The Joy of Running in the United Kingdom

Richard and I transferred to England from Belgium in August 2019, but we have been running in the United Kingdom since 2014. As a runner always looking for races to run during the weekends, the UK immediately attracted me for the number of races they offer through all four seasons.

My first race on UK soil was the Flitch Way NYE Marathon in 2014. It was a trail marathon during the winter on New Year’s Eve; not an ideal introduction to marathons for newbies but thankfully I was no longer a newbie. I had already completed more than 60 marathons and ultramarathons by then. This was a challenging race for me but it made me appreciate the opportunity to run on this side of Europe. I completed 30 more marathons in the four countries that make up the United Kingdom before we made the official move in 2019.

At the start line of the Flitch Way New Year’s Eve Marathon 2014.

Here are at least five reasons that makes running a pleasure here:

A race or two every weekend. I am spoiled for the choice of races we have here. You can find at least one, if not two, races each on Saturday and Sunday all year round. Sometimes there will even be 10 challenges in 10 days or 20 challenges in 20 days! These races are organized by running groups and organizations such as Phoenix Running, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans (SVN) Marathons and Challenges, Saturn Running, Zig Zag Running, Suffolk Running Centre, Enigma Running, How Hard Can It Be, It’s Grim Up North, White Star Running, and 1m2go, just to name a few of the people we regularly run with. The London Marathon is extremely hard to get into unless you are willing to do major fund raising for charity. The small races around the UK are easier to sign up for and run.

A friendly racing atmosphere. The runners and the race directors are just so friendly here. Almost everyone you meet on the course would say “Well done!” “Keep going!” and sometimes call your name that is printed on the bib. These small gestures of encouragement mean a lot to runners, especially when we are hitting the wall, or just not having a good race. I see familiar faces at many of the races, and they always have a kind word or two at the beginning or during the race. They consider runners their family.

Recognition opportunities. The UK-based Global Marathon Challenges provides opportunities for ordinary people like me to achieve extraordinary things. As soon as I found out about this website, I signed up for and completed the 12 Marathons in 12 Months Challenge, 52 Marathons in 52 Weeks Challenge, and the 100 Marathons in 100 Weeks Challenge. I became a member of the 100 Marathon Club UK and became eligible to wear the 250 Marathons shirt in February 2020. I also received the Rookie Runner of the Year Award from SVN Marathons and Challenges in December 2019.

Rookie of the Year 2019 with SVN Marathons and Challenges

Variable distances. The race directors are hard core runners themselves and they understand the reality that some days are not the best days. The races are often multi-loop routes beside a river, inside a national reserve, or on well-established forest tracks. As long as you complete a loop you are considered a winner in their eyes and you get your medal and goody bag. There were two races in the winter of 2019 where I only did a 5K and a heavy half (16-miler) but was still able to have my finishing time and distance recorded. Thankfully a DNF (Did Not Finish) is not a part of the vocabulary of the supportive race organizers!

Incredible finisher’s medals. I think the organizers are trying to outdo each other, if not themselves. The medals I have gotten from races here are just to die for! Phoenix Running’s The Explorer finisher medal is the world’s largest finisher medal. The SVN medals always have a tank embedded in their designs and it is always fun to find them. I got a huge thrill to see my name on the finisher’s medal for the Usual Suspects Marathon Class of 2019! Indeed, the medals are huge, colorful, and sometimes 3D! As a bling lover, I can’t help but register for as many races as I can, if only to get my hands on that beautiful medal!

Check out my name on the finisher’s medal!

I feel that I am just getting started on my running journey here and am looking forward to run as many races as I can here!

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Explorer Virtual Marathon 2020

The Explorer Marathon bling, the world’s biggest finisher’s medal.

This COVID-19 pandemic turned everyone’s world upside down. The lockdown in the UK has been in place for more than three months now. Trips and races all cancelled since March, gyms closed, people working from home; what are we to do to maintain our fitness now?

I took a few weeks at the beginning of lockdown to rest and enjoy some downtime. But by Mid-April, I started running again a few days a week on the treadmill. By June, I was antsy and needed to do longer distances. I needed to be inspired if I am to start doing virtual races. I signed up for the Explorer Marathon with Phoenix Running giving finisher’s the world’s biggest finisher’s medals! That huge bling was enough to get me looking forward to running a race again. I planned to run the marathon on the treadmill.

I started running at 9:00 AM on June 27, 2020. I had cold water, 5-hour energy drink, Atkins protein shake, oranges, grapes, and SiS gels on my personal aid station. The bathroom was right next door. I opened two windows and had the fan blowing directly at me and got started. It was a warm day!

The housekeeper arrived at 10:00 AM. I was still at it when she waved through the window as she was leaving. She must be wondering what I was up to.

There are several pros and cons to treadmill running. On the plus side, you can control the race conditions – incline, speed, heat, nutrition, loo breaks. On the minus side, it can be mind numbing to be running in one place on your own for hours on end. I ran slower and distracted myself by finishing the Netflix limited series The Defenders.

After six hours and 50 minutes, I finally completed my first virtual marathon. Whew! I was worried for a minute that my endurance was gone. I was pleased that I can still do a marathon with limited running. Okay, I understand this treadmill running better now. On to the next marathon!

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18. PZU Cracovia Maraton 2019

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The 18.PZU Cracovia Maraton 2019 was our first marathon in Poland. Krakow was one of the first cities to be declared a UNESCO heritage site. It was easy to see why. A lot of the significant World War II locations have been preserved so that present and future generations will learn of the ugliness of war and prevent it from ever happening again.

We flew with Polish Airlines on Saturday, April 27, 2019. The first leg of the flight that left at 7:40 AM took us to Warsaw where we changed planes for Krakow. We arrived in Krakow at 2:15 PM. The bus to the main bus station in the city center cost 3,80 pls zlt and took an hour. From there, it was a short walk to the beautiful Balthazar Design Hotel.

I booked us a one-bedroom suite at the hotel but I didn’t expect us to actually have two luxurious rooms to ourselves. The freebies were fantastic! I need to remember to book Room 202 in case we decide to run this race again.

We picked up the race bib first.

The registration fee included access to the pasta party.

Th afternoon was spent walking around the historic center.

We returned to the hotel to explore our second room.

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We were up early to be ready for the race that started at the historic center. The race had a time limit of six hours.

I passed the 10K mat at 1:12:58, the half marathon mat at 2:35:47, the 30K mat at 3:51:39, the 40K mat at 5:18:36, and finally the finish line at 5:37:17.

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We indulged and paid 100 pls zlt cab going back to the airport. We flew to Warsaw at 18:05, then onward to Brussels, arriving at 10:05 PM.

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EMF Edinburgh Marathon Festival 2019

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The Golden Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The EMF Marathon Festival 2019 was a huge event of the city. We flew Ryanair to Edinburgh on the morning of Saturday, May 26, 2019. The Airlink 100 bus took us straight to the main train station. From there, it was a few minutes’ walk to Travelodge off of the Golden Mile.

It was too early to pick up our bib so we walked the Golden Mile street up to the Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, it was already closed by the time we got there.

Bib pick-up was at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association by Potterow.

Early dinner followed shortly.

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Race start was at 10:00 AM on Potterow on Sunday, May 26, 2019. This was near where we picked up my bib.

The weather was overcast and the route was interesting.

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We finished the race at Pinkie Playing Fields. Buses were waiting to take us back to the city center. Richard was already waiting for me with the luggage so it was straight to the airport where I changed

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Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon 2019

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The start line at the Stormont estate in Dublin, Northern Ireland.

The Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon 2019 completed the challenge I set for myself in running a marathon in each of the four countries of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland).

We took the train from Jurbise to Brussels Midi to Amsterdam Schipol Airport station after work on Friday, May 3, 2019. It was a short walk to Citizen M Airport Hotel for an overnight stay. The room was compact but comfortable. We were up early on Saturday to catch our easyJet flight to Dublin at 9:40 AM.

Arriving at Dublin required a stamp on our passports. After going through immigration, we took the Airport Express bus to the city center. Bus 300a let us off at Belfast Europa Bus Center and took about an hour, 11 pounds return.

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We walked the short distance to Hilton Belfast Lanyon a kilometer away.

They already mailed me my race bib so we did not have to worry about going to the race expo. Instead, we walked around the nearby area to see the city center.

We had a late lunch and dinner at St. George’s Market a block away from the hotel.

A shuttle bus at Belfast City Hall picked up runners from 7:00 – 8:00 AM on race morning which was Sunday, May 5, 2019. The city hall was just around the corner from our hotel.

The start line was at the Stormont estate.

We took off at 9:00 AM. The race had a six hour time limit with the finish line at Ormeau Park.

The course had the usual refreshments at the aid stations. The weather was cool so I was bundled up but other runners were running just wearing their singlets.

This year’s marathon made headlines in the country because the course was longer by 500 meters! Apparently the lead vehicle took a wrong turn and took us out of the race course before getting back on. Ah! Good thing they adjusted my official time from 5:52:28 to 5:47:55.

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Buses were also available to take us back to the city center. Richard was already checked out and waiting for me to take the same bus 300a back to the airport for our flight at 18:45.

Arrival at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at 21:20 meant we couldn’t make the connecting train to Brussels Midi. We had a private car pick us up to take us back to Jurbise station where we left our car.

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Ret Riga Marathon 2019

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The history center of Riga, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Latvia is situated between two other Balkan countries, Lithuania and Estonia. More than half of its land is forest and the Baltic features of its women are in great demand in the modelling world.

We flew to Riga with airBaltic on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 9:40 AM and arrived at 13:05. A fixed rate cab ride (30 euros) took us directly to our Grand Palace Hotel.

After dropping off our luggage in the room, we walked to Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija to pick up my bib. Take note there are two Radisson Blus in the same street. The correct one was at 55 Elizabetes street.

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Bib in hand, we walked around the historic center, a UNESCO heritage site.

It was an early dinner and bed that night to be ready for the race.

We woke up early to have breakfast before the race. Champagne was available!

After stuffing myself, we headed out to the race start just a block away. I met up with my friend Jim. We first met him at Mont Saint Michel in France. We didn’t get to see each other but we ran the Amsterdam marathon in the Netherlands that same year, and met up after the Swiss City Marathon in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Race start was at 8:39 AM with a six hour time limit. After the race, we took another cab to the airport to catch our 16:40 flight back to Brussels. We were back in country by 18:05.

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Ranscombe Challenge & Teddy Bears Picnic Challenge 2019

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The stunning Medway and North Kent views from the Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve.

We were scheduled to fly to the Philippines that weekend. However, the temptation to run a double marathon weekend was too strong to resist. I gave in and signed up for these races with Saxons, Vikings, and Normans Running.

We got the travel route from Belgium to the UK down to a T by now. I was already off for the summer by the afternoon of Friday, June 21, 2019. We took the train from Soignies station this time to Brussels Midi station, switched to the Eurostar train to London St. Pancras station, and the local trains for Strood station. From Strood, it was an easy walk to RBS Hotel.

Check-in was a breeze. There were several restaurants and restaurants in the area. We walked to Asda Strood Supermarket for an easy dinner and tucked in for an early night.

The Ranscombe Summer Challenge was the first race on Saturday. An Uber car took me to the gates of Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve. The race headquarters was only a few meters away.

Race start was at 8:00 AM. I checked in and picked up my bib which I wore for the whole weekend. A quick prerace briefing and milestone acknowledgments followed before we took off. We followed the green course for this race. The route was hilly but stunningly beautiful with the poppies and daisies in full bloom and an expansive view of the farm to soothe the mind. As per SVN races, this was a multi-loop course. We had to finish seven laps to complete a marathon and get a medal. Actually, runners get a medal as long as we finish a lap. Some did just a lap, a half marathon, or an ultra within the eight-hour time limit and got their medals. One reason why I like this group. It is very inclusive of all runners.  I took my time as always and finished in 7:05:44. I accepted my medal and goodie bag and took another Uber back to the hotel.

I had an appointment waiting for me when I got back to the hotel. My sister Arlene and her husband Stuart were already in the area. They live in the Kent area and were very familiar with Rochester. We drove around Rochester for a while, had our photo taken at the Rochester castle, then settled in at one of the Italian restaurants for dinner. We could not stay long and chat. I had to rest to be able to run the race next day.

The Teddy Bear Picnic Challenge followed the same format and rules, but using the red route this time. We had to complete six loops to finish a marathon distance and get the medal. I finished the race in almost the same time as the day before, in 7:04:49.

I took another Uber car back to the hotel where I took a shower and got ready for our long flight back to the Philippines at 10:20 PM via Philippine Airlines.

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Siargao International Marathon 2019

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Our next marathon was back in the Philippines in northeastern Mindanao! Siargao island has been making quite a name for itself in the tourism scene as the country’s premiere surfing destination. The island was also the subject of a Filipino movie entitled, what else, Siargao.

Although I was born and raised in the Philippines, I’ve never been to Siargao myself. I signed up for the 3rd Siargao International Marathon 2019 and took this as an opportunity to visit and see the latest tourist destination for myself.

Richard and I took the Philippine Airlines flight to Cebu early in the morning of Friday, July 12, 2019. We had a three-hour layover before our connecting 45-minute flight to Siargao.

We exited the small Sayak airport and proceeded to the Globe Telecoms tent to pick up the race kit.

 

Siargao Bleu Resort and Spa provided the van service that took us to General Luna on the other side of the island.

Our room was not quite ready for us when we arrived. We had a late lunch in their restaurant and waited out the monsoon rains that afternoon.

The welcome gift was a full bottle of Siargao Rum. Nice!

 

We deposited our luggage in the room and set out to find snacks for later.

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The kit included the race shirt, a Gatorade handheld water bottle, and the bib.

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Tricycles fare was P20 per person per way around General Luna. The tricycle driver recommended Tag Grocery but the road was flooded.

 

He drove us to the other convenience store to buy stuff and we stopped at the market to get some mangoes. They were cheap at P120 per kilo, small, but very sweet.

 

On the way back to the hotel, good thing I checked the race website again. I found out that the race was on Saturday morning and not Sunday! The race organizer Runrio had a shuttle service that picked up runners in the morning for P350 per person. I texted my confirmation and received an immediate reply that yes, I was in their list and to be ready for pickup at 2:00 AM.

We booked a relaxing couple’s massage for P1,520 at Bleu Spa that evening and ate dinner at their restaurant again. We needed to go to bed early for the race the following morning.

I was up at 1:00 AM on Saturday, July 13, 2019 and ready before 2:00 AM. The van promptly picked me up.

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We proceeded to make the rounds and picked up 10 more runners. We were at the race site by 3:00 AM.

We had two hours before the 5:00 AM start time. A local fitness instructor led the warm-up while the announcer made regular announcements. Cut-off time was 12:00 noon or seven hours but the announcer kept saying the cut-off time was six hours. I talked to one of the organizers to remind him that the race was advertised with a seven-hour time limit. He apologized and promised to fix the announcement.

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Electricity went out just a few minutes before the start time. Richard called me shortly after and asked me if I felt the earthquake. I didn’t because we were busy doing the warm-up routine. I found out later that the 5.5 earthquake hit the southern part of the province, Surigao del Sur.

We toed the starting line in the dark and took off at 5:00 AM. The dawn was just a few minutes away. I knew that I would have to take my time in this race because of the heat.

The course was out and back, with quite a few hills to boot. The aid stations had water; some had Gatorade and bananas. The turn around point was in front of the local church. At that point, the heat and humidity was at its peak. I had to stop at some sari-sari stores to buy ice to cool me down.

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I walked and ran, and gratefully crossed the finish line in 6:23. My ride back to the hotel had already left. A habal-habal driver wanted to charge me P500 for the ride back. Good thing there was another runner going to General Luna. We decided to split the fare and the driver agreed. We hopped on his motorbike and made our way back. It was a bumpy 1.5 hour ride back. I was so stiff by the time I got back!

 

I took my shower and rested for a bit. Dinner was at the highly-recommended local restaurant Mama’s Grill.

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We slept in on Sunday and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Checkout was at 11:00 AM.

 

We booked a tricycle to take us to Cloud 9 nearby, one of the surfing areas of the island. It was low tide and we didn’t see a lot of waves.

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We hung out at the area for a while until it was time to go back to the hotel for our shuttle service back to the airport.

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Black Knight Run Challenge 2019 & Punk Run Challenge 2019

Street view of the Penistone area.

We flew with Ryanair out of Charleroi Brussels South Airport to Manchester on Saturday morning, May 11, 2019. The 10:05 flight was short and sweet, landing at 10:30 because of the one hour difference with England time.

The 10:47 train at the airport took us to Huddersfield, then to Penistone. We walked the rest of the way to Old Crown Inn where we were staying. The room rate was cheap at 30 pounds a night, and it showed why in the details.

The Black Knight Challenge Marathon started at 2:00 PM at  St. John’s Community Centre on Church Street, Penistone, Sheffield S36, 6AR. The race director Travis did the usual pre-race announcement and briefing before we took off.

I took my time and finished six 6.55 mile loops to complete the marathon distance in 6:16:52.

The Punk Run Challenge the next day started at 9:00 AM. I was even slower this time, finishing in 6:24:20. I did race course duties (course check) so I completed one lap an hour early.

I love the atmosphere and friendly attitude of everyone involved in the races. The 39.95 pounds registration per race is truly worth it.

Richard checked us out of the inn and waited for me at the finish line. We walked to the Penistone train station to catch the train to Hudderfield at 3:20 PM, then to the airport, arriving at 5:07 PM

The flight back to Charleroi was at 18:30, arriving at 20:55.

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Hulu Langat Marathon 2019

One of the breathtaking views along the race route in Hulu Langat.

Summer marathons are events to look forward to. This is the season for us to try races in Asia since we are already in the region. I found the information for the Hulu Langat Marathon on the Ahotu Marathons website and quickly signed up back in the spring when I figured out the logistical details were not complicated.

We flew via Philippine Airlines from Manila to Kuala Lumpur on Friday, July 5, 2019. As a frequent traveler using budget airlines, I forgot that the ticket fare full meals on board. I enjoyed my chicken meal and relaxed for the three and a half hour flight.

We arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and immediately proceeded to the airport taxi counter. The taxi fare was 140 MYR or US$35 at the current conversion rate of 4 MYR to US$1. The Grab car hailing service in the ASEAN region started in Malaysia but it didn’t cross my mind to book a Grab car until later.

It took us about an hour from the airport to Shangri-la hotel, our accommodation for this trip. We checked in quickly and rested for a few hours.

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The hotel has a free shuttle service to the Suria KLCC Mall beside the Petronas Towers at specific intervals during the day. We hopped on the 5:00 PM service and got off right in front of the luxury mall. We spent the evening browsing stores and checking out the two supermarkets before deciding on a quick dinner at the food court.

It was an easy 10-minute walk back to the hotel. What do you know? HBO is showing Entrapment, the Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones art heist movie set inside the Petronas Tower. Richard stayed up to watch the whole movie.

Shangri-la buffet breakfasts are always  lavish and the Kuala Lumpur version was no exception. I could stay here and just eat all day!

A short run at the fitness center was in order after the full breakfast. I did not run at all since my last race in Rochester in the UK two weeks ago. My joints needed some loosening up!

It was afternoon by the time we were ready to venture out into the city. We booked a Grab car to visit the nearby Batu Caves. The popular Hindu temple attraction itself is only 100 years old but the lime formations surrounding the temple is said to be 400 million years old. I decided not to go up the 200 steps into the caves itself knowing that I have a marathon to run tomorrow.

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The scene at the temple grounds was interesting. Monkeys were running around and grabbing food from tourists, pigeons were swooping in to grab the scraps, and tourists were buying more food to give to monkeys and pigeons!

We took another Grab car to take us to the Suria KLCC Mall. We got off in front of the Petronas Towers for a photo op first. We also came back in the evening for an night shot of Kuala Lumpur’s iconic symbol.

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Back to the hotel for an early night.

We were up at 2:00 AM to get ready for the race and out the door by 3:00 AM. The Grab ride took about 40 minutes (65 MYR) to the race headquarters, the SJK Choon Hwa in Hulu Langat. Richard took me to the race start and took the same car back to the hotel.

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I picked up my race bib and waited quietly for the race to begin. The race was organized by Malaysia Ultra Running. I expected a small race but was pleasantly surprised to see more than 300 runners taking part in the marathon. Some of the runners just wore socks and slippers.

We took off running at 4:30 AM. It was still dark and would remain dark until around 6:30 AM. Once it was light, I could not help but ooh and aah with the scenery along the road.

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Runners started off nice and easy before the fast ones found their grove and hit the speed button. I took my time, confident in the eight hour time limit but knowing that it will not be a flat course. I also noticed that the Muslim runners stopped running at dawn and did their morning prayers right on the side of the road. They packed up and resumed running afterwards. The route had two turn around points with timing mats.

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The aid stations were impressive. What impressed me most was not the usual plentiful bottled water and 100 Plus energy drinks but the fresh fruits at the selected stations. We had bananas, jackfruit, rambutan, coconut, watermelon, and durian! I grew up in the Philippines and am familiar with the durian but I just couldn’t imagine eating durian during the race. They were opening fresh coconuts and serving them to runners with straws. Love this race!

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It was raining intermittently, helping us cool down and make the race pleasant. At around noon, the sun decided to peek through and it became hot.

I crossed the finish line in 6:31:01. They gave us our medals and finisher shirts. We had our pick of sweetened tofu, jackfruit, and rice meal.

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I luckily chanced on a Grab car nearby who took me back to Shangri-la hotel for 40 MYR.

Richard was waiting for me and walked me back up to our room. I took a shower and rested for a while. It was back to the now familiar Suria KLCC Mall where we got some fruits and chips at Cold Storage and Isetan, and takeaway at the food court.

It was time to fly back to Manila before we knew it. We took the noon flight on Monday, July 8, 2019.

I truly enjoyed this race. The registration fee was very reasonable, the route was interesting, and most importantly, the race organizers took very good care of us. I hope to be back to run this race again.

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