Due to an inflammed iliotibial band, and also being posted to a rural area on that Monday, I did not turn up for the marathon I signed up for last year. It was actually my mom who talked me into agreeing, “If you sign up for half, you’ll have to wait alone for three hours because we are all going for full,” this was how she persuaded (threatened) me last year. She managed to complete the course a few minutes before 6 hours, making her a sub-6 marathoner. And I promised myself that I would try again this year, and I did.
There was a lot of ‘promises to myself’ throughout the race, and also a good amount of frustration and (somewhat) regret.
This year (more like the later half of this year) was the first time I ran a real half marathon. I did a casual run of almost 20km before in July 2015, but it consisted of numerous breaks and stopping to wait for the rest, and it was also the culprit who got myself injured for a good half a year. So in early August 2016, three months before my marathon, I ran my first half marathon with a time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. In late October, almost exactly one month before my marathon, I ran my second 21km, with an improvement of 1 minute, hitting my sub-2:15 target. Although just one minute faster, I felt to much better. There was almost no self-hatred after the 18km mark, and the post-race aches lasted for two days as compared of the one-week-long recovery in August.
I was quite confident then. 42 is, well, two 21’s. Like how 21 felt almost exactly like two 10’s. Little did I know that I was so very wrong. 42 was not a race of endurance like my last two 21. It was pushing past lactic acid build-up’s, fighting the urges to surrender to the buses parked by the roadside, and forgiving yourself when you see runners run past you when you were walking.
The timing of the marathon did not help at all. Penang Bridge International Marathon 2016 was set on 27th November, 11 days after my First Professional Exam, an exam that I cannot afford to mess up, one that drained all my time and energy, leaving none for training of any sort. When I came home, one week before PBIM, it was time to tapper down, and start loading. So I went for quick 5k’s twice, and a slow, relaxed 3k three days before. And that was it, my training for my first ever full marathon.
That Sunday came very quickly, and my race started at 1:30am sharp.
1:30am was a terrible time to be running. I learnt that it was actually possible to be (very) sleepy even when one is running. Melatonin can actually overpower adrenaline. I was sleepy and groggy through the first 18km, and I hit a wall at 19km.
I was quite disappointed at myself. 19KM?!? I could run 21km just one month ago, with all sorts of elevations and ramps. The entire course was rather flat, except for two ramps and the centre part of the bridge. I gave in, and walked a little, at 19km, as I went onto Penang Bridge.
Penang Bridge. It was straight as hell, and also long as hell. Being one of the longest bridges in Southeast Asia, it has a length of 13.5km. We had to run on it, twice.
I could see the other end of the bridge when I first set foot on it, but it felt as if I was never going to get there. It took almost one and a half hour to reach the opposite land, got past the toll gate, go up a ramp, make a huge turn, go past the toll gate again, and repeat. I guess most my internal struggles were battled when I was running the bridge.
“Why did I even sign up?”
“Why am I torturing myself when I could be sleeping?”
“I think I might die running this marathon.”
“Why am I so weak? Why do my legs refuse to move when these people twice and triple my age are still running?”
“Should I just cheat and make a U-turn with the half marathon runners?”
“Ok, I promise myself that if I can run without stopping till the next water station, I’ll allow myself to walk past 10 lampposts.”
“Please let me walk a little. I promise I will run when I reach that signboard over there.”
“Shit, I’m hungry.”
I practically started running with an empty stomach, because my last meal was 6 hours ago. Feeling a bit sugar depleted, I took a cup 100 Plus at every water station. You have no idea how amazing something cold and sweet felt at that time. But the gas took a toll on my hungry stomach. Halfway through, I started feeling very gassy and bloated, slightly nauseated when I run. I think the banana provided really helped with my situation, but it gave me side stitches, giving me more excuses to take some time off running.
Every single water station felt like a gift I deserved, for I must cherish by giving myself a break and walk a few minutes. Every kilometre on the bridge was exceptionally long, probably because my strides had gone smaller and slower. The efforts to bring one leg forward, strike the ground, and draw it backward were very much amplified. My large muscle groups were tired and aching, my back and abs slightly sore for keeping my body upright for hours.
Halfway through the bridge going back to the island, I got caught up by the 5:30 pacer, and from then on, I made the balloon a guide, and my job was to not let it come to near me, then I should make by sub-5:30 target.
After coming down from the bridge, there was 4km left. The last part of the course wasn’t too bad, partly for the very energetic 10km runners who joined us. I was a little more motivated, although I was more tired than before. By then, my legs were twice their usual weight, my chest heavy from all the panting, endurance draining away at the rate of sweat dripping down my neck.
The last 1km was exhilarating, torturous and satisfying altogether. I couldn’t run the last km, as hard as I tried to fight the soreness and lethargy, I couldn’t, until I saw the finishing line, the clock ticking at 5:28:something (gun time). I managed to gather the last ounce of energy (or will) I had in me to dash for it, earning myself the title of a marathoner.
I’m not sure if I will ever want to do this again, but no matter my future decision, this was an experience I’ll always keep close to my heart. It wasn’t just a mere completion of a 42km course. It was fighting, struggling, hoping, and enduring. It was a whole new level of long distance running, a milestone I am proud of, a reminder that we can always go further than we think we can, and that our bodies and minds are stronger than the limits society claims we are bounded by.
Your limit is when no matter how hard you push and how hard you want to push, despite all your efforts and desire, you can’t go any further, when pushing means sacrificing or hurting a part of you or who/what you love dearly.
Unless you’ve worked so hard to reach that situation, keep running.