Sometimes not all runs go as we plan. The heart was willing to give it all but a certain other body part didn’t get the memo.
Date of run: 3 Oct 2011
I was about to enter the Malaysian leg of Adidas King of the Road, my fourth running event of the year. I was nervous and considerably jittery as heck about this particular participation. And I had every reason to be.
For starters, 16.8km was to be the longest distance I would have ever attempted in any official event. I only ever signed up for it because the 10km category for women was full! Secondly, I had fallen off the bandwagon of training in the last month or two, thanks to Ramadhan, Raya and a vacation to the land of down under.
I was doomed.
But the optimist in me prevailed and excitedly told my inner self that the event would be anything but a disaster. Oh, how I believed it.
The flag off time for the run was set at 6:45am that Sunday morning of October 2nd. Its starting point would be from Sunway Pyramid, all across New Pantai Expressway and back, a route that highly resembled a tight hairpin loop.
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 3.30am, feeling almost certain that waking up for sahur was so much tamer and humane. After a quick breakfast of two bananas grilled in popiah wrap (with a smattering of chocolate rice to boot) and some water, I drove to Sunway and parked my car opposite One Academy College. It was still early, around 4:40am. I decided to snooze in the car for another hour and a half or so to stave off the grogginess.
Around 6:10am my phone alarm went off, gently awakening me again. I decided it was time to leave the comfort of my vehicle before I really doze the morning off and miss my run. So I got out and walked to the base of the mall’s iconic sphinx head where half the town was congregating.
As I approached the event’s epicenter, swarms of fellow runners in colorful vests courtesy of the brilliant organizer were meandering the driveway of the mall. It was like an after party at the early break of dawn. Only instead of downing alcohol, people were gorging and carbo-loading on overly sweet energy bars.
After a quick run to the mall’s restroom (I refused to use the outdoor portajohns), I was pumped and ready to go. As I made my way to the race pen, I was overwhelmed by how many people were there, huddled together almost like cattle (some were beginning to smell like it, too). There were so many people that I nearly could not find the end of the line. But I finally weaved my way in and stood there with a couple of friends whom I miraculously bumped into. We initiated small talks to ease the anxiety and to fan the excitement.
The next thing I knew people around me were cheering and applauding wildly, presumably because the flag off had started. In an act of monkey-hear-monkey-do I gave a few loud hoots myself, hoping to God I was shrieking shamelessly for the right reason.
And sure enough the crowd was beginning to dissipate forward, a sure sign that the surge of sports seekers was moving along the start line.
The run had begun!
It’s always difficult to move fast in the initial stage of a flag off because of the tight density of participants coming into contact with each other like heated atoms. But as you finally cross the start line (which also happens to be one of those smart electronic timer-majigs that starts calculating your time) it becomes easier as runners speed off in different alignments and in varied paces.
The early morning air was cool and pleasant. This is precisely why I think running is best done between the hours of 6 and 8am, before the sun rays start hitting on you.
I picked up the pace and ran comfortably down the highway. Ear buds were shoved into my ears as the music on my ipod shuffle played at moderate volume, slightly drowning all other noise. There was nothing but me and the open road with a few thousand fellow runners. It was a blissful state of being that only runners understand, and a true test of one’s physical and mental endurance.
I cruised quite consistently for the first 3km, admiring the lightning-fast guys who were already running on the opposite side of the highway. Damn, they’re fast, I thought enviously. The highway began an uphill slope that eventually curved into a sharp U-turn; some runners were slowing down and heaving with the increased pull of gravity. I managed to run up the ramp without a significant decline in my pace. I must say running uphill is one of those things that I think I have managed to get used to pretty well.
What I really liked about KOTR was that a water station is positioned every 3km, so there was no time to get dehydrated with this many points of refreshment. As I gulped down my first cup of water at the third km station, I pressed on and felt good that my body and heart rate could endure what I was putting it through. I was holding up a consistent and steady pace of 7min/km for the first 5km and that is definitely a PR for me.
However as I entered my 6th KM, I felt a slow but unmistakable feeling of pain in my right knee. It wasn’t obvious at first, but ever so surely it seared into the tendons that connected my knee to the lower part of my leg. Could it be that I was getting cramps?
Oh no, not now please! I muttered desperately and defiantly to myself. Not when I’m so on fire? Why did this have to happen to me now?
The feeling in my right knee felt like the veins and nerves in my leg were being cruelly twisted; moving my knee in running motion just put more unbearable pressure and exacerbated the condition. I forced myself to ignore the pain and kept moving.
My running partner who happened to be wearing two knee sleeves decided to take one off and offered it to me to relieve my pain. As I fumbled and grunted to slide it over my knee cap, the sickening sensation subsided slightly thanks to the tight pressure of the wrap. The paramedics were nearby too, so I went over to get some pain numbing gel to ease the fiery feeling in my knee.
While the temporary reliefs were helpful at first, as I approached KM10, I knew if I forced it I might not end the run at all. In an act that would crush my athletic ego and make me want to burst into tears of frustration, I had no choice but to walk and drag my nearly paralyzed right leg in a standoffish drag cum limp. These were the hardest minutes I’ve ever had to endure in any running event.
The body and heart were so willing to give it all, but my knee rebelled.
I was also worried that the sweeper bus was going to come pick me up! I vowed I would finish the run, sans sweeper bus. I was determined to walk the rest of the way and not be scooped up by the transport that was designated to pick up slow finishers due to personal safety. As I thought this, I saw the alleged bus on the opposite side of the highway. Oh no, I’ve got to pick up the pace, I just have to!
As I hobbled the rest of the way, KM14 was particularly excruciating as the highway ascended and the degree of elevation increased, putting more pressure on my knee as I made my way up. Two compassionate fellow runners behind me who had probably seen how much difficulty I was going through just to move forward kindly asked me if I was alright. As they overtook me, they gave me encouragement to just continue walking slowly and not to push myself too hard. I could almost cry.
Whoever they are, thank you for offering me a kind word during my time of adversity.
It took me almost 20 minutes to make it though KM14-15, but I pressed on. As I reached the last KM of 16, two policemen asked if I wanted to ride on their motorcycles to the finish line. Whether they were being sincere or cynical, I myself could not tell at this point. I politely refused, swearing that I’d make it to the finish line, limp and all.
By this time I had spent so much time exposed to the morning sun and open air that my sweat had dried up and crystallized. In short, I literally became a walking salt shaker.
My feet were scorching and aching to kingdom come when the finish line was finally in plain sight. As I grabbed my running partner’s hand for support, a street photographer with an intimidating long lens attached to his camera body snapped a photo of us. I didn’t know whether to hide my face or to smile, but my partner gave a friendly wave and the photographer grinned in return. I sure hope that photo doesn’t land on his Facebook or something. (But if it does, let me know!)
As I approached the end the course, I hear my name being called out. It was a bunch of my colleagues chilling out at the finish line, cheering me on! Now I really felt like asking the earth to swallow me whole, but since they were so supportive I smiled and mustered all my strength to finally cross the finish line.
I did it! I finished the run, all 16.8km of it!
Sure. It took me 3 hours (when I originally aimed for 2h 15m or better), but I was glad that I at least avoided the wrath of the sweeper bus.
I am not sure why my right knee decided to go MIA on me (my running partner attributed it to me not warming up long enough prior to the run). But whatever the reason may be, the lessons were plenty humbling and hard-hitting. Sometimes you can only plan but ultimately the body does what it needs to do in a natural reaction to save you from further physical damage.
Will I stop running? Absolutely not. Will I improve and lengthen my warm up techniques pre-run? You bet.