On September 2nd I arrived in Bali for the third time, my second visit that will be a month long. This time before deciding what month I was going to come for my dad sent me an email asking if I wanted to do a race while I was here and at first I thought yeah sure and then I saw the race – the Bromo Marathon, he wanted to do the ½ with me – a race in a village in East Java called Wonokitri. I had a look at the race which takes place in an area surrounded by volcanos, it was basically all hills and when you get there you are already 1,877 meters above sea level. I said hell no. Then I thought about it for a bit and asked Twitter whether I was crazier to do it, or not to do it and the general consensus which I was already coming around to on my own was that I would be crazy not to.
Last Friday, five of us including my dad’s training buddy Ian, my mom and their pembantu Gede, packed ourselves into the Toyota Avanza and took off on the 10+ hour journey to find our home stay in a village not far from the start of the race called Ngadiwono. We took an old rickety ferry that isn’t really designed for the type of current on the ocean from Bali to East Java, the ride there was fine, calm, nice and beautiful even though they run so many ferries at once you end up sitting out on the ocean for longer than it takes to go across waiting for a dock to open.
It was shocking how much cleaner East Java is than Bali, there isn’t rubbish all over the place and the driving is almost civilized. Almost. It was a long haul before we even started to head into the mountains. Once we got to the town of Bromo the road got crazy. Steep and narrow barely big enough for one vehicle with massive drop offs and switchbacks. We knew how to get to Bromo but we didn’t know exactly where our home stay was because my dad was unable to get ahold of the guy in Ngadiwono for reasons we were soon to find out. We pulled into a rest area so Gede could get the directions to the village and suddenly about six Javanese men descended on the vehicle. They told us that we were at the end of the line and that to go any further we had to pay for a driver in an offroad jeep to take us the rest of the way. Something just didn’t feel right and we had no idea what was going on.
Apparently, if we wanted to drive into the village by ourselves we would have to go a completely different way and it was going to add about three more hours to our trip and we didn’t have many hours of daylight left. We decided that we would park the car and pay a guy to drive us in and we finally managed to get ahold of the home stay owner for final directions.
Nowhere on the race website did it say that we would have to 4 x 4 into the place or pay to do so. Around this time my anxiety started to rear its ugly head, I was already feeling so out of my element and now I felt like we were lost in the middle of the wilderness with no way of knowing if we were being ripped off or not. My dad kept saying over and over again that it was all part of the adventure (which of course it was!) but it was driving me insane because I just don’t have any control over suddenly feeling like I was going to have a panic attack and burst into tears and other various idiosyncrasies. Although we would have taken the other route had we known about it, it turned out to be a damn good thing that we didn’t.
We all piled into the jeep and the road did quickly become worse, who knew that was even possible, then at the bottom of one particularly steep hill we found ourselves entering a volcanic sand desert surrounded by mountains. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The weather on the way in was hazy but the views were still amazing and we quickly realized that our vehicle would not have stood a chance and we’d have ended up stuck with no idea which direction to go. Once we came out of the desert and got back onto the road we were able to see parts of the course. It was steep, the uphill and the downhill. By this point I was so in awe of my surroundings that my anxiety started to leave me alone, race nerves were a different story.
Our home stay was in an extremely remote village with only one warung (place to eat) literally no cell service and there was some sort of festival on that the music for was so loud that the vibrations were shaking the entire house from first thing in the morning into the wee hours of the night, and of course it ended on Sunday when the race was already over, not to mention it was freezing cold. I’d been warned that it would not be warm where we were going, thankfully I had brought my hoodie and my pants or I’d have been even more cold than I already was, we figure it was around 15 degrees or less. We had checked the weather report for the village that the race started in but not for the one that we were staying in and even though they were only about a twenty minute drive apart the temperature difference was drastic. Sleeping was tough, even though we all slept with earplugs they only block out sound not vibrations.
The warung where we had to eat was scary dirty. I was terrified of getting sick. Adam had a case of Bali Belly last time he was here and the images of how sick he was were flashing over and over again in my mind. Later, I found out my dad was just as terrified to eat the food there but didn’t say anything as to not freak any of us out anymore than we already were. We had brought some of our own food with us, spaghetti for our dinner before the race, soup and some other sundries. We didn’t know what would be available or if the house would have a fridge or usable stove, blankets, we had no idea. It turned out that while the house did not have a fridge that it had everything else we needed, including warm blankets. Given that the house was made out of cement there were times when it was actually much warmer outside than inside but there was no escaping the festival noise. It was just bad timing on our part, there are always festivals going on here and ceremonies it is all part of the culture and it is wonderful to see but in this case we needed rest for the race.
Finally, race morning arrived. I tried really hard to bring everything, including my own packaged oatmeal from Canada so that I could keep my race preparation routine as similar to home as possible. I have only travelled for one other race in my life and it was to Kelowna for a half marathon and that was in 2002. I also brought my greens to help clean me out in the morning because my main concern was shitting myself. Last time I ran in Bali there was one day that I ate my lunch a bit late in the afternoon and at about the halfway point on a run with my dad my ass felt like it was going to explode; I came the closest I have ever come to shitting myself on that run and had to use a bathroom in a convenience store before I knew the ways of properly washing after a shit in an Indonesian toilet and let’s just leave it at how thankful I was that I made it to a toilet.
Getting to the start of the race was super easy, they had free shuttles set up from all of the surrounding villages. We still can’t figure out how they fit 1,500 runners from 39 different countries up there but somehow they did. This was the second year that this race was being held and it grew from 900 to 1,500. Considering how many more people they had and the small area in which it took place I was really impressed with the organization and the volunteers. The only organizational problem we ran into was trying to get back to our village the day prior to the race when we picked up our packages.
The marathoners were supposed to go off at 7:00 am and there was only about a 15 minute delay which didn’t affect the half, we went off on time. In fact, we were still in line to get into the corral when the gun went off. It took a good 2k for the race to spread out and to get by the slower runners who had packed themselves at the front, some people were walking straight off the gun.
We figure that the only part of this race that was actually flat was the very start and coming into the finish. There was zero relief from hills whether up or down. I had a small stitch in my lower abdomen less than a kilometer in, at first I wasn’t worried about it and assumed it was just nerves or that I hadn’t had enough water with my gel shot that I had taken a little bit late. It went away on the left side and spread to the right and then it seemed to disappear. My body felt good until my lower shins on both legs started to ache but I was expecting that because I was running as many hills as I could in Vancouver before I left and as most people know once again this was a race I was doing coming off of a stress fracture and didn’t have enough time to train for properly. I did the best I could with the time I had but I knew that meant that I would suffer some shin pain.
Disaster almost struck around the 9k mark, a spectator pulled me off the course to get a photo with me which I loved but my dad noticed a truck aiming right for me and yelled out with only seconds to spare, I was almost road pizza. I high fived so many children, policemen and spectators in general. That is one of my favourite things about running here, the people are simply amazing.
When we were closing in on 10k they were handing out medical face masks and even though we knew that there must be a reason for them, we didn’t take them. We had already run through a lot of sand and I wasn’t having any trouble with my breathing, nor was my dad or Ian. But then we hit what was to be the craziest hill I have ever seen and not only was it sand but it was narrow and they weren’t stopping motor bikes from driving on the trail and the kickback was ridiculous and by this point my small stitch was back and had spread, now it went from the base of my ribcage all the way to the bottom of my abdomen. It was bad. After a few kilometers of running up through the sand there was another station where they were again handing out masks, this time the three of us took them. My dad wasn’t able to run with one on, Ian didn’t last long in his but I left mine on until we hit pavement again.
By the time we hit the pavement and the last uphill stretch I was not doing well, the stitch had slowed me to what felt like a crawl, my gait was off and I was kicking myself to the point that both ankles were bloody, the cuts are small but super deep. My dad had said he was finishing with me no matter what but he was able to bomb down the last 4k plus hill, where as I was running and then trying to walk but it was too steep to walk, running was actually easier but every time my left foot hit the pavement pain shot through my whole left side and my legs were simply killing me by this point. My dad waited for me with about 500 meters to the finish but because the kilometer markers were so off, I was refusing to run thinking I had over a kilometer left, he convinced me that the finish was RIGHT THERE and by this time I could hear the finish and picked my pace back up and we came across the finish arms raised hand in hand. After who even knows how many races we have ran together we finally finished together. Ian had an incredible run, I hardly knew the guy at all but was so proud of him, not only was this his first half marathon but it was his first race ever and he killed it. I couldn’t believe what I had just ran, last year the fastest time for the half was 1:54:xx and this year the winning time was actually slower with a time of 1:56:xx with only two runners going under 2 hours in the half. I do not know how but I somehow managed to come 23rd out of 218 women. My dad is convinced that had it not been for the stitch that I would have been top 10 and although I am not in any way upset with my finish I do agree with him. There is no way that I can be upset about any part of that race, I worked my ass off just to get there and it was my very first international race. I came across in 2:57:58 and am damn proud of my slowest half ever.
Almost immediately upon finishing my feet started to cramp, this had never happened to me before, my toes started to curl and pull on my achilles. At one point in the race my left foot had cramped and started to pull but I managed to get it to stop. Now I could not get the cramping to stop in both feet and legs and there wasn’t a massage/stretching station open so I simply had to work it out on my own. It took at least an hour and it hurt like hell. I thought for sure my achilles and calves were going to be screwed in the morning but I got really lucky and didn’t actually pull anything.
We were supposed to stay one more night in Ngadiwono but because we’d had little sleep and were freezing we decided to head out to the nearest city to find a hotel. The weather on the drive out was amazing, nothing like coming in, it was clear as clear could be, we had asked the driver to stop so that we could hike to the top of the Bromo volcano which is very active, the last time it erupted was in 2011. It seems crazy that I ran a half marathon of that caliber and then hiked to the top of another volcano, aside from the hike across the desert there were also over 200 stairs to get to the caldera. The views were out of this world, the race was already a once in a lifetime experience and now here I was standing on the edge of an active volcano, you could hear it rumbling and you could smell the sulfur and feel the sand in your teeth. My mom and Ian took a horse up as far as the horses went but my dad and I hiked. I hadn’t walked enough after the half so I wasn’t super worried about it, I figured I needed the walk.
The race, the hike up the volcano, I could not have asked for anything more. Even my dad who has traveled and run races on all 7 continents said this race was one of the best experiences he had ever had and not falling into the volcano or having my dad sacrifice me as joked was just icing on the cake.