For an amateur runner like me, to participate and actually complete an international full marathon is as aspirational as it can get. And last weekend, the plan was to take the fist step in Bali – by participating in the 21km Half Marathon.
In the last couple of months, as preparation for the event, I had run regularly, completed a couple of 15km runs, an 18km one and even started weight training. However, i was prone to injury and diverted from the road of discipline by frequent bouts of gluttony.
But all things considered, it was still sufficient training. Aarti once again thankfully decided to do her thing photographing the action and cycling the route. Also, an old classmate of mine, Venu Madhav, a blistering half marathoner, decided to go the full hog and take on the 42km run.
We reached Bali a day before, a colleague of mine arranged for Aarti’s cycle, the running gear was picked up and we were set. The event had attracted more than two thousand runners including a bunch of elite Kenyans, many very fit looking athletic types and hundreds of no-pressure hopefuls like me.
Kenyans taking centre stage before (and the podium afterwards)
The Full Marathon started at 5.00am and Venu, delayed in the traffic, was the last one to scramble off. And half an hour later, while yet in total darkness, the Half Marathon took off. In the first few pre-dawn kilometers, as all the runners focussed on getting into rhythm, there was hardly a sound except for the thudding of feet hitting the road. An eerie start though an exhilarating one.
And they're off in a blur!
Pre-dawn fire torches
After 5 kms, the highway veered off into paddy fields and villages, and as the sun rose, we were treated to some serene sights. However, pleasant though it was, starting with two immediate brutal ones, the inclines got me gasping. The more the road meandered into the villages, the more frequent the inclines became. It required all the cheering kids and Balinese dancers to move us along. The organizers also threw in their own spokes by running out of water at some stations. Thankfully, at the 15km mark, Aarti, whose cycling efforts were also being rapturously cheered, provided much required liquids.
Kids pushing us on - Run fat boy, run!
Balinese dancers gracing the run
After the initial shock I soon learnt to walk up and zip down the inclines and to combat the Bali heat by hydrating myself regularly. In fact after the 15km mark, things improved so dramatically that i greatly increased the pace to try and make up for the slow first half. It was pretty terrific as many a fit looking runner was crossed effortlessly. However, just as i had started gloating, at the 19km mark, my right leg cramped up. No amount of coaxing and stretching would help and suddenly i couldn’t run anymore. The same fit looking runners proved why they looked so and I trudged the last two kilometers, humbled and wiser, crossing the finish line in 2 hours and 26 minutes.
Aarti meanwhile had a roaring ride. With her floppy hat and her big ass camera, she gained unquestioned access as the only cyclist on the track, and was cheered by runners and audience alike.
The final trudge - Undeserved ambition maketh a wiser man!
My friend Venu had a long run in more ways than one. Having only done half marathon distances in practice, after a very quick and steady 28 kms, his leg cramped up too, grinding him to a stop. With 14 kms more to go in the unrelenting heat, it then became a game of the mind forcing its way even after the body had raised its flag in protest. Being the warrior he is, he hobbled on for another two hours plus and finally crossed the line in just over 5 hours.
Venu (right) and I with our hard earned completion medals
As a final note, on our return flight to Jakarta we bumped into two of the Kenyan elites, who, outside the race track always seem to have the appearance of rabbits caught in the light. After gawking at them for a while, I ventured an enquiry to one of them. Yes, he had indeed competed in the Full Marathon and finished in 2 hours and 15 minutes. That would be less than my time for DOUBLE the distance. But hang on.. wasn’t that the winning time ? yes, was the casual very very non rabbit type reply – that was MY winning time.
After some more gawking i left him in peace to search for his luggage.