1st Kota Kinabalu City International Marathon

The name's a mouth full. And it's title leaves very little to the imagination.

When informed of it weeks ago, I nonchalantly checked out the webpage. First impressions are usually right. You could instantly sense the 'amateurish' touch just by the design of the webpage. Simply put, it has 'inaugural' painted all over it. But being the optimist that I am, and a Malaysian born at that, I thought: "Give people chance la!". That was all the persuasion needed to sign on.

What could go wrong, right?

Did a quick check on my dates. Lo and behold, there was a coincidental Mead Johnson Symposium taking place in KK that weekend! And why not two birds with one stone? My kiasu-ness was aroused. Too good to pass up. The relenting heart was no match for such an enticement.

Mead Johnson was very obliging. And before you know it, I was on board the flight bound for KK. The level of exclusiveness of the event was off the chart. Suffice to say that I was treated like a king in the Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort. The only drawback was its in-the-middle-of-nowhere seclusive location that required special arrangements in order to reach Likas Stadium, which was a good half an hour away. The taxi fare inadvertently punched a hole in the wallet.

View from the room in Shangri La Rasa Ria Resort

But that's alright. There were in fact many 'birds' to make up for it. It was a retreat of sorts for me. A welcomed getaway from the demands of work. A time to reflect and draw closer to God. The symposium was also a good place to catch up with some old friends, and get acquainted with some new ones too. The bonus, of course, was to see the likes of TK Lim and Ooi, who are also marathoners. Bonded by the same interests and profession, such camaraderie certainly leaves no room for a dull moment.

Ooi to my right and TK Lim on my left. Both avid marathoners and Paediatricians

True to the purpose of the symposium, much was gained in the good spirit of learning and exchanging ideas. All in all, it was a very enriching experience. I really felt pampered and graced by all these good people.
With Alfred, Regional Manager Mead Johnson 

And then, as though the highlight of the weekend escapade couldn't get more interesting, the finale would eventually climax in the form of a marathon. Personally, I couldn't think of a better way to top that.

I managed to ask Tan Song Hua, another avid weekend warrior, to help me with my bib collection a day prior to race. And he happily obliged. A strong contender for a placing in the Men's Veteran category, Song Hua's only Achilles is a recent sprained ankle at SCKLM in August which has yet to fully recovered. For our category, there was also Prasot (a Thai and a well known frequenter of the local races) who would pose some serious challenge to both of us.

But in all honesty, I wasn't too concerned about a placing. I had not signed on out of a mere whim, but intentionally I wanted to use this race to gauge my progress. My set target time was 3:10. Achieving it may offer a glimmer of a sub 3 hope in my next race in Melbourne, which is in 6 weeks. Why 3:10? Factor in differences of the weather, humidity and terrain, (and support), I think 3:10 could almost equate 3:00 or below in Melbourne as long as my sustainability issue is ironed out and does not become a hindrance. Therefore, in many ways, I was glad that Prasot and Song Hua were racing. I know their style and pace. They would be the ideal competitors to provide the push factor that I need.

Race strategy is to keep the pace as even as possible. 1:35 for the first half; and try to maintain the rest as close to 4:30 pace as possible. So the plan seemed remarkably simple. But any experienced runner would know that much of the variables, which are beyond our control, could easily shift the balance in any direction.

3 am. Start off. A little unceremonious. I was too focused on the run to be bothered by any of it. However, what I have quickly noticed was the extreme scarcity of mileage markers along the way. Why is it such a difficult thing to just put up markers? Is it really too much to ask? I believe that there are 3 basic cardinal rules to a successful marathon event. 1. Adequate Water Stations. 2. Marshals, Traffic Control and Clear Signage. 3. Mileage Markers. Sad to say that these had not been up to par even by their local standards. Therefore, if I were the organizer, I would hesitate to call it "International"....

I wasn't very impressed to say the least. But instinctively, somehow I knew this would happen. So you can imagine me trying to gauge my pace based on nothing! The only good despite it, was the fact that Song Hua was running alongside me. And he has a GPS watch. Naturally, I used his pace as a benchmark. But I also kept checking my effort level to ensure that I was maintaining a comfortable pace.

I don't know the rationale behind the organizer's choice of route for the Full Marathon. KK is not a small city and Borneo Marathon has never had any issue with a single loop full marathon route. But this one was peculiar. It was a 21km route. And we had to do two loops of it. First impression when I knew about it was: This may be a recipe for disaster. If there were no adequate check points, markers, marshals etc there would be chaos. And when the 21km and 10km runners start their runs, the flow would inadvertently become like the Gaya Sunday Market in KK town. Not good!

It was a run in the dark for me. Literally, blind to my pace and all I had was my assessment on my effort level. And I am still a novice at that. My stopwatch was of no value to me. And more so soon after the first loop, (I think it was about 15km) when Song Hua lagged behind thereafter. I was basically on my own.

So, I became like Dory in Finding Dory. Just keep running. Adopt an attitude of ultra short term memory. Forget the issues. Just keep running. And learn to relax. After the initial loop, I was getting more settled into the run. I felt my rhythm coming back to me. I slowed when I felt tired. Sped up when I felt the momentum. Effectively with no timer or any inkling about my pace, I was solely running on effort. And for the first time in the race, I felt free.

Soon, I caught up with the 2nd runner up Female Open Kenyan runner. We paced each other and at some point, I even pointed out to her to not deviate from the route as she was making a turn to God knows where. No marshal was around to direct us along that stretch. She thanked me profusely. Otherwise, she would have lost her placing for sure.

The final 'home' stretch was a long one. Felt increasingly heavy and I knew my pace had slowed. It was perhaps the last 5-6 km (That was at best a guess). At that point, I knew that Song Hua, and Prasot (whom for some reason was not performing well), were not within chasing distance, I could well relax and cruise home. But like I said, I wasn't in it for the placing, but my target time. I took a glance at my watch and it was already reading 3:01. And taking into account the estimated remaining distance of perhaps 5km or more, there was no hope of a good time. I was a tat disappointed. I tried. Seemed that my sustainability still needed more work.

Nevertheless, at the conclusion of that thought, I stepped up pace and bid farewell to the Kenyan lady. I was surprised that I still had some reserve. Perhaps I had not run hard enough. Perhaps I had been too conserved up to this point. But one thing tangible was a perceivable surge despite the fatigue. The legs seemed to have come to life for some reason. And it didn't have anything to do with the Gels. I had only brought 4 this time and the last was consumed at about 30+km. Yet it was still a battle to the finish. A battle to keep up the pace and not suffer cramp. And a battle to run my best, regardless.

Closing in on the last roundabout leading into Likas Stadium, I glanced up, saw the landmark arch and was just filled with an overwhelming relief. Almost there. But before I could start celebrating, my left calf suddenly seized up with the dreaded cramp. I was almost reduced to walking. I pleaded with God: "Don't let me end like this Lord! I have worked so hard! Make this cramp go away! Please!" ...As I was battling this, 2 cars suddenly appeared and came straight at me on a collision course. The traffic warden was apparently sleeping on his job. I had to raised my hands and stopped the oncoming traffic myself.

With the eventual dissipation of my anger, the cramp too, miraculously disappeared! I didn't realize that until I was running fairly normally again a few hundred meters down the road. Miracles do come in the most unexpected ways. Yes, sometimes in the form of 2 oncoming cars....

Plodding on towards the finish with a renewed urgency, just in case the cramp decided to repossess my worn out legs, I would then cross the finish in a time of 3:26:03. Not too impressed with the finish but was surprised to be awarded 2nd place in the Men Veteran.

Song Hua appeared 2 minutes later clinching the third place while Prasot had to settle for 4th. Little did I realize that the race was over-distanced until Song Hua told me that his GPS registered 44.47 km. Some other runners lamented too with their readings of about 43.8 km. Well, over-distanced or not, it was still way out my target finish. Even if I accounted for the extra 2+ km, (adjusted ~3:16 for 42.195) I would still fall short of 5-6 minutes.

Champion with a time of 3:10. And that's not even his best run...

There was no doubt that my pacing requires more work. However, from this race, I felt a bit more consistent in my output in terms of the endurance/sustainability. That is encouraging. And if it were not for the extra 2 km, it would have been a cramp-free 42.195 km taking into account that the cramp only came on at the final km.

So, all in all, in light of all the variables thrown at us, this finish would still be considered a reasonably decent one. I may have to rethink about how to pace by effort a bit more accurately.....

But that's another day's work. I think I have had enough fun for the weekend. Wouldn't you agree?


  1. Congrats on the 2nd placing, Francis. I never knew they had another marathon in KK and would you believe I've never run any race here even though it's my wife's hometown. I plan to run BIM next year, god willing.

    1. BIM is well worth a run. But I won't recommend this one. BIM would be in May 2017. Look out for it. I may join you too. :)

  2. Congrats Francis on awesome timing (to you might not.. to me.. awesome awesome time and beyond my capability.! :) and 2nd place too. Yohoo!

    1. Thanks Vincent. Nevertheless the take home is that I did my best. Whatever the circumstances, it is important to always outdo oneself. And I am not just talking about the time aspect. Overall I was just happy to be able to go out there and run my best race for that day. :)


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