By Miriam Chacko
THE KUCHING MARATHON HAD been on my mind ever since I heard about it from a friend. Mid-May, I signed up for the 10K Open Female category with full intention of running every inch of it. There were four runs to choose from: 5K, 10K, 21K and 42K and as a newbie to running, the 10K seemed more of a challenge and less of a threat to my endurance.
All the routes started and ended in the Old Quarter of Kuching. Flanked by the General Post Office, the Sarawak Museum, the Old Courthouse and the Central Police Station amongst other heritage structures, the Old Quarter was a perfect setting for runners visiting Kuching for the first time, like me. The 10K route ran alongside Sungai Sarawak, eventually looping into a kampong and then hitting the main road before reaching the end. Speed was not a priority for me, so I took the time to soak in my surroundings as I ran.
Although we started the 10K in darkness, about fifteen minutes into the run, the sun began to inch its way over Kuching and the silhouette of the city at dawn was spectacular. When the scenery took over I listened to the heaviness in my breath but while running on the main road beside traffic I allowed music to fill my ears.
After about five kilometers I took care not to breathe through my mouth and not to sprint in spurts but to run at a steady pace. Unsuspectingly, I ran beside other hopeful finishers, mirroring their pace and drawing energy from the rhythm of running in tandem. Passersby, volunteers on cycles, residents and children holding placards embodied the community spirit that cheered us on and boosted our waning confidence.
While running I thought of the brave hearted marathoners on the last leg of their 42K run. Vacant and exhausted on the outside but determined and unrelenting on the inside as they break through the infamous wall and leap off the granite towards the finish.
My favourite part of the run was the last 500m when I sprinted towards the finish line to the live drum beats of ‘Oh Sarawak Ale Ale’. This overwhelming celebration of Sarawakian pride took me by surprise and had me running faster than I had in all my training.
On crossing the finish line, organisers of the marathon welcomed us with high fives and garlanded us with a medal. Like most others I found myself in a sea of strangers, all of us wearing medals and all of us singing ‘kumbaya’ on the inside. Soon, the reality of possible dehydration broke my revel and led my jelly legs towards the water stalls.
A nation’s commitment to promote exercise, a city’s pride and satisfaction in hosting a marathon, and an individual’s motivation to improve upon oneself keep the spirit of long distance running alive. Running is a popular form of exercise, yet, the benefits of habitual running go beyond physical fitness. The running experience is contiguous with many non-running areas of a person’s life such as work, family and social relationships. A sense of achievement from completing and competing in a long distance run spills into the runner’s self-image thereby improving his or her ability to meet other challenges.
Three weeks before the Kuching Marathon I came across a poster in the gym that said ‘You don’t stop when you are tired, you stop when you are finished’. It seemed like a recipe for a burn out and wreaked of Jillian Micheals’ take on life. However, the skeptic in me stood on pause when I inadvertently sought out those words to carry me through training and running the 10K. When my friends ask me why I signed up, I simply say ‘I got tired of cycling’ but the truth is I was searching for optimism.
What’s next for me? Possibly another 10K to improve my gun time and when I’m ready a 21K to break walls and to sing many more kumbayas!
Miriam Chacko is essentially an environmentalist. After completing her postgraduate degree in Environment and International Development from the University of East Anglia, she got involved in projects promoting environmental awareness. Drawing on her experience, she has written articles on climate change and conservation.
A keen traveller, she has visited many countries in and around Asia and her love of the outdoors and interest in different cultures comes through in her writing.
Miriam has been writing for The Borneo Post SEEDS since 2013.