5. Borneo

On 7th May 2017 I ran the Borneo marathon. It was the one I had been dreading and the one I anticipated would be the hardest and slowest of my 8 marathons. But my god, it was hotter, hillier and so much more painful than I could ever have imagined.

Before I talk about the marathon, I want to tell you a bit about the few weeks leading up to it. As marathon 4 (Canberra) and marathon 5 (Borneo) were within 4 weeks of each other I decided I would stay over on that side of the world and do some travelling between the two runs. My boyfriend was able to get some time off work and we decided to head to Bali for a couple of weeks- not only was it in between the two marathon locations, it was somewhere neither of us had been and it looked like a great place to explore. After travelling alone for the majority of my time in Australia, I was really excited to have a travel buddy!

I was due to arrive in Bali the day before he got there. I’d had a great (and very messy) last few days in Australia, meeting up with my bestie Lucy and her boyfriend Andy who were conveniently travelling Australia at the same time as me. The day of my flight from Melbourne to Bali I did some last minute shopping and I treated myself to some fancy new sunglasses. I left Australia on a high, said goodbye to Lucy and Andy and boarded my night flight from Melbourne to Bali (via Kuala Lumper). I had no idea about the dramas the next few days in Bali would bring:

Day 1: My brand new sunglasses were stolen out of bag at the airport

Day 2: My beloved haviana flip flops broke as I was walking down the street

Day 3: My bag (including my phone and camera, driving license, credit cards, cash and FAVOURITE lipstick) was stolen out my hand as we walked home after a night out

Day 4: My GHD hair straighteners broke

It felt like one thing after the other going wrong! After a long and interesting experience with very unimpressed policemen in Bali, we put the dramas to the back of our minds and carried on with our holiday as planned. And it genuinely turned out to be an amazing holiday which encompassed snorkelling with turtles, hiking up a volcano to reach the summit for sunrise, visiting some beautiful temples and relaxing in paradise on the Gili islands. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to keep it up, the marathon training went out of the window in Bali. The lure of cocktails and street food overcame any desire I had to exercise. Team that with the heat and the fact my phone had been stolen and therefore I didn’t have access to any music made exercise very difficult. The furthest I ran whilst in Bali was only 5km, which is considerably shorter than the runs I should have been doing.

After two great weeks, my boyfriend went back home and I was due to stay in Bali for another week. On my own. Phoneless, cameraless, lonely and miserable. I didn’t want to go out in the evenings as I was worried I would get mugged. I would like to say the idea of running the Borneo marathon kept my spirits high, but in fact the opposite was true. I was unprepared, under trained and was absolutely dreading it.

I tried to keep myself busy – the town I was staying was famous for surfing and yoga, so decided to give them both a go. Learning to surf had been on my bucket list for a while, however it didn’t really go as planned. The waves in Canggu were huge (up to 4 metres high) and the ocean was packed with surfers trying to catch a few waves – neither of these are ideal for someone attempting to surf for the first time. I learned (as I flew off my surf board, dragged beneath a wave and nearly knocked out by the surf board bouncing off my head) that I was not a natural surfer. After managing to stand up and ride one wave (ok it may have been a tiny wave, but who’s measuring) I called it a day. I smiled politely when the instructor asked if I’d had fun and said I’d think about it when he asked if I wanted another lesson the next day – we both knew I wouldn’t be going back! I now understand what people mean when they say surfing is hard – its not as easy as those Aussies make it look!

After my surfing disaster I thought I’d give yoga a try. As I mentioned there is a big yoga following in Canggu where I was staying, so I thought it was the perfect place to give it a go. I went to an evening class and found it ok – I’m not the most flexible of people, but the slow stretching movements seemed to help my slightly dodgy hip (no doubt a consequence of too much running). I thought I’d give it another go the next evening. The second yoga experience was very different however and much more cult-like. The instructor was a massive hippie who felt a need to preach to us about spirits and the “afterworld” throughout the class. She also actively encouraged group participation… by which I mean she would periodically yell at the group to chant a variety of grunts and noises. I had a “what the hell am I doing here” moment when I was attempting to manoeuvre my inflexible limbs into a “downward dog” whilst simultaneously chant “ommmmmmm”. Thank God I was upside down so the instructor and the rest of the class couldn’t see my fist shoved into my mouth to stifle a laugh! Needless to say that was my final yoga class in Canggu and probably my final class ever!

So the activities hadn’t quite gone to plan and as I said, I was feeling really lonely out there. I hit an ultimate low one afternoon when I was attempting to eat lunch in a little cafe. I had a dodgy stomach, it was raining, I was surrounded by happy couples and I had nothing to distract me but my thoughts. I silently sobbed into my chicken and avocado wrap. Despite being on the paradise island of Bali, all I wanted on that Sunday afternoon was to go home and have a roast dinner with my family in cold, wet England. I was close at that point to flying home as I was so miserable. But I stuck out my last few days in Bali and in hindsight I’m so glad I stayed.

I said goodbye to Bali on 3rd May and flew to Singapore for a few days. I absolutely loved Singapore, with its glitz, glamour and most importantly for me at the time – apple stores. After 3 weeks without a phone I managed to buy a new iPhone, reuniting me with a camera, music and the ability to communicate with all my friends and fam! It seemed that all I needed was a change of scenery and a phone to put me back up on cloud 9… well almost back to cloud 9 – I was still absolutely dreading the Borneo marathon.

After a few great days, I left Singapore on 5th May and boarded a flight to Kota Kinabalu (Borneo). As the flight was the Friday evening before Sunday’s marathon, there were lots of people who like me were heading over to run the marathon. As I was getting on to the plane I spotted a guy in a Kuala Lumper marathon t-shirt and asked if he was running the marathon – he said yes and I replied that I’d see him at the start. Funnily enough the man actually knew the lady sitting next to me on the plane (who was also going to be running the marathon)and the three of us ended up chatted for ages on the flight. It turned out that the man is actually very well known in the running world and has completed over 250 marathons!!! The woman next to me was also a seasoned marathoner! They asked why I had come to Borneo to run and I told them all about my marathon mission. After chatting with them, I actually started getting excited rather than nervous about the run. The guy told me to meet him at the marathon expo the next day and he would put me in contact with the right people. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but the next day when I turned up to pick up my race bib he whisked me away, introducing me to the race organisers and told me he had arranged for me to be interviewed by the Malaysian radio station!! It was all a bit of a whirlwind and I’m not sure exactly what happened in that hour, but yes a flustered version of me explaining my reasons for running went out live across Malaysia!!!

Due to the heat (30 degrees) and humidity (>90%), the marathon started at 3am on Sunday 7th May, however in order to be at the start line at 3am I had to wake up at 1am so I could eat pre-race and get to the venue. Despite trying to get an early night, the pre race nerves and excitement kicked in, so I only managed to get about 2 hours sleep. I was knackered before the race had even begun!

I crossed the starting line at 3am with 26.2 miles (or 42.2km) before me.  I cannot describe just what it is like to run that distance in that heat. Fortunately there were water stations every 3km and at each one I literally poured several cups of water over my face and body to try and cool myself down, as well as gulping down several cups of water. However within seconds of leaving the water station I felt thirsty again

After a few miles I had to stop to be sick at the side of the road. This was moment number 1 when I wanted to give up, but I kept going.

After the initial blip, I got into my stride and started running a fairly decent rate of 8 mins 30 seconds per mile for the first half of the marathon, however it soon became evident that I wasn’t going to be able to keep that pace up. It wasn’t just me slowing, it seemed like a lot of runners in front of me were struggling too. At mile 14 my right hip started playing up. Normally I can divert my thoughts away from my niggling hip injury, but teamed with the heat and exhaustion I was really struggling and had to walk for a while. It was disheartening watching others run past me as I hobbled along in pain. Moment number 2 when I wanted to give up.

After refuelling on a banana and energy drink at mile 15 I started running again, however it was fairly short lived. After this point the race became hilly and not just “undulating” hills like those in the Canberra marathon, these were very big hills. I tried to keep going, but at mile 18 both my legs seized up. I was (partially) rescued by a volunteer at the side of the road with a can of deep heat, but despite spraying it on every visible area of my legs I could only just about walk. Moment number 3 when I wanted to give up… but there was no way I was going to – I had travelled all that way to run the marathon and I knew that whether I ran, walked or crawled across it, I would cross that finishing line and take a medal home with me.

From mile 18 to 22 I alternated jogging and walking/limping, but with 4 miles to go “Purple Rain” by Prince came on my playlist and it somehow gave me the motivation I needed – I jogged from there to the finish.The pain was horrendous, but somehow I managed to run through it.

I was disappointed in my performance over the last few miles – I knew that my heart hadn’t been in the race at all and the fact that I had walked for part of the race meant my time was going to be much longer than I’d hoped. I always knew the race would be the slowest of my marathons (but didn’t anticipate it would be 39 minutes slower than my personal best!)  As I approached the finish line in the Kota Kinabalu stadium I didn’t care about my time though, I was just glad I had made it to the finish. As I crossed the finishing line (after a final sprint surge at the end), two officials grabbed me and draped a cord around my neck. When I looked down I couldn’t believe what I saw – 9th place female! It meant I had finished in the top 10 and therefore won a prize and a spot on the podium – I geniunely couldn’t believe it! When my name was called out at the prize presentation and I went on stage to collect my prize, I was over the moon. I was so glad I persevered throughout the race and didn’t give up!

As well as a marathon, there was a half marathon and a 10km adult race on the day. In addition, as the races were sponsored by the charity Unicef, a special 3km race also took place for children with disabilities. Altogether there were 10,000 people competing that day. All of the races merged with 2km to go, meaning we all crossed the finish line together to signify if the able and the disabled could run together, they should be able to live together within society. In this respect, the finish was really quite spectacular – I crossed the finish line next to a young boy with Down syndrome and a little girl in a wheelchair was pushed over the line shortly after. Looking around, not only were there able and disabled people running together, there were people of different genders, ethnicities, religions and ages. Everyone congratulated each other at the finish line. There was no trouble or resentment, everyone seemed genuinely happy for each other and shared the same sense of achievement. It really was a snapshot of how an integrated society should exist.

So the marathon was a real toughie, but it actually proved to be the most rewarding of my marathons so far. I earned my first podium finish, met some amazing fellow runners and learned that great things can happen if you persevere when things get tough.

Let’s hope my legs recover before my next marathon in 3 weeks!!

Borneo marathon: a very painful 4 hours and 16 minutes


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