Running

My Little Adventure at the Penang Bridge Half Marathon

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Posted By Zyen Hoo

Having heard so many negative reviews about last year’s Penang Bridge International Marathon, I was actually in two minds about joining this Penang Bridge Half Marathon.

The PBIM is held annually at the original Penang Bridge, usually in November. Last year, with new organisers at the helm and a new location at the second bridge, the PBIM 2014 was riddled with problems, ranging from difficulty of runners to find the starting point (and missing their flag-offs) to people who did not compete managing to get their hands on finisher medals. Reading about the fiasco made me thankful that I did not participate last year.

[Read here for an idea on how bad things got at PBIM 2014!]

For the first time, PBHM was organised in June, to be held at the second bridge. This event had only one category: half-marathon!

It so happened that I was going to be in Penang that weekend, to participate in a dance competition. I was tempted to try for the PBHM since it was the following day, but at the same time I was afraid that I might not have the energy since the competition can be quite tiring. Plus, the venue of the competition was quite far from the second bridge.

After much hemming and hawwing, I decided to sign up anyway, so at least I would have the option to go. Because I signed up so late, I missed the early bird rates and had to pay quite a high fee.

The website offered race pack delivery – and here was the curious thing. It cost only RM10 to courier the race pack to anywhere within Peninsular Malaysia; but if I wanted it delivered to my hotel in Penang, it would cost me RM20. I am not sure what the rationale is behind the more expensive in-state delivery, but of course I sprung for the RM10 delivery since it would be delivered to my doorstep.

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RUN DAY 14 JUNE 2015

Even while driving up to Penang, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to take part in this run. I brought along my race pack so that I at least had the option. But I knew I had to make up my mind, because once my mind was set, my body would be ready, and I can make the necessary preparations. So I decided that since I was already in Penang, I would go for it! Fortunately Hurman was supportive and encouraged me to go.

GETTING TO THE VENUE

Even the night before the run, I actually still hadn’t figured out how I was going to get to the bridge. I tried Googling on my iPhone (thank goodness for smartphones) and I pored through the booklet provided in the race pack. I was going to try driving to the venue, until I realised that the highway that connected my hotel to the bridge was going to be closed. I was not familiar with the roads in Penang, and even with Waze, I couldn’t guarantee that I wasn’t going to get lost. Plus, the number of available parking spots look very limited. The organisers advised carpooling or taking public transport.

The information provided in the booklet, which was quite comprehensive
The information provided in the booklet, which was quite comprehensive

So… I decided to try taking public transport.

At 2am, I got up to get ready. I had buns, but I couldn’t eat very much because it was too early in the day, and I didn’t want to bring so many things with me to the run, so I just ate one and decided to risk it. I did have some Reese’s peanut butter cups though, and brought them in my race pouch as fuel.

I then went downstairs and asked the hotel concierge to help me get a cab to Komtar, where feeder buses were available to transport runners to the bridge. The bus fare was only RM1 per person.

As I sat timidly in the bus, waiting for the bus to move, a lady who sat a few seats from me wished me good morning. We started chatting, and it turned out Marissa was from KL too! She was staying near Komtar, and was here only to participate in the PBHM.

Marissa and I on the bus heading to the second Penang Bridge
Marissa and I on the bus heading to the second Penang Bridge

It was very fortunate for me that I met Marissa, because she was a great help. Being a veteran runner, she gave me a lot of advice when she heard I was aiming for the full marathon in the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon in October.

It was a little bit of a walk from the bus drop-off to the bridge, and of course we took photos along the way.

The lit Penang Bridge at night
The lit Penang Bridge at night
The Start arch of the PBHM
The Start arch of the PBHM
Me with the Start arch
Me with the Start arch
Me at the other side of the Start arch
Me at the other side of the Start arch

As we neared the Start point, we saw stalls set up at the field nearby. We went to check them out. We saw food and drink provided for the runners. I hadn’t brought very much money, so I wanted to check out the wares before deciding what to buy, until Marissa told me that they were all provided for free.

For free???

Stalls galore at the field
Stalls galore at the field
Runners helping themselves to the free food
Runners helping themselves to the free food

Marissa explained that because of the big screw-up of the PBIM last year, the organisers were doing their best to redeem themselves this time. The free meals were part of their attempt at redemption.

Thank goodness for the free food, because I was getting quite hungry! Marissa and I took a plate each of the fried mee (which was really quite good) and a hot drink of teh tarik.

We then went to check out the merchandise stalls, but of course we didn’t buy anything.

It started drizzling, and we managed to get a disposable rain poncho each (again, for free!) to protect ourselves against the rain.

Some of the runners donning on the free ponchos to shield themselves against the light drizzle
Some of the runners donning on the free ponchos to shield themselves against the light drizzle

GETTING TO THE START LINE

When we signed up on the website, there were four corrals to choose from, depending on our predicted completion time. So far, I have been completing half-marathons in little more than 3 hours; I was ambitious this time, and selected Corral 3, which was targeted completion within 3 hours.

The reason I chose Corral 3 was because apparently, we would be flagged off based on the corrals we selected, which were indicated on our race bibs. I didn’t want to be in the last corral, and be the in the last batch to be flagged off… because I didn’t want to be last!

However, all that went to nought, because we were not divided into our corrals.

The corrals planned by the organisers
The corrals planned by the organisers

I think that the organisers wanted to divide us, but the sheer number of participants prevented them from managing to do so. The corrals were all mixed up, and everyone stood wherever they could.

I had no problem with that, because I think the important for us was that we finished the half-marathon. After all, I was not aiming for the top prizes.

What I did have a problem with though was the access to the Starting line. All of us runners tried to make our way from the field to the starting line, but the connecting path from the road led straight to the Start arch. We had to go around the sides of the road to get to the back of the arch. And the problem with that was that the sides of the road were the grassy embankments that were uneven and filled with ditches; what more, at 4am the area was very poorly lit. Everyone had to walk slowly and cautiously, and we kept calling out to each other to be careful.

There was a really huge number of runners who had signed up; the number looked like in ran in the thousands!

Marissa and I finally managed to get to a spot in the holding area behind the Start arch, where we did our own on-the-spot warm-ups.

Some of the pacers assigned by the organisers walking towards the Start. Needless to say, I couldn't keep up with them during the run!
Some of the pacers assigned by the organisers walking towards the Start. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep up with them during the run!

FLAGGING OFF

It was a very pleasant surprise for us when the emcee announced that the runners would be treated to a firework show! The fireworks went on for a few minutes, with the lovely colours lighting up the dark sky. Many of us (including yours truly) whipped out our handphones to take a video of the fireworks.

We were then flagged off at 4:30am by the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng.

The VIPs on stage, getting ready to flag us off
The VIPs on stage, getting ready to flag us off
Runners waiting to get flagged off
Runners waiting to get flagged off

I had to make a quick stop at the washroom at the beginning; possibly from the teh tarik I had at breakfast. There were plenty of portable toilets near the Start arch, so I took the opportunity to nip into one. There were portable toilets set up at the water stations along the way, but there were only about 2 or 3 at each stop and whenever I passed them I found the lines to be long; so I was very thankful that I went at the start of the run.

The rain stopped a few minutes after the start of the run, and I had to tear off the poncho because it got too humid to keep running with the plastic sheet on.

Running on the bridge was quite lovely. It was a very flat and even road, with absolutely no uneven terrain like normal road runs. At that wee hour in the morning, the bridge lit up very prettily against the dark sky. The only thing is, we could really see where we were running to… and the U-turn point on the bridge looked so far away!

There were several water stations provided along the way, but I had also brought my Red Bull just to ensure I had enough energy boost to keep me going!

Runners on the bridge
Runners on the bridge
3km to go! There were signs along the way to let us know how much we had covered, and towards the end, they showed how much more we had to go.
3km to go! There were signs along the way to let us know how much we had covered, and towards the end, they showed how much more we had to go.

It was just after the U-turn on the bridge that I suddenly saw a familiar face. Ika had made her way to Penang too, just to take part in the PBHM! I knew I shouldn’t be so surprised, since that girl was crazier about runs that I am. I hadn’t seen her in forever given our busy schedules, so I trotted over and said hi.

Ika didn’t mind me using her as a pacer (I told her I wanted to finish in 3 hours), so we ran side by side for a while. I had actually expected her to be able to push much further ahead, but unfortunately Ika was suffering from an injury that prevented her from being able to keep to her usual pace (she normally finishes half-marathons sub-3; meaning she can complete HMs in under 3 hours). After a while she said she couldn’t run anymore, and encouraged me to go ahead.

My lack of training really took a toll on me as I pushed towards the finish line. I really tried to improve my pace… and did I finish sub-3?

NO.

I finished the 21km in 3h07m…

Sobsob!

The only good thing I can say is that this is my personal best for half-marathons; this was my fourth HM, and it was my best pace at 8:59min/km.

Although the website said that the cut-off time was 3h30m, I noticed that they didn’t adhere to it. Even runners who completed the HM after 4 hours were still awarded the medals, which I thought was a good thing. Runs shouldn’t be so strict about the cut-off time, especially those that had really long distances. Half-marathons are not easy to complete, and runners should be rewarded for being able to complete them, even if they took a time slightly longer than average to encourage more participation.

I managed to grab a quick photo with Ika after she limped across the Finish line (yay! Glad that her injury wasn’t able to prevent her from finishing; she kept saying she was so tempted to hop aboard the ambulance back), before she had to rush off back to the hotel with her brother and her mother.

I then waited for Marissa who completed the HM in about 4 hours. We took a few proud photos before trying to make our way back to Komtar.

Ika and I after we finished
Ika and I after we finished
Marissa and I with our Finisher medals!
Marissa and I with our Finisher medals!
Posing at the arch! Yeah!
Posing at the arch! Yeah!

GOING BACK ‘HOME’

We didn’t know where to board the bus, and we naturally assumed that the pick-up point would be the same as the drop-off point that morning, so we made our way back, which was about 10 minutes’ walk from the start/finish point. We followed the runners we saw in front of us, only to find those runners were locals who were making their way to their parked cars.

We finally saw a traffic cop observing the roads, and we asked him where the bus could be boarded to go back to Komtar. To our dismay, he said we were on the wrong side of the line; we had to go back to the start/finish point and then a little further beyond.

After running 21km, neither of us were looking forward to more walking!

It was right at that point when a bus loaded with runners approached us, and the traffic cop helped flag it down for us, and allowed us to jump onto it even though it wasn’t a proper pedestrian stop. Thank goodness! I don’t think we could have made it to the other side on our wobbly legs!

The bus was packed full of sweaty, tired runners (just like ourselves), so Marissa and I had to stand all the way back. No complaints; as long as we could get a ride, we were happy! And to our surprise, we didn’t have to pay for the ride back!

We got back to Komtar, and Marissa saw me safely off in a taxi that took me back to my hotel without incident.

All in all, I thought it was a very well-organised event, and I was quite pleased with my finisher tee (my first HM finisher T-shirt!). I only found out about the spelling error on my medal much later when a lot of complaints surfaced on Facebook… but to be honest, I wasn’t annoyed at all about that. Sure, the medal doesn’t look as nice as it could, and the hardware is a permanent thing while the memory of the run is not (that’s why I’m writing this blog to make it permanent); but I thought the organisers had done their best to make the event a pleasant one for the runners, and even though I was not affected by last year’s PBIM, I thought they had successfully redeemed themselves.

Me in my finisher tee!
Me in my finisher tee!
The finisher medal, which says "PENANG BRIDGE HAIF MARATHON"
The finisher medal, which says “PENANG BRIDGE HAIF MARATHON”

I don’t think I will be joining the November version of the PBIM as it is during a very busy time for me, plus traveling to Penang just to join a run is costly and time-consuming. But I am very glad that I had the opportunity to participate in the June PBHM, especially since the timing was perfect – right at the heels of a dance competition I took part in! If I could though, I would love to run on the Penang Bridge again!

I went home to PJ with a bunch of shiny medals!

My medals! Yay me! (showing off time)
My medals! Yay me! (showing off time)

AFTER THE EVENT

After the half-marathon, the organisers sent each participant an email thanking us for our participation, and even gave us links to where we could buy our videos or photographs that were taken during the event. They actually tagged each photograph with not only the runner’s bib numbers, but with all identifying markers such as colour of clothing (pink shirt, yellow cap, etc), length of pants or skirt (short, mid, long), etc so runners can search for their photos! However, the initial link showed us the photographs which they had already identified our bib numbers so we could see photos of ourselves immediately. I must say… I looked quite horrible in them (well… I am never photogenic when I’m running), and also I found the photos to be very expensive! S$16.95 for three terrible photos of me is so not worth it!

As for the videos, there were two videos available for purchase, both at the Finish line; just that one was on the left side, and the other on the right side of the Finish line. In my videos, the videos showed me, easily identifiable in my blue top amidst the sea of green and orange shirts, running on the red carpet screaming “WHOOOOOO” as I passed the Finish arch (one of the crazy few who actually do), to which one of the marshalls even raised his arm in congratulatory response. Cute… but I don’t think I want to pay S$9.95 for those videos either!

I am sure that many of the big run events have this facility as well, but this is my first time receiving a link such as this, so let’s just say I am suitably impressed.

Link to my photos on marathon-photos.com. It even tells me my finish time!
Link to my photos on marathon-photos.com. It even tells me my finish time!
Two photos of me walking and one photo of me looking half-dead? Thanks but I don't think I wanna buy those photos...
Two photos of me walking and one photo of me looking half-dead? Thanks but I don’t think I wanna buy those photos…
Screengrab of me crossing the finish line in one of the videos!
Screengrab of me crossing the finish line in one of the videos!
The other video with me in it
The other video with me in it

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