River Jungle Marathon 2013

Despite the title of this post, to view RJM as a race is an injustice to what it seeks out to do. I don’t say that because of the challenging elevation because there can be hardcore races for hardcore athletes. Rather, I think I won’t be wrong to say that Race Director James Wong, set out to create the funnest and friendliest runners’ gathering in the country. How else would you call a marathon without any cutoff time and one that serves all you can eat seasonal tropical fruit buffet halfway through the race?

I barely made it to the start, actually. Despite setting the iPhone alarm for a 3am buzz, I woke up only an hour later. It turned out that the wife also didn’t hear the alarm go off. No options but exit the house in record time. A good thing I’d got everything ready 2 days prior but the rush meant that I didn’t have time for a slice of walnut bread with coffee. I’ll burn some fat storage then, I thought.

55 minutes later, I reached the Mile 18 Village in Hulu Langat. Luckily found a slot to park the car just as James were telling the runners to not run too fast in order to enjoy the scenery. The number of runners totalled over 1,000, a testament to its increasing popularity that included a number of overseas participants. Fireworks were let off (hope that didn’t panicked the residents in the area who would still be in bed) sharp 5am and when I got to the starting arch, I was amongst the dead last. That also meant that I didn’t get to meet a few friends before the start. Damn the iPhone alarm!

The reversed and partially new route was a refreshing change, this being my 3rd RJM. Running in the dark certainly made the effort easier. I’d cleared my mucus a couple of times in the first 10K stretch, a reminder that I’d missed 2 weeks of training leading up to this outing. Even at between 6:30-7:00 pace, I couldn’t get into a relaxed rhythm and post run check on my HR showed that it was slightly elevated for the pace that I did. Certain short stretches of the road were unlit but because many had their headlights on and there were support vehicles plying the route, we were rarely running in pitch darkness. I definitely found running in the darkness more peaceful as it added to the ambience of being in the outskirts. The smell of ripe jackfruit along the first 10K stretch was especially pleasing to the senses. It was a shame that light pollution would spoil some of the feeling. Sidebar: To read about light pollution and its impact to nature and the environment, go here, here, here and here.

I was trying hard to get back the rhythm and zoned out feeling as I had during the last 32K long run before I fell ill but just couldn’t. Despite the seeming harder than usual effort, I had no pronounced difficulty in running all the way up the supposed killer climb. In fact, I found it even more runnable than the 3K of steep climb of the original route. It was the descent that would kill my legs though. Previously I’d be bounding like a happy lark (does a lark bound?) going downhill but the lack of conditioning evidently put paid to the legs. Those who think descending is easier than ascending need only to read the experience of Boston and ultra vets and I guess I learn. The skies were already bright by the time I got down and I couldn’t believe I ran all the way up. The bottom of the hill meant that I’d covered only K, but that was when my legs were already chewed up.

Started mixing up some walking to relieve some of the feeling of cramps even on the toes! The consolation was the excellent weather we were seeing that morning. On the opposite side the fast runners were on their way back and one of the front runners, Deo, was pointing to the direction he came from shouting, “Careful, road hazard up ahead!”. At that time I thought he was referring to a fallen tree or some large road kill or accident but after rounding a few turns along the road, the “hazard” he referred to was the fruit buffet station! I decided to skip the eating as the fruits offered were quite “heaty”, something to be avoided since I’m nearing full recovery. Another 2.5K was the 26K u-turn and I gobbled down a banana that was offered there.

After running and walking with Frank for a brief moment, I found myself back at the fruit buffet. On the return side, we were served ice cold Thai coconuts which I downed 2 in record time. No one could resist its sweet juice, especially when the morning was beginning to quickly warm up. Running and walking was never going to be easy with 12K to the finish but I had to keep the big picture in view. The mantra turned into “Just keep going”. It was a test on the physical and mental side of things as I certainly can expect plenty of distress and pain to the body and mind in December. The end of the run came eventually, after toiling in the sun the last 8K. Happily, I managed to catch up with a few friends post-run before taking the long drive home. Later in the evening I read that the last finisher took over 9 hours to complete the distance! Kudos to James and his crew, sponsors and especially to the volunteers who stayed out longer than the runners and who cleaned up after us. It’s all these elements and more that most runners find it appealing enough to return to the cool locale year after year.

For me, it was a training run completed on the first day of September. It’s the start of a crucial phase in training and the workout certainly provided an awakening of sorts to the body and mind of what needed to be done leading up to December.

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