Monday, February 16, 2015

Yoma Yangon International Marathon 2015

I decided to sign up for the Yangon Marathon sometime in Oct last year after I received an email.  As I have not visited Myanmar before, I thought it was a good opportunity to do a race there.  The traveling to and from Yangon was favourable so there was no need for me to apply any leave.  Basically, it would be an "easy, fly-in, run and fly-back" kind of short trip.  :p  I wrote to the travel agencies provided by the race organiser to enquire about the cost and almost signed up for the cheapest package available until I learned that a friend, Berno, would be running in the race as well.  I decided to follow Berno and left him sort out the accommodation.  He booked a room for 3 pax at the highly recommended Four Rivers Hostel for 2 nights.  The damage?  A very affordable US$18 per pax, per day for a room with 3 beds that come with a common bathroom and free WiFi.  :)  Definitely cheaper than taking up the package which would have cost me about US$300 although it did come with personal pickup from/to airport, race start/finish and hotel accommodation.

eVISA Application
Before traveling to Myanmar, one had to apply for a visa.  But I wasn't sure if the visa application website provided in the official race website is genuine or not.  So I googled for the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore and booked successfully for an appointment date for in-person visa application.  After booking for a date, I saw a link in the website that linked to the same visa application website provided by the race organiser.  I decided to apply my eVISA instead.  However, there was a difference in cost: applying direct with the embassy would cost you a mere S$35.00 while applying through eVISA would cost you US$50.00.  It was more expensive but for those who were too busy to go down personally to apply in-person (take note that you have to physically send in the forms and photos, and go back later that day to pick up the Visa), applying the eVISA was a better option.  The visa would be valid for a one-time visit to Myanmar.

 The Official E-VISA Application Website!

Entering Myanmar
The currency used in Myanmar is the Myanmar Kyat (or Burmese Kyat).  As I couldn't find any money changer in Singapore that sells the Myanmar Kyat, I changed at the airport after arriving in Yangon.  I was told to bring Singapore or US currencies in good and clean condition.  Otherwise, they might not accept the notes.  The S$60 ensured I had a total of 45,000 Myanmar Kyat to spend for the 2-day trip.  With my newly exchanged notes, I booked a cab to Four Rivers Hostel at the airport taxi counter which cost me 8,000 Kyat.

I arrived at the Four Rivers Hostel after an hour ride.  Although the distance was only about 18km, traffic in the city was really bad.  Berno and Ailin were not in the room so I took a nap until the evening time when I went out to look for dinner.  I was very tempted to try the road side stalls but decided against it.  Then I saw a Yakun Kaya Toast Shop along the main road and decided to take a look what they offered.  Interestingly, they served chicken rice which cost 4,000 Kyat (about S$5.40), which I thought was expensive in such a place.  After I ordered, the waiter told me that the chicken rice come with a 50% discount so it only costs 2,000 Kyat (about S$2.70) which was okie since the Yakun is a fully-airconditioned outlet.  I also ordered a ice barley at 2,000 Kyat.  When the dish arrived, the chicken didn't look appetizing at all.  It was a little hard with little sauce.  Nevertheless, I finished everything as I was hungry.  Back at the hostel, Berno and Ailin came back at around 8pm plus and Berno handed my race pack which he helped me collected earlier.  We then pre-arranged for a taxi to come pick us up at 3:30am at a cost of 3,000 Kyat.

The Yangon Marathon 42.195km Race Route!

Left and Top Right: Chicken Rice at Yakun Kaya Toast; Bottom Right: Race Packet Goodies!

The drive from the hostel to the race start was about 20mins.  It was a small race with staggered start time for the different races, so there weren't many people.  After Berno and Ailin deposited their bags, we walked around.  Yangon was not particularly cold in January but we decided to stand next to a big pot of cooking soup to feel more comfortable.  The stall was selling local noodles which looked very delicious.  We couldn't resist the temptation and eventually, bought a bowl to share.  It was nice especially the hot soup.  The noodles cost only 800 Kyat (S$1.05).  After our second serving of breakfast (we each ate something at the hostel before arriving at the race start), it was time to walk to the starting line where I met a group of Singapore runners, including Helen.  The organiser flagged us off at 5:00am.

At The Start Of Yoma Yangon International Marathon!

Yoma Yangon International Marathon
The sky was still dark at 5:00am.  But there were street lights along the way so it wasn't that bad.  However, just turning right out from the stadium was a bridge!  While short and not that steep, I wasn't totally warmed up enough to run up.   :(  Instead, I jogged and walked the second half up the bridge.  Some portion of the road surfaces in Myanmar were not smooth so one had to pay attention while running.  The first water point was just after the 3km mark, as indicated in the guide book.  Local people were clapping along the course as runners ran past them, which was nice.  After the 6km mark, runners turned right and were now running along some ports storage area.  Again, there were people cheering us at major junctions.  But mainly, this section of the race was pretty boring, especially after we entered the "gantry", where the elite 21km runners started running past me.  I reached the 10km marker at approximately 1hr 16mins, which was approximately 8km/hr pace.  The sky were getting bright and workers started arriving to the port.  At around the 19km marker, we joined the main road.  The vehicles on the road were law abiding.  No one horned although one or two vehicles decided to make a u-turn.  I saw a group of children waving frantically at the runners and high five them as we ran past them.  There were also a few supporters handing out bottles of water and fruits.  I crossed the 20km marker at around 2hrs 32mis, which meant I was rather consistent in my pacing thus far.  :)

Between 7km~15km Marks On The Road Along The Port!

Top: Children Along The Course; Bottom: Crossing The 20km Marker!

The route was pretty flat since the first bridge I encountered near the start although there were a few slopes here and there.  The sun was up by then but the weather was still manageable.  So it was no surprised that I managed to cover 30km in 3hrs 52mins.  I was hopeful that I could complete the race within my set target of 5hrs 45mins.  After the water-cum-banana station at the 31km marker, we entered into some kind of a garden before exiting another gate about 3km further up.  Then, the route became a little undulating although nothing too difficult.  We were running against the traffic, but with one lane closed for the runners, it was still safe though the air quality wasn't good.  I knew I was approaching the Aung San Suu Kyi residence as indicated in the guide book but I wasn't sure exactly how it looked like.  Just around the 36km mark, we were directed onto a path on our left and I saw a beautiful lake in front of me.  "It should be somewhere around here", I wondered to myself.  With nothing that stood out, I snapped a few photos before continuing my race.  It was 10am plus and there were many people around the park enjoying the lake view.  It was also getting very warm. There was little shade in the last 4km. I also managed to catch a glimpse of Berno from a distance but no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't able to bridge the gap.  I reached the 40km marker at 10:19am (1hr 27mins for my 4th 10km segment, 11mins off pace) and decided to just take it easy since our pre-determined meeting time was 11:45am. The last 2.195 km was completed in a slow 20mins jog for a total nett time of 5hrs 34.51mins (gun time of 5hrs 35.11mins).

Water Stations Before And After The 30km Marker!

The Possible Sighting Of "Aung San Suu Kyi" Residence!

Finishing Of The Yoma Yangoon Marathon!

After I completed my race, the free massage service was already gone.  In fact, the workers are dismantling the tents used for the massage!  So 早起的鸟儿有虫吃 (early birds get to eat all the worms)!  I met up with Ailin (who had been waiting for more than an hour) and Berno (about 10mins in front of me) and took a cab back to the hostel.  This time round, we had some problem in communicating with the drivers as most of them did not understand English nor were they literate (which explained why they couldn't understand the address printed on the hostel business card).  We did eventually found one who knew the way back to the hostel and managed to negotiate the cab fee to 4,500 Kyat.  Back at the hostel, we were glad that they extended our time so that we could all wash up and check-out.  We then went to a nearby coffeeshop for cheap and quick recovery lunch before heading back to the airport.  Again, traffic in the city was terrible and only cleared up after we exited the city onto their motorway to airport.  It cost us only 7,000 Kyat.  :)

 Post Marathon Recovery Lunch In-Progress!

Overall, it was a great race experience.  The Myanmar people were very friendly and hospitable.  Obviously, most people in Myanmar lead a simple but difficult life so it was surprising to see some of them offering fruits, water to the runners and cheering for us.  As compared to the Sundown Marathon or the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, the Yangon Marathon had more support from the locals. who were ever so spontaneous and warm, from the start of the marathon even though it was still early morning.  At certain part of the route where we ran through the villages, the children would even run along side us for a short distance, and high-five us.  It really made me more motivated since road marathons were really boring and most of the Yangon Marathon had little scenery, with the exception of the Aung San Suu Kyi Residence somewhere after the 36km mark.  The water and food supply although limited in varieties, were sufficient and placed at regular intervals.  It was a race that I would definitely recommend to take part in.

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