It was Ika who first convinced my to sign up for a half-marathon. I still remember the conversation. It was back in October 2014. I had only just started to run 10km, but Ika was dying to give 21km a go. She found a good event to aim for – the Malaysian Women Marathon on 8 March 2015, which happened to be International Women’s Day.
At that time, I was actually terrified of running 21km. It sounded long and tiring and I was sure that I wouldn’t make it to the finish line. But deep down I was also itching to give it a go. It wasn’t for bragging rights (of which I had none) – I just needed to know that I was capable of finishing that distance, to prove to myself that I could do it.
Fortunately Ika checked and found that the cut-off time to qualify for the finisher medal was 4 hours. A quick calculation in my head told me, hey! I can finish in 4 hours even if I just walked the whole distance. So I hesitantly said OK.
So I signed up online.
There was no turning back now.
MY TRAINING – OR LACK THEREOF
I’ve said it before – I actually hate running. I don’t like treadmills; I actually get seasick on them. And I could never seem to make myself run a distance greater than 5km at the park. I find running boring, monotonous, and without pleasure.
So why am I signing up for runs?? Because I crave the shiny medals. I know it’s shallow, but you’ll find this true of most runners! Ask around and see!!!
ANYWAY… knowing this about myself, I knew I had to find a way to make myself train to eventually be able to complete 21km. I was fortunate because there were runs in December 2014 that helped me to that end. I was able to join runs that got progressively longer for me (12km in Cyberjaya on 21 Dec, 15km in Newton Challenge on 28 Dec), proving to myself that I could finish long distance runs albeit slowly.
I thought MWM was going to be my first half-marathon, but the bug had already bitten me, and I went and did the RHB Half Marathon in February.
The Malaysia Women Marathon is a marathon for women participants only. This year is the third edition of the first women marathon in the region of South East Asia to Australasia. It has four distance categories: full (42km), half (21km), 10km and 5km fun run.
They wanted to disallow male pacers this year, but they decided that because the marathon is in its infancy, male pacers were allowed for both the full and half-marathon. This means that female participants can apply for and register a personal male pacer with whom they will run, and the male pacers were entitled to a finisher tag, but obviously they did not qualify for the top ten prizes.
The organisers did a good job keeping people excited about the run. All finishers (including shorter distance runners for 10km and 5km) would get finisher tags instead of medals. Full-marathoners were promised finisher dresses in addition to the tags, and the half-marathoners would get finisher head buffs. Both categories were also entitled to TWO finisher tags instead of one. The finisher items were posted on their website and Facebook Page to generate buzz.
To support the runners who had signed up, MWM organised several run clinics on weekends leading up to the event, sharing tips with newbie and experienced runners, and posting their progress in the Facebook Group. I didn’t join any of the clinics because I wasn’t free on Sundays – ok that was a lie, I just didn’t want to get up early to run – but I was very glad to see how supportive the organisers were of their participants. I have not seen any other event offer any support, much less support like this.
Race pack collection was at Concorde Hotel Shah Alam. There was a last-minute change in the dates and times of collection – instead of Friday and Saturday 6-7 March, it was changed to Thursday and Friday 5-6 March, due to an unforeseen and unchangeable plan on the side of the hotel.
There was also an exhibition of run-related products in one of the ballrooms in conjunction with the race pack collection, but I wasn’t able to check them out as I had to run off for a class after I picked up the race packs for Farah and myself.
RUN DAY 8 MARCH 2015
And… history repeated itself. For me. I hadn’t trained again. My last run was 4 weeks ago at the RHB Half Marathon.
To make matters worse, I went to the gym the day before, joining the Body Pump class where I foolishly overloaded the weights for my leg work. Oh Zyen, when will you ever learn??
Fortunately the run started so early in the morning that the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) hadn’t kick in yet, and I was able to run most of the route without stiff legs.
This time I also left out the kinesthesiology tape and ankle guards. I did use the hot socks though, because the infrared did help me somewhat.
There were male pacers set by the organisers, with balloons tied to their belts. Of course in my case, I was unable to follow them because I could not keep up with their fast pace.
Many female participants had signed up with their own personal male pacers; I saw many overtake me.
This was my first exposure to the concept of having personal pacers, but then this was only my second half-marathon. My first half-marathon (RHB Half Marathon) didn’t have personal pacers; and at any rate I’m pretty sure that even if there were any, the “personal pacers” would have signed up as a participant on their own, and the choice of being a personal pacer was not needed to be official, as it was in this case. But this was unique, because after all it was a women’s event, and guys were allowed only as pacers.
The route was not overly difficult as there were no killer hills; but I found it more difficult to complete compared to the RHB Half Marathon. Perhaps this was because of my crazy leg weights the day before. Plus I found it unbearably hot! It was so hot that towards the end, my Polar heartbeat tracker (worn around my chest, and the electrode needed to be kept wet in order for it to track my heartbeat) stopped working – the corresponding watch kept blinking, asking me to check the tracker.
So in the end, I finished the run – which was only 20.4km – in 3h07m. WITHOUT a pacer. Not that it’s any achievement, since there were hundreds of other ladies who ran without pacers, too!
There were many spectators lining the road leading to the finish line who shouting out words of encouragement and encouraged us to smile… I managed to sprint the last 100m to the finish line! … only to be told to slow down by a volunteer standing at the finish line.
Thanks to the DOMS though, the moment I crossed the finish line, I had major cramps in my right leg.
I had to hobble a distance to the tents that were placed off the track to pick up my finisher tags, and then I tried to look for the medical tent. It was difficult to find – I had to ask several volunteers, none of whom seem to point me to the correct direction. I kept walking back and forth, being pointed to wrong areas by the volunteers in official shirts. And it was only finally when I walked up to a male volunteer who was standing outside an unlabeled tent with blue screens who indicated where the medical tent was – the unlabeled tent with blue screens.
The volunteers in the medical tent applied ice and sprayed on my leg to help alleviate the cramp. This was the first time I had ever suffered cramps in a run, and the first time I’ve ever had to use medical assistance in a run.
THINGS TO WORK ON
Overall, it was quite an experience. Organisation of the event was much better than several other runs I’ve attended, with a relatively nice goodie bag, several food tents, and sufficient water stations. This was also the first time I was served salt water (for cramps) at some of the water stations along the route.
On the day itself there were several activities and performances which I didn’t get to watch; but I did hear the emcee and the music playing for the dance performances while I was sitting in the medical tent. And I was too tired to stay to enjoy the activities so I went straight home.
However, I did feel there were some things that they needed to work on, including:
- The official website.
- It doesn’t sit on its own domain name, it sits on a rather obscure domain name of mwmarathon.site.socxs.com.
- I am not sure who they hired to run the website, but it was not without problems. On the day they announced registration, the link kept pointing people to the 2014 registration instead of the 2015 registration. The registration was finally working only the next day.
- Age categories were also changed at the last minute. I had signed up on the very first day where registration was allowed, but suddenly an announcement was made that changed the age categories, which pushed me into another category. Not that it would have mattered to me since I wasn’t going to get top ten anyway (I was just aiming for the finisher tags), but still.
- As for today, most of the information on the website was still showing information for 2014 instead of 2015, even though the event for this year is already over.
- Location was not stated clearly. All it says in general was that the race would be in Shah Alam. However, there was no clear information about the starting point of the race. And for someone like me who is not familiar with the very large city of Shah Alam, I needed the exact name of the location so that I could use Waze to find it. However there was no info with the exact name – not on the website, not on the Facebook Page, not on the Facebook event (started by the organiser themselves), not on the Facebook Group, and not even in the book that was handed out with the race pack. The closest I could find was on the information online about the race pack collection, and as for the book it only had a screenshot of the Google Maps. I had to spend some time the night before looking and checking on Waze to get the exact location, to which then *I* added to the Facebook event.
- Location of the tents were terrible, especially the medical tent. Perhaps it was a lack of good location, but the tents of the finisher tags were off to the side in an open area, where we had to cross a tree-lined kerb to get to, and it took some searching to find them. Admittedly it was in the map in the book, but seeing it on the map and seeing the actual location in real life feels different. And the medical tent! It was in the most obscure location, right at the edge of the whole area. It was unlabeled, and difficult to find. All other runs I’ve been to place the medical tent very near the finish line, so that runners who needed medical attention were able to go to the tent right away. In this case, runners would have to hobble all the way to the furthest tent from the finish line, and when you’re in pain, it is no fun.
- Distance markers were not exactly correct. For the half-marathoners, I saw the distance markers of 13km and 11km placed incorrectly. After the 10km marker, I suddenly saw 13km, and I was thinking that there was no way 3km had passed. Then after 13km, I saw 12km followed by 11km. This is a small point though and it’s not a life-or-death error; just that it was a little annoying for runners who were relying on distance markers to indicate how much they have ran, and how much more they need to go.
- The distance was less than stipulated. Based on my GPS-based Pedometer app in my phone, it was only 20.4km. I understand that it is difficult to get exactly 21km distances for runners to run; but it felt a little bit like I was cheated when the finisher tag proudly showed an exact number of “21.0975km”.
- Cheap and tacky-looking finisher tags. I am sure that this is more the fault of the suppliers, but of course this always reflect badly on the organisers. The print looked cheap (the lines were bleeding; they did not look sharp), and the rubber surface felt tacky. Personally I would have preferred a cheap finisher medal than these tags.
Other than that, I would like to say kudos to the organisers for doing the best that they could. Few organisers can get everything perfect, so in spite of the above shortcomings, I must say that MWM was a fantastic event. I know that I sound like such a naysayer, but I’m just sharing feedback which can hopefully be taken as constructive criticism. And honestly, I do think that they did much better than other run organisers. I had a great time running and it was very heartening to see how many women runners (including newbies like myself), and the amount of encouragement that we were getting throughout this event.
Thanks for the support for all women runners, and keep up the great work, Malaysia Women Marathon!