Running

Merdeka Fun Run 2015

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Posted By Zyen Hoo

While looking for runs to join in as part of my training for the full marathon in October, I decided to join Andrew in one of the runs during the Merdeka weekend.

He had signed up early for the Merdeka Fun Run 2015 that was to be held at D’Pulze Shopping Mall in Cyberjaya, and suggested that I sign up too. As I searched for it, I came across their Facebook Page that promoted their deal on Groupon – a discount on top of their entry fee!

I asked Andrew if he had purchased it through Groupon, to which he said no… and in fact, he was understandably a little bit sore about it. He had paid the full fee of RM55, only to find the organisers offering a discount on Groupon later. There was no offer of reimbursement for participants who had signed up earlier and paid the full fee.

The Groupon deal
The Groupon deal

Anyway, I purchased my entry through Groupon, and was told to submit my details via a Google form. The form said that we would receive a confirmation email within 2 days. However, after one week, I still hadn’t received any confirmation, and I resubmitted my details just in case. I only received the confirmation one week after the second submission. I suppose that they didn’t have enough people to monitor the online submissions.

Race pack collection was scheduled to be on the weekend before the event, on 22nd and 23rd August at D’Pulze Shopping Mall (which was where the run was going to be flagged off from), but the organisers sent us an email letting us know that they were allowing the race pack collection on the day of the run itself, starting from 6:30am.

RUN DAY 31 AUGUST 2015

RACE PACK COLLECTION

It had been hazy the past few days, and I wondered if the organisers were going to cancel or postpone the run; but it rained a few times on Sunday 30th August which kind of cleared up the weather a little bit. It was still a little hazy in the morning though.

I met Andrew at 6:30am at D’Pulze, planning to take the race packs as early as possible. We had thought a lot of people, like us, would be collecting the race packs on the day of the event itself. Turns out that we were mistaken; a lot of people had collected the race packs much earlier. There wasn’t any crowd at all at the race pack collection booth.

The shopping mall was closed of course at that time, but they had opened the parking lot just for the fun run. I had parked inside the mall, which I later regretted (more about that at the end).

There were already several participants dressed in the run shirts and had the race bibs on, waiting at various spots in the mall. I don’t know why they were there so early when the flag-off would only be at 8am.

I met up with Andrew who was sitting near the stage that was set up inside in the middle of the mall. We asked a volunteer who was dressed in a red shirt where the race pack collection would be, and he said it would either be near the stage or outside. It was boggling that they hadn’t made any plans as to how to distribute the race packs when they said the booth would be open at 6:30am, and it was already ten minutes past. We even saw some of the volunteers carrying bits of the movable stage floors outside of the mall – later we found out it was for the fitness instructors to lead the warm-up.

The stage that was set up in side the mall. You can see parts of the stage floor already removed (taken to outside the mall)
The stage that was set up in side the mall. You can see parts of the stage floor already removed (taken to outside the mall)

The bib numbers had not been assigned to any runner yet. We found out as we lined up to get the race packs. The numbers were given sequentially based on first-come-first-serve basis. Each runner was given two bibs, and apparently we must finish the run with both bibs intact. And of course, because of this, there were no timing chips.

The T-shirt was cotton instead of dry-fit, and we opted not to wear the T-shirt because it wouldn’t be comfortable trying to run in the shirts. Many people complained about the T-shirts later online; everyone was very disappointed in the cheap quality, especially when we were promised a race pack worth RM120.

As for the goodie bag… it was filled with things for ladies! Each bag had two sample packs of sanitary pads, discount vouchers for sanitary pads, and a whole bunch of vouchers from a slimming/facial institute. Personally speaking I had no use for these vouchers, but at least as a woman I could opt to use them if I wanted to. But what about the guys? The guys received the same goodie bags filled with things that they could not use! Sure, they could give it to their wives or girlfriends or mothers or sisters or friends… but that wasn’t the point, right?

The goodie bag that had vouchers and products that were only for women. The bib number as you can see has no assigned name.
The goodie bag that had vouchers and products that were only for women. The bib number as you can see has no assigned name.

WARM-UP

At about 7:30am, Andrew and I went out of the shopping mall to gather at the Start line. Most of the participants were already there, getting ready to warm up.

The instructor who led the warm-up was the same one as last year’s Larian Gegar in UM… well, according to Andrew, anyway. I don’t remember because I didn’t pay attention to the warm-up. Truth be told, I didn’t like the warm-up session. The instructor, with a few other back-up followers on stage, led the warm-up a la Zumba. I never understood why instructors who lead warm-ups for runs always try to make everyone do some kind of cardio exercise. I know that their own training is for group classes only, and I am sure that they are very good when it comes to leading group classes, but this is not the right way to lead a warm-up for participants about to go for a run. The idea of a warm-up is to help participants loosen their joints and get their muscles ready… not tire them out, which is what most of these instructors always seem to want to do. The “warm-up” session was about 10 minutes, and had the participants put in the effort the instructor wanted them to (most of the participants who actually followed the warm-up did the moves half-heartedly), they wouldn’t have had much energy left for the run.

Participants gathering near the banner for the warm-up
Participants gathering near the banner for the warm-up
The instructors leading the warm-up
The instructors leading the warm-up

Just before 8:00am, the music was cut and the emcee suddenly announced that it was time to start. The 5km runners moved to the back (they would be flagged off at 8:30am), and the 10km runners were released without much ceremony.

My Start Line selfie
My Start Line selfie
Andrew and me before flag-off
Andrew and me before flag-off

THE RUN

The route was relatively flat. There were a few gentle slopes, mostly upwards; but otherwise it was not challenging in terms of elevation, which should have made it a nice easy run. However the haze got worse as the hour wore on; it amplified the heat from the sun.

I wanted to try a few new things today, since I would only be running 10km. I tried a different pair of socks and different running pants. I didn’t bring my usual Red Bull; in fact I didn’t bring any water at all. I wanted to try running light, and to see if I could finish the whole 10km without an energy drink – I was planning to rely on their water stations (most 10km runs would have 2-3 stations).

That was a mistake… most of the runners were expecting a water station at the 3rd km, or at least 4th km. For me, there were many false hopes as I saw St John’s volunteers sitting at the bus stop or marshalls standing at the road side… but no water. Finally at about 4.5km, one marshall was high-fiving runners, shouting what he thought were words of encouragement, “Only 500 metres ahead!!!”

What, the water station? Only one?? I said loudly, “That sucks, man!”

Yup. Only one water station at the 5th km, with only two volunteers manning the stations, and only water was provided. There didn’t seem to be enough cups or water for everyone else that were behind me. I managed to drink two full cups of water; I made sure to fill up because I suspected that this would be the only water station.

Still, that was better than the 5km runners. According to the complaints online at their Facebook Page, the 5km route was completely bereft of any water stations.

I don’t know what the real issue is, but I suspect this is possibly due to lack of volunteers, lack of sponsors for water, or both.

And I thought Possible Run was bad – the first water station was at 5km, but at least there were three, even though they were all in the last half of the run!

Soon enough, I found that it was a mistake on my part to go without my Red Bull. My energy was quickly depleting, and I could not keep the pace I was running in the first 5km. Good lesson learnt – at least this was not an “important” run!

Signs to show runners where to head to on the route
Signs to show runners where to head to on the route

THE FINISH

I slowed down after the 7th km, gathering energy, and hoping to pick up speed in the last 2km when suddenly as I turned the corner, I saw a very familiar building. “So soon?” I thought. Maybe we would be running around the back of the mall all the way round to the front, like how some runs were routed. Then I looked across the road and saw even more familiar buildings – hard to mistake them, because I was staring at them this morning while waiting for flag-off.

The organisers had cut the run short by 2km! The whole route was only 8km!

The actual map from their website vs the actual route that was run
The actual map from their website vs the actual route that was run

It was really disappointing… but still I picked up speed and ran all the way to the Finish line. I know the time doesn’t matter, but it was more for myself than for the organisers. I managed 8.3km in 1h05m.

Andrew was waiting near the Finish line, snapping great photos of me!

Me running towards the Finish line! Thanks Andrew for this lovely shot!
Me running towards the Finish line! Thanks Andrew for this lovely shot!

There were marshalls writing down the numbers of the runners who crossed the Finish line, but none handing out the medals. I wondered where to get them. Andrew led me to the same counter where we got our race packs this morning, but they were only distributing water bottles. We had to surrender one race bib for one water bottle. No other refreshments were provided – no isotonic drinks, no bananas, nothing!

Andrew explained to me that the medals were only going to be distributed at 10am. And it was only 9am when I crossed the Finish. This was the first time I had to wait for a medal way after finishing. I suspect that the medal suppliers were only delivering it today, hence the delay in the distribution of the medals.

Bumped into my former student, Sheng Yang here! My word, how big these kids grow. (I feel old)
Bumped into my former student, Sheng Yang here! My word, how big these kids grow. (I feel old)

MEDAL DISTRIBUTION

Andrew and I caught up with Ken, who had completed the 5km run. Like all the other runners, we hung around in the mall, waiting for the medals. Many of the runners were sitting on the floor, because there were no chairs provided, and there were only a few chairs available at the various cafes near the centre of the mall.

As we sat in front of Coffee Bean waiting, we watched some of the red-clad volunteers started carrying tables and setting them up across the empty space from the stage. Some of the runners approached the volunteers, asking basic questions like “When are the medals going to be distributed?” they could not get an answer; some of the volunteers looked just as lost as the runners. Many of the volunteers stood around aimlessly, obviously waiting for instructions.

We also saw boxes being carried in, obviously containing the medals. Someone else opened a box and started taking out A4 papers printed with labels such as “10km”, “5km”, and some with ranges of bib numbers.

Andrew, Ken, and I edged closer to the tables, trying to ask a volunteer the same basic question, to which again we also got an “I don’t know”. When I looked behind me, I suddenly saw a queue of runners that was formed behind us; in fact, several lines of runners were formed in front of the tables. I didn’t even know we were part of a queue! But everyone was clearly waiting for the medals to be distributed.

And as we watched, we saw a volunteer set up ropes in front of our queue, blocking our access to the table.

Everyone was getting fidgety. Most of us would have preferred to collect our medals immediately after completing our run and go home, or at least go for a good meal; we don’t want to have to hang around unnecessarily in a mall that hadn’t woken up yet.

If they knew their medals were going to come late and they would have to distribute them later, why didn’t they set up their distribution tables earlier? We could see that they were setting them up on the fly, making decisions about how to do things on the spot.

Clueless volunteers hanging around cluelessly
Clueless volunteers hanging around cluelessly

Finally one of the volunteers announced, while indicating to the different volunteers holding the printed A4 papers, “All the 10km to this counter, the 5km to these three counters! Please follow the bib numbers!”

To which a major boo rose from the crowd, in frustration.

The crowd waiting to collect their medals. The people at the far end are holding up A4 prints of the range of bib numbers for the 5km medal collection
The crowd waiting to collect their medals. The people at the far end are holding up A4 prints to separate the 5km (3 counters with different range of bib numbers) and 10km (1 counter)

Andrew and I had to squeeze ourselves all the way to the other side to join the single 10km line. Everyone around us was complaining loudly about the poor organisation. We had to wait for a bit while runners sorted themselves out according to the queue, and then the medals were distributed.

Ken came over to us immediately after collecting his medal; our line had barely moved, even though Andrew and I were not very far from the counter. Ken showed us his bib. Apparently they wanted him to surrender his bib in exchange for the medal, but he insisted that he wanted to keep it, and they had reluctantly written “Redeemed” on the back of the bib. All of us wanted to keep our bibs, and we decided to tell the volunteers to do the same thing on our bibs.

However, to speed things up, when Andrew and I got to the table, all we needed to do was just mention our bib number and the medals were handed to us straightaway – no mention of any bib surrender. We were supposed to sign in the boxes next to our bib number, but in my case, the volunteer just ticked the box.

FINALLY we were done!

Yay! We completed our runs. And more importantly, collected our medals.
Yay! We completed our runs. And more importantly, collected our medals.

All I can say is, thank goodness the medals for the 5km and 10km indicated the distance, unlike the RHB Half Marathon and the MK Land Colourful Fun Run where the medals were identical regardless of the distance. In both of these events, I ran the longer distances; and I felt cheated when the medal I got didn’t identify the extra distance!

The medal for the Merdeka Fun Run! (You can just about make out the tiny inscription of 10km Finisher at the bottom)
The medal for the Merdeka Fun Run! (You can just about make out the tiny inscription of 10km Finisher at the bottom)

Needless to say, we were very frustrated with this event, and kind of regretted signing up.

One additional regret… Parking came up to RM7! I had expected to pay RM4 (RM2 for first two hours, RM1 for every subsequent hour). I had come in at 6:26am, and I think I was charged the per-entry rate which was between 10pm to 6:30am, and then the per-hour rates were added on top of that. What a rip-off.

CONCLUSION

Basically, I found the run almost a textbook list of what not to do, such as:

  1. DON’T offer a discount to runners who sign up later. This makes the runners who signed up early feel cheated that they had to pay a full fee when the runners who signed up later get to pay less!
  2. DON’T not plan ahead – where to set up the race pack collection booths, where to set up the medal distribution tables. You should already know what needs to be done ahead of time. These are basic things which you should have already been prepared for.
  3. DON’T provide insufficient water stations. No water stations for 5km and one water station for 10km? Seriously? Have you ever completed a run without enough water?
  4. DON’T give vouchers and products that can only be used specifically by one gender. I know that they were probably your only sponsors. But this isn’t a run only for ladies, so giving vouchers and products that men can’t use at all seem to be alienating the men altogether.
  5. DON’T cut a run too short. If we signed up for 10km, we expect 10km. Or at least 9km. How is 8km anywhere near 10km?
  6. DON’T give us a lousy T-shirt when you promised us goodies worth RM120.
  7. DON’T flag off too late. 8am is really quite late! It was quite hot when we were on the road!
  8. DON’T distribute medals after everyone has crossed the Finish line! It is so much easier to distribute medals to runners as they cross the Finish line. Trying to get everyone to queue up and cooperate later, I’m sure, was an absolute nightmare.
  9. DON’T ask us to surrender bibs in exchange for something as trivial as a water bottle! And seriously, if you want to ensure we each have already taken our medals, all you need to do is just use a permanent marker and make a mark on our bibs – like how all the other runs do it!

Well, not everything was bad. At least they managed to get a few things right that some other organisers didn’t:

  1. They allowed race pack collection on the morning itself. Which was convenient, because not all of us can travel all the way to Cyberjaya just to pick up a race pack the weekend before.
  2. The medals identified the distance categories clearly, so at least the 10km runners don’t feel cheated for running the extra distance.

All in all… not a great way to celebrate Merdeka Day.

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