We came into Penang on Saturday only to be greeted by blistering hot weather at Queensbay Mall, the starting and end point of the Penang Bridge International Marathon 2012. Knowing full well that our race would start early on Sunday morning (2 a.m. for the full, and 3 a.m. for the half marathon), we grabbed my race pack, did a quick tour of the expo and the mall and head out for lunch and to the hotel.
We carpooled with a bunch of my colleagues, all of which were doing the full marathon, to the race site at about 12.15 a.m. Parking was easy since the crowd was just still coming in. The early birds were mainly full marathoners running at 2 a.m, but there were a number of half and 10K runners hanging about. We spent the time seating around, saying hi to a bunch of KL-based runners (barefoot or otherwise, they run the gamut) and using the toilets.
The FM race started right on the dot at 2, and immediately we were funneled past Queensbay Mall, passing the shop lots before making a couple of left turns running into Bayan Lepas. This part of the route was interesting as we can see the high tide bringing the water level right next to that of the road and the narrow parts of the route made it a crowded run, despite there were not many Full Marathon runners to begin with.
The thing about the Penang Marathon is that it has three U-Turns (and they are not my favourite thing in the world), and we hit the first one after passing by some factories. The run back towards Queensbay Mall brought us with incoming runners, but it was OK since everyone seem to have stuck to their proper (albeit unmarked) lanes. It was here that I felt that my right knee starting to lock up, which was a bit strange since I didn’t expect that to happen for another 30 kilometers. I brought the pace down to somewhere around 6 and a half minutes per KM after this point.
We ran on the highway, past Queensbay Mall, towards the Penang Bridge. I made pretty good progress as we hit the bridge. The incline at the middle of the bridge was a stretch where a number of runners decided to just walk it. I was still fine at this point and ran up and down, only to face a well disguised gradual incline up until the mainland. There was a strange lack of distance markers in a full marathon and it was back to counting numbers in my head to find out how much more to go.
I must say that while the water stations on the course were well stocked, they were still in the habit of giving out bottles of water to the runners. Granted that the humidity was really high for a morning run, bottles don’t really do much (besides drinking, you are not going to go pouring water over your head every single time, right…), and they are a pain to clear.
I also have to question why some runners have to put empty bottles at the concrete railings on the side of the bridge. All you need is some strong gusts of wind to topple these bottles down into the sea…just ditch those bottles on the road or the bin and the cleaners (thumbs up to these guys) will do the rest.
We did the second u-turn at the mainland, going for a big one via the highway maintenance route. They were giving out bananas at this point which I skipped. I took my second Power Gel here, after taking one before hitting the bridge. A couple of years ago when I was running on the bridge, we were battered by a thunderstorm, but there was no such thing this time as it was high humidity all the way. I saw a couple of pacers abandoning their pace balloons. LOL.
The third leg of the run had us running towards Georgetown. This was also the part that tore me up a bit. After running for more than 30 kilometers, I decided it was time to walk a little. I was alternating between running and walking and it was considered prudent since I had to deal with about 4 highway overpasses on the way to the u-turn just before the traffic lights in Georgetown. I was about to lose my head (I don’t like u-turns, they are demoralizing) but I felt much better after passing the u-turn.
It was at the water-station at the third and final u-turn where I took the packet of GU. Now this thing has 80mg of caffeine, much more than a single Power Gel. I purposely left it for last knowing that the high amount of caffeine would help numb the pain in my legs and to deal with the 4 overpasses again (since it was a u-turn heading back that direction) and I managed to go on a decent clip past the 35 KM mark before running and walking again after that.
Nearing the bridge, I can still see FM runners making their way down, running towards Georgetown. I saw three of my colleagues, one was a 6-hour pacer, and the other 2 would finish post 7-hours on their feet. I also saw a friend of my wife’s and an ex-colleague. I’m going to hazard a guess that there were plenty of Full Marathon virgins this time around. Hehehe. After passing the bridge and heading back to Queensbay, I bumped into the 10 K runners making their way back as well.
This was a considerable improvement compared to previous years whereby the 10K runners started on the same side of the road as when the FM runners were coming back. This year, everyone was moving back in the same direction and the only thing we had to deal with was people just stopping here and there..but if you ask me, this beats running into opposing traffic every,single time.
I met a friend in the final 3 kilometers to Queensbay Mall. He was ahead of me in the early stages of the race, but faltered as he was getting cramps. We were walking at this stage but after realising that we were really close in coming in after 5 hours 30 minutes, we decided to finish with a sprint with 500 meters to go. I managed to clock in at 5 hours 29 minutes. Phew.
It was terrible compared to my personal best but hey, I’m happy that I got to run the entire length of the bridge and back, given that next year’s event will be on the new Second Bridge which is currently under construction. To the organizers, thanks for the race (but again, water bottles) and the nice medal/finisher-T. Just one request from my brother: Do provide finisher shirts for the Half Marathoners as well next time.