Enjoyable as it may be, vertical ascents do not equate to horizontal running.
This was the lesson I learnt the hard way in the recent Penang Hill Heritage Forest Challenge, held on 20 August 2017.
The Race began at the Quarry Recreational Park, located at the entrance of the Penang Botanic Gardens. The route looped once around the garden before extending on the road all the way to the Moon Gate, located at Jalan Kebun Bunga. The route was then an uphill ascent all the way to the Upper Station of Penang Hill.
The challenging 14 km race route was relatively safe, albeit a little slippery. The route itself was a real test of fitness, as the route mainly involved pure vertical ascents of the hill. Participants were taken through an exhilarating view of the Penang Hill in the early morning shade and coolness. The view would have been spectacular barring the haze that occurred in the state that day. The breadth of the trail was small, necessitating participants to move single-file in most portions of the race. However, many participants willingly gave way to their faster compatriots when asked.
Water bottles were handed out at the midway point of the race. There was a minor hiccup in the clean-up of the bottles after the race, which was amicably resolved by all parties. Many participants carried their gear and bottles with them until the end of the race, which I found to be highly commendable in ensuring the cleanliness and sanctity of the forest area.
Besides falling hard twice, I had a minor encounter with two troupes of keen and curious monkeys that day. A friendly participant ensured that I was up on my feet when I fell both times. The monkeys kept up a good chatter to encourage runners as we passed by (I would like to imagine). I was blessed to hear the friendly banter between birds and insects, and witness the flutters of many butterfly species. Being an orchid researcher, I was enthralled by the presence of a few species along the race route. I was more than happy to not meet any leeches along the way though!
Overall, I found the race to be an enjoyable and yet gruelling experience. I fumbled through the race, half-running and mostly walking along the route. I managed to complete the trek in 1:53:55, finishing 11th in the Women Open category. Getting back home was easy as I was able to take the train back down to the Lower Station (participants of the race need not pay for a ticket that day), and then directly board a Rapid Penang bus to my destination. A baggage drop would have been an added advantage to the race, as the starting and finishing points of the race were at two different locations.
I would also like to use this opportunity to implore all runners everywhere to run green and love nature!