Starting my post-Ramadan run at ‘Stairway to Heaven.’
Ramadan has come and gone and the victorious month of Syawal has descended upon us. It is a time to celebrate the end of the fasting month and embrace a time for togetherness, forgiveness, and of course – feasting!
Average folks will, almost insincerely, lament at the widening of their waists as they consume countless calories in the form of ketupat, rendang and kuih, but really, it is us runners who are the most paranoid about keeping the fat at bay. We foam at the mouth at the thought of going for our very first run after Ramadan to offset the sudden spike in calories inhaled during Eid, especially for those of us who could not keep a tidy running routine throughout the previous month. The Indonesians have coined a word for such a run: LebaRun – a clever marriage of the Malay word ‘Lebaran’ (to mean ‘Eid’ or ‘Hari Raya’) and of course the magic word, RUN.
I embarked on my LebaRun on the fourth day of the festivities with four other friends from my Gaited Community (GC) running circle – husband-wife pair Zafuan and KZ, Nizam and Nan. We woke up to a rather wet and cool Sunday that August 11th, the kind that begs one to pull the covers over the head and continue snoozing. But we successfully fought temptation. We made our way to our usual rendezvous, the Bukit Aman car park area in KL, did some light warm-ups and we were well on our way at around 7:10am. The planned menu was 15km around Bukit Tunku area that day.
As we ran about 3km into the route, Zafuan decides to detour from the usual path that I am accustomed to whenever I run with the GC gang. He then excitedly tells us of a hill ahead in Bukit Tunku that he has lovingly named ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ I was not sure what to expect, but as soon as I saw it, it was an uphill task that not even I wanted to do on a good day.
For the few of us who had seen the hill for the first time, it was a jaw-dropping moment as our minds tried to fruitlessly compute and digest the potential gradient of the giant mound that made part of Changkat Duta road. (One runner in our Facebook group estimated it at 35 degrees!) We asked Zafuan how he stumbled upon such a monstrosity – and he claims he has taken the route a few times via car and had always wanted to run it. I gulped.
At that exact moment as Nan, Zafuan and KZ were admiring the hill from the base, I see a red and white taxi starting to rumble up the hill. Our eyes followed it in unison. The car barely made it to the top and you could hear the engine working furiously in first gear, churning hard to haul its metal body to the peak. If the machine was working that hard, how would a man’s heart take it? I was about to find out.
After psyching ourselves we finally made a run for it. About 30 meters into the run I could feel my calves burning. The gravity started to exert itself onto me – I decided to overtake the others and lead the pack. “Smaller strides!” KZ shouted at me as my feet shuffled – I obeyed and the ascent became slightly less strenuous, but not for long. By the time I made two-thirds up the hill the gravitational force became so great that my shoulders felt they were being pushed down by a pair of giant invisible hands! The feeling was as though I was running almost vertically to the ground and that the chance of falling backward into my running fellows was inevitable.
I suppose I am overdramatizing my recollection of running this hill – but these were my emotions, precisely.
“Let’s hit the yellow fire hydrant ahead, and then we can stop!” yelled Zafuan, giving some motivational pep talk. Nan and I glued our eyes to the said metal fixture and gave out a yell as we ran for it. It wasn’t quite the peak as we had about 10 more steps to go from it, but it was all that I got left. As I reached the fire hydrant I walked the rest of the steps to the top and gave out a heave so huge, even my shoelaces were crying for joy.
“This is definitely Dragonback!” panted Nizam as he reached the top, referring to the famous road race in Klang where the hilly terrain is as treacherous and mean as this one. I wouldn’t know – I’ve never ran Dragonback, but I will take his word for it.
Having conquered the first major hill, we stopped for a photo op, and then continued our way through the relatively new route in Bukit Tunku, meeting with more hills and downhills, passing by huge houses, some looked like castles. We only met one other runner in this ‘twilight zone’, a Caucasian expat runner whom we bumped into twice. The 2nd time he could barely reciprocate our greeting and we soon learned why. There was another set of scary hills ahead of us, the only comfort that we had was that we were running downhill on it while the ‘mat salleh’ had ran the opposite direction, uphill. No wonder he couldn’t say hi back, I sure as heck couldn’t and wouldn’t.
As we reached the bottom of that particularly long and winding hill, the national hockey stadium was not far from where we were. We sipped our bottles of water for a breather and it was then that Zafuan and KZ decided to call that reverse hill route ‘Highway to Hell.’
And that’s what you get for running with veteran runners who love classic rock songs. Sweetly named running routes with a scary boost to boot.