among marathoners.  Then again, let’s not forget that in recent years, there is a significant increase in interest for endurance sports globally. Bucket list or not, running a marathon is no longer such a ‘big deal’ anymore. Like Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “When everybody’s Super, then NOBODY is Super.” ‘Special’ takes on a new meaning when limitations and boundaries are redefined. In this case, statistics too.

BIM has always been a bit of fun and business for me. I was glad to bump into Dan Low on the same flight enroute to Sabah. Not only do we share the love of the marathon sport, Dan is also an avid scuba diver. So, there was much to chat about along the way. We made a couple more new runner friends too, Chen and Alan Toh, as we arrived in Sabah. That is the beauty of our sport: The camaraderie breaks all barriers. It is a great platform for social networking. That’s why my FB is flooded with marathoner friends and their photos….
Selfies with Dan (my right) and Tey

If there is a down side to BIM, it has to be the early starting time of 3 am. When I requested for a 2 am taxi bound for Likas stadium, the hotel staff looked at me bemused. He must have been thinking: “Who on earth goes running at 3 in the morning!?” I don’t blame him. Not an ‘early riser’ myself, the idea of running at 3 am does not appeal to me either. But as geography 101 would serve to remind us, the sun rises 1 hour earlier here in Borneo. The organizers were forced to take this into account especially for the back packers. Learning from experience, previous 4am starts had resulted in many ‘casualties’ grilled and toasted alive by the scorching sun. But having said that, this is nothing at all compared to the Penang Bridge Marathon. It’s official that the Penang Bridge organizer had revised the starting time from 2 am to 1 am!!! It baffles the mind. Well, I have had my fair share of 2 am PBIM runs. So, NO THANKS for me this year. J

Coming into the race, I had known my condition well enough to avoid the mistake of imposing unnecessary burden on myself with unrealistic goals. My stamina over the past few months had not been great. And after Putrajaya Half Ironman 3 weeks earlier, I was well aware of my lack of mileage and poor stamina. I cannot explain why cross training did nothing to help with my running. It worked for some friends of mine. But not me. So, I was ready to experience a setback. And after gauging my recent 10km and 21km time trial, I had to turn down the expectations by several notches to better prepare myself mentally. So, the new game plan for BIM was to complete a 3:30 marathon. That means making an even 5 min/km pace. Dan said that everyone’s expecting me to do a sub 3:30 or even sub 3:15. But who am I kidding? In my condition, I told him that I would be ecstatic if I could just fulfil a 3:30. That would be God’s gift to me.

So, BIM started with a BAM. Whether or not it turns out to be a BUM for me depends entirely on how I play my cards. If I strategize with some good commonsense, there may still be some hope for making 3:30. IF.

The morning air was cool. I wasn’t sure if it was the coffee, or was it the adrenaline of the moment, all grogginess quickly dissipated the moment I stepped into the starting line. I actually felt excited! I have not felt like this for a while. In some races, there was fear and angst. But not this one. There was peace and excitement at the same time. Can’t explain the combination. But I knew I was going to be OK. 3:30 or not. 5 min pace or not. It was going to be OK.

At flag off, it was a slow and steady first 2 km for me. Quite a few over took me. But I was at peace. Lingering at a 5:30 pace, I waited patiently for the engine to warm up. This, as I realized on hindsight, is the very reason I needed to do BIM. I needed to revisit this feeling of ‘coming alive’. For lack of words or descriptive power to explain it, it is something like key and lock when it all fits perfectly together. I rarely had this kind of run. Only 2 come to mind. The SCHKM and Berlin Marathon. It’s more than a mechanical reaction. It’s almost like poetry. Running, in essence, is an art. Some of you would know what I am talking about. This depicts what Roger Bannister was talking about. But of course, I have not broken the 4 min barrier. Not even close.

As the engine starts, I slowly ran down the ones ahead of me. There was a certain satisfaction to that. Not because I was ‘winning’. But it was the reward for my patience. In most my previous races, I was the first few to rush ahead; Sometimes at the expense of going out too fast and bonking at 30km. But this patience is born out of my lack. I had to economize or else I would suffer later. So, I held on to a comfortable pace, resisting the urge to speed up like I usually do. This went on even during half way on the hilly route at UMS, and beyond 30km at the U-turn. And not surprisingly, it paid off. I was not too fatigued as I ran down more runners on the way back to Likas Stadium. Fatigue only set in by 37km where I felt a slight twitch on the thigh. But it was manageable. I could still maintain a 5 min pace as I moved towards the finish.

And you guess it. I finished with a 3:30:28.

I came in 4th in the Men Veteran category. Apparently, this year, maybe due to lack of funding, there is no separate category for ‘Malaysian winners only’ as in the past. As a result, many of the top places were won by other nationals. The top runner for my category was a Thai (3:13), second from Finland, third from Japanese and the fifth from Hong Kong. It is an interesting scene. Not a common one in Malaysia. But for me, it doesn’t really matter. These folks are better than me on this given day. They more than deserve it.

I was just happy that I could muster up a 3:30 this time.

More importantly, I was glad that I came. I could have opted out because of my poor current state. But I came because I knew I had to face my demon. And this time, I glared down at it and came out victorious. 3:30 is nothing fantastic. But its significance is. Like how Dan puts it, it is about finishing strong. And not only have I achieved that in BIM, I felt I have reconnected with running in ways that I have long forgotten.  

The road to recovery may be long, but at least I am glad I am on the way now. 


  1. Somehow I simply cannot imagine you ever bonking at any 30K mark in any event :D Congrats on the 4th placing. The BIM is on my list of must do races for next year.

    1. Nick, O Yes, this bonking happens to me too, I have had my fair share of it in the past. The whole idea of all our hours of training is to avoid precisely this :)
      BIM is worth the visit. Do plan a trip next year.

  2. Hi Francis,
    Just wanted to let you know that we have published your article in Marathon Running. I hope you like how it came together.
    Feel free to share it though your social networks
    Here are the links-
    All the best,


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