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Bali Marathon: A good run

Mohd Yusoff getting the "superstar" treatment from the village schoolchildren who cheered the runners on by chanting ‘Ole! Ole! Ole!’.

Publication Date : 14-05-2012


Silhouetted against a spotlight, a couple gave each other a quick kiss for luck. They were among some 2,000 participants at the Bali Safari and Marine Park, most of whom were chaffing each other as they awaited the start of the PT Bank International Indonesia Tbk (BII) Maybank Bali Marathon.

The excitement was electric as some 700 volunteers had been there as early as 3:00 a.m. to put things in place for the 5:00 a.m. run.

Some last-minute details included the securing of six motorbikes so that the media could follow runners into the labyrinthine village roads of Gianyar. The order had gone out just the night before, at 10pm to be precise.

One efficient and well-connected event organiser was told to scour the island for able riders and a driver to pilot a lead car ahead of the runners. The meticulous 25-year-old, a wedding planner for Indonesia’s elite, put his foot down; no way was he going to risk safety by putting a whizzing car, without the benefit of practice runs, through the narrow village streets where children, old folks and livestock roamed. But motorbikes, now that was something he could muster.

Not that he would have had a problem as BII Maybank had done a thorough job of involving the island community in the marathon three months before via an outreach programme with the tagline, Berlari Untuk Berbagi (Running For Charity).

A total of 17 schools received assistance in terms of funding and sports equipment.

This exercise was also aimed at helping women supplement the family income through micro financing – whereby they were, for example, given ducks to gain spin-offs like eggs and meat.

A pledge was also made to fund the building of a new clinic for Yayasan Bumi Sehat which is located south of Monkey Forest in the village of Nyuh Kuning in Ubud, a town famed for arts and handicrafts in the central foothills of Gianyar. Besides providing health consultation for the villagers, the heart of Bumi Sehat is its midwifery services and workshops.

Founder Robin Lim had come to Ubud 20 years ago with her husband, William Hemmerle, 57, when there were few facilities to ensure safe childbirth for the village women. She was inspired to help them after the birth of her first son, now aged 19.

Today, the non-profit Bumi Sehat provides over 17,000 health consultations for both children and adults every year and ensures that mothers are able to experience gentle births, as opposed to the sterile environment they encounter at hospitals. Its clinics in Bali and Acheh welcome some 600 babies into the world each year.

For her efforts, Lim, 55, an American of Japanese and Caucasian descent, has been recognised as a CNN Hero, which rightly fits BII Maybank’s marathon slogan, “Push The Limit”.

With all the buzz and fuss, it is easy to assume that running is something of a new fad in Bali. Of course, it’s not.

Every four years, the Pekan Olahraga Nasional, a sports meet for Indonesia’s finest athletes, is held in different provinces. The next one will be in Riau this September. There is also the Indo Ultra, a five-day race through the jungles of Indonesia, where stamina and self-sufficiency are put to the ultimate test. The next such event is scheduled to take place in Lombok in 2013.

But for Bali, this marathon was its first after a 20-year hiatus. The last one, called the Bali 10K, had been organised by the chief of the Indonesian Athletic Association and former minister of trade and industry, The KianSeng, now 81, a Chinese Indonesian who changed his name to Mohamad Hasan after embracing Islam.

Making the event extra special this time was the presence of international pro runners like Kenyan superstar Luke Kibet, best remembered for hobbling off at the start of the Singapore Marathon in 2009 due to an injured Achilles’ tendon, only to win the race and shatter his own record with a time of 2:11:25.

Also making a grand entrance was Trent Morrow, the Australian pharmaceutical sales manager dubbed the “Marathon Man”, who has completed 55 marathons since March 2008. Morrow, 38, was decked from head to toe in bright blue and red lycra; the attention-grabbing garb was a bid to raise money for South African charities dedicated to children suffering from noma, a gangrenous disease which leads to tissue destruction of the face.

Malaysians will get a chance to catch him at the Kuala Lumpur Marathon on June 24.

Reconnoitring work on the marathon route begun in September last year with race directors Barbara Oravtez and Satyo Haryo Wibowo cycling round the island.

Bali was the natural choice for, as a famed tourist destination, it has the most ideal infrastructure and the least traffic headaches, especially in the province of Gianyar, where the village roads are almost idyllic.

It was Wibowo, 38, who decided to add the challenge element called “Heartbreak Hill” at the 20-kilometre point. Like a cleft between two hills, the chasm declines into the Tukad Petanu, regarded as one of the most sacred rivers in Bali. It is impossible to jump over the river, so runners have no choice but to slither down its banks, wade into the water and climb up on the other side.

“The surrounding scenery is beautiful. It would be a waste if people just ran through it,” he said by way of justification.

For someone who has never legged it, the thought of covering 42.195km is horrifying. And how do you restore a bruised ego after coming in last, or collapsing halfway?

In Wibowo’s opinion, the challenge is mainly with the self and the determination to finish. The temptation to give up is strongest in the first five kilometres or so, depending on one’s personal plateau. Once you reach this stage, it becomes a breeze, he said.

Many argue that running is a pursuit solely reserved for the young. Interestingly, Oravtez, 52, who is also the founder of Jakarta Free Spirit, a road running club, only donned her first pair of jogging shoes after turning 40.

She ran her first marathon at 43 in the Thailand Temple Run and finished with a time of 3:54; to date, she has taken part in six marathons.

Another over-40 participant was Yogjakarta-based Mark Swinton, who caused his Balinese wife, Ni Made Susilawati, 38, sleepless nights when he was suddenly hit by marathon fever two years ago. Her initial worry of him succumbing to over-exertion has since given way to pride on seeing his discipline and single-mindedness.

Swinton, 46, was over the moon when he bettered his time by 10 minutes from his last run at the Singapore Marathon last year.

For Wibowo, however, running is about putting the balance back into one’s life. To get me to experience the thrill

for myself, he got me to wake up at 5:30 a.m. for a jog in Sanur beach, a day before the big race.

True enough, it was wondrous being propelled on the energy of my own steam. I felt my soles pounding the ground and my heart thudding against my chest, with the wind dancing in my hair. And thanks to the rush of endorphins, I felt a pervading sense of happiness, a little giggly even.

And don’t worry about coming in last. Malaysian Zuraida Mohamed, who took part in the half marathon category, suffered leg cramps at the 17km stretch and had to walk the remaining four kilometres.

She completed the race in three hours and 15 minutes.

As the disappointed Zuraida, 32, sat contemplating her performance, teammate Azizul Morshidi consoled her, saying: “It is not about finishing late but having the courage to start.”

Way to go!


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