[This might be a little bit long, so if you are reading this at work, watch your back]
The Little Secret Mission
I was first touched when she initiated her own designed t-shirt to raise some funds for Autism awareness. It struck me again when she announced that she'll be running the ultra marathon of 84km distance, to pledge for more funds for NASOM (National Autism Society of Malaysia). Not that I doubt her ability to run double the marathon distance all by herself for the first time. I'm sure a tough kooky like her can take whatever challenges thrown at her. But, I wanted to witness with my own eyes how she accomplishes this monumental goal from the beginning until the end. I wanted to be part of the journey. Plus, if in any way my presence running along side with her would anyhow take away the boredom of running alone in the middle of the night, that would be an added bonus for me, as a mean to provide a little support to a friend.
And that's what made me wanted to run ultra-marathon with Kash on last Saturday evening.
The problem was, I did not register myself for 84km ultra marathon due to some financial restrictions. Also, I was in doubt with my own ability to run anything longer than a marathon distance (42km) as I had some tough time dealing with my overloaded work commitment which meant less time to train properly and sufficiently. My initial intention was just to accompany her on the second loop of the ultra-marathon, as a marathon runner (with Shaqi's race bib). Then, on second thoughts (which was about a week before the race, after I get confirmation of getting Shaqi’s bib), I secretly made up my mind to accompany Kash throughout the entire 84km journey.
OK, enough mumbling. Let's get started with some of my race experience, shall we?
The First 42km Loop
It may be my own mistake, but this was the most unprepared running event I've ever done. Not that I’m proud of it, I was lucky I survived. Training wise, I only had to depend on the very little LSD sessions I did few weeks back, plus some short runs every now and then during the weekdays when it was not raining. My longest run training was only 30km. As for other race preparations, this was the worst ever. I only had one PowerBar gel and a few sachets of ORS in my stock, and I didn't manage to find any dates (buah kurma) for my on-the-run refuelling. On the Friday prior to the event day where almost everybody had a Wesak day holiday, I had to be in the office. Jiwa sudah jadi kacau bilau.
Luckily I was in JB and I did not need to rush into getting to Singapore. I hopped onto Shakhir's express on a last minute call, together with Alwin and Dett, when it was raining hard in JB. We began our journey just around 5pm, getting across the border and my heart started to beat much faster upon realization that I might be late for the ultramarathon starting time. I even had to change into my running shirt and shoes inside the car. I can't hold up my nervousness any longer and that's when I burst out to them about my mission to run the ultra with Kash.
Right at 5.55pm, we arrived at the car park. I quickly called Azam who was assigned by Kash to hold my race bib. After getting it, I sprinted to the baggage storage counters to drop off whatever I was carrying. At 6pm sharp, I heard the gun off for the ultramarathon start and I sync-ed my stop watch with it. I then dashed to the starting area with the race number still inside my mouth, the D-tag chip in one hand and a camera on the other. I ran outside the gantry gates as I didn't want to start the D-tag chip at 6pm-ish by running through the start gantry or else the official timing will indicate me as DQ for not 'starting a marathon' at 11.59pm like every other marathon runners.
Due to the lateness and the rush, I missed the opportunity to meet some of the guys who were there at the start line. I was busy adjusting my fuel belt and the bouncy waist pouch (first time carrying one in a run), in between trying to stick up the race bib onto my race belt and to attach the D-tag chip on my shoe lace. A quick look at my stop watch and I was already 9 minutes past 1800hrs. And I suddenly remembered I hadn't stretched any limbs yet. Oh no!
The sun was slowly setting in, but the tarmac was still pretty hot. I ran alone as the very last runner out (I guess) and somehow it felt funny when the volunteers cheered for me. After about 2km or so, I slowly overtook some other runners and I told myself not to slow down until I catch up with Haza and Kash.
At about 3 to 4km mark, I finally saw a glimpse of Kash and Haza running alongside together, and that was my first sense of relief. Now I can begin my run, properly.
My only plan for the day was to stick with Kash, regardless of what the pace was. We started some chats between the three of us, taking some photos and videos. It was a big pleasure for me indeed, to be running alongside these two inspirational long distance running moms. Once in a while, we were joined with some other runners, particularly these two ladies from Singapore who stuck with me and Kash for almost the entire first loop of the marathon. At some point after a few water station stops, I realized Haza has dropped down into much slower pace. She was no longer visible behind us.
I forgot at what mileage it was, Kash called Haza up to make sure her status and that's when we heard that she got some stomach discomfort issues but still managed to make forward motions. So I carried on with Kash and Qistina (the lady from Singapore), running through the darkness.
Since this was my first time racing in Singapore, I was enjoying the new scenery, having the chance to observe a small window of time of how Singaporeans spend their Saturday night along the East Coast park (correct me if I got the name wrong). It was spectacularly different from what we can find in Malaysia. It was like a touristic vacation for me, at least until we crossed the turnaround point where once again I have to skip running through the timing chip reader (kena lari kat tepi jalan aje lah) to avoid disqualification (I was running with a 42km race bib and chip, so have to play some trick here).
The first 21km was done at a steady and comfortable pace. “Long way to go”, we kept telling ourselves. We stopped at almost all the hydration stations along the way for some drinks or to top up our bottles. We were also still in the state of jubilant as we stopped at each 10km’s distance marker for some memorabilia photography session in the dark. Since Kash had run out of her credit, I let her use my phone for her to sms Rais on our running status from time to time. Few minutes after we made the turnaround, we saw Haza running alone on the opposite side. It was good enough to know that she was still looking strong.
If I can still remember clearly, the next 21km after the turnaround was where we started to feel some uneasiness in some parts of our body system, be it the knees, or the toes, or calves, or stomach. While keeping it to my own knowledge since the 18th-km or something, I've started to feel some discomfort at the base of my feet. Kash forbade us from talking or thinking about any kind of pain, so I had to obey and pretended like I don't know what pain means. She forced us not to think of anything other than to move our legs forward.
I ran with socks this time. I bought a thin NB socks and I thought that would suffice to protect my feet from getting any blisters. All this while (during my training and previous marathon) I was running socks-less since my shoes are half a size smaller, but I didn't want to risk getting any blisters on a 84km run so I opted to use a pair of socks. So far so good, no blisters were forming yet. But little did I know a bigger problem will surface later on.
On a slightly different affair, I also started to feel hungry. My last meal was at 2.30pm, and too bad the plate of nasi lemak with chicken rendang couldn’t last that long. I remembered bringing one small box of dried raisins inside my waist pouch. Shared them with Qistina and Kash and that raisins never felt so tasty, but it was not enough. Time was already showing 9pm-ish and my mind has started to analyze if I still got plenty more reserve glycogen left to sustain the remaining mileage. Kash offered me one PowerBar gel, and although I hesitated at first (because I think she needed it more, she’s on a mission, remember?), she insisted me to take the gel or else I’ll hit the wall before 30km, she told me. So, I swigged in my first gel, sipped down some water and voila, I almost vomited minutes later.
That discomfort feeling in the tummy lasted for about half an hour, if I can remember precisely.
I can’t really remember at what point I started to feel a distinguishable pain under my feet. We continued plodding with some more casual chatting which then gets quieter and quieter. I can’t also remember at what mileage did they serve the banana, but I grabbed two of them as I desperately needed some solid food inside my stomach to kill the hunger sensation.
When we reunited with the long stretch road by the Changi airport runway, we started to see those half marathon runners filling up both ways of the road. It was a refreshing view. Some of them were running, some were brisk walking, and one or two had started pushing the lamp posts, or trees, to relieve some pain cramps I assumed. It was another 7 or 8km of endless view of straight stretch road, with big and small airplanes taking off by the run way. According to the map, we’ve gone past 33 or 34km by now.
There was one point, where Kash was slightly at the front, I saw Qistina was suffering and although Kash told us earlier not to talk or think about any kind of pains, I broke the law and asked Qistina. She has been having the pain in her knees, and I told her I’ve been suffering with the pain at my heels and toes. We tried to smile, wishing the pain won’t stop us from moving on because we both knew, we still have the remaining of the first loop of the marathon to finish, and on top of that, another additional 42km to run on.
On that long stretch by the runway, we opted to run slowly and only take our tiny little walk break when we reach each hydration stations. The pain felt extensively stronger each time I resumed into running and by then, I knew there was no turning back for the pain in my feet. We first wanted to complete the first 42km loop before twelve midnight, to catch with those full marathoners, but it seemed like we were slightly off schedule.
After making the right turn into Changi Exhibition Center (CEC), with about 3km left to the finish line of the first loop of marathon, we started to see the big swarm of full marathon runners dashing their ways on that big span of road. It was such an awesome view to be seeing thousands of marathon runners, and among them, I could only capture some shout outs from Ian, Dett and Syah. We waved back to them, and made our way back to the starting gantry.
Kash and Qistina headed directly towards the Ultramarathon special needs tent. I made a diversion towards the starting line to start the timing for my D-tag chip. A quick glance at my stop watch, it was about 12:15am.
I brought four chicken burgers from McD which I asked Dett to buy when he was in JB earlier, and I kept them inside my bag, which was inside the baggage storage area, together with many thousands other baggage. I showed my bib, and told the volunteers that I needed to get something from my bag very quickly as I have another loop of marathon to do. To my disappointment, after about 3 minutes standing there with a painful pair of legs and trickling sweats down my chin, none of the volunteers managed to get my bag.
Not wasting any other minute, I took the risk and said bye-bye to my chicken burgers, wherever they were. It was unbelievable to think that they couldn’t locate my bag, though it has been properly and systematically tagged. I left the baggage storage counters empty handedly and made myself towards the ultramarathon special needs tent, to meet up with Kash and Qistina as we promised earlier.
I faced another challenge of the night. Since I was wearing a full marathon bib (red color), one officials restricted me from getting into the ultramarathon tents. I gave some quick explanations to which I didn’t think he could comprehend anything, and quickly made my way towards some hidden area and climbed over the fence. I finally made it to Kash and Qistina, who was enjoying their short rests and nursing their legs and knees.
I grabbed another two bananas for some solid fuel, and one bottle of Pocari Sweat drink from Kash’s Coleman. Kash had some muffins and Qistina was slowly munching the bread she brought along. Shortly later, we saw Haza entering the tent. We waited for Haza to finish up her peanut butter sandwich and a can of Red Bull, before making our way out of the tent at about 1am. After rested for about 45 minutes, our journey on the second 42km loop has just begun.
The Second 42km Loop
It was a mixed feeling for me, between excitement and self doubt. Excited because I’ve never done anything more than 42km by foot, so it was going to be a new personal record to go beyond that. Self doubt, because the pain on my toes and heels were slowly getting intolerable with every step I took. And there’s another massive 42000m of distance to be covered with these painful legs before I can get back to the finishing line.
Kash, Qistina and I ran slowly alongside the airport runway, and we took some walk breaks when we arrived at each hydration stations. Qistina’s suffering knees were too much for her to handle and she resorted into walking, fast. I got tired of holding my camera, so I slipped it behind my back, and decided not to take any other photos. We were sort of playing a catch game with Qistina. We ran slowly in front, and then we took some walk breaks and let Qistina regroup. Then we let her continue with her very fast brisk walk (I kid you not!), and Kash and I would be chasing her with our slow jogs.
Without realizing much, we left Qistina behind with another instant friend, Moon (who earlier ran with Haza), as Kash and I made it into East Coast’s long stretch. Not only having to bear the pain in my legs, my eyes were also feeling heavier and heavier. It was already 2am in the morning and as the hours went by, most of the things that I told Kash from then on was, “Kash, I’m sleepy”.
And I almost fall asleep while waiting for Kash at one of the toilets, just by sitting down on the bench. I told her that if I lay myself down on the ground, I can go into deep sleep in less than 20seconds. I was that sleepy. To my surprise, Kash wasn’t sleepy at all. And I guess, from then onwards, my brain failed to effectively calculate a simple mathematics like 42 + 17.
After that toilet break, somewhere at 58-th km or so, I can’t take the squeezing pain in my feet any longer. I was not sure whether the shoes were shrinking, or my feet were swollen, or both. I’ve been thinking of taking off my shoes and ran barefoot, but that is something I’ve never done before and I was afraid the damage will be even larger if I do so. Plus, I had more than 25km to go. I was contemplating in between gritting my teeth and just hold the pain and keep on moving, or to take off my shoes and run barefoot to relieve the current pain, to which will open up a risk of me facing another kind of pain for going barefoot.
I realized I’ve started doing more walk breaks then before, and it has slowed Kash’s pace down a little bit. She was moving pretty strong, albeit only managed to do a slow jog. But still, much better than my state. Or, was she keeping up her pain as a secret by herself? That I didn’t know.
I finally told her about the pain I was having, and my intention to take off my shoes. She told me to give it a try and see if anything gets better. So, I took off my shoes at about 60km mark, and what a sense of relieve it was. For a while, my legs were smiling.
And if you think the pain totally went away, you are wrong. As soon as I made my first contact with the hard tarmac with only my socks on, I started to feel another kind of pain. At first, it was still ignorable. So I plodded and walked on trying to keep the same pace as Kash was doing, with both shoes in my hands.
After a while, Qistina regrouped with us and I took the opportunity to ask her what motivated her to keep up walking that fast. She told me she was very angry that her knees were in so much pain for her to run, and because of that anger, she walked fantastically fast. I seriously envied her fighting spirit and strong will. She finally overtook us at one of the hydration stations, and that was the second last time we ever saw her again. We only saw her again slightly after the turnaround point at 63km, and I knew, I would not be able to catch up with her anymore.
The last few km’s before we reached the turnaround point was the point where I was very close to dropping off from the race. I was ready to call it a quit anytime now. I didn’t want to suffer any longer. The sleepiness and dizziness, the hunger, the pain in the legs, they were driving me crazy. I had no reasons not to quit actually. I took few looks at my watch and my already-half-dead brain was saying I can’t make it before cut off time. Many negative thoughts were flying inside me. But I kept it silence to myself and just slowly followed Kash. I didn’t want any of my actions to affect her mission.
We finally reached the turnaround after 3.5hours out on the second marathon loop, which means a comfortable 4.5hours remaining time before the cut off, for us to cover the final 21km. It was good to having realized this. At least, I had stronger believe now that the 84km was finally achievable, in my current state of being. But, that 4.5 hours time frame didn’t allow us to walk all the way for 21km.
Another good sight was when we saw Haza on the opposite side after we made our turnaround. Haza was zombie-walking, alone. And she must have felt the same kind of pains as we did. Rough calculation would say she was about 10 to 15 minutes behind us. That’s cool to know. We cheered for each other and continued with our battles.
Kash kept on texting Rais at some of the important mileage points, to update him on her status. At times, my phone would be ringing or indicating that new messages were arriving, but we were too tired to reach out to my waist pouch at my back for the phone. Sorry Rais. Kash only took the phone when she needed to update her status to her husband.
With that 4.5hours time to finish the last 21km, Kash made out some plans. She calculated the pace, the walk breaks allowance, the toilet breaks, this and that, and I was only able to nod my head. When she asked me whether I understood her plans, I just told her, “Whatever lah Kash, I can’t think properly now and I don’t understand what you just said. I just want to get to the finish line together with you, no matter what”.
I did not dare to look at the base of my feet. It was burning with pain and by then, I somehow sensed that the socks have started to give way to the frictions with the tarmac. It was only my feet skin, the tarmac and nothing in between. Every step was painful. Stepping on the tiniest little stones felt like it was a big needle poking through my feet.
I thought, walking would be better than running. But I was wrong. When I resolved into walking, my feet were subjected to the friction with the tarmac for much longer time than if I jog, or run. Plus, I get so much sleepy when I walked. But if I were to run, the pain was, hmm, I didn’t want to recall the feeling.
The only time where I did not feel so much pain in the legs was when we took a few minutes break, sitting down on a bench where a family was camping. They kindly let us sit down for a while. I shook my head in disbelief that I’ve done this far. Inside me, I really wanted to finish this, nevermind if I had to walk all the way through, if the time still permits.
At one time, I tried to put my shoes back on. But the pain doubled up and I can’t even make two steps forward without screaming. No other options left. Luckily the shoes were feather light weight for my hands to keep on holding them.
We were both in so much pain. Though she didn’t mention particularly where she was having the most pain, but by one look at Kash’s facial impression, everybody can tell. We carried on, trying to do slow jog now and then, for as much as we could afford while bearing the pain we’ve been suffering. We were in serious need to meet the cut off time.
I remember, we broke into a laugh once when Kash wrongly calculated the pace and distance. We were nearing the 35km distance marker, and she thought we had 6km left to go. She made plans to run faster for 3km, and take some easy final 3km to the finishing line. “Another 1km, where to put Kash?”, I told her as we began laughing.
There was also one instant when she broke into tears as she read the text messages on my phone, those from her husband. I was in shock for I didn’t know what the reason was. Upon understanding the whole scenario, I tried to calm her down and promised her that I will accompany her until she crosses the finishing line. She told me she was in so much pain and couldn’t even run anymore. Nothing different from my situation, I told her. And so, we continued walking.
The final 3km, we started to face the sun rise, getting into Changi Exhibition Center. There were few others full marathon runners together with us on the road. That 3km felt so far, the last 2km felt even further away. By then, we knew we will make it to finish even if we walked all the way. “Plenty of time now”, I told myself. We made into the left cornering, and with another final left cornering, the finishing line will be there right in front of our faces.
As for me, getting to cross the finishing line by walking would be much better than anything else. I just wanted it all to end, especially the pain. I told Kash to run to the finish line and celebrate her success. I could only walk. As we approached the final 100m, Kash amazingly started plodding slowly towards the finishing line. I could see some guys wearing black shirts waving and cheering for Kash behind the fences. I was touched to witness that moment, to witness her success in her mission, to hear her name being mentioned loudly by the emcee as an ultramarathon finisher. I was happy for her.
And while I slowly walked crossing the finishing line, holding my shoes in my right hand, I felt a great sense of satisfaction that me too, has finally accomplished my own secret mission of the day. I felt like I’ve brought Kash back to a safe ground, though I know I didn’t do anything much.
Kash making her way through the finishing line, with me in the background feeling lucky that I managed to be back in one piece.
Different story for my socks though, I have to say.
(Photo courtesy from Tey)
So, my pirated ultramarathon 84km run (which was originally unintentional), was completed in 14hours and 37 minutes. And I couldn’t be happier than that.
I managed to snap some photos of the condition of my socks after I finished the run.
Pity them. After being worn only once, I have to bid farewell to them as I rested them in peace inside a dustbin.
(Sorry, didn’t mean to make you vomit)
I felt so happy and surprised at the same time, seeing some friends that I know, waited there to see and cheer for us finishing our battles. It was so meaningful to me, and to the others I believe. Haza came in ten minutes later like a celebrity after I’ve collected my full marathon finishers t-shirt and medal, and a can of cold 100plus. I didn’t mind not getting the rewards as the registered ultramarathon runners. And to my relief, my baggage was finally located, and it was handed to me in less than 30seconds. My chicken burgers are now in safe hands, err.. to be exact, in safe tummy of mine. I walloped two of them for dinner on Sunday night, upon arriving back in JB.
It was beyond belief, for me at least. But I was glad I attempted it. One is enough for me, I guess. It was really tough, and painful. In many other races I’ve been through, never did I get that close into quitting. It was also an eye opening experience to witness how one would fight to survive something tough that they can easily choose to quit or bail out without any compromise, except for some degree of regrets later on. I cannot speak on behalf of those much faster ultramarathon runners though. They might have a totally different perspective and experience.
I actually have more to say about this whole experience, but let me save some energy here so that I can quickly recover and get back to another full marathon training (KL Int’l Marathon, end of June). Plus, my writing is dull, plain and not as exciting as others. So, I better not bleed your eyes much more, ahaha.
No, I'm serious.
Finally, ultra congratulations go especially to Kash, and also to Haza. I was so glad to be able to join their journey all through. Thank you for the experience, a beautiful and memorable one.
P/s: A small “Sundown reunion” gathering among us together with both Kash and Haza around, anytime this weekend, would be such a great event, don’t you think?