Malaysia Women Marathon 2017

I’m back again for the Malaysian Women Marathon!

The Malaysian Women Marathon, going on in its 5th year, is a women-only run event. As the name clearly indicates, only women participants are accepted for their various categories of 5km, 10km, half marathon, and full marathon. Their aim is to promote running to women and encourage more women to challenge themselves in various distances.

Men are not allowed to join as participants, but they are allowed to join as pacers in the half and full marathon events. When they sign up as pacers, they must sign register with a female participant. The men still pay the full registration fees, but only qualify for the medal if they cross the finish line with the female participant they had registered with. They would not get the medal if they leave the female runner behind!

I first joined the Malaysia Women Marathon in 2015, where it was supposed to be my first half marathon. But back then I was so eager to challenge myself that when I found another half marathon before that, I signed up to give it a try.

I didn’t do too badly, as a half-marathon newbie without a pacer. I managed to finish little more than 3 hours. Yes I could have done better, but bear in mind I didn’t even like running then, haha!

Although they did their best, to be honest, I was rather disappointed with many aspects of MWM2015, which included:

  • Providing salt water to the participants to avoid cramps – which gave me cramps instead, and when I checked with running experts later, they said that while it was a well-meaning gesture of the organisers, it was not the right thing to offer.
  • Medal collection in a weird location – it was not immediately after the finish line; we had to get off the beaten track, so to speak, by crossing a pavement of trees to the tent area. Had I wanted to cheat, I could have just hung around that area for 3 hours after flag-off and then calmly walk up to get my medal.
  • Medical tent was not labelled, and was the furthest tent away from the finish line. I was in pain from cramps thanks to the ill-provided salt water, and had to hobble all over the place for about 10 minutes before finally finding the medical tent purely by chance because no one was able to direct me to the right tent. It was not clearly marked, and was hidden by some dividers – which I know was to provide privacy for the patients, which I was fine with. Just that I didn’t understand why there were no signs to indicate it was the medical tent.
  • Really horrible medals, which wasn’t a medal. It was a cheap-looking silicone sticker stuck to a metal keychain base. Less than two years later, the sticker has curled up and peeled off. Doesn’t last at all.
The “medals” from MWM2015 – when I first got them, and how they look now.

So why am I back, amidst these complaints? Well, I thought I would give them another chance.

I didn’t join last year because I had gone to climb Mount Kinabalu (blogpost coming soon) on the weekend of MWM2016. But I also found out that starting last year, the entitlements for the runners were getting less. Back in MWM2015, they offered headbuffs as finisher gifts for the half-marathon runners, and a running dress for the full-marathon runners. Last year and this year, they still offered headbuffs for the half-marathoners. But the full-marathoners were getting the standard finisher tee, which all other marathon events offered anyway, and doesn’t make this event any special.

Wearing the headbuff from MWM2015 this morning!

Okay. I will stop complaining. Now, about MWM2017.

So I signed up with my friend Andrew Lu who wanted an opportunity to run in this women’s only event. Because he was obviously not female, he had to sign up as a pacer, and asked if anyone was willing to join a full marathon with him. I offered to sign up with him, so that we could keep each other company throughout the long run.

Unfortunately, I was still recovering from my injuries from the 24H event. So I was not so ambitious this time. I wasn’t aiming to maintain a sub-6 like I did at the Cyberjaya Twincity Marathon. I just wanted to finish this marathon, hopefully within the cut-off time so that Andrew and I can get our finisher medals (which I hope are better quality this time), and finisher tees.

Andrew and I dressed in matching run outfits, ready to run 42km!

RUN DAY 5 MARCH 2017

The Malaysia Women Marathon this year flagged off from Shah Alam Stadium, which fortunately I am familiar with and is easy to find (compared to MWM2015). I met up with my pacer Andrew, and Luan who was also running the FM.

Truth be told… if Andrew hadn’t been relying on me to get his pacer medal, I would have skipped this event. The reason is that I still haven’t fully recovered from my metatarsalgia, and in fact I have not been training since 24H in January – that’s about 5 weeks of no training.

And here I was, gathered with other runners, waiting for flag-off at 4am.

Andrew, me, and Luan waiting to start the full marathon
Full marathon runners warming up before the run

THE RUN

The route for the full marathon was a little repetitive. We were to run along the Kemuning-Shah Alam Highway (LKSA), U-turn and return along the same road… and then loop back and repeat the route.

Well, I don’t really fault them for that. Perhaps they couldn’t find a better route within Shah Alam that was approved by the local authorities that fits the 42km, plus they didn’t want to close so many roads. To accommodate this marathon, they had to close off the highway from 2 to 11am.

Andrew was usually the faster runner between the two of us, and this time he had to slow down because I wasn’t able to run very fast; not with my injuries. We started off fairly well, and managed to hit the 21km mark in less than 3 hours.

But there were too many slopes to get through along the route, and my injuries were beginning to catch up with me. Andrew himself was starting to suffer from tendonitis, and wasn’t able to keep up his usual pace. He did encourage me to keep going ahead.

I was pretty glad that I had Andrew running with me, because if he wasn’t, I would not have turned up for the run at all; and I would not have kept going.

I had actually been hoping to maintain my sub-6, but as the distance progressed, I was forced to face the reality… today was not that day.

I can’t tell you how many countless times I was so tempted to just white flag it and maybe climb onto the ambulance or sweeper truck to be ferried home. But I would look at the distance I’ve covered, and I felt it would be an absolute waste if I didn’t finish it. Even if it meant crawling across the finish line, I was going to earn my finisher medal!

I did keep pushing forward though, and managed to finish with 6h17m, in spite of my injuries; just a few minutes ahead of Andrew.

Drumline keeping the runners motivated
Even more excited drumliners!
Motivating signs!
Plenty of distance signages to keep the runners updated
Run, Sister, Run!
The last 2km… which really felt like the Green Mile. The hardest 2km to get through!!!

MY OWN FAILINGS IN THIS EVENT

I’m well aware of my failings in this full marathon; if I was in top form, I would have been able to do much better. But I’ve identified the main reasons why I did more poorly than I normally would:

  1. Still suffering from metatarsalgia – the ball of my right foot still hurts a little everytime my foot made contact with the ground.
  2. And because of this injury, I hadn’t been training for the past 5 weeks. No training before doing a full marathon is COMPLETE AND UTTER MADNESS.
  3. And because I haven’t been training, my muscles were not conditioned enough; I was constantly at the edge of cramps in the last 5km.
  4. And also, I hadn’t carbo loaded enough. I usually stuff myself with carbohydrates, but I made the mistake of only stuffing up with protein the few days leading up to the marathon.

Okay okay they all sound like excuses. I’m just trying to make myself feel better okay!

ABOUT THE EVENT

And now… my thoughts about the event.

I have one good thing to say about this event – the volunteers were lovely! They were friendly and encouraging and helpful. This refers to the volunteers at the water stations, and the ones at the road side to point us in the right direction, and even the official pacers with the giant balloons. Most of them were enthusiastically cheering us on, encouraging us to keep going especially when we looked like we were dying on the road.

About the actual event organisation? Can’t say the same. Here’s what’s wrong.

  1. Water station distribution issues. When we first started, we came across the first water station at KM2. Yay. But the next 6km was completely devoid of water stations. We only came across the next water station at KM8. This isn’t a fun run, you know. 6km is a long time to go without water!
  2. Traffic control issues towards the end of the route. The roads were supposed to be closed until 11am (cut-off time for full marathon is up to 10:45am). But those of us who were still on the road after 10am found traffic back in full swing at the last roundabout before reaching the finish line, with no traffic marshal to help us cross the road safely. In fact, because of the lack of marshals, some of us didn’t know which direction to go to. When I was there, I only knew where to go because I was following a few runners who were ahead of me, and there was a lone volunteer who was almost invisible across the road amidst the many cars. My friend Luan who finished later said she nearly got lost, and it was only because one of the 6h30m pacers turned back to make sure the runners behind him were able to find the right way back.
  3. Medal collection off to the side. I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t understand it now. Back in MWM2015, the medal collection was not at the finish; we had to walk over a pavement/drain through shrubbery to get to our medals. This year, we had to turn to the left into the area under the stadium to get it. All other events always give finisher medals right at the finish line. Why doesn’t MWM use the same format? I actually had to ask someone where to get the medal.
  4. Not enough finisher tees in the correct size. During registration, I already marked my tee size as Medium. But when I got there, I was told that there was no more M size. How did this happen?? All other events keep tabs on the sizes the runners signed up for. I realised that our bib did not indicate the size, so it must have been easy for earlier runners to switch to a different size if they wanted to, leaving the later runners at a disadvantage.
  5. Not enough finisher packs for the male pacers. Male pacers were entitled for their own finisher packs (including a medal and a finisher tee), which was their entitlement as promised when they signed up. Mind you, they had to pay the same amount when they registered as the female runners. I don’t know what time the packs ran out, but I do know that many of the male pacers who finished after me didn’t get anything — and naturally, they were quite annoyed. Some of them managed to get one only when they complained, and even then they were given the finisher packs meant for the female runners – meaning they ended up with a ladies’ finisher tee. Which in turn would mean there may not be enough finisher packs for the female runners.
  6. No water/food for the slower finishers. Finishing 42km, dying of thirst… I asked the volunteers where to get water, and I was told to go to the food truck area. Well… there were bottles of water on VIP tables, but they were all opened and half-drunk. None of us would dare drink from those bottles, because we don’t know whose lips had grazed the bottle openings. So many of us were sitting there with no water and no food, also because many of us didn’t bring money to buy stuff from the food trucks (which really, we shouldn’t be expected to). And some didn’t check the finisher pack carefully – there was a voucher for a Gardenia bun which I found only when I reached home. And to be honest, I hate it when they give us vouchers which we had to go redeem. All other events just hand us a water bottle and food (as well as the finisher medal) when we cross the finish line. Why is it so hard to follow this format?
The finisher pack, sans the T-shirt which I had worn after the event. The blue voucher is the bread voucher which I hadn’t cashed.

FINAL NOTE

I don’t know at what stage things started to go wrong; I heard from my friends who completed the 10km (and they obviously finished much earlier) that the organisers were so busy tending to the winners and the VIPs that they didn’t get water either.

Maybe the much earlier finishers had no issues at all. But this makes us feel as if the slower FM runners were not being taken care of, and that really isn’t fair. After all, we were slow – but we were not late. We were still within the cut-off time of 6h45m. Everyone should be taken care of, right up to the very last runner.

I am all for women empowerment, and I love the idea of an event organised by women for women. But being treated poorly like this is very disheartening, and I really hope the organisers would take our feedback into consideration for improvement. I had been quite disappointed two years ago at MWM2015, and I was hoping that it would be better this time. I’m aware that there are other events that are far worse, but that isn’t the point — we should be aiming to be good, not just better than others, especially since this is a major event with a lot of hype. When things like this happen, it makes many of us quite unwilling to participate in this event again. I am not speaking for myself when I say that many people have said that they will never sign up for MWM again, and I am of the same mind.

Oh well. Here are some finisher photos.

Me and Andrew with our finisher medals
Me with Kylie whom I met the 24H event. Kylie finished strong, about 5 hours! Way to go, Kylie!
Me with Agnes. We finished together about the same time.
Me with Jim, Jazz and Irene, whom I met en route and were chatting as we suffered in the last 2km.
Andrew, Luan and me taking a photo with the backdrop
Me with my pacer Andrew!
Yes, I finished the full marathon at MWM2017!
Zyen Hoo

Zyen is a Physics, Chemistry and Math teacher with many interests, including running and dancing. She also enjoys indulging in vanity projects such as her personal blog, and is a self-proclaimed reviewer. She is also notoriously slow in updating her blog due to her constant search for the next adrenaline rush (on top of her heavy workload at school and her freelancing projects), so she asks for your forgiveness and understanding of her very delayed updates.

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