Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Running after dreams

Aspiring marathoner battles extreme exhaustion and self doubt to achieve his goal

The absolute top-notch victory any regular Joe or Jane can savour to the fullest, sprinkled with heaps of gratification and pure elation, is conquering life’s seriously tough hurdles.

I mean, let’s talk about tackling a full-blown marathon. There aren’t many things that can match up to that level of accomplishment, right?

October 15, mark it down, folks – that’s when I officially put the idea of running a marathon being a far-off dream to bed. Yours truly made their big debut at the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Amsterdam Marathon 2023, right in the heart of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Why, you ask? Well, it’s simple: I had an insatiable hunger to etch my name in the history books and push my own boundaries to the limit. This adventure took me on a wild ride, making me question my own instincts along the way.

This meet wasn’t just another race for me; it was my grand European premiere. Up until now, I’d been racing in Malaysia, Singapore and Japan, but this one? It was a game-changer.

For me, the allure of embarking on a gruelling long-distance run, with its potential to bring about significant changes in the body, was simply irresistible. Sure, the thought of throwing in the towel early or battling extreme exhaustion crossed my mind, but the possible rewards far outweighed my initial apprehensions.

As a dedicated runner, participating in a full marathon had always ranked high on my list of aspirations. My newfound passion, nurtured through active competition and diligent training, fuelled this desire. The notion of taking on a marathon first came up during casual conversations with my cousin, who had previously taken part in such races.

As I listened to my cousin’s captivating stories and experiences that had transformed them into a seasoned marathoner, I couldn’t help but become intrigued. It left me pondering whether I should go after my dream.

The year began anew, and I delved into the global marathon schedule. That’s when I started mapping out the blueprint for my marathon journey.

One day, as I casually scrolled through my Instagram feed, a seemingly random post about the TCS Amsterdam Marathon caught my eye. I couldn’t help but click on it, and to my surprise, I found that registration was open to the public.

To be honest, my decision to choose Amsterdam for my debut marathon wasn’t driven by any specific reason. It could have been in the most challenging location on Earth, and I would have registered without hesitation.

Typically, marathons as prestigious as the TCS Amsterdam Marathon operate on a ballot system, making the chances of getting a spot quite slim due to the global interest. Notably, this event has earned the coveted Platinum Label from World Athletics, placing it among the top 12 marathons worldwide.

As I was mapping out my competition schedule, I didn’t waste a second in signing up for what would turn out to be the most significant race of my life. Little did I know back then, six months ago, that this race would not only elevate my status as a runner but also help me discover qualities I didn’t know I possessed.

Just two weeks before the event, I had already broken my personal best during a half marathon at the Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon (KLSCM), so my confidence was riding high.

Looking back at those days leading up to the race, I received advice to scale back my workouts and incorporate lighter sessions like recovery runs, all while maintaining my heart rate in zone 2 (119-130 bpm).

This was perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of my training routine because, like many, I tend to fret about potential weight gain during periods of reduced exercise. However, I quickly brushed aside those concerns when I realised that adequate rest was key to allowing my body to recover, ensuring peak performance on race day.

With just over a week left before the big race, I made it a point to keep myself busy with events and activities. I didn’t want to burden myself with excessive training and risk messing up so close to the race. After all, my main goal was to finish the marathon without setting any specific targets.

The theme was ‘Run Your Masterpiece’, which seemed fitting because I was on a mission to make history by attempting something only the truly brave would dare. When I finally arrived in Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but soak in the beauty of the city and tried my best to calm my nerves.

Despite all my attempts to distract myself from the impending race, it became clear how close it was getting when I picked up my race pack at Sportshallen Zuid, right next to the iconic Olympic Stadium where the race was set to go down.

Plus, there was an expo going on with all sorts of running gear up for grabs, from compression socks and headgear to gloves and energy products, not to mention the official merchandise.

On the eve of the race, the organisers treated us to a buffet where registered runners could dig into a sumptuous spread of pasta, bread, and salad.

It was all part of the ‘carb-loading’ experience, designed to fuel us up with the necessary energy before the big day. I piled my plate high, knowing that it would keep me going throughout the race.

After months of putting in the hard work during training sessions, the moment I’d been waiting for finally arrived. I entered the Olympic Stadium amid a sea of fellow runners, and the scene was nothing short of incredible.

Tens of thousands of us filled the venue, creating an electric atmosphere that had all the hallmarks of a major sporting event.

Running a full marathon in the Netherlands was a memorable experience, with notable landmarks like the Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, and the Amstel River as our backdrop. Adding to the thrill, local spectators lined the streets, cheering us on and some even shouting out my name after spotting it on my bib.

As I hit the 33 kilometres (km) mark, I couldn’t help but feel the weight on my legs, and signs of my body wanting to give up were creeping in. I’d been warned that the stretch between 30km and 35km was when many runners hit a wall.

So, I reached for the energy gels in my running belt, and they worked like magic, giving me a much-needed burst of energy. From there on, I knew I was on track to complete the race as long as I kept my pace and didn’t succumb to mental and physical fatigue, with the finish line almost within reach.

After passing through Museumplein, which houses Amsterdam’s iconic museums, and returning to Vondelpark, a dream that had once seemed doubtful was no longer just an item on my bucket list; it was a reality.

With only a couple of corners left to conquer after exiting Vondelpark, every stride was met with the thunderous cheers of the enthusiastic crowd. I’ve participated in countless races, but I had never experienced an atmosphere quite like this one. It was the foundation of a truly incredible sporting spectacle.

When I reached the famous ‘I Amsterdam’ sign at the stadium’s entrance, I kicked into a sprint like there was no tomorrow.

As I crossed the finish line, a rush of emotions overwhelmed me. With a finisher’s medal draped around my neck, I looked up at the sky, trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had just achieved a dream I never would have dared to attempt. – Fadhil Yunus

The writer during the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Amsterdam Marathon 2023 in Netherlands. PHOTO: TCS AMSTERDAM MARATHON