Have heard a fair bit about the famed food of Muar so when we had the chance, we decided to go up there. The fact that there was a trail race was a bonus. So a group of us led by the Incredibly Macho Dude and his petite little wife hopped onto the coach and off we went for a weekend of makathon! Sadly, the famed food turned out to be a big disappointment. Hopefully the race will make up for it.
We were staying in Muar town, I think and to get to the race site where the race pack collection was held, we had to walk there. We took directions from the locals and I think, down there nobody walk or cycle and we were directed all over the places and ended up walking 2.5km in hazy and hot weather before we reached the Chung Hwa High School. There were only a few people there. The race pack collection was short and sharp. Unfortunately, the sidekick discovered that she had been wrongly placed under the Men’s category even though from whatever angle I see her, she still looks like a woman to me! Oh well. Since we were there for the run and she wasn’t podium material, we left it at that. Just run!
We woke up at 4.45am the next morning. By now, we have found a shorter route to the site, thanks to the wonder of modern technology – the GPS. So we were supposed to do a warm up run there but all of us ended up walking the 1.8km distance there through a dark neighborhood. The stillness and quiet of the morning was broken only by the occasional vehicles and the loud call to prayer from the nearby mosque.
We reached there Chung Hwa High School again. There were probably only about 1000+ participants from what we could see. There was a big group of Safra runners complete with Safra and Singapore flags as well. In fact, we met many more Singapore runners friends there including the omnipresent Mohan. I believe Singapore based runners accounted for more than 10% of the total runners and form the 2nd largest contingent after the Malaysians.
The setup at the start line was rather basic. It was just a banner with the word Start and a safety tape as the start tape. And oh yes, there was a group of young ladies doing some sort of energetic warm up which in most events could attract a lot of attention but in the darkness, nobody could see them well and they were generally ignored with most of the people focusing on a video wall which was playing the race from last year.
We were “flagged off” at 6.30 am sharp. We ran along this seemingly never ending Jalan Junid. It was still pitch dark when we were flagged off and as we ran along the road; we passed by many nice beautiful houses. The scenery changes with the light and as it grew brighter, the houses changes to shophouses and with dawn breaking, into kampong houses and forest along the side.
And still we ran along the road. I thought we had signed up for a trail run? So why were we, after 7km still running on the road? But finally we saw this arch and that was it! We turned into a main road but almost immediately turned into a side road and into rural Muar!
And what a transformation! All the drudgery of the road was forgotten. Now the camera remained in my hand instead of going back into the pocket and I was stopping to take more and more photographs. It was still tarred road but this was rustic Malaysia with kampungs and banana trees and cow, chickens and goats everywhere. And the scene continued to change as we wind through the villages. We soon left the road and entered into the “trails” and with that, we were simply awestruck by the beauty beyond us.
Yes, this was what we had come for! We had started the run with an average pace of 6mins but here, we stopped so often to take pictures and admire the scenery that the pace dropped to 6.30mins and then 7 mins but who cares! There were more important thing to do – like avoiding the “land mines” that were everywhere and looking at the cute signage. At times it seems like we were running in some wildlife reserves. There were warnings of all sorts of animals at every other turn!
Maybe there are crocodiles in the beautiful streams? But that didn’t deter the ladies from venturing closer for photos!
So far we have been running on roads and soft grounds and other than the “land mines”, it was a very flat and easy route. Then we were directed into this grass patch. The grasses were pretty long and most of us started to walk here.
Never know when we were going to step into a “landmine” or worse a hole and bust the ankle. We made it safely through this portion and were confronted with another uneven ground which was fine until we came to this long stretch of black dry mud flat! Thank God it was hot. Looking at the ground, I can imagine how muddy this stretch was going to be if it was wet and it stretch like almost forever (actually probably 300 metres at most) but everybody was walking here.
But from here, it was a short distance back to Jalan Junid and another 3km to the finish line. By now, the sun was out in its full glory and the haze had yet to set in so we were all slowly beginning to boil. I put aside the camera and we started running, the logic being - the faster we finish the faster we were be out of the sun and so we managed to cut back the pace to just slightly over 7 mins and cross the finish line together in 2 hours 30 mins. Not great timing but well worth it for the sights and beauty of mother nature.
This was supposed to be a no frill run. But once the race started, there were nothing no frill abut the support. There were adequate water points with water, 100+ and even coke for the runners at roughly 3.5km apart. Every now and then the ambulance will whizz by. There were even photographers and videographers along the road. The start and finish line set up may be basic but the spread for the runners after the race was definitely not. There were plenty of food to eat from a giant coconut each to water melons, apples, bananas and all sort of kuehs and of course the famous Muar Otar!
The distance of 21km is manageable and with just a difficulty level – 1 out of 10, it was so easy to forget that we were in a race and not an exploration run. Overall, it was a great experience and if somebody can direct me to where I can find real Muar food and not in that little joke of a food street, I might come back again just to eat and run!