I now understood why this distance is so likeable.
There comes a time in a runner’s life where she gazes into the horizon with beads of sweat rolling down her nose and ponders the ever proverbial question: can I go further? Such was the curiosity that motivated me to sign up for my first half marathon race in the BSN Putrajaya Night Marathon, which took place on that rainy Saturday of 20th October.
After spending more than a year of entering 10k runs (with the maximum distance I’ve ever done being Adidas’ KOTR of 16.8km), as a hobbyist and casual runner I yearned to challenge myself to the next limit and the natural progression was of course to tackle the 21km (or 13.1 miles) category. Experienced friends bombarded me an avalanche of advice, which included the following:
“You have to actually run 21km to get a feeling of what it feels like.” (Mm-hmm. OK. Problem. I couldn’t focus on actually completing a 21k in training. I found it too time-consuming to run that long.)
“If you can run up to 16km for your LSD, you’ll be fine to take on the HM, no sweat.” (I liked this advice from Nana better, it was a shorter target than a 21k, wasn’t as time-hungry and was sufficient to prepare me for the distance.)
“Start slow, finish strong!” (This one tip from Isaac I craved to embody but still wondered on its execution. How slow was slow? And would I still be strong at the end?)
“Don’t worry about your finishing time, just finish!” (This piece of golden nugget came from Mims. And yes, this is the reality of going longer than you’ve ever been. Finishing is the achievement. On the bright side, the first time is always going to be a personal record.)
In May, about the time I signed up for the half marathon, I discovered a training plan called “The Busy Girl’s Half Marathon Plan” concocted by Coach Jenny Hadfield in Women’s Running magazine. Her formula was perfect for me because it emphasizes on quality of your runs instead of quantity, and so every week she laid down a plan to run “only” 3 times a week that comprised of intervals, tempos and long runs (with optional cross training). The program was 16-weeks long, however I’ll be honest with you – I wasn’t too diligent in following it (it completely derailed during Ramadan month especially), however I made the best effort that I could, paying special attention to do the intervals on the weekdays and long distances over the weekend to prepare myself for what was going to be my longest race to date.
The day finally rolled around. Since it was a night run, I decided to stay home and just chill out instead of heading downtown to meet some runner friends who had flown in from Indonesia. I just didn’t think I could risk handling that much excitement and tire myself before the race.
Around 5pm we left the house and it was pouring cats and dogs on the way to Putrajaya. I feared that we might have to endure running with wet shoes and socks (which I completely hated because I will develop blisters like no one’s business!), or worse, have the event cancelled because of poor weather. Surprisingly enough when we arrived, the area was bone dry! That’s some awesome rain-pushing magic that the event organizer has landed their hands on.
The venue was already charged with a carnival-like atmosphere with sports product booth setups, runners preparing to head in the race pen and entertainers putting up flashy shows with their dancing, drum-beating and fire-blowing antics. I saw Maryati but I was so anxious I mindlessly didn’t say hello (sorry, babe!). Betty caught my eyes when I was on the phone trying to locate Farisha, so we just waved at each other in acknowledgement. It was getting crowded and impossible to look for other friends, and so I left it at that.
The full marathon folks got flagged off first at 8pm sharp, then it was the half marathon distance runners 20 minutes later. The only friend we managed to locate was Zainudin, who waited to flag off with us. The gun finally went off, and we were off! About 3,500 runners were in the 21km category.
In the beginning
Usually in 10k races, I observe people rushing out at the start and sprinting like deranged dogs were chasing them. But the first thing I noticed about the 21k was that runners were more conservative in the beginning, taking their time to warm up and get their pace up and running. Immediately I understood why some people preferred to run a half marathon than the 10k, there was less stress in the beginning to start out fast! The key was about endurance.
I was liking this – so I started out at 8min/km pace and pretty much stayed with it for the first 10km. Running this long distance will definitely require me to refuel so I prepared by carrying 3 energy gel packs on my fuel belt (non-caffeine ones, of course – caffeine makes me dizzy!). I only ended up devouring one.
The water stations were located every 2.5km apart and they were not super crowded, which I totally liked (I was recalling how packed it was during Nike’s We Run KL, such that I didn’t even bother to stop for a drink). I got a taste of what sponge stations were like for the first time, it’s basically a pit-stop where they soak sponges in cold water for you to grab one and do whatever you liked with it – squeeze them on your body, face or armpits, whatever you fancied!
As I racked up kilometer after kilometer, I took time to enjoy the run in the cool night while marveling at the beautiful lights that lit up the bridges and buildings in Putrajaya.
Half-way point and beyond
I finally reached the 10km mark and at the water station at that point I slurped down a packet of energy gel (raspberry cream-flavored, yum yum) and two cups of water to wash it down. I picked up my pace and went a little bit faster than my first 10km, bringing down it down to about 7.5min/km and faster where I could manage it. This is what is termed a negative split, that is, running the 2nd half of the long distance at a faster pace than the 1st half. I was only able to do this because I was conservative in the first 10k with my running effort.
A little bit later at the 12.5km mark there was a fruit station, I grabbed a banana and another two cups of water. I wolfed down that banana so fast, although I didn’t feel it I was actually really hungry. Gobbling down that banana proved to be a good idea as it powered me through the rest of my journey.
Running through the 2nd half proved to be amusing too, as organizers setup several modes of entertainment to boost our waning morales up, such as a water station that spewed out giant soap bubbles (that was very pretty). It was ethereal running through bubbles in the night! Another interesting spot saw guys dressed up in Darth Vader and Bobba Fett costumes, giving out high-5’s to runners in desperate need of some cheering up! Of course many runners stopped for a photo op!
I looked at my watched and noticed that I had covered 18km and the time showed something like 2:24. I was making good time, I thought – and was optimistic that I could finish the remaining 3km and complete 21km under 3 hours as planned. But then I was stopped by police as they tried to clear traffic so I lost around 30 seconds there before I could continue. Additionally, as I made the U-turn that marked our last electronic check point mat and ran about half a kilometer down the road, I saw a distance marker that made me baffled. According to it, I had another 4.195km to go – which was still quite a chunk! It was obvious that my Garmin and official race distance were not synced. Could I make it in time?
I took the challenge in stride and continued on as fast as I could. There was an uphill to tackle in the last leg, which was enough to make most runners walk. I continued on and stumbled a couple more Halloween costumed-guys, this time a Superman and Batman.
There was 2km left in the race and I felt that it was like the longest 2,000m I had to endure. As I veered right on the road into the last km, a friend catches me on video, I waved as spiritedly as I could. I saw bright lights and hear loud music blasting in the distant and I am craving to get to the source. As I’m working hard to finish I am annoyed by a man on a motorcycle who kept honking the runners out of his way. At this point this irritated me a great deal because I was exhausted and who the heck was this guy anyway? Can’t he just leave the runners to run in peace? It turned out the man was clearing the path for a Caucasian lady (later I learned she was British) who was first to finish her full marathon distance in the women’s open category!
As the finish line grew bigger in my view, I gathered all my strength and sprinted through it, hoping to God that I could at least hit a sub-3 time. I ran through the line, passing by raggedy-looking runners, remembered to press pause on my watch, and was handed a medal with a hearty congratulations from the volunteer – but not without first getting my eyes burned out by camera flashes! I managed to conjure relieved smiles at each flash, which made for some nice finisher’s photos – thank you, cameramen!
I did it – I completed my first half marathon in one piece! I couldn’t find anyone I knew after the finish line, so I sat down and called up a few peeps. Eventually friends surrounded me and we exchanged congratulatory slaps on the back. A lady started staring at me from a distance and it took me a while to realize that it was one of my old friends, Nikki! I stood up, walked over to talk to her – but then felt strangely dizzy and light-headed, so I sat down again and realized that I was low on sugar. Someone hurriedly went to find bananas and isotonic drinks for me, which I devoured in hopes I could stave off the fainting. It worked, but it took me a while to be able to walk straight, my legs felt like jelly! A stranger fellow runner (he was rather cute, if I might add, hehe) saw me in my shaky condition and kindly extended his water bottle for me, but I politely declined.
Every half and full marathon runner is given a finisher’s t-shirt for their completion of their races and now I understood why we get them: I was absolutely soaked in my running vest and was getting a bit chilly! I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much before. Immediately went to change because walking around with such a wet top was proving to be a drag. Still couldn’t walk straight so I plopped myself down and made friends with a cat until my legs knew what to do with themselves.
So how did I do in terms of finishing time? I have mixed feelings about my completion time. According to various time-recording sources here’s how I did:
- Nike+ app: I ran 13.1 miles in 2:47:03.
- Garmin footpod/watch: I ran 22.9km (!) in 3:01:05.
- Official results from my timing chip: 3:00:41. However I will go by my watch and Nike+ app accounts that this timing is for the actual distance which I ran, which is 22.9km and not 21km.
Whichever way I see it, I am happy with the BSNPNM, it was a great race to have joined as pursuit of my maiden half marathon. Here are my favorite points about it:
- Lots of water stations with plenty of water and fruits (at the fruit station)
- Friendly and accommodating volunteers, can’t thank them enough for tirelessly encouraging us runners through
- Lovely and scenic route along Putrajaya
- Great entertainment along the way
- Great weather, running at night is a plus too
- Nice looking finisher’s t-shirt from Brooks
- I started slow, and finished strong – kept my promise to myself, yeah!
I don’t have any other qualms about the race, which is extraordinary. I highly recommend this race to anyone who hasn’t done it and wondered if it is worth the time. Heck, yeah!
I now know for sure I can tackle the half marathon distance with little incident; this distance has taught me so much in terms of extending the patience and energy management of what little I know about long distance running. I will always run for the enjoyment of it, and if I can break a personal record here and there along the way and maintain an injury-free status, that’s a bonus.
If there’s one thing I know about joining races, is that it makes your appetite insatiable to run another. Since I can confidently say that I enjoyed running the 21km, I hereby declare 2013 to be my year of half marathons. I can’t wait to run another one!
Video montage of my 1st half marathon night
- Nannoor’s Race Report: BSN Putrajaya Night Marathon 2012. Maiden Half Marathon Journey
- Stupe’s Putrajaya Night Marathon 2012 Race Report
- Lina’s Full Cycle (BSNPNM recap)
- Millie: I Ran My First Half Marathon! (another BSNPNM recap)
- Nizam: Putrajaya Night Marathon 2012 (photos from a volunteer’s POV)