“Early morning joggings.”
That was the quick summary from the member of staff I’d had to wake to have the front door unlocked, as I stood in my running kit. She was right. It was just after 5 in the morning, I had got up before 5 for breakfast, then sat downstairs pinning on my number and, in all probability, talking to myself, before I realised she was asleep on the sofa next to me. Never mind. Early morning joggings and ramblings, please.
I had time to check my email and the weather forecast before I left. I’d not had long enough in bed for much to have changed anyway, and with the UK 8 hours behind they were enjoying Saturday night and not mailing during that time. The weather forecast wasn’t worth checking, either-25 degrees, storm. I’m doing it. Cross fingers time.
I’d booked this run a week or so ago. Too late to get a top that fits-anyone fancy a 2xu running vest, large (not a compression top)? But in conversation afterwards it occurred to me that it had required enough organisation, or devotion to running, to put many off. Certainly the ex pats seemed impressed that I had done it; I gave myself a virtual pat on the back. I’d accidentally – again – booked a hostel near the start, too, so I’ll admit to thinking staying here and going to a race was perfectly normal and I might not be alone in heading to the race. I was, but soon found people heading through Almeka square to Padang Merbok, half a mile from my base. I was expecting Padang Merbok to be a place, some kind of destination, but all I could see was a rugby pitch (no cars, markets or heavy petting) and a car park, but at least I was in the right place. ‘Padang’ is ‘field’. Great, I leave Malaysia and then pick up my first word. One day that will be oddly useful.
I warmed up in the rain. It wasn’t bucketing down, and with the temperature as high as it was, these were probably as close to ideal conditions as we were going to get. Starting wet wasn’t ideal, but as I sheltered in the dark, waiting for them to open the start funnel, I was content. After Bangkok I was determined to start somewhere near the front, so headed straight in once people headed for the start line. I had two goals. Have a race – at my pace I ought to be in the chasing reasonable runner pack, I figured – and keep it under the hour.
Seemed reasonable. In the end I got neither. We set off, and the girls next to me who had got their elbows out to get near the front and stayed there as the announcer had insisted we make way for competitive runners to join the start, edges ahead and slowed to a crawl. Thanks. Still, once round them I was into my running, 20 or 30 people ahead. I felt comfortable without pushing, and didn’t mind the uphill start. It’s entirely a road race, and we were in the dark, which was atmospheric. A bit like the Round Norfolk relay, but with more marshals with torches waving you through.
There was a switchback at a mile or so, with the 14km marker looming soon after, again uphill. I’d passed the first European, a chunky German, by now, and counted myself in 12th at the turn. Right, aim for the top ten and see if there were legions of people racing through the pack behind me. The front two, Kenyans, had been disappearing from view, and the next pack was three strong and also away and gone, so at least I didn’t have to tease myself with the thought of prizes – first five only, no age groups. But how many others could I catch?
I passed 11th and 10th quickly, and 9th came as an orange vested local pulled off for a pee. 8th was proving a tougher nut, but I was happy in his slipstream. Doubtless with my heavy tread he knew I was right behind. As we again headed up hill just after 5k-I’d not seen much downhill yet; some early on, towards the switchback, that seemed to be about it. He came back to me on the hill and seemed to let me go through, I didn’t need any extra to take him. From here on, it was a lonely run. I could see the runner ahead, but it was about 200m to him, the gap growing as I started to struggle. Uphill! The first 5k was about 20.35, when I’d expected to ease through in under 20, the next was 22.30, but no one was near me. I knew the last stretch was uphill past the 14k marker, then down to the finish, but what was left?
10km came by, with a sight to make the early start all worthwhile. Day was dawning by now, and through the clouds and orange sky I could see the KL tower, with a guard of trees from the road. Fabulous. Plus it meant we were heading towards the centre again. A little down before some up and then a warning sign to be careful of the down slope. Great; all that work going up, used up in a short sharp downhill. And finally, I turned towards the 11k marker. Going up. Oh crikey, the worst hill yet. I saw a runner go past on the other side – were they..? Yes! They were making us go uphill to a switchback, then yomp back! The two Kenyans were so far gone that I didn’t see them even on the long hill, but the First Lady strode past (she won in 1:00:12, 10 minutes clear of second) as I struggled up the hill, so that made me 7th male. Thumbs up all round for the others, and I turned some way adrift. The downhill must have worked for me, though, that or the smiles and encouragement I was giving other runners made me look like a consummate pro, as a lady came up at the end to ask “did you win? You were flying down that hill!” It confused me for a moment, because I was mentally giving myself the win for the Europeans, and so nearly said yes, but I managed to give her a truthful answer.
On the hill the chunky German wasn’t too far back, so wasn’t as over optimistic as I’d thought from his start pace. He didn’t quite catch my old friend in position 8, but managed to claw some of the gap back. Meanwhile, around 13k I noticed a runner up ahead. I’d passed various very slow runners; I can only think they were taking advantage of road closures to run, as the 8k that was going on too wasn’t starting till 7am to our 6.10. I was gaining on this dude, for the right to be first loser; nothing like futility to motivate, and I kept my pace up.
We rejoined the main drag and I lost him. Suddenly we were running with the middle of the 8k race, who were approaching the 2k marker. Plenty of space, though, so I wasn’t impeded. As we crested a hill I spotted him again, and went past, thinking he might take me for an 8k runner even if he fancied the duel. At any rate, he didn’t come with me and though I only belatedly realised the “15k! Here!” shouts were for me, I made the last turn and finished down the hill.
7th. Much higher than I’d thought, but over 5 minutes slower than I had wanted, over 65 minutes my time (first ran 49:25, fifth 1:00:21). Some of that perhaps because I hadn’t run all week, more because I had a slight cold and some, of course, the hills. I don’t think fifth was anywhere near, so overall I decided to be pleased to finish that high up and never mind the quality. Afterwards there was plenty of milling and chatting, an energy drink, banana and hefty medal, and prizes done by just after 9. I’ve not raced into the dawn in quite that way before, and it was fantastic. For £15 you get the race and the vest, plus you could pay more for some slightly discounted 2xu calf guards or compression shorts if you fancied. People having to put those combinations together in a race pack had caused the number collection queues, of course, but it’s a decent event.
And I have learnt that Malaysia has few 100ks, making qualification for the Spartathlon a little difficult, and Kuala Lumpur has plentiful hills. Bitching hills.