Race Review: Penang Bridge International Marathon 2017 (PBIM 2017)

Since its inception in 1986, Penang Bridge International Marathon has gained popularity over the years. Organised by Penang State Tourism Development Committee, this year's PBIM 2017, held on 26 November 2017, attracted 35,000 runners from 85 countries competing in four categories (full marathon, half marathon, 10km run and 8km fun run) with cash prizes totalling RM259,200.

Over the last few years, Penang Bridge International Marathon has been plagued with many complaints from participants about the poor management of the race as well as the focus on quantity instead of quality.

The sad thing is, most constructive feedbacks over the years have fallen into death ears of the organiser.  The organiser is not listening to the plea and pains of the runners. And the quality of the marathon has continued to deteriorated over the years.

I know of some seasoned runners who have already boycotted Penang Bridge International Marathon since a few years back.

But due to the rare opportunity to run on the Penang Bridge, plus the attraction of holidaying in the beautiful Penang Island with all the good yummy street food, Penang Bridge International Marathon still continues to draw large participation!

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why organising committee (Penang State Tourism Development Committee) has become so ignorant  and lived in their self-denial world thinking they have done an awesome job in the execution of the marathon!

Local daily newspapers have highlighted the complaints and feedback from the runners over the last few days. And now it's already 3 days after the event. Yet there no official apology from the organiser  about the mishaps made.

The ugly truths about PBIM 2017

  • Not enough medals
  • Wrong T-shirt sizes
  • Expired chocolates
  • 2-3 hours of waiting for food
  • long queue and hours to collect medals
  • Not enough water after finish
  • a 17-year-old girl who had won the second prize in her category was not given the honour of receiving her prize on stage
  • water stations ran out of water and isotonic drinks
  • Finishing line crowded with people - no dedicated line for different categories
  • Announcement of availability of race results when it wasn't ready
  • No apology made by organiser for the poor organisation and management 
  • Booths left unattended with runners waiting for their medal and T-shirts
Organisations who represent runners and sporting associations have called on Penang to select a professional organising outfit to host next year's Penang Bridge International Marathon after this year's running event was marred with various allegations of technical glitches and an unsystematic approach.

How about my own race experience?

I participated in Penang Bridge International Marathon 2 years ago in 2015. This year was my second time.

I actually didn't like my first PBIM race experience back in 2015. Nothing to do with the organisation but more of the 1:30am flag-off time that I wasn't used to! Too early or rather too late! No proper sleep granted the odd starting hour. But since I wanted to experience running on Penang Bridge so badly, I decided to give it a shot. I ended up finishing my run with a rather poor time of 4 hours 16 minutes. Seriously, I'd think that running Penang Bridge needs the strongest of mental strength because it could become rather boring and mentally challenging running on the endless bridge road in the wee hours.

"Supposedly" a redemption run

I decided to sign up again this year because I wanted to prove to myself that I could overcome the odd 1:30am flag off time and the challenging but boring race route.

It was supposed to be my "redemption" run for my poor timing in 2015!

Unfortunately, I had too much fun running in the rain for 42 km in Taiwan 2 weeks ago. And I also had lots of fun walking in the rain in Taipei 2 weeks ago. I didn't realise that even after I took a good rest after back from Taiwan, I still fell sick with flu and cold.

And the stubborn me still decided to do a slow 12 km run on Nov 19, the Sunday between my Taiwan marathon and PBIM 2017, with my weak body!

And I my flu / cold condition got worse thereafter even after taking medication. When I arrived in Penang on Friday night (Nov 24), I was thinking of DNS and just enjoying Penang holiday. The whole Saturday I was also contemplating with the idea of DNS due to my body condition. I had chill all over my body despite the fact that I was sweating as I walked in Penang streets.

But again, the stubborn me - never took heed of what my body was trying to tell me - and still decided to proceed with the run.

Oh well - I had to then bear the consequences of my stubbornness! It serves me right! lol!

Race entry pack collection 

I opted for post delivery and received it weeks before the race. The race entry pack was in good condition including the right T-shirt size.

RapidPenang shuttle bus service

I stayed at KOMTAR area this time so that I could experience the RapidPenang shuttle bus service to race venue QueensBay Mall. I paid RM2 during registration for the to-and-fro shuttle bus service. The journey from KOMTAR to QueensBay Mall drop-off area took about 35 minutes. And it took us another 20 minutes to walk from the drop-off area to race venue.

Overall I had a very good experience - both going to race venue and back from race venue.


Since I arrived early around 11:40pm, I had a chance to catch up with my school friend from Alor Setar. I still felt the chill in my body and I knew I would be suffering later. To keep myself warm and also to cover me from the rain, I decided to wear a cap.

I wasn't in good mood to look around for friends. I was in a depressed state at that time with a sick body. Mentally and physically I was simply too weak. I felt body chill on and off even as I waited at the start line.

Oh well,  I was already at the start line. I would not want to back down and DNS now.

I told myself that worse comes to worse, I would stop half way and take ambulance back! haha!

KM 0-2 : Congestion

  • 0-1 km. : 6:52 min/km
  • 1-2 km  : 6:08 min/km
I usually stand not far from the start line. But at PBIM 2017, I decided to stay behind, way behind.😀 I just wanted to blend in and run at my own pace not knowing how my body would take it. Since the road from Queensbay Mall leading to the main road was rather narrow, it was rather congested and crowded. But it's ok with me as I wasn't planning to run fast anyway. But deep down in my heart, I wish I could be in front and still run faster than my PBIM 2015's time.

I was running slowly smacked amongst the runners due to congestion and also for me to feel how my body would react to the run. It was only the beginning of a long long long 42 km journey!

KM 2-6 : Catching up

  • 2-3 km  : 5:41 min/km
  • 3-4 km  : 5:36 min/km
  • 4-5 km  : 5:21 min/km
  • 5-6 km  : 5:17 min/km
Even though I still had body chill and flu, the "stubbornness" and "competitiveness" in me pushed me to do some catch up after 2 km.

You know, the 5:00 hour pacers, 4:30 hour pacers, 4:00 hour pacers were still in front of me at that point.

There was a U-turn at KM 4.75 with the road cones as dividers manned by a few volunteers. I remember 2 years ago, we ran at the other side of the road after u-turn. Therefore, there wasn't any confusion.

This year was bad.  The runners running towards the U-turn would be bumping into those turning back from KM 4.75 to KM 6.5 stretch since there was no divider at all.

I also overheard a conversion between two runners:

Runner A, "Hey, I thought you were behind me. How come now you are in front of me."
Runner B," No las, I overtook you mah. You didn't see meh."
Runner A, "It's impossible. I would have seen you overtaking me. How come now you are in front of me already?"

The matter of fact is, for some runners, they didn't go all the way to KM 4.75 for the u-turn. Sigh! I think they were just cheating themselves for the short cuts!

Anyway, I was trying my best to faster to do some catch up. I didn't look at my Garmin GPS Watch though. I was just running by feel in the hope of seeing some "pacer balloons" in front of me.

KM 6-19 : Trying hard to move into Sub 4-hour pace

  • 6-7 km    : 5:30 min/km
  • 7-8 km    : 5:24 min/km
  • 8-9 km    : 5:28 min/km
  • 9-10 km  : 5:29 min/km
  • 10-11 km : 5:30 min/km
  • 11-12 km : 5:20 min/km
  • 12-13 km : 5:27 min/km
  • 13-14 km : 5:22 min/km
  • 14-15 km : 5:33 min/km
  • 15-16 km : 5:20 min/km
  • 16-17 km : 5:37 min/km
  • 17-18 km : 5:51 min/km
  • 18-19 km : 5:45 min/km
After a while, I couldn't hold on to that pace anymore. Then I settled for slower pace.

I started to see 5:00 hour pacers, then 5:30 hour pacers and 4:30 hour pacers in front of me.

I knew I had to run slow with my body condition. But deep inside my heart, I still wanted to try my best to see how much I could stretch myself before breaking down.

I then ran past 5:00 hour pacers, then 5:30 hour pacers and finally 4:30 hour pacers.

At that point, I was feeling a relief.  I didn't want to run a time worse than 4 hours and 30 minutes. You know - Oprah Winfrey ran 4:30 and I must be able to do better! :) By the way, Oprah Winfrey has been my inspiration to do my first sub 4:30 few years back. She continues to inspire me at PBIM2017.

As. I continued to run, I saw Allan, Jerry and Intan on the way.

I was thinking if I could keep up with this pace, I might still be able to finish the race within 4:30.

Then at KM 13 or so, there was a u turn. And I saw white balloons on the other side of the road! I was thinking, "Could that be 4:00 hour pacers?"

True enough, that was 4:00 hour pacer with the white balloon! but I saw only one balloon, not sure about the other two 4:00 hour pacers. I guess they were way in front.

Suddenly, I become very motivated! I thought perhaps I still had a chance to chase after sub 4:00 time  despite my poor physical condition. Perhaps I just ignored what my body was trying to tell me I could use my mental strength to overcome my body weakness.

From then onwards, I had my eyes set on the 4:00 hour "white balloon". At times the balloon seemed far but occasionally it seemed close when the pacer stopped at water station. I was trying hard to do catch up. Very very hard indeed! My lung was bursting but I still tried my best!

How could I be so stubborn?

KM 19-29 : The Voice

  • KM 19-20 : 6:24 min/km
  • KM 20-21 : 6:57 min/km
  • KM 21-22 : 6:04 min/km
  • KM 22-23 : 7:22 min/km
  • KM 23-24 : 6:25 min/km
  • KM 24-25 : 6:32 min/km
  • KM 25-26 : 7:40 min/km
  • KM 26-27 : 6:50 min/km
  • KM 27-28 : 6:42 min/km
  • KM 28-29 : 6:32 min/km
At KM 18, we were running onto Penang Bridge. And I was starting to lose my energy. My pace dropped drastically.

Even though the weather was rather cooling with sea breeze blowing, my body was sweating profusely yet I felt the chill on my body from the wind! I know this wasn't right!

By this time, the 4:00 hour pacer balloon was further and further away. It seemed to disappear  into the Penang Bridge horizon!

By the time I reached KM 20, I totally gave up chasing!

By the time I reached KM 20, I saw an ambulance on the side and I felt like I wanted to DNF and go back with the ambulance already.

By the time I reached KM 20, I saw a runner making u-turn to the other side of the bridge and started to walk back. I felt like I wanted to join him!

I felt like a deflated balloon! So disappointed, demotivated and no purpose to continue running anymore.

At KM 22, I decided to stop longer at water station. I stood near the bridge to look into the sky, the views and the sea. I fell into deep thoughts.

I shook myself out of disappointment and continued to run - even though my feet was feeling very heavy already.

Then suddenly, I burst into tears!

My tears flew uncontrollably.

I was so tired - physically and mentally. I felt so useless and not knowing what I was doing.

Then I heard a voice,
"You have done well! Don't push yourself too hard! Don't put too much expectation on yourself!" I'm well pleased with you! I also know you sacrificed your own needs and quit your job to spend more time with your dad. You have done well! Your mom in heaven is very pleased with you!"
Could the voice be from God?

My tears flowed even more.

I have suppressed  so much of my own emotions and needs lately so that I can put my dad first. At times I was still struggling. I felt that I haven't done enough for him. There was a guilt inside me for not spending enough time with mom when she was around. And I wanted to make up for it through spending time with dad. But at the same time, certain decisions that I made need to be with my dad's priority first, resulting in me not able to execute those plans. This internal struggle has been ongoing for a while now.

I also pressured myself to achieve better timing in running, to improve myself further. Even though I knew I should have DNS for PBIM, but I still decided to press on and take the plunge. It was all out of my stupidity and high expectation of myself to strive for better result.

With failures in running and life, it just hit me hard at Penang Bridge. 

Thank God that I saw Chin Tai running past me. I quickly shook myself out of self-sorrow and chatted with him a bit before seeing him running further in front.

From that point onwards, I had no more aim. I just wish I could finish within 4 hours 30 minutes.

I started to look out to the sky, the sea, the night views from Penang Bridge to appreciate God's creations.

I also totally gave up on energy gel, losing count of when I should take it. And I decided to consume it only when I felt tired without following the time of every 45 minutes. 

I continued to be at this stage until KM 28 when we made a u-turn back from Butterworth to Penang Island via Penang Bridge,

KM 29-38 : Feeling like a zombie 

  • KM 29-30 : 7:42 min/km
  • KM 30-31 : 7:50 min/km
  • KM 31-32 : 7:10 min/km
  • KM 32-33 : 7:09 min/km
  • KM 33-34 : 7:21 min/km
  • KM 34-35 : 7:58 min/km 
  • KM 35-36 : 7:20 min/km
  • KM 36-37 : 7:13 min/km
  • KM 37-38 : 7:13 min/km
From 5 minutes plus per km pace, dropped to 6 minutes plus per km pace, then now 7 minutes plus per km pace, I was totally hopeless! Never felt and dropped my speed so much in a long long time! I couldn't even remember when was the last time I felt so bad in a 42 km run.

At KM 34, once again, I stood at the Penang Bridge edge looking down on the sea. If I couldn't run fast, I might as well appreciate the journey and the views! This would be my last time running at Penang Bridge already anyway.

So, this zombie continued to slowly run at the pace of more than seven minutes per km towards finish line!

KM 38-39: Overtaken by sub 4:30 pacers 

  • KM 38-39 : 6:32 min/km
Oh another bummer! Now sub 4:30 pacers passed me by! Oh no! Oh no! oh no! How could that be? Why was I so slow! Does that mean I would be finishing more than 4 hours and 30 minutes? Oh no!!!

I tried very hard to pick up my speed from 7 minutes plus per KM to 6:32 min/km in order to catch up with the pacers. 

But my mind was willing but body was weak. Both feet felt so heavy! I could only manage to do some catch up but slowly they were further and further away from me!!

Another big disappointment hit me! 

By this time, I have counted four ambulances already along the route!! haha! I never counted ambulances in any races! That was my first! 

KM 38 was also the time when we started to run off from Penang Bridge and back to Queensbay Mall.

KM 39 to finish line : Dragging my feet hopelessly

  • KM 39-40 : 7:34 min/km
  • KM 40-41 : 7:57 min/km
  • KM 41-42 : 7:33 min/km
  • KM 42-43 : 7:04 min/km
Oh well - definitely I would finish more than 4 hours and 30 minutes. What else can I do? I could only drag my tiring feet and sick body back to the finish line.

With the finishing at such odd hours in the morning, there was little cheers, little supporters and rather empty venue to run back to! I wish there were some loud cheers to help me do the last push but it was so quiet! I was like running my own race on my own road, walking my own life journey! I felt so alone at that point!

Anyway, I was glad I managed to cross the finish line in one piece with a net time of 4:33:14.

For the record (good or bad)

For the record, I made some memorable "achievements" at PBIM 2017:
  • Personal worst (PW) full marathon in 2017
    • Ran 7 full marathons to date in 2017. Four (4) sub4-hour full marathons and two (2) sub4:30-hour full marathons. PBIM 2017 is the only FM more than 4 hours 30 minutes. Worst of all! Sigh!
  • First FM with more than 4:30-hour in the last 3.5 years
    • The last time I finished a > 4:30-hour full marathon was at Malaka River International Marathon 2014 (June 8, 2014), 3.5 years ago!
  • 6th Personal Worst of all time (since 2012)
    • My personal worst of all time was 5 hours 19 min at The Island Ocean Marathon 2013 on April 23, 2013 in Langkawi.

In summary

My overall experience at PBIM 2017 was great. I didn't experience what some runners experienced on the technical glitches and the unsystematic approach though. The only thing I would want to give feedback was the route change at the u-turn with the cones was a bad idea! It could be improved further. But I also feel for those affected runners. Some of them are my friends too who were affected.  And it's only right that the organising committee listens to the feedback from the runners and improve  in future PBIMs.

PBIM2017 didn't turn out well for me not due to the organisation of the event but more so due to my own sick body and weak physical condition. No excuses though. I only had myself to blame for such poor timing! Who asked me not to take care of myself well?

As for my mission to have redemption, I failed miserably!

Looking at the bright side, I managed to see the beautiful view of Penang from the bridge and experience the feel of having other runners running past me in flocks! :)

I believe there was a purpose for me to run PBIM2017 at my weakest. I needed to be brought to this "breakdown" stage at K 22! So that God could strip me naked of my emotions! So that I know my human limits! So that I could surrender but not give up!

The "voice" with the message really pierced through my heart! It comforts me - not only in my running but in my life!

God has also taught me that my thoughts are not God's thoughts and my ways are not His ways. I shall surrender to His thoughts, His ways and His purposes for me!

I thank God for that.

Will I join Penang Bridge International Marathon again in future? Oh well, even before I ran PBIM2017 not knowing the outcome, I already decided not to run PBIM anymore in future. Twice is enough!

I thank Penang for giving me a chance to run on the beautiful Penang Bridge twice.

I sincerely hope that the organising committee will be committed to make the future events even better so that more people can experience the beautiful Penang Bridge like I have.

Good bye, PBIM! Thank you for all the good memories!

Words : Vincent Khor
Date.   : November 30, 2017


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