The starting point - Teluk Kumbar Beach

This four-hour run of approximately 20 miles was more than enough for me in the afternoon heat! Once again we aimed to get away mid morning and head for some shade to run in - this time some trails that Tarit had scouted a few days earlier were the target, but we had to leave without him when he got delayed at the hotel. So, It was just myself, Daulot and Konrad who jumped in a taxi and told the driver we were headed for Teluk Kumbar. His first reaction was to quote us the price for a ride to Teluk Bahang - he took some convincing that anyone would want to be taken to Teluk Kumbar, but I showed him the map and off we went. We passed through the village itself and down onto the coast road before he dropped us at what he called Teluk Kumbar Beach - an idyllic spot almost devoid of people. Two chaps were sitting on their mopeds at the bend in the road, and they regarded us with some consternation as we jogged down onto the beach, stretched a little, applied sun cream, contemplated the beautiful expanse of calm waters for a minute or so then promptly jogged back up on to the road and headed off down the highway.

Daulot gets into the vegetation

We were soon at the end of the road - a small village called Gertak - and on to the hard-surface trail that led straight on around the coast and into the rubber and coconut plantations. Hash runners had been out and there were some route signs, but these invariably pointed along the main, wide path so we would have taken that route even without them.The temperature was "only" in the thirties but with the humidity as well I for one was very glad to be off the road and into the trees.

It's a jungle out there.....

We enjoyed a pleasant jog through the plantation, as the path wound up into the hills, pulling us back from the coast and opening up some nice views through the forest to the sea. As ever there was a profusion of butterflies in all the colours you could wish to see accompanying us on the run, as well as brilliant blue dragonflies. One of the hash house harrier arrows eventually pointed down a side track, so we took it hoping we would get back down to the sea. The path soon petered out though, and we were up to our ankles in grass and scrub. I began to get nervous about not seeing where my feet were going - treading on a snake out here and having to be carried back to the road was not my scenario of choice :) After a team meeting we turned back and began the long hard climb back to the main plantation trail, when all of a sudden I met two runners coming the other way. Weird! They soon came into focus and it was our friends Tarit and Abichal, who had taken a cab to Gertak and followed us along the trail, taking exactly the same turns as the three of us. The meeting in such an unlikely and remote corner of the island was so improbable that it caused us all a great deal of amusement, which helped us swallow the frustration of having bolted down a steep hillside in search of a non-existent trail only to have to slog back up it in the heat.

View northwards across Western Penang

After more twisting and turning and climbing and descending in the plantation we came out on a sparsely forested hillside with a view north across the flat western side of Penang towards the central hills. Here we found ourselves descending through a strangely alien landscape of cultivated tropical trees spaced out on the cleared hillside. At the bottom of the slope we were in a small village, and back at sea level with no tree cover we were all extremely hot. An eatery of sorts had a water pipe emptying out on to it's corrugated iron ceiling and running down into roadside oil drums - presumeably this is the cheaper version of air conditioning - so as we shopped for cold mineral water and lemonade we were also able to dunk our hats in the cold water and tip some over our heads which we did with some enthusiasm. Apart from Tarit I think - he appears to be made of asbestos and therefore completely heat proof.

Arriving, exhausted, in Balik Pulau

Myself and Tarit were happy to explore but Abichal asked for directions in the water-cooled cafe and it's just as well he did, for the main road led exactly towards our next objective and our natural inclination would have been to explore the side-tracks which probably would have been dead ends. We went north on the highway then branched west to a quiet, flat road across the plain - the sun was hammering down on the highway and it was all I could do to run nine minute miles, even on the flat. We took turns leading, past houses and a school where the kids laughed and waved cheerily and shouted "hello" with big grins. I thought of the reaction I get from kids in Britain when I run past them.............not always so positive I'm afraid. THis is one of the things I love about South East Asia - there's a friendliness and accepting attitude in the people in so many places I've been out here that makes us Norther Europenas seem a little - well - unfriendly and cynical? Suspicious of strangers? Not sure how to put it into words but I for one have learn't a lot from Asian cultures, especially Indian, Balinese and Malaysian. Terimah Kasi!

After a long haul on the road we staggered in to Balik Pulau, a one horse town with a taxi rank and of course more chilled mineral water and 100 Plus drinks. I was up for a little more, so while most of the team waited for a cab (I think Tarit had done four hours the day before or something) Abichal and I took the highway back towards our hotel at Bukit Jambul. It was only a few miles but there was the small matter of 1000 feet of ascent, so while we took it nice and slow it was a good workout for both of us. Abichal is a multiday runner, used to racing in events where you clock up two marathons in a day, grab some sleep then do it all again. For days if not weeks.

Abichal on the open road

At the top of the hill we stopped in a viewpoint layby to enjoy the panorama across the island and buy yet more canned drinks and indulge in yet more hat-dunking. The afternoon had worn on by the time we crawled back up the slope of the hotel driveway. I asked myself quite what use all this exertion in the heat would be once I got to the start line of my target event - the Barry 40 - probably to be held in frosty or snowy conditions back in South Wales. Sadly, I never found out - the snow did come to Barry, but I didn't, as after fending off all the bugs and ailments the tropics can throw at you, I somewhat ironically caught a nasty flu virus on my return to Cardiff and was unfit to run. Still, these Penang sessions were all good miles to put in the bank and draw on later - perhaps the London Marathon would see 35 degree heat and 95% humidity? You never know....

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(for a map of Penang see the articles on Penang Hill)