Marshal arts: the true form of defence during races.
Being a constant late finisher at races i have, over the year, learnt the fine art of defending myself from being swept into the sweeper vehicle.
i have been officially approached by marshals or in some cases outriders to hop onto the sweeper van because i was still on the course after cut off, three times: the first during the 2006 kapas-marang swim, then during the 2007 ironman langkawi and the most recent penang bridge marathon.
before i share my secrets to marshal arts, i would first like to make it clear that marshalls have one very vital responsibility during races: keeping you safe.
these individuals are quite selfless if you think of it, because they actually volunteered to keep you safe (i have never met anyone who had introduced themselves with a namecard that read "Smith, race marshal", so yea... safe to say they volunteered for the job)
sometimes, in larger races, outriders are assigned to help keep participants safe especially when roadblocks are involved. these individuals have two vital responsibilities: keeping you safe, and making sure traffic goes back to normal when you're done.
so if they're there for a good reason, why the need to learn marshal arts?
my first encounter, as mentioned above, was during a 6.5k swim from kapas island to mainland marang. the official cut off was 3:30, by which the organisers had briefed the day before that a boat will come to assist those who are still on the course at that time. 3:30 came and went, and i had about 1km more to go. i was appraching the last visible bouy that marked every km and could see the shore. i wasn't alone though, think there were about 5 of us left. i was soon approached by a marshal on a jetski. our conversation was in bahasa but for the benefit of all readers, i'm going to translate it:
"time's up ma'am. please get onto the boat"
"..but...(gasp) i can see the shore" i said between gulps of water
"sorry, please get up"
"but... but... it's just there..." i tried my best puppy dog face
"time's up, we need you out of the water." realised puppy dog face doesn't work under goggles and swimcap
"please... i've come so far.." decided to be more desparate
"no. we're wrapping up and going home. if you continue, you're on your own"
that's right, marshals although selfless can sometimes be so tactless and insensitive. they also fail to see that the way they address you at a typically demoralising time, really makes you feel even more unworthy of being there in the first place. they also form threathening sentences and make you feel that if you do not do as they say then 'good luck' finishing.
while i have met some really nice and encourgaing marshals, this one deserved a 'marshal kick' in the face.
i turned behind and saw 3 swimmers getting onto the boat, the guy directly behind me was wondering if he should, after hearing the marshall's firm tone. so i asked:
"do you want to finish this swim?" he smiled and said yes.
i smiled and turned to the marshal:
"you can go home. he's going to finish the race with me and he'll take care of me" (hi-e-yah! take that sweet in your face!)
we finished last, wobbled to the finish line, got our finisher's medal and enjoyed a whole mineral water bottle together. later on the bus, others that were fished out of the water wished they had not given in and continued as they were so close to personal victory that they now felt that it was a wasted opportunity.
at ironman, langkawi, the marshals were more understanding. they approached us and told us about the cut off time but gave us a choice to hop onto the van or continue. we chose to continue and finished 40 mins later, tired senseless but happy.
penang bridge marathon however, was a totally different story.
the race story is the same: start strong, weak middle, wanted to die after 30k, so i won't dwell on that part.
the offical race cut off was 6hrs. at 6:00 i had two people ahead of me, maybe about 5 behind me before the final turnaround, and three who had passed the last turnaround (one of which was long lost TRY friend peter). at 6:15 an organiser on a motorcycle comes by and mumbled something about the road has been closed and rode off to inform the people in front. i thought it was rather strange seeing that people can get anywhere on foot, but saw the girl in front turning back towards me:
"the u-turn point in front has been closed" she said being very sad. but i told her that since i suspect we're on foot, road closures shouldn't be a problem. "so we continue?" she asked... "so we continue" i said.
at 6.20 an outrider comes. i'll share my conversation with subtitles this time, because this outrider was out right rude to begin with and defintely deserved some marshal arts whoopass:
"masa dah habis! masa dah habis! naik bas! naik bas!" (time's up! time's up! get on the bas! get on the bas!)
"o, tapi 2k lagi.. boleh la" (but there's only 2k left... please) i thought if i appeared humble he would pity me and give in.
"habis, accident siapa nak tanggung?" (if there's an accident, who's going to be responsible?) i was wrong...
"kawan ada di depan. kami jaga-jaga la.." (my friend is just in front, we'll be careful) fu-cha! shadowless slap across the face
"kau lari berapa laju pun, kau takkan dapat medal, takkan dapat cert. baik puan naik bas aje!" (no matter how fast you run now, there's not going to be a medal or cert for you. it's best you get on the bus) o, he is sooo asking for the hit of destiny
"eleh! medal and cert tu, i tak kisah! i nak habis" (i don't care about the medal and cert! i just want to finish) hwua-tah! karate chop on head and..
"baik encik jangan kacau!" (it's best you don't interfer!) hi-e-yah ta-tah! flying back kick, knuckle burn across the forehead and the final poking of his eyes with my fingers before fleeing across the barrier to join peter for the last 2k.
alas, the less experienced marshall arts students felt intimidated and got onto the bus. one of them was my dear friend ronald who had decided to christian his first race day with a full marathon. a truly brave fellow who could have had it realised if he had knew the art of marshal dodging.
this article is dedicated to him and many others alike. i hope the tips i am about to share will come in handy in future races:
1. know your marshal:
not all marshals/outriders are mean. when approached quickly assess what mood they are in. if they are intimidating, be prepared to have a thick face in answering back. if they are nice, be humble. they're just doing their job in ensuring your safety (plus they've had a stressful day babysitting hundreds of zoned out bodies without a word of thank you) and will probably understand your pleas to continue.
2. be honest about how you feel:
let's face it. it is after cut off and you didn't make it. it isn't called a race if you are allowed to take your own sweet time. but that's the functional part of the race. many marshals/outriders fail to see the emotional part: your personal promise to finish regardless of time. so many 'fights' with them are just a matter of them misunderstanding your need to continue. to them it's about the medal and cert to validate your existence. to you, it's nice to get the medal if not, it's a case of surviving the race and achieving what you previously thought was not possible. if you can get your message to them...softly or painfully through their eye sockets, you're mostly likely to achieve
3. know your rights:
yes, you have the right to finish the race regardless of whatever threat they give. at this point it is good to remember that you have managed to keep yourself safe for the many years before they met you on race day. by projecting yourself as confident enough to care for yourself for the remaining of the race, there is little that they can do to stop you. these conferentations are no more than black faces and harsh words. no marshal or outrider have the right to man-handle you onto the sweeper vehicle. if they show no signs of leaving without you, hand over your race number. by doing so you are officially off the race and whatever you do after that is no concern of theirs. stand your ground and make them see you are not going to give in just because they want to finish up and go home
finally, know when to quit:
while i've been raging about how we should be cowboys and finish no matter what, we should, as adults, practice common sense and never forget that safety comes first. as much as i have been stuborn about quitting, i have always ensured it was safe to continue without a marshal. most common deciding factors are things like whether there are others completing after cut off like me so i do not endanger myself as a lone lady out there when all has gone home, and if i do end up alone, do i know the race route enough to not get lost. if you are alone and unsure, or in the case of the ironman when it's really dark and you're still out there, do think twice... safety first: sulk and get on the van so that you'll live to kick that arrogant race course next time.