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Wan's Column - Petaling Jaya Marathon?

On Sunday, 18th June 2006 Deputy Tourism Minister, Datuk Donald Lim mooted the idea of a Petaling Jaya Marathon after witnessing the PJ Half Marathon, celebrating the city status of Petaling Jaya. This suggestion is not at all surprising as many cities around the world have their own marathons as a status symbol. There are many reasons organizers can think of about having a marathon, tourism, promote healthy living etc. While this may be a great idea, the organizer should take stock of the performance of the PJ Half Marathon over the last few years and its trends. I have taken part in more than 8 PJ Half Marathons since its inception in 1984 and most of the times, I did the half marathon. In the last 3 years, I decided to skip the event and the most compelling reason is that I am not assured of the safety on the route. Petaling Jaya has grown a great deal since 1984 and the traffic along the Federal Highway and the Subang Airport stretch has become a runners’ nightmare when the road is not completely closed for the event. Closing just one lane for the runners may help solve the problems for the motorists but when the junctions are not adequately manned by traffic police, impatient motorists pose a severe risk to the runners.

I would be quick to compare the traffic situation of Petaling Jaya and Singapore, both extremely metropolitan. It would be very challenging to design a route in Petaling Jaya that could be safe without closing the entire stretch. Prior to 2002, the Singapore Marathon was also organized in such trying conditions. In 2001 at the Exxon Mobil Singapore Marathon, a Sri Lanka runner was knocked down by a vehicle and the organizer learnt from it. This piece of negative news made it to the CNN, gave the event very negative publicity. In 2002, the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon was conducted with a traffic free route for the first time among many other improvements. The event has since grown into a 21,000 runners event by 2005! The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon would be a good case study for would be marathon organizers in Malaysia.

Too Many Marathons Chasing After Too Few Runners In Malaysia?
As a runner, approaching 50 years of age, I rate safety as the top consideration when I compete. Last month, I went up to Ipoh to support the UTAR Charity Run instead of doing the PJ Half Marathon. I am looking forward to the Putra Jaya Marathon scheduled for 10th September 2006, probably the most conducive route in the Klang Valley as far as safety is concern. In Malaysia, while the participation in marathon is so poor, we are not short of organizers wanting to give it a shot. We now have the following marathons, intended marathons and had been marathons & their response on the 42km categories;

Event Organizer Month Response
Ambank KL International Marathon FTAAA March each year Slightly below 800 completed
RH Saberkas Kuching Marathon Saberkas March 06 First time in 2006, about 200 plus ran. Upgraded from a half marathon
Penang International Bridge Run Serbekas
Penang AAA
30th July Revival in 2006 after a lapse of 2 years.
Melaka Historic Run Melaka Municipal May '04 and July '05 Less than 300 took part
Johore International Marathon Johore AAA   Poor response, after a few postponements. Held for one year only.
Ipoh International Run Ipoh Municipal First Sunday of July Tried once in 2004 but response was poor, went back to half marathon and 10km.
Putrajaya International Marathon FTAAA 10th Sept '06 An upgrade from a half marathon launched in 2005.

Based on my estimate, we have only about less than 1,300 marathon runners in the country. My definition of a marathon runner is one who did a full marathon in the last 12 months. Therefore, I would classify myself as a former marathon runner as I last ran a marathon in 2000, at the Penang International Bridge Run. I notice the steady decline in the number of marathon runners since the running craze in the eighties. Those who were very active in the eighties are now in the veteran or senior veteran category. Some have given up for various reasons. While we have no short of organizers, we have an acute shortage of serious marathon runners to compete. More of the runners are the veterans. However, this is not the case in Singapore where 72% of the marathon runners are non-veterans. The number has also increase steadily the last 4 years to 4,000 plus finishers in the 2005 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon as against less than 800 at the Ambank KL Marathon in 2006.

I think marathon has become very elitist now with a small following, like triathlon. It would take tremendous effort to rebuild the base that was lost through many years of neglect; by the organizers of course. The remaining marathon runners are highly selective and are likely to select the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon as one of their core marathon events to train for. As an amateur marathon runner is unlikely to run more than 2 marathons a year, the second marathon is a toss between Ambank Kuala Lumpur International Marathon, Putrajaya International Marathon or the Penang Bridge International Marathon. The big question lies where do we go from here? How do we build back the base of marathon runners. Right now I can only see the Pacesetters Athletic Club, Malaysia (PACM) making some meaningful effort by organizing the Peer Support Training Program in the last few years and initiated the Great Eastern Pacesetters 30km in January 2006 as a warm up run for the Ambank KL International Marathon.

Last year, PACM and FTAAA jointly organized a marathon forum, bring in the Enterprise Sports Group, a professional sports event organizer from Singapore to share the experience of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. While the forum was well attended by the runners, it was not well attended by the local runs organizer except for the organizer from the Ambank KL International Marathon. Some how the media also missed covering this event and it was only reported in the PACM’s Footloose (PACM’s quarterly magazine). We need more running groups in the country that promote running like the PACM. At the moment, we only have the Kelab Road Runners Ipoh that organizes runs as part of their annual programs. The rest of the running clubs are small and fragmented. The only other emerging club that is contemplating having an event to their name is the Batu Pahat Marathon Club. Looks like in the foreseeable future, marathon shall remain an elite sport!

Wan Yew Leong
11th June 2006


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