Run Wild: Borneo Marathon 2016

Windless and Humid. 

The only sound was the sound of my breathing as I race through the course... 

The Thai runner who overtook me at the third km was already long out of sight. As we ascended the UMS hills (~17th km), I decided to overtake 2 other runners in front of me. One of them was a Taiwanese who would eventually place 4th in the Men's Veteran category. 

My pace quicken but the hill ascent felt OK. The first half whizzed by without too much drama. And I was relax. Unhurried. 

But to my shock, a quick glance at the watch at half way mark: 1:28. Seriously? Too fast. Have to slow down. Or there will be hell to pay. 

.....Then it all went south. 

Took a wrong turn (~ 23rd km) at a roundabout. Unmanned section. Much to my dismay. That cost me. The Taiwanese regained his position as I frantically made a U-turn. I was now at least 100 m behind. 

The festering anger drained me more than I realized. And the chase didn't help either. Made it worse. With each subsequent hills, I felt sapped. 

Let go. Let go. Let go. Or it will be the end of it. But by the time I finally descended from UMS towards 1 Borneo, I was already gone. 

The will to run had left. 

Another Men's Vet (Malaysian) passed me as we headed towards the U Turn at the 30th km. I could only watch. I felt tired. My pace dropped. The dreaded wall was inching towards me. 

Then it hit me. Right after the 30th km turn, waves of cramps besieged me amidst relentless assaults of blame, guilt, anger, frustration, depression etc. 

Accusations like: Reckless. Arrogant. Impulsive. Incoherent. Incorrigible Fool. Naive...took their swing at me, packing their lethal punches, mercilessly pummeled me to a pulp.  

And I didn't even bother to fight back anymore.  

That led to the thought of DNF: I AM DONE. Let's just stop. I don't want to carry on anymore. 

I even contemplated quitting marathon running altogether.     

The physical pain was nothing compared to what went on inside the head. You can imagine. I have dealt with cramps before. But now, it is a matter of the will to go on. The cramp was the perfect fuel. Consuming any remaining shred of will and reasoning. Conveniently, it even became my perfect alibi. An excuse. It's alright, you cramped, its not your fault. Its OK to DNF. 

At the 34th km, another Men's Vet (Malaysian), a Permaisuri Runner (Previously sub 3 before in HK but I cannot remember the name) passed me by. I gaze at him and thought to myself: Great, anyone else? (I may be close to collapse but the kiasu-ness was not ready to die just yet.)

Then, my attention turned to many 21km runners as they headed towards UMS. Some must have seen my sorry state: the limping gait complete with grimace of a dying man, and took pity on me. They were actually cheering me on. 

It was enough to spark a flicker of hope. 7 km more to go. Its going to be tough. But just jog home for God's sake! I stopped at every water stations to drink, ice and spray on a generous helping of Salonpas. Then, I hobbled on with the pace that was slower than jogging. I call it slogging. 

Beyond that was a string of cramping and cursing, stopping and slogging on. It was a messy blur. I must have been in a state of stupor. A medical personnel looked on and suggested I call it. I totally ignored him and went on. A bit rude but I wasn't quite in the mood for pleasantries. You have no idea what I had to battle to NOT DNF!

Within plain sight of the last roundabout heading into Likas Stadium, I looked back and was surprised that there wasn't more people behind me. What happened? Quite a few were just within half a km behind me at the 30km U Turn. They could have easily caught up. Anyway, I slogged through the final stretch, enter the stadium and finished with a 3:31. 

And I collapsed onto a chair after that.

The consolation was a 7th placing for Men's Veteran category. The 1st 3 were sub 3:10. (1st from Brunei with a time of 2:51; 2nd a British with 3:06; 3rd placing a Thai whom I was following at the start) 4th the Taiwanese that I have momentarily overtaken at 17th km before things got dicey. And the rest, like they say, was history.

End of the day, disastrous as it may seem, there is always something to be gained. I was just glad that I didn't DNF when it was offered up to me on a silver platter. What kept me going remains a mystery to me. Perhaps it was because of the 'kiasu-ness' within me. Perhaps it was a matter of not wanting to lose face. (A very chinese thing). Perhaps it was just pure stubbornness. Whatever it was, I know it wasn't the strength of my heart. 

Marathon offers more than a physical challenge. One thing it does for me, (whether I finish strong or fizzle out miserably like this), is to grant me a perspective. And this one teaches me to see others with a lot more respect and understanding. You may be a strong runner today. But never forget your origin. At 30 km, it is anyone's game. We become equals. I honestly thought that I was a big deal. I was consistent enough with my performance. And I have trained diligently enough. But this? It isn't just an error in pacing alone. It was unchecked arrogance. This tumble puts me right where I belong: My humble origin. To always begin from there.

It is good to be reminded. But the method could have been less painful if I have heeded a bit sooner.

But would I have learned it any other way?.....


  1. Well done, Francis! Though nowhere your class, I can say I relate in a little way to this. It brings to mind my battle last year in GC and the pain I suffered as I hobbled along with a stress fracture battling with myself on whether to DNF or not. I came that close to walking off the route at the 30km mark knowing all I needed to do was cross the road and the pain would be over, no need to suffer for an additional 12km!

    This is just classic Francis fighting on despite the setbacks! You're one of the reasons I put myself through this thing called a marathon over and over again. Your fighting spirit and tenacity to go at is never ceases to inspire me. Once again, well done, Doc!

    1. Thanks Nick. I think I was reminded (and quite appropriately too) that I could do better. An attitude of 'unchecked arrogance' will seriously hurt in the long run. And I am grateful that I have learned it this time. This is a lesson in every race. And a lesson to be learned too from one another. Let's do so in the spirit of friendship and marathon running!

  2. When someone as experience as you said it is painful, I certainly believe it is beyond imagination. As you mentioned before, to train and run the distance is really a combination of art and science. If only we can know the perfect formula, we will not hesitate to try.

    1. I think the enigma is in NOT knowing. I could identify at least 5-6 points that contributed to my misadventure. But even with that, there is really no telling what will happen even if those issues were rectified. I will just safely say that I will continue to learn from the mistakes. With the hope that as time goes by, I will begin to make lesser and lesser of them. It was certainly a painful experience. Even after a week of no running, I am still feeling some strain in the muscles.

  3. Oh...this describes perfectly how it felt last Sunday, so tempted to call it quits and DNF when I pass the ambulance (just hop on to it and hitch a ride back!), pass by my house (the route passes by my home!) And slogging and stopping to drink at every water station....yup, and it was awful watching everyone pass me by!��

    1. Yes, painful but valuable lesson, Susan. But we go through these things in order to be better prepared next time. Its not over til the fat lady sings. And SCKLM 3 months later, proved it.


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