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Rising to the challenge

The evolution of a marathon conqueror

Before discovering my passion for running, the early days of my weight loss journey consisted of countless brisk walking sessions.

Fuelled by a determination to challenge myself, progress came when I intensified my runs, covering a modest distance of 2.4 kilometres (km).

Despite the haunting memory of failing to complete a casual run with friends, running became a deeply gratifying experience, offering a sense of freedom and fluidity that provided solace from life’s challenges.

The writer participating in the Los Angeles Marathon in California, United States. PHOTO: FINISHER PIX

My running journey progressed to include a picturesque route along Beribi Industrial Area, bordered by car dealerships and bustling with motorists.

And less than two years later, following the participation in several mixed-distance competitions abroad, I find myself joining a multitude of runners at the renowned Los Angeles Marathon (LA Marathon) in California, United States (US).

A new stretch of road

Since developing a deep interest in the sport, I’ve kept up with global news and updates, including the annual World Marathon Majors (WMM) races.

After completing marathons in Amsterdam and Singapore last year, the idea of tackling a third marathon was always on my mind.

As I researched upcoming events, my focus shifted sharply to the LA Marathon as the thought of revisiting familiar places and reliving fond memories steered my decision.

In the US, registering for races in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago can be notoriously difficult due to qualifying times.

However, similar to Amsterdam, the registration process for the LA Marathon was more accommodating, and I quickly seized the opportunity for a new challenge.

From roadblocks to new horizons

Despite my best efforts to focus solely on completing the race injury-free, there’s always a voice in my head urging me to push my limits and set a new personal record.

As preparations for the LA Marathon progressed smoothly, a sudden setback occurred in the week leading up to the event – I was hit with a bout of diarrhea.

With only days left before my flight, I found myself in a race against time to regain my fitness after missing three days of training.

During that challenging period, I experienced significant weight loss and a decrease in strength, casting doubt on my participation in the race I had been eagerly anticipating since the beginning of the year.

Despite these setbacks, I managed to make the 20-hour journey, including layovers, in good health and with renewed determination to overcome my recent struggles.

Upon clearing customs, I was filled with excitement, feeling like a man on a mission, despite knowing that my immediate agenda was to check in and get some rest.

This anticipation and excitement leading up to a race have always been a part of my experience since becoming a competitive runner.

The uphill stride

As the main race approached, the race pack collection signalled the start of the weekend-long festival, where runners gathered to collect their bibs and shirts.

The sight of Dodger Stadium, the race venue, filled me with excitement and anticipation.

Before any race, I always pay close attention to factors that could affect my performance, such as fatigue and energy levels. Rest becomes crucial to ensure I am at my best on race day.

The reality of participating in the race truly sank in as I queued up for both the 5km and 42km events. Joining the 5km event, known as the LA Big 5K, was a strategic decision to prepare and challenge myself over a shorter distance while aiming for a new personal best.

Inspired by my experience at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), I kicked off my LA Marathon campaign a day early, joining thousands at the start line.

The writer during the Los Angeles Marathon. PHOTO: FINISHER PIX

The favourable weather conditions, a welcome change from the humidity back home, seemed ideal for a personal best.

The race started strong on a flat surface, and everything seemed to align perfectly. However, as the first hill emerged, my pace slowed, dashing my hopes of a new record.

Despite the challenge of the hill inclines, I was pleased with my performance, setting a new season best and achieving my second-fastest time ever, even though I fell short of the record.

Though it may arguably be the toughest course over a 5km distance with all the height of the elevation, the experience lifted both my spirits and confidence for the marathon.

The same night, I followed my ideal pre-race ritual of carb-loading, enjoying a sumptuous feast of two large bowls of pasta.

This was the final step in my months-long preparation and training, consisting mostly of cardio-based sessions complemented with strength training.

It was all fuel, as the next day, it was off to the races for the marathon.

On your mark, get set

Alerted to road closures leading to the race venue, I avoided the risk of being stranded by arriving early.

However, this decision backfired, leaving me outdoors in the cold for hours due to my overeagerness.

Despite the uncomfortable wait and wet benches from the previous night’s light showers, I made the best of the situation by exploring the surroundings of Dodger Stadium, home to the MLB team LA Dodgers.

While finding a dry spot to wait, I noticed a group of people entering the stadium. Confident I wouldn’t be turned away, I was awestruck by the stadium’s luminous yellow seats under the night sky once inside.

As the hours passed and the race start approached, I joined a stream of runners marching forward, ready to embark on a challenging yet thrilling adventure.

Go!

The first few miles of the 26.2-mile race were fairly standard, and I found myself immersed in the bustling sea of runners flooding the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

As the race progressed, the challenges inherent in running a marathon began to surface. My legs grew weary and fearing the worse, I felt my mental resolve slipping under the strain of the race’s duration.

As signs of slowing down emerged, my hopes of setting a new personal best record also began to falter.

However, with the benefit of training and an understanding of the marathon’s demands, I leaned on the tools and techniques I had acquired throughout my running journey to persevere through these challenging moments.

Having travelled from afar and made sacrifices along the way, I reminded myself that quitting was not an option; completing the race was my sole focus.

Despite battling fatigue and muscle wear, I found a renewed sense of form as I marveled at the stunning backdrop of palm trees and picturesque mountaintops adorning the landscape of this iconic city.

Studying the course map carefully, I drew motivation from the prospect of passing the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame around the 10km mark.

When we finally turned into Hollywood. It was a surreal experience to see the world-famous landmark surrounded by fellow runners and cheered on by enthusiastic spectators.

For a moment, we felt like A-listers walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Surely, we would be forgiven for basking in our own brief moment of fame.

As is customary in marathons, the daunting prospect of running on a seemingly endless straight road loomed ahead, strategically placed by the organisers in the final few miles of the race.

This section had the potential to be a make-or-break moment for participants.

A second wind and a personal victory

Checking my smartwatch for my personal best, I saw that breaking the record was within reach based on the estimated finish time.

After overcoming mental and physical hurdles, I consumed my energy gel, regained my rhythm, and felt a surge of rejuvenation, reclaiming my speed.

With the finish line drawing near as we turned into Avenue of the Stars in Century City, I summoned every ounce of determination.

In the final stretch of my inaugural LA Marathon, I sprinted towards the finish line, fuelled by the burning desire to break my personal best.

As I crossed the finish line, my heart pounded with anticipation as the official time of 4:38.11 flashed on the screen. Despite starting late, I anxiously awaited confirmation of my final time.

Checking my results online, I was elated to discover that my official time was 4:26.59, surpassing my previous personal best set of 4:28:06 in Amsterdam.

Adorned in green, I ended the marathon with pride as the finisher’s medal hung around my neck.

Though the race’s end brought a mix of emotions, the experience of running in the US will forever be etched in my memory. – Fadhil Yunus

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