Running Through the Jumble: Learning to Race in Malaysia

I've never been any sort of athlete. My true interests - eating cake and wearing pouffy dresses - made themselves known long ago. But why travel to the other side of the world if you're not willing to try new things? This is the logic that allows my roommate to convince me to run my first half-marathon in an equatorial climate where no one exercises because, "too hot-lah." 

Every evening, just before dusk, Julia and Mary and I set out on training runs. These daily outings represent an exaggerated microcosm of our lives as local celebrities in Malaysia. No one jogs here, and so by running all over town, we manage to attract even more attention than usual.

As we pass the open air food stalls, dinner conversations come to a halt. Shopkeepers who see us day after day call out, “Hey, cikgu!” when we tread by. Sounds from car windows range from innocent hellos to kissy noises to aggressive shouts. 

These evenings offer an exercise in patience and focus. There is always a choice – we can smile and wave, we can shoot back a dirty look, or we can continue on, looking straight ahead at our own path.  The latter is the most difficult to execute, but the most rewarding.

During this weekend’s long run, a bustling night market surprised us by appearing on the horizon of one of our standard routes. I looked ahead at the mess of people, all the sets of eyes that would follow me. There was no way around, and so we ran through. Darting amongst the shoppers and venders became a game. I laughed my way through the absurdity and my stride felt more powerful when I reached the other side.

Past the market, all the way down a village road lined with goats and chickens, I hopped off the path and onto the beach, where I watched the red sun begin to set from my own personal driftwood bench.

Life here is not always easy. It can be hectic; it is often strange. But when we run straight through the jumble, the results are usually rewarding.