MY breath turned rapid and shallow as I pushed myself uphill, trying to get closer to the finish line of the 15-kilometre Conquer the Trails race in Bukit Kiara.
Just a while ago, I had reached the much-anticipated final checkpoint, where I finally got to rehydrate and refill my hydration pack which had gone completely dry.
With about 3km to go, I raised my head to catch a glimpse of what lay ahead.
"This better be the last hill," I said to Jo, my running buddy, as we stared in disbelief at the steep slope in front of us.
The burning sensation on my quads didn't come as a surprise. As I had run the same race last year, I knew what I was getting myself into, especially with inadequate training.
Even with all the hurt, I was enjoying the run. How could I not be? The ever-changing terrain was exciting. From asphalt to dirt to loose rocks, every turn offered a surprise, every hill a challenge.
Difficult? Yes, of course. It was an off-road race after all. If anything, it was a reminder that Bukit Kiara is not just a little green patch right smack in the middle of the city.
THE GREEN LUNG OF KUALA LUMPUR
I consider myself privileged to live close to Bukit Kiara, which is regarded as a runners' and mountain bikers' playground (although its "green lung" status is under threat due to current development projects).
Located between Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Sri Hartamas, Bukit Kiara is easily accessible to those who wish to take a breather from their hectic schedules.
The surrounding parks are frequented not only by runners and bikers but also by hikers, yogis and bootcampers, to list a few.
The off-road portion, which is well maintained by the Trails Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, allows city folk to enjoy nature without having to leave Kuala Lumpur.
Personally, the paved trails around the outer part of the area serve as a great training ground for my road-running endeavours.
With a variety of flat and hilly paths, this place is perfect for different training sessions. I have run around the 1.1km-perimeter lake at Lembah Kiara Park so many times that I can recall every single slope by heart.
Whenever I want to incorporate some hills into my running, I will drag myself to the 5km undulating loop on the opposite side of the park, going clockwise and anticlockwise sequentially. Hill intervals? Not a problem. Just pick a gradient and I'm all set.
The inner jungle trails, on the other hand, are still a bit foreign to me. I visit the area infrequently, mainly because it is not a place where I would run on my own.
Due to the number of intersecting trails, it is easy to get disoriented if you are not familiar with the area.
Some technical parts can be quite tricky and will take forever for me to master — especially when going downhill. No matter how intimidated I am by the trails, whenever I manage to brave myself to explore them, I am often left with a special kind of rush.
I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU NOT
Back to my Conquer the Trails episode. As I was plodding along the punishing paths towards the finishing line, a runner came from behind.
"We have 30 minutes left. Keep going," were his words of motivation.
I didn't quite get what he was saying. "What do you mean? Are you saying there is only 30 minutes left to cut-off time?" I asked.
"Yes, if we keep going at this rate, we will finish in time," he answered. I glanced at my GPS watch. It had been approximately three hours and 30 minutes since the race started. I panicked. It struck me that I might miss the cut-off.
I had little energy left but I quickened my pace. Luckily, all the killer inclines were behind me and that made the final stretch relatively more bearable.
I looked at the timer as I finished — it had not hit four hours. Phew, what a relief! I later learnt that the four hour cut-off imposed by the organiser was actually meant for the final check point as opposed to the finish line.
Oh well, so much for the last-minute suspense! I spent the rest of the day cursing Bukit Kiara for all the pain I felt but knowing with all certainty that I would sign up for the event again next year.
Isn't it ironic?
Shanaz Shamsuddin is a drilling engineer who finds work-life balance by exploring the outdoors. Reach her at shanaz.shamsuddin@ gmail.com.