Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014

I had always wanted to take part in the Penang Bridge Marathon.  In 2012, thinking that I might complete the Ozark Endurance 100 Miles race the week before, I signed up for the 10km race with 4 other friends.  Unfortunately, a sprained ankle during the race meant that it became more of a food trip instead of running trip.  A year later, I was so glad that the new bridge won't be ready but in a rush for work, I decided to leave the registration to that evening and it sold out when I got home from work.  :(  So in 2014, I decided to register for the race as soon as it opened for registration and worry about the flight and accommodation later.  (But with the numerous budget airlines flying to Penang, it would be difficult not to find one that suits your budget and time.  Accommodation in Penang was also affordable, given the exchange rate.)

Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014!

A friend, Alan Tan, set up a Facebook Group Chat and we decided to rent an apartment instead for even more cost savings.  Per night accommodation worked out to about S$48/pax per night for 6 pax (or thereabout as I couldn't recall the exact amount paid).  Come race weekend, Alan and gang took an earlier morning flight and helped me to collect my race pack as I arrived in Penang in the late afternoon.  While at the airport, I bumped into Azhar who told me to take the public bus if I wanted to save money.  He was right!  Public bus from the airport to Queensbay Mall cost a mere RM2.00!  At Queensway Mall, I met up with Alan, Andy and Andy's mum for early dinner at Old Town White Coffee.  Then, we went shopping for drinks and bread for the next day's breakfast, before sharing a cab (which cost around RM15.00) to the apartment.

Early morning at around 12 midnight (the Men's race was scheduled to flag-off at 1:30am), instead of hiring a cab to bring us to the start, we hired the cab to bring us to Queensbay Mall.  This was because taking the cab to the starting line may entail us walking a longer distance while the official ferry service would drop off the runners right next to the starting line.  The queue at Queensbay Mall was chaotic at best.  There was no line as runners just gathered around the area.  When the first bus arrived, it stopped right in front of us and we happily boarded the bus (via the rear entrance).  The journey took about 20mins and we reached the starting line way ahead of the time.  We walked around waiting for time to pass.  As the starting time for the Women's race won't commence till 2:00am, I wondered if I should start the race with Alan and Andy, given that they were much faster runners and would be waiting for even a longer time if I start at my actual time.

Race Pack for Penang Marathon and At The Marathon Start Line!

At around 1:25am, the VIPs were ushered to the stage and and they let off a series of fire crackers.  But the fire crackers were tiny and small, with no impact whatsoever.  Nevertheless, it was the first time I saw fire crackers in a marathon in Asia so kudos to the race organiser for doing something unique.  At  1:30am sharp, the Men's Open Category was flagged off.  As I was in the starting line with them, I decided to took off.  A few minutes into the race a male runner commented that I should not have started the race when he ran past me.  I felt guilty but I could not stop as we had by then ran onto the bridge.  I tried to keep to the side of the road so that I didn't block any men.  Most of the men who ran past me also didn't notice my existence or ignoring me altogether.  This continued until 15mins after 2:00am where runners from the Women's Open Category zoomed past me on the other side of the bridge.  Slowly, more women overtook me, including all the fast runners from the Men's Veteran and Women's Veteran categories, which started at 2:00am.  Then I saw Karen Loh, Elaine Pang and Doris Teo.  They must be shocked to see me when they passed me.  :p

Lion Dance Performance!

After I was back running among the ladies,  I began to notice more of my surroundings.  But to be frank, there was nothing much to admire or look at because it was totally dark.  However, there was still some kind of support with some lion dance performances.  Even the nurses from St John Ambulance were clapping and encouraging us.  Other than that, it was truly a boring experience.  Luckily, I slept early enough or else, I might end up sleep-running.  Near the vehicle gantry at the end of the bridge, I thought it was time to make the u-turn.  Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  We had to run beyond the bridge and further, before making the long awaited u-turn.  I was glad when it finally happened.  Just past the same gantry (now on the other side of the road), some volunteers were holding a water hose and spraying water.  As I was not hot (since it was still early in the morning in the dark), I stayed away from getting wet.  The water stations (which were 5km apart) were at the same point on the bridge as the first half although most of them were not co-shared as the roads (for both directions) were not connected at most part.

 Somewhere Near The Vehicle Entry!

At around 10km from the finish, i.e. the 32km mark (around 5:30am), I saw some back-of-the-pack half marathoners (whose starting time ranged between 3:00am and 4:00am depending on which category they fell under) who were really struggling.  I was motivated to run well, and in even greater spirit as I could count down the last 10km and seeing the sky got brighter!  I also noticed that the bridge got more crowded as I caught up with more half-marathoners and at times I had to find my way around them.  The sky was bright around 6:45am.  A while later, I heard a voice calling out.  I slowed down and looked around where the sound came from and saw a familiar face waving at me!  Karen Loh was standing at the start of the 10km race which would be flagged off at 7:00am!  42.195km was apparently not long enough for her morning workout.  :p  I acknowledged her before focusing back on my task at hand which was to finish strong.  I picked up my pace towards the end although we had to make a little climb before exiting the bridge to the finishing which I completed in 5hrs 43mins.  It wasn't a fast time but I was glad that I ended the race strongly.

After the race, I went to pick up the finisher tee and medal.  I also took a few cups of iced-milo from the milo truck.  There were other food available and many runners were standing / sitting around the finishing line, eating, drinking and chatting.  I decided to take the ferry service back to Queensway Bay so that I could get back on time to wash up and check-out.  Luckily, the volunteers were able to point out the direction where the buses were although they were a distance away.  After a short queue, I boarded the bus and made my way back.  Overall, I was happy that I could strike off this race from my To-Do Marathon list but I realised my effort might not be rewarded with an official time as I didn't start at the allocated time.  I was right after the official results were released as I was DQed.  :(  I couldn't blame anyone except myself since I had chosen to start with my friends due to a moment of folly.  Would I do so again, definitely not.  Lesson learnt was to ensure I study the details of the race before I tie down any accommodation with friends, even though some races released details till late.  At the end of the day, what's more important to me was not to inconvenient friends whom I was sharing the accommodation.  If getting a result was what you aim, then make sure you and your friends understand the different start time may result in having to wait for one another - i.e. a longer waiting time especially if the faster runner starts earlier.

 Finishing Line Of The Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014!

Marathon Time Completion: 5hrs 13mins + 30mins - A Disqualification!

Course: Almost flat course on most part of the bridge less the section where one enters and exits the bridge.

Weather:  The weather was as humid as in Singapore although it was cooler as the race commenced in the dark.

Aid Station / Volunteer Support: Aid Stations were situated every 5km apart with water and sports drinks served.  However, the food choices were limited to bananas and gels.

Verdict: It was a very boring race as there was nothing to see along the course in the dark.  The different start time for the different categories was not the best way to segregate the faster runners from the slower runners.  There are definitely fast and slow runners in the Men's Open, as well as fast and slow runners in the Women's Open.  Being a Men or Women's Veteran doesn't mean they are definitely slower.  So the way the race organiser  flagged off the runners is flawed.  (I am assuming that the reason for such stagger timing is for the faster runner to start off first).  A better way would be for the runners to submit a race time (say limited to the past 1 year) so that faster runners could be grouped in the front and slower runners at the back.  6/10

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