Ed Note: This is a guest post from Jerome Araullo, who ran his first ever full marathon in Hongkong last Feb 8, 2009.
HOW I SURIVED THE 2009 STANDARD CHARTERED HONGKONG MARATHON
I believe that my last weeks’ adventure is worthy of being recorded in the annals of the internet because of two things : One, I wont have to retell the story over and over again to friends and relatives, and Second, when I can no longer run, ride a bike, or swim, this blog can help me recollect.
I never had my own blog
Perhaps I feel that there are just too many blogs out there in the net and I don’t want to bore people with some personal anecdotes to death. Thanks to D’ Great Groundhog Dude for lending me some airtime thru his well read sports memoir.
So here it is. Let me tell you about my exploits in Hong Kong. How I survived it and the 2009 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon… Alone.
I Arrived in Hong Kong February 5, 2009 in the morning. I had exactly three days before The D-Day… My first 42.26 kilometer run… a full marathon… The 2009 Standard Chartered International Marathon in Hong Kong.
My first day was my busiest. After arriving at Hongkong’s Central station, I proceeded to Wanchai at the Hong Kong side and checked-in my things with my wife’s best buddy Rita (who sings for a band at the Bulldogs bar in Tsim Sha Tsui).
I had to scrap my original itinerary for the afternoon and opted to spend the remaining hours of my first day in Macau.
February 6, 2009 – Friday
Overslept! Woke up at 730am. Today is REGISTRATION DAY for overseas runners!
After taking a shower I got my back pack and ate at a nearby noodle shop. With my trusty ol map, I proceeded to Causeway Bay to register.
Volunteers from Standard Chartered Bank were still setting up at the Victoria Park when I arrived. I was asked to return at 12noon. There was already a short line in the overseas runners registration area when I came back.
The registrants were mostly expats, and some newbies from all over who traveled to HK just to run their marathon. Boy was I happy to see Kababayan runners. Mga tiga Cebu si Leszl Lumindas Gitaruelas, Mendel Lopes, and Brandon Bon who is a fitness first instructor in Cebu. They were all running the half marathon.
Later on, two Pinoy couples arrived Cris Litton and a friend. They were going to run the full marathon also and will write about the experience for Nike.
Moments later, the Kenyan delegation arrived. Some runners had their picture taken with them.
Registration fee was in cash only for late registrants like us: 440HKD or the USD equivalent. They also collected a 100HKD deposit for the timing chip.
The RACE KIT consisted of the following goodies:
1 Runner guide
1 Baggage collection bag
1 tote bag
1 bank promotional material
1 Finishers Medal – Yes, Kahit hindi mo matapos may medal ka na! Wooohooo! Bale wala ng photo op with the medal sa finish line.
February 7, 2009 – Saturday
Woke up at 530am.
Got out at around 6am and searched for a new noodle house for carbo loading. Reconned starting line and designated baggage drop off area. As I was walking along Nathan road guess who I saw? Two of the Ethiopian runners running! Wala bang taper taper para sa mga ito?
My biggest mistake for the day was I still pushed through with my IT to do some sight seeing and shopping. “Hey! It was my first time in Hong Kong!”
Sham Shui Po Prince Edward The Peak Central Avenue of the Stars (Lights show) in Tsim Sha Tsui and Nathan road!!!
LESSON FOR THE DAY – Next time plan where you will have your carbo loading.
• Never assume that their Mcdo and KFCs in HK serve spaghetti.
• Never assume the Spaghetti House serve cheap spaghetti.
• Resist the urge to shop or tour HK before race day.
• Next time get a room with a TV
11:00pm Back at the tenement, I prepared the following stuffs for My Marathon:
• New Balance Singlet
• Running tights (shorts)
• Fuel Belt with 2 flasks only (with Pokari Sweat)
• 10- Gus (1 of them Roctane)
• 1 cellphone (a must)
• photocopy of my passport (mahirap na baka madeport)
• 1 small bottle of Omega pain killer
• 1 running socks NB
• My Asics running shoe with the 100HKD timing chip
FEBRUARY 8, 2009 – RACE DAY
330AM – All 3 alarm clocks go off! I did some brief stretching on the bed (hmmmm) and left the tenement to go to the starting line.
I had a bowl of macaroni soup and cup of coffee at nearby Mcdo Peking road.
The starting line for the Marathon and the half marathon was at Nathan road near the Mira hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. The full Marathon was scheduled to start at 8am.
I spent the next 3 hours stretching, hydrating, and eating. The nearest Adidas shop along Peking road opened early, and the staff members were sticking Adidas post-its on runners backs which had different messages on it.
I met a kindhearted HK-based Kababayan named Pixie Ferrer, who realized my predicament as a lone tourist and runner. I explained my problem and she agreed to shoot my pics at the starting line and email them to me after the race. Her hubby was running the 21K. (Thanks again Pixie!)
The 21 K runners were warming up at the back-end of the road. The elite marathoners, warmed-up business class style. They had a block in Granville road cordoned just for them for warm up.
Honestly, if someone would ask me where I encountered the proverbial “Wall” I would definitely say, it was at Kilometer ZERO. I was a constant visitor of the portalets which were lined-up along Haiphong street. I went to the portalet more than 10 times and even threw up a couple of times due to pre-race anxiety. I was simply scared s@#$less! (note: the portalets here smelled horrible also!)
A few minutes before 8am, the runners were called to go to the starting line. The elite runners – the Kenyans, Japanese, Singaporeans, including our very own Eduardo “Vertek” Buenavista….. were all in front… ready to leave us their trail of Hong Kong dusts.
Amid blaring techno music, the emcee finally gave a short but very stirring speech for all of us. It was so inspiring that I had goosebumps all over my body and this made me feel like puking even more. I realized, “what a minute this is far better than the rousing call during the last PSE Bull Run!”
Oh I wanted to back out.
While everyone was counting down, I closed my eyes and clasped my hands and said my standard prayer. “Magpapakabait na ako, patapusin mo lang sa akin ang marathon na ito.” He he he. Really.
Bang! The runners stormed down to Nathan road, turned left at Austin road then to Canton road Wui Cheung and we entered the West Kowloon highway.
I was surprised, that I was feeling strong during the start. It was like I left all my anxieties at Nathan road after the gun went off. I kept telling myself like a mantra “This is what I trained for” over and over.
After a few minutes, my mantra changed. I started to do my countdown :”O Jerome, 41 K na lang. ”My god! I knew this was going to be a loooong day.
Most of the time, say about 95% of the race, we were running on Hong Kong’s national highways or expressways. If you’ve taken the bus from the airport to either Kowloon or Hong Kong island, you have definitely travelled on these magnificent roads.
Watsons distilled water were supposed to be served at every 5K point. But I believe I saw water stations at every 2.5K or so. If Im not mistaken also, the ISO-Tone sports drink were made available earlier as well as the Cadbury chocolates. Sosy!
Volunteers at every water station were all cheering (go on?) to all runners. At one station, they were playing a recorded cheer na naka-loop! Astig!
The ambience for me was intense in most parts because all you can hear was the panting and huffing of runners in Chinese!
(Note: We should have the Iso-Tone drinks here in the Philippines also. They have this minty taste which makes it refreshing even at room temperature).
At the 10K or 11K point, inside the Teung Ching tunnel, the lead pack (4 Kenyans) of the race was already on their way back. Not too far was Buenavista on a toe-to-toe battle with another Kenyan. Their strides were so close they were already overlapping. I cheered our Kababayan “Go Buenaventura!!!” Ooops! (the following minutes, I was trying to remember what Vertek’s family name was.
TURN AROUND POINTS
Finally we reached the Tsing Ma bridge where the first turnaround was at 15.4Km.
Forgot to mention, the organizers had set cut-off times for different distances/locations. “Runners who fail to reach the following locations before the specified times as stated below must board the official buses.” This is in order to facilitate the opening of the marathon route to normal traffic at 1:30pm.
For this point (15.4Km), you have to be in within 2 hours before the double decker grim reaper gets ya!
The Winds at the two bridges near Lantao Island were merciless. Just like what a Singaporean 3:20 marathoner warned me before the race. He said in his distinct Singaporean accent :”Is this yo first? Take it easy ok? And watch out for the bridge!” He wasn’t kidding.
At 20.3 Km at Ting Kau bridge, the cut off was 2 hours 40. I was IN at 2:14. I was still feeling strong when I reached half way at 2:18.
I knew I was slowing down already at 25K since the group I was running with was already ahead of me by several meters. I got the Omega pain killer from my belt and spread a generous amount on my quads and calves.
At 27K BOOM! I started going bonkers. I felt the fatigue on my legs, and my quads were twitching wildly. By this time, first aid officers were deployed every 2Km giving out those wonder Chinese liniment lotion to tired and weary runners. They were so hot selling that in some stations they ran out of stocks!
I reached the 30K mark at 3:42. Many have arrived in bonkersville at this point. They were sitting under tents covered in blankets and being consoled by their loved ones on their mobiles.
The grim reaper from time to time passed by us ferrying unsuccessful runners back to the finish line.
The highway leading to Hong Kong island was endless and brutal. I started doing the Galloway run-walk intervals not out of technique but out of necessity. Inside the Western Harbour Tunnel, I chanced upon fellow Pinoy runner Ms. Ivy Macainan and gave her a high 5!
Outside the tunnel, about 8 Km more to go, I sped things up a little bit as I negotiated Rumsey Street flyover at HK Central.
I knew I could give the last 5Km a stronger kick but I was already afraid that would result to cramps. I kept on applying those Chinese wonder lotion and my Omega lotion and gently massaged the affected muscles. The last thing I would want to happen here is suffer a cramp and jeopardize my first marathon.
Ive ran so many 5Ks, 10Ks, 21Ks, and even 25K events. But this marathon’s final 3 kilometers was the most vicious 3K Ive done so far. I continued to hydrate and emptied the remaining flask in my fuel belt. I still stopped to massage my legs just to make sure the twitching stops.
As we entered Lockhart road and St. George Street, the deafening cheer of the Sunday’s shoppers crowd reververated throughout Causeway Bay. It was an amazing feeling running through those streets giving our worn out bodies another adrenaline rush for that one last kick to the finish line.
I made my last turn and saw the blue and green flooring leading to the Finishline Arch. It was unbelieveable. I slowed down a bit because I wanted to savor the remaining seconds of the grueling test. I wanted the pain and suffering to last a little bit more because I knew it would take a looong time before I run another 42.
Our Kababayans from Cebu were cheering me on as I crossed the line. There were about a hundred of us who crossed the line all at the same time.
5:26:49 was my time. Saved by 4 minutes before the cut-off of 5:30. Faster than Katie Holmes’ NY Marathon time, but not enough to beat Ms. Winfrey.
The crowd then started making a countdown to the 5:30 cut off. I turned back and saw several people dashing for the line to make it. A few did, but there were many who didn’t even if they were almost there. They were just an arms length away, and they didn’t make the cut off. It was dramatic. As far as I’m concerned, as long as you crossed the line, cut off or no cut-off, it’s a marathon.
Ivy Macainan was still at the finish line and we had our picture taken. I got my things and sat in a corner to rest my worn out legs. It took me a while before I could get on my two feet again.
I met the Cebu runners and learned that Leszl Lumindas won 3rd place in her 21K division. Mendel Lopes on the other hand finished 4th in the mens 21K challenge. I later found out that Leszl is a coach to many runners in Cebu. After HK, she will be competing 10K and 21K at the 2009 Arafura Games in Australia in May.
Well this experience has taught me many things. First, I learned what my body is capable of. This is where I felt one of the worst pain ever. I was aching all over, your glycogen levels are down… your body is shutting down and shouting at you to stop and quit.
The experience remains surreal todate. I can’t seem to remember the agony, the amount of pain I was feeling during the last miles of the marathon. But I kept on running because there was no way in hell that Im not crossing that finish line at Causeway Bay.
Now I know why non-runners will never understand why we put ourselves to such misery. I cant explain it, but one will have to run it and finish it for him to understand why.
I was telling myself towards the end of the race that I will probably not run another marathon in the next 5 years. Well, I was wrong. Ano ba ang susunod?
So that’s how I survived my first trip to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an amazing place with so many enterprising people. I will definitely be back in 2010 to run my second Hong Kong Marathon but this time Ill make sure that my family is with me in this awesome Hong Kong adventure.