We made our way to Taipei City Hall in search of the Fubon Cafe to pick up our race kits. We stood by the crossroads in front of the City Hall for a moment, and I felt that rush of adrenaline as I stared at the blue banners.
YB and I clung to each others' arms, "Oh my gawd, it's happening! We're going to run the marathon right here!!"
Ready or not, here we come!
Race Day - Sunday, 18th De cember 2011.
It was hard to rouse ourselves out of the comfortable hotel bed when the alarm rang at 430am. By the time we jostled ourselves out and prepared to leave, it was already 540am. We were like hesitant children, reluctant to attend the first day of school.
We walked towards the nearest MRT station and soon enough we could spot the runners from the non-runners. The runners had a maroon bag each slung over their shoulders, a clear requirement by the Taiwan Running Association that you MUST use only the maroon CTRRA bags for storage deposit at the events organized by them.
On the MRT.
Buzzing at 6am.
It was still dark when we arrived at the Taipei City Hall at 610am. We purchased the maroon bag for NT$100, changed, deposited the bag and used the portaloo. By the time we were ready to head towards the Start/Finish line, it was inching to 650am.
As runners for the full and half marathons and 9km categories started together, it was so crowded that I feared I was going to take 20 minutes just to cross the Start line. It’s requirement for the runners to cross the finish line within 15 minutes of flag off, but how would it be possible with about 120,000 people?
The elite runners started at 6:57am. We were stuck here and couldn't up any further so we stood still to made sure we could hear the flag off.
The first 8km or so was pretty crowded but fun. There were many supporters along the way, some dressed in funny outfits, cheered the runners wholeheartedly. It was a different atmosphere altogether. I drank in the sights, taking in the crowd, the cheers and cool weather.
I lost sight of YB the minute we crossed the start line. Dressed in a black long sleeve cotton top over my Nike We Run KL dry fit tee with arm warmers, I was getting a bit warm. I rolled up my sleeves but still felt warm.
The 9km runners headed left after 4km or so, leaving the route a little less crowded. The half and full marathoners continued on until about 8km, where they headed up an overheard bridge, whilst we took a right turn to run along the river.
We saw some male runners peeing into the bushes on the right side of the road. A few uncles behind me, laughed and exclaimed, "Wah! Look at them!!"
We saw a half marathoner coming towards our direction, grinning from ear to ear, "Ooops! I followed the wrong crowd!"
The uncles behind me chuckled.
A few steps later, we saw a young boy coming towards us, clearly a lost 9km runner.
"Wah!! This one is worse! He has a longer way to go!" one uncle commented.
The top of my right thigh (where it meets the hip) started to cramp, and I have ALWAYS had difficulty in loosening up that part. I always have problems dealing with a cramp at that spot during my long rounds (> 20km).
But I wasn't the only person having problems, so I wasn't alone. There were others who would stop along the way to stretch. But that didn't make me feel better!
I stopped to put on my iPod, as I finally needed some distraction for the rest of the route.
It was a lovely day with the blue canopy. But it didn't make me feel any better.
The cramps, argh.
I took off my arm warmers and tied it to my pouch. It's funny, you know. Sometimes I was warm and I'd roll up my sleeves, but once the wind blew, I would feel a bit chilly again and I'd roll down my sleeves. What a dilemma.
Completing every km thereafter was an accomplishment I could not even sustain. My left calf cramped, and I tried to stretch. And there was a point where my right thigh cramped at the same time, and I was like, "What. The. Hell. This is ridiculous."
I kept repeating to myself, "Thisisridiculous, thisisridiculous, THIS IS RIDICULOUS!" because I didn't know what else to do. I looked out for medical assistants with Perskindol spray or something but there were none. I guess I'd really have to ask them for help, instead of expecting them to offer help?
As I was stretching by the railing when an uncle told me to pose for his camera. He then ran ahead and upon reaching a guy who was stretching by the railing, he did the same.
"He'll probably show his friends later how hopeless we were," I mused.
The river route was a long one. We ran for about 7km on one side and then climbed up a bridge to cross over to run on the other side to run another 13km. I was getting tired of the view and running on the bicycle path.
Thankfully, I could stop every 2.5km to hydrate myself, but then again, I was already walking and running most of the way.
I was very very very frustrated.
Even my right foot cramped!
I wanted my 4:40 but in my condition, I knew I was not going to achieve it.
You know, the Taiwanese are generally friendly people? Apparently I dropped my arm warmers along the way and one guy told me. I smiled my thanks and stopped in my tracks, not knowing what to do.
I could see that I'd have to run back 10 metres to retrieve it, but I didn't want to waste my energy. But I felt bad because it would mean I was littering.
With a sigh, I trudged back to pick it up, but only to find it was only one side. I couldn't see the other one.
Did I mention that the supporters along the way were still energetic people? Most runners, including myself would wave at them - they had to be acknowledged, of course. Too bad I wasn't running with a camera in hand, I should have thought about it!
My Garmin reset itself at 20 something km, adding to my frustration. I don't know how long it was out, but I knew for a fact that either I had to run quicker to make up for lost time (I couldn't rely on it any more for a good time).
At the 30km checkpoint, I checked the clock which read 10:38am, I think. Bad.
I shook my head in despair. I wanted to quit! But I berated myself and sighed, "Which joker told me that marathoners are no quitters?"
"Fine. I can't complete the damn thing in 4:40 but at least a sub-5, right?" I asked myself.
It felt as if The River Jungle Marathon was less of a torture compared to this one, but why? It was puzzling. Perhaps I was tired from walking around Taipei during the first 3 days? Or was I just unprepared? Definitely both.
My muscles are pretty funny, I must say. I felt a tad bit better by the 37th km and I had to shake myself out of this gloom and trudge on.
Back in the city, a shop proprietor and relatives/friends were serving fruits by the road, just outside their shop. I saw mandarin oranges, and I wanted to grab some, but I hesitated.
I continued on, instead, and focused on the last 5km. It was a long one.
An uncle supporter called out to me, causing me turn back to acknowledge him with a wave,"Pretty lady, keep it up!"
I think I hit the 40km checkpoint at 11:45am or so, I honestly can't remember now. I tried my best to muster up the energy since the finish line getting nearer and nearer. I wanted to make sure I finished the race with a sub-5 gun time.
Everyone was picking up during the last km. Supporters on the road continued cheering and the runners waved in return.
I crossed the finish line at 5:01:07.
I mustered a smile and said thanks to the volunteers who handed me the medal and towel. I limped towards our designated meeting spot to wait for YB, exhausted.
I was relieved that the race was over, just plain relieved. I dug deep into the recesses of my brain to see if I was excited or not, but I came up empty handed.
YB and I congratulated each other as he managed to cross the finish line at 4:35 ... lucky fella!
The skies were grey by 1230pm. I still had to redeem my goodie bag.
The queue for the full marathoners' food distribution.
Inside our food pack.
We slowly made our way to the MRT to return to our hotel. It was a very slow walk.
But let's talk about the race.
The good things:
1. Although they said that water stations were only located every 5km after the first one, water and isotonic drinks were also provided at their sponge stations, making hydration available every 2.5km.
2. The supporters, the people along the way. I have never ever seen SO MANY smiling faces cheering the runners on. It must be the weather, I tell you. And their funny costumes would cheer you up.
3. As the 9km, half and full marathoners begin the race the same time, they cross the finish line at different times. The full marathoners were last to complete the race so the volunteers are able to focus their attention on them. You won't have to avoid bumping into the 9km or half marathoners as you race towards the finish line.
4. The event area is divided into sections, to avoid unnecessary overcrowding. The full marathoners deposit/collect their bag at one area while the 9km & half marathoners have their own section, situated on the other side.
5. Returning the championship chip entitles you to a refund of NT$100 on the spot. ;D
6. Medals, certificate and towels for half and full marathon finishers. We love our towel! That's considered our souvenir from Taipei. ;D
The bad stuff:
1. The route along the river eventually became very boring. We had to run on one side, make a u-turn on the overhead bridge to run along the other side. It was about 25km worth. Some live music would have been good, honestly.
2. At some points along the river, we had to run on the bicycle lanes which was very crowded. It was hard to run without bumping into anyone, nor would you have sufficient space to overtake someone. I almost tripped onto the uneven ground as I tried to manouvre myself around a boy. Grrr.
3. The medical people do not stand outside their tent with Perskindol spray (or whatever Taiwanese equivalent) or offer any help. Instead, they sat in their chairs and waited for runners to approach them for help. I tried looking for Deep Heat rub or any form of ointment but they didn't bother asking me what was it I wanted so I left.
Overall, it was very well organised event. Enjoyed their well-planned organisation!
Lele's pictures will give you a gist of how the run was. I'm sorry I wasn't running with a camera in hand. Check out the picture of girls in bunny ears holding a cardboard carrot each - that was my favourite 'support' group.
And here's the Altitude Diagram, just in case you're interested. Hah!