Thursday, April 03, 2008

TR - Malaysia

March 21 – 31/08

Race Results
Kuala Lumpur International Marathon
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Sun, Mar 30/08
Marathon #301 - Country # 89

Planning began for this trip/marathon more than one year ago. There were two choices for that weekend – both in Asia. The 2nd choice was Guam. The cost of airfare was the deciding factor. It was cheaper to get to Malaysia. I can do Guam another year.

The race had a good website but didn’t provide for online registration and that became a problem. The race organization seemed to be adamant and rigid in their rules. If you didn’t mail your entry form and fee in you didn’t get registered! I got a little testy with the race director and criticized him for not being more accommodating to foreign runners but mailed in an entry form and $13 cash. He did email me later to confirm receipt and entry. The next problem was a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Again the race director was not too helpful until pushed but finally suggested a hotel that was supposedly convenient to the start/finish line of the race.

As the date got closer to race time I contacted a travel agency in Kuala Lumpur and asked for suggestions and prices for a tour of Malaysia. Their price was too high but I did ask them to book a hotel and arrange to have a driver and car meet me at the airport since I arrived at midnight and didn’t want to mess with a taxi driver at that time of night! I monitored the weather in KL and did training runs in the heat of the FL afternoon the week before leaving to get used to the hot weather I would face in KL.

Finally it was time for the long trip – left FL at 7am on Fri, March 21 and arrived in KL at 12:05am on Sun, March 23 (you lose a day crossing the International Date Line). As expected I emerged from Immigration and Customs about 1am. No driver/car waiting for me! Time to scramble. Luckily there was an official/licensed taxi desk where I was able to book a taxi for the 1-hr drive into KL. I had the taxi take me into Chinatown where there are several budget hotels and luckily (again) the 1st hotel we checked had a room available. I finally got to bed around 3 am and slept for 8 hrs.

I had decided beforehand that I wanted to get out of KL and explore the country. A quick walk around Chinatown in KL on Sun morning confirmed my decision! The city center of KL is compact but the traffic is horrendous, roads are haphazard and there are no sidewalks – no place to walk or run (safely)! I went to the train station to check on trains to Penang and booked a 1st Class seat for Sun afternoon. At 2:30 pm the train departed for a 7-hr journey to Penang. The long, leisurely ride gave me lots of time to relax, nap and read up on the country. Malaysia was controlled from the 7th to 13th centuries by the powerful Buddhist Srivijaya Empire. In the 14th century the Melaka Empire took control until the Portuguese conquered the port city of Melaka in 1511. The country was later ruled by the Dutch until Britain established a base and port in Penang in 1786. The British controlled the west coast of Malaysia from Singapore to Thailand called the ‘Straights Settlements’ until Malaysia gained independence in 1957. Now I understood why everyone spoke fairly good English? It is a required 2nd language in the schools. The population of 25 Million is 60 % Malays (mostly Muslims), 24 % Chinese and 8 % Indian. Islam is the major religion but there are many Buddhist and Hindu temples. From what I could see the many cultures and religions get along quite well.

I arrived in Butterworth at 9:30pm and took a 10pm ferry across a 3km channel to Georgetown, the capital of Penang. I wanted to stay in a beach resort area called Batu Ferringhi on the north coast of Penang so I negotiated with a taxi to drive me there and help me find a hotel (he charged me $30RM/$10US!). Talk about flying by the seat of your pants! Even though it was low season the resort hotels were fully booked and I was lucky to find a room at the 3rd resort and negotiate the rate down from $160 to $100/night! That was still very expensive and the most I paid for a hotel in Malaysia. I finally got to bed at midnight and slept till 11 am. By then it was too hot to consider running – I started to sweat the second I stepped outside! So I spent the afternoon exploring the resort area and sipping cold Tiger beer on Ferringhi Beach! Tired of flying by the seat of my pants I found a local travel agent to book a hotel in Georgetown for my final night in Penang and also a hotel in Melaka which would be my next stop. He also arranged a car and driver ($25RM/hr) for Tue afternoon to drive me on a tour of the island and drop me off at the hotel in Georgetown. I decided to stay in Georgetown to be closer to the ferry terminal since I had to catch the 1st ferry at 6am to catch the 7am train to Melaka. I also wanted to celebrate my 64th birthday in the city!

On Tue morning I finally managed to get an easy 10-mile run in along the main road through the resorts. I started at 7:30am because I figured that would be the time I reached 32 Km in the race and I wanted to acclimate to the heat at that time – still very HOT! After the run the driver picked me up to start the tour. We visited the main tourist sites around the island and in Georgetown: the old Colonial section of the city including Fort Cornwallis (1786); the Victoria Clock Tower (1897); the Town Hall and City Hall; Kek Lok Si Temple –the oldest Buddhist temple in Malaysia (1890) and the 36m bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Then I took a funicular to the top of Penang Hill (821m) for some panoramic vistas of Penang. The driver completed the tour by showing me the various sections of the city such as Chinatown, Little India and the restaurant/bar area to celebrate my birthday before dropping me off at my hotel.

I decided to sample some of the local cuisine called Nonya – a combination of Malay and Chinese. I reserved a table at one of the best Nonya restaurants in Georgetown. I had no clue what to order so the owner of the restaurant ordered dinner for me. It was delicious. I had to ask the owner what I was eating and if it was OK to use my hands for some of the delicacies? A great birthday dinner for $50RM!
After dinner I thought I should visit a few bars and suck back a few Tiger beers to celebrate my birthday but quickly learned that the bars didn’t even start to see customers until 1 am. With a 5am wake-up call pending I wisely decided to enjoy 1 beer and go to bed! Happy Birthday!

I made the ferry and train on Wed morning and after a long 9-hr ride back through KL, I arrived in Melaka at 5pm. I had booked a new, 4-star hotel built on land reclaimed from the Strait of Melaka and it turned out to be a good choice. The hotel was modern, located close to the old city and on a new road that ran along the coast for about 2 miles with a sidewalk where I could run. I was able to run an easy 10Km each morning as final preparation for the race. That evening I explored the old city and enjoyed a nice dinner in Chinatown. The next day I took a 2-hr bus tour of the city to get the layout of the city and observe where the main tourist attractions were. Then I spent the afternoon walking and visiting the sites : the old colonial city with the Stadthuys – the town hall built by the Dutch in 1641; the Governor’s House; St Paul’s Church (1521); the Sultanate Palace; and the Porta de Santiago – the only remaining gate to the Portuguese fortress of A’Famosa (1511). I considered taking one of the very colorful and extravagantly decorated trishaws but couldn’t subject the poor drivers to the stifling heat! I strolled Jonker Walk through Chinatown to visit the Masjid Kampung Hulu – the oldest mosque in Malaysia (1728) and Cheng HoonTeng Temple – the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia (1646). I enjoyed the history and sights in Melaka and luckily one day was enough time to visit everything.

After my final morning run on Fri I took an express bus to KL ($10RM) and checked into the hotel suggested by the race committee. It was convenient to race HQ and packet pick up but was kind of a dump (what should I expect for $100RM/$30US). I picked up my race packet and read the final race instructions for a few wee surprises! In the race packet was a singlet that had to be worn for the race. The instructions stated that a runner would be disqualified for failure to wear the race sponsor’s (AmBank) singlet! There were only three age groups in the marathon and the senior group was 45+ years. I knew there was no way I could be competitive in that age group. The race started and finished in Merdeka (Independence) Square. It was supposed to finish at Merdeka Stadium where the hotel was located? I walked over to Merdeka Square later to see if there were any hotels located close to the finish line. There was only one located a few minutes from the Square – also a dump at $100RM but I booked a room because it was closer (and it also had satellite TV with 2 English channels).

On Sat I took a ½ day city tour to see the main tourist sites and get a layout of the city center. We visited Chinatown and the Sri Mahamariamman Temple an Indian Hindu temple; Central Market and the open market on Petaling St. Next were the King’s Palace, the National Museum; National War Memorial, Lake Gardens and National Mosque before we traveled into the new city center to visit the Petronas Towers – the tallest twin towers in the world. We finished with a tour to the top of the 421m KL Tower for a panoramic view of the city. This certainly helped me learn the layout of the city. The city is compact but difficult to explore on foot because of the poor design of the roads and very few sidewalks!

After I checked into my ‘new’ hotel and enjoyed a traditional pasta dinner I walked over to the start/finish line at Merdeka Square to take some photos of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (1894) and the finish line that were lit up brilliantly. The race started at 4:30am to escape as much sun/heat as possible so that meant an early bed time and a wakeup call at 3am. I walked over the start line at 4am to report in and hand in a card necessary to verify that runners started (even though we had chips?). There were 3,000 runners in the marathon – and about 5% of them didn’t obey the rules and wear their race singlet? There were only two Europeans and one other American in the race but I never saw a single Caucasian before or during the race? Needless to say warm ups were not needed –it was very HOT (78F) and humid already. Because of the heat and the ridiculous age groups I had already decided my race strategy: I would start out SLOW in the 1st Half and then slow down in the 2nd Half! Time was not going to be a priority! Turned out to be a very wise decision!

There were water stops every 2.5Km starting at 5Km and sponges every 5Km. There were supposed to be distance markers every 5Km? When I reached the first water stop in 28:11 (average 5:34/Km or 8:56/mile) I was already hot. I walked or slowed down at every water station to make sure I got lots of water in and on me to prevent dehydration and overheating. The course in the 1st Half sucked! About 90% of the course was expressways with lots of on/off ramps and long rolling hills. Traffic was already backed up at 5am due to the race and we were forced to suck in lots of exhaust/diesel fumes! Boy – was this ever fun – reminded me unfortunately of Shanghai! I missed the 10Km marker but passed over a timing mat that was supposedly located at 10Km? My official chip time was 1:01:35 which meant I slowed to a split of 33:24 or an 11 min/mile pace? Whatever – I reached the timing mat at the Half in 2:03:48. Obviously a sub 4-hr marathon wasn’t going to happen – and I didn’t really care even at that point! However the course did improve for the next 10Km as we looped through the new city center. We could enjoy the sights even in the dark and there was less traffic and exhaust fumes to suck up!
I reached 30Km in 3:00:15 and a 5Km split of 29:13 (9:35/mile pace). As expected the sun was coming up which meant the temperature would soar and the final 12Km would be brutal. I realized that a sub 4:10 was not going to happen – and I didn’t care! I just wanted to finish without any heat problems! The course became crappy again as it dumped back on to expressways – more on/off ramps and lots more exhaust fumes! I just wanted to get this race/ordeal over with! The last 10Km had distance markers every 1Km although they were too inaccurate to be useful. When I reached 40Km in 4:01:43 I figured I was running a 7min/km (11 min/mile) pace and I finally decided I needed to push the pace to finish under 4:15. I crossed the finish line in 4:14:02 – good enough to beat my ‘new’ qualifying time for Boston (being OLD has advantages). And surprisingly that time was good enough to place in the top 20% of the age group?

After returning my chip I collected my ‘goodies’ bag that included a finisher’s medal and a Polo collar shirt! US race directors take note - the $40RM/$13US entry fee included a race bib, high quality race singlet, finisher’s certificate and medal and a Polo shirt! I took my bag back to the hotel, got my camera and returned to the finish line for photos. I used the $20RM refund for the chip to buy a 30-minute massage. One good thing about running so slow is that my legs were not sore or tired but they were cramping from the heat and the massage flushed the lactic acid and eased the cramps. After a long, hot shower I strolled around Merdeka Square and Chinatown to take some more photos to share with my readers.

For some strange reason I had booked a red eye flight back home and I tried to get some sleep before the taxi arrived at 10pm for the 1-hr drive to the airport but sleep would not come? By the time I arrived home I had been up for 49 straight hours with only a few hours of naps on the flights. And everyone thinks international travel is so exciting?

Fortunately I have recovered from the trip and jet lag much faster and easier than expected which is good since I leave in a few days for the next marathon/adventure in the Middle East!

Stay tuned!

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