How technology failed me at the Jakarta half marathon

OK… it was a little bit my fault too

 Technology let me down. I hate saying that - it feels like admitting you’re really angry at one of your children or closest mate. But at the Jakarta Half Marathon, the backbone of how I like to run was ripped out. All my tech failed.

If you’re a purist runner, you’ll be nodding sagely, thinking that this is indicative of the fact we’re becoming too reliant on technology to achieve the simple act of putting one foot in front of another, in the endless pursuit of fitness and self-fulfilment. 

But hear me out first.

My first half marathon in this part of the world was a total disaster. It was intended to be a lovely jaunt to the south-east corner of the world to hit my ‘4 corners’ badge on Smashrun, as part of the year long challenge I’m inexplicably undertaking.

My plan was to test the Apple Watch 1, connected to my phone’s GPS, with the Apple Watch 2, to see the accuracy and battery drain comparison in a race

While I knew it would be pretty humid, I felt in reasonably good nick. My luggage, which had gone AWOL in a tight plane change in Malaysia, had turned up the day before so I wouldn’t need to wear the fleece-lined shorts and cotton t-shirt I’d been forced to buy off the market just in case.

So I had clothes to wear (nobody going to be throwing garbage at ME this time), I’d picked up my race number from a random mall downtown, and I knew where the start was. Cool.

The simply awesome Rush Runners

And things were actually going even better than expected on the day before: I’d done my usual Googling session to find local running clubs to catch up with, and I’d learned of a couple that kindly agreed to let me tag along the day before.

I did a slow run with the couldn’t-be-kinder Rush Runners in the morning before sunrise, (I thank you guys for breakfast and all your help with getting to me the race pack collection) and then ran with the inexplicably-entertaining Hash Runners - no, not that kind - later in the day. 

(I urge you to check out to see if there’s a Hash Run in your area, as they’re a international multi-chapter collective that describes itself as ‘Drinkers with a serious running problem’.

I can’t even begin to explain how they work, but suffice to say you head to the middle of nowhere, try to pick up a secret route filled with traps and tricks to stop it being anything but a smooth run. It was one that quickly saw me lost in the middle of the Indonesian countryside, panicking about the myriad injections I hadn’t had and wondering what I would do if I couldn't find my way back.

Lost, but still able to Tweet this picture

Then I remembered that I could use my data abroad and sent a Tweet. Jumanji, this was not.

But two mega-sweaty runs in the ultra-sticky Jakarta climate are not ideal race prep - nor is getting back to the hotel at 11.30PM for a 6AM race start. There may have been beer.

But I’d charged the Apple Watch up already and popped the Watch 2 onto the magnetic power clip to get it ready for the next day, so was still able to get everything ready.

I got into bed to try and at least get four hours sleep (Margaret Thatcher apparently ruled the UK on that much each night - I could easily do a half marathon on it, right?) and then realised something: I knew where the race started, but where had I got 6AM from? Was I sure that was the start time?

I tried to get the information off the website, but that was all geared to the full marathon happening at the same time. There was a download to get the race info I craved though, so I started downloading that.

Somehow made it to the start

But while it’s great I can use my mobile data in another country, it’s criminally, achingly, skin-tearingly slow. This PDF was coming in little glimpses every few minutes, and after waiting ages to get the info I accidentally fell asleep on top of the bedclothes at about 2AM.

Luckily I woke up, despite not having set an alarm, at 4.09AM. I remember the time vividly because I blearily checked my phone and saw the info had finally downloaded. I scrolled to the start time… 5.10AM for the half marathon.

OH SHIT.

I bolted out of bed, grabbed my headphones, hat, slapped on suncream, put on the clothes I’d thankfully laid out the night before with my number pinned on, and grabbed the Apple Watches. Wait… why was the Watch 2 at a funny angle?

I picked it up… and here was tech fail number one.

I’d knocked it off the charger when I was laying things out the night before. It was dead. Bag drop was closing in 10 minutes, I was at least half an hour taxi ride away and the roads around the start were closed. I just grabbed what I could and legged it out the door.

The pre-sunrise start - you can't quite see the drones flying overhead

Somehow, I make the start on time. And I impossibly have all the things I need: headphones, iPhone, sunglasses, the Apple Watch and Garmin 735XT (for baseline measurement of heart rate and distance.

I figure I can still test the older Apple Watch to see how WatchOS 3 has helped things in terms of battery.

But I’ve got a bigger problem: fear coursing through my veins. I try to calm down, but the lack of food, drink and rest over the last 12 hours is causing me to panic. Am I about to be in real trouble? Might I collapse on the course if it’s too humid, my pale and spindly body giving up in the horrendous conditions?

I put on some calming tunes, using the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium bone-conduction headphones that I like for races. As previous readers will know, the open design means they let you hear what’s going on and the crowd at the same time.

Tech fail number two: they won’t turn on. It turns out that I’ve fried the battery when in China using a weak adaptor to plug them into the wall. 

I get going. It feels horrendous, the ill-preparation, the worry and the scrambling this morning all combining to make my legs feel terrible. I settle into a pace that’s as slow as I can manage, already writing off any chance of a decent time in favour of just finishing.

After a few minutes, my Garmin bleeps to tell me my ‘performance condition’ - a usually-ace feature of the watch where it analyses your abilities over a few weeks and can tell you how prepared for the run you are on any given day. 

I’m at -6... which is not good pre-race. While it’s technically not the Garmin’s fault, I’m labelling it tech fail number three as it made me feel so utterly miserable.

The rain really hammered down - and it was wonderful

My heart rate is rocketing despite the slow, slow pace and it’s getting warmer as the sun is coming up. I’m genuinely starting to worry now.

But then I get a reprieve. The changeable conditions of Jakarta suddenly start flinging down buckets of rain... cooling, beautiful, WONDERFUL rain. 

I’m from England, baby. This is home turf. 

My usual reflex is to take a picture of everyone sprinting from the heavy downpour, so I reach into my pouch to grab my phone. And I realise that there’s one bit of tech that’s not let me down - I’ve got a new iPhone. As if reading my thoughts someone shouts next to me: ‘Hey, is that phone waterproof?’

‘Yeah, it’s the iPhone 7 Plus,’ I yell back, pointing to the two cameras on the rear as way of proof. He doesn’t care. 

The rain eventually stops, but the conditions are much cooler. My pace is still a shuffle but I’m getting around. It hurts. It hurts more. It hurts even more.

For anyone thinking of doing the Jakarta half marathon, there’s something surreal about starting a race well before the sun comes up (to avoid the blistering heat). It also runs through some iconic parts of the city, with the old Colonial portion of the town pretty interesting, and probably lovely to take in if you’re not loathing your very existence.

Trying to run across a busy road with traffic streaming across

But it’s certainly not the greatest race course I’ve ever encountered, as there were multiple points where I was running through traffic despite it being an apparently closed course. You’re never going to set a PB if you’re having to wait until cars speed across you.

I made it to the end though, and at least the Apple Watch had survived. Despite clinging to the iPhone’s GPS throughout, it was only down 41% in two and a bit hours, with the heart rate working well during.

However, it was terribly far off in terms of accuracy, eventually drifting nearly a kilometre off the actual route covered - there’s nothing worse that being told constantly during the race that you’re at a certain point, only to look up and see you’ve got much further to go.

A very tired ride back to the hotel

I took myself quietly back to my hotel, where the Apple Watch 2 was fully charged and, dare I say it, looking sorry.

It's OK tech. I still love you. But I'm never going out with a running (and drinking) group the night before a race ever again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Global Phones, Tablets and Wearables Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been in charge of phones, tablets and wearables at TechRadar for the best part of a decade. He can instantly recommend the best phone for you, or can be found running around the nearest park with the latest fitness tech strapped to his wrist, head or any other applicable body part.