Cross Country Tales


de la M. Stowell

he first V.I. Cross Country run was organized by Mr. Edgar de la Mothe Stowell, the V.I. Headmaster from June to December 1930. The initial intention was to whip all the flabby non-sportsmen into shape. Thirty runners, six from each of the five pre-war houses (Shaw, Hepponstall, Treacher, Thamboosamy and YKS), took part in the first of three runs over routes given code-names like "Dobi Valley", "Bridge" and "River", the longest route being some three and a half miles in length. House Captains and "Whippers in", armed with knotted handkerchiefs, kept the stragglers going. Accounts of the runs in the School magazine mention landmarks like a wireless station, a waterfall, barbed wire, a sunken valley and a Chinese Pavilion suggesting that the terrain must have been the Petaling Hill/Chinese cemetery area. In the First Inter-House Run of November 22, 1930, Lim Kim Beng of Shaw House romped in first with a time of 26 minutes. YKS took the House championship.

With the departure of Mr. de la M. Stowell, no runs were held in 1931. The following year, the runs were revived under Mr. A.C. Strahan, the Sports Chairman, this time with a difference. Instead of plain runs, there were now paper chases. Three anonymous "hares" would go out a day earlier to survey a course. On the day itself, they would leave five minutes ahead of the "hounds" and lay a trail of paper. They had the license to leave false trails as well! Four weekly runs were recorded that year. Although it was meant for sedentary students, fitter volunteers were allowed to participate.

In 1933, the Long Run, as it was then known, was held on Tuesday, November 28. In the last of three practices on November 21, as reported in the Victorian, the Hounds had run strongly but were "still not able to catch sight of the Hares." After 1937, according to the School magazine, no more runs were held.

After the war, Dr. G. E. D. Lewis, on taking over as Headmaster, revived the Cross Country Run in 1956. Now every pupil had to participate, except for the girls and those deemed medically unfit. A new age classification was introduced, Class One for those boys aged 17 and above, Class Two for those aged between 15 and 17, and Class Three for those below 15.

Cross Country Map

The route took the runners out of the school to (now Old) Airport Road and Jalan Kerayong towards the Chinese cemetery area, veering right uphill to skirt the Hokkien Cemetery and then dipping into a long valley (the Dobi Valley of pre-war days?). This funneled the boys past the Divison I government quarters of Petaling Hill. At the end of that depression, the runners clambered out and then sped downhill along Hose Road, passing what is now Wisma Putra on the right and thence on to Shaw Road again for the home stretch. Class One boys had 27 minutes to complete the course, Class Two boys 30 and Class Three 33 minutes. On May 18, 1956, the V.I. boys, attired in jerseys in the colours of their Houses, were sent off in three colourful waves, three minutes apart, from the Birch Road end of the school field. The finish line was in front of the pavilion with the V.I. girls waiting to record details of the qualifiers.

Sivanasan In the first run a total of 645 boys - more than half of those who took part - qualified. Shaw had 96 boys who beat the deadline, YKS 89, and Hepponstall 86. The fastest time was returned, quite astonishingly, by K. Sivanasan of Form One. This YKS Class Three boy romped home effortlessly ahead of the pack, including the senior boys, in a mere 20 minutes 43 seconds.

Even when its third staging came around on May 9, 1958, "The Run" still struck nervousness and trepidation into many a Victorian heart. So much so that the acting Headmaster, Mr. A. G. Young, appealed in jest to the assembled boys, "Come back by nightfall!". Taking up his challenge, a gallant band of boys stumbled back whistling The Colonel Boogie March from the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, as if to say the run was as hard as building the bridge in that film but, by Golly, they sure made it.

By 1960 other schools had taken up Cross-Country Running and it was inevitable that the V.I. would throw down the gauntlet for other schools to take up. V.I. runners travelled to Ipoh that year to run against Anderson School for a new annual Challenge Trophy donated by Dr. Lewis. The run took the Victorians over spectacular tin mining country in the Kinta Valley. Apart from meeting the Andersonians, the V.I., over the next five or six years, challenged other K.L. schools like St Gabriel's and St John's in Cross Country Runs either at their own meets or in those organised by the Secondary School Sports Council.

Girls take part Girls took part for the first time in 1975. Their route was a shorter and easier version of the boys' - nearly the entire stretch was tarred road save for a valley and a gentle slope. By now the boys' route was remapped to take them past a cemetery and a kampung, across streams and a couple more hills and valleys. Red Crescent members were placed at strategic points along the route, just in case. And to discourage any illegal short cuts, runners had to collect two coloured markers at certain checkpoints to take back with them to the finish line. And since 1973 the Run was used to raise money for the school and so was also known as the Crossathon. In 1976, over $6,300 was collected from the pupils' sponsors to pay for new sports equipment and for the resurfacing of the cricket pitch and basketball courts.

By the 1980 run there were five age groups - Under 20, Under16, Under15, Under14, Under13 - to promote keener competition. It was held on Sunday, March 16, in cloudy and cool weather. There was a brief opening ceremony, with the VICC band providing music. The various House Captains carried placards and marched past the Headmaster, Encik Shukor Abdullah, who officially declared the run open after the oath taking by the Cross Country Captain. Because of road construction, a detour was necessary which made the route longer. A single qualifying time was set. Disappointingly, only 373 boys qualified, the best time being 24' 6.4". YKS was the Champion with 64 points, Rodger second with 62 while Shaw house was last with only 14 boys qualifying out of over 200.

Cross-city 80s The run over the old route lasted till 1983 or 1984. With massive development along the traditional route, the Cross-Country Run was in danger of becoming a Cross-City Run instead. Difficulties in getting a police permit and changes in the route because of new highways resulted in the run being transferred to the Lake Gardens and held on weekends.

There was a special Hundred Years Run in 1993 organised with the involvement of the V.I. Parent Teachers Association to commemorate the School's Centenary. It included an Old Boys section. The route took the participants up Jalan Lapangan Terbang into the cemetery area, past Alice Smith School to emerge at the side of Kuen Cheng Girls' Secondary School on Jalan Syed Putra. Then through Kampung Attap and past the Chinese Assembly Hall and finally up Jalan Changkat Stadium to return to the school.

There was also a run on 30th January 1994 called "Larian Rentas Kota" - yes, "cross-city" now. It started at the SRK Sultan Hishamuddin Alam Shah near Bank Negara, and took the runners through the Lake Gardens past Parliament House and back to the starting point.

In 1995 there was a run called "Larian Berganti-ganti Jalan Raya" which took the runners on a short circuit out of the V.I., down Jalan Hang Tuah, along Jalan Maharajalela, up Jalan Changkat Stadium, then along Jalan Hang Jebat before finishing at the VI side entrance. It was actually a relay - the boys ran in teams of four and passed sashes instead of batons. Lee Kuan Yew House finished sixth on that day but still clawed back to be overall house champion for the year - beating Thamboosamy (who won the cross-country relay) in second place by over 70 points.

from The Victorian and The Seladang


C.M., Senior II

At about 4.30 p.m. we gathered in front of the pavilion in full force. Several members of the other houses had also assembled, obviously with the idea of ironically cheering us. At last we started off amidst wild cheering and a babel of mocking comments. This display of rivalry, however, did not damp our ardour and we trotted gaily along in a disorderly rabble.

At the end of the first quarter mile we came across a fence, and all the leading ones managed to resist a temptation to sit on the fence and rest awhile; but some of those in the rear, including myself, were rather winded and thought it a good idea to seize this splendid opportunity of taking a rest. While we were thus peaceably resting, a loud, business-like bellow a short way behind us shattered the silence, and warned us that the "whipper in" was uncomfortably close on our heels.

It seemed remarkable that our limbs which had but a short time ago refused to function, now voluntarily set off on their own accord. Leaving the beaten track which we had been following, we set off across the country. I had been led to believe that a cross-country run would be a sort of prolonged paradise; but it seemed to me an eternity of muddy paths and twists and ruts. Alas! Would we never reach the Dobi Valley?

Dobi Valley My legs were already aching painfully and a few passers-by laughed loudly and seemed to take a devilish pleasure at my frenzied attempts to catch up the leaders. After what seemed an interminable time we suddenly turned a corner to emerge into Dobi Valley. Salvation! Here we had been told that we could rest for the short space of five minutes. Dobi Valley disappointed my most sanguine expectations. Why in the world anyone should give it the name "valley," I did not rightly comprehend. Before I could come to any conclusion in the matter, the unsympathetic house captain grimly ordered us forward.

The rest of the run seemed to me a series of ascents and descents and twists and turns with a tyrannical "whipper in" (who did not in the least appear to have been affected by the run) threatening us with all sorts of terrible punishments. After what seemed ages, the school loomed up before us gloomy and cheerless. I stumbled through the last remaining fence and vaguely staggered forward. A burst of cheering dimly floated to my ears - " Ah!" thought I, "somehow or other I must have done well." I reached the pavilion somewhat unsteadily and sat down heavily. My head was throbbing painfully and I was so pitifully exhausted that I thought I must have been sitting upside down. The blurred figure of another boy appeared before me and I questioned him about my performance. He muttered scornfully in reply that I was the last to come in.



Crowded start One of the many things I told myself I would do during the holidays was to train for the cross-country run to be held in the beginning of the second term, and one of the many things I did not do during the holidays was to train for the cross-country. I read, I played games for recreation (although I did not feel at all recreated). I went to the cinema. I called on my friends and my friends called on me. I rode my first motorbike and bumped my first car. I did all that, and more. But train for the cross-country I did not.

I did make an effort, though. (Had I not, my conscience would not have let me live, much less rest, in peace.) I planned what I imagined to be a modest training schedule. I would run from my house in Bukit Bintang Road to Weld Road. I would turn from Weld Road into Kia Peng Road, which I would follow until I come out at Circular Road. Then I would make for the juncture where Bukit Bintang Road meets the lengthy Circular Road, and I would run into the former and head for home. The distance covered would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of one and a quarter miles. Remembering that the Headmaster had jocularly suggested a "little run" in the morning of about five miles, the distance I contemplated made me feel small. But I took comfort in the thought that some of the biggest trees in creation were in the dawn of their existence mere seeds and that, with the passage of time, I would increase the distance of my morning run. Who knows... one morning I might even run to Petaling Jaya and back.

So one night I wound up the alarm clock, setting it to ring at five-thirty. I took out the only pair of canvas shoes I have from where it was "hibernating" (and where it has now returned) and placed it at the foot of the bed. It was ten-thirty when I went to bed.

I woke to the ringing of alarm clock. It was dark in the room. I looked out the window. It was dark outside. The street lamps were on, and greyish-white mist enshrouded the scene. It was very cold......... It must be too early, I thought. I shall wait until it gets light, and then I shall go. I went back to bed.

Some time later I opened my eyes. It was light in the room. I went to the window. It was light outside. A cyclist or two passed by.

It was too late. How could I run along the road with all those people staring at me? And those cars...... No, it will definitely have to be tomorrow.

The next morning I woke up at a quarter to six. It was neither too cold nor too dark. There was no mist, and there were no cyclists yet. My heart thumping in excitement as if I was going to embark on some great adventure, I hurriedly slipped into my shorts and singlet and put on my shoes. Then I left the house by the back door, and walked to the road.

I began at a trot, thinking to warm up before breaking into a run. I did not warm up. I grew tired. After a few hundred yards my arms and legs began to ache and every bone in my system seemed to protest against the outrageous exertion to which they were subjected. I slowed to a walk. A hundred yards further I broke once more into a trot. Fifty yards later I took to walking again. Three hundred yards further I began once more to trot. Thirty yards later I was walking again.

This time I did not stop walking until I had reached my house. Half an hour had passed since I set out, and I had trotted a few hundred yards and walked more than a mile. That was all the training I had.

I did not run again the next morning and the mornings after that because, I told myself, running without a companion was no fun. (Of course I tried to find someone to accompany me on a morning run, but I did not try very hard, and found no one).

Footnote: I did not qualify on Cross-Country Run day. I cannot understand why.


as Witnessed by the Girls of L6A

Friday 10th May at 7:50 a.m., spring invaded the Victoria Institution, for it was the day of the Cross-Country Race and all those not subjected to heart attacks assembled in front of the pavilion, like so many flowers in a green field. All the boys had changed into the various colours of the rainbow. It was as though the school had suddenly burst into vivid bloom, especially before assembling on the field, the boys were parading all over the school - a colour treat for eyes which had been so accustomed to plain white. We girls, intrigued by such an unusual event, had gathered to see the start and the finish, and perhaps to be on hand to apply smelling salts to those who have fainted, as somebody suggested.

Class 2 start The instructions were given, and soon they were off! First, Class Three, then, after a few minutes had elapsed, Class Two and finally Class One, with the girls cheering their respective Houses enthusiastically. Many started with zest enough and looked as if they would be the first to return. However one or two boys had already given up upon reaching the entrance to the school grounds, having fallen down and scraped their knees or something or other. They walked back to the building, head hung down, though secretly they might have been glad to have escaped the gruelling run. The girls, after seeing the boys off near the school entrance, hurried to the side of the field nearest Shaw Road. There they saw the boys being given V.I.P. treatment. Traffic was held up expressly for them, and the waiting drivers goggled at the multi-coloured sight and probably would have given much to know what the boys were doing.

After the boys disappeared round Edinburgh Circle, the girls re-crossed the field and settled themselves on top of the wall of the pavilion steps to await their return. Only about fifteen minutes had passed when one of the girls jumped excitedly on her seat and pointing with a finger cried, "They are coming back! I can see them!" True enough, only minutes later, we saw a small boy coming in. He ran across the field and did not look much the worse for it. The masters standing by the three separate tracks for each class shouted and pointed to the tracks to indicate where the boys should run, along with shouts of "well done".

Cross Country Finish The first boy from Class III was quickly followed by other boys - all belonging to Classes III and II. The first boy from Class I had yet to come in, and the girls waited impatiently to see who it would be. Then at last, an Upper Six boy panted across the field and into the Class I track. He had broken the Class I record by 3 minutes, having done the race in 21 minutes. Then there was a steady stream of boys from all classes coming in, but the 'flowers' had all wilted, and were ready to flop down. The masters would not allow them to do this, however, and announced that the boys had to report their names at the other end of the field to the masters manning eight desks, each identified by the coloured jerseys of the various Houses.

Boys who came in within a certain stipulated time gained points for their houses, and those who on approaching the school realised they were too late, came strolling up the road in their own time. The majority who qualified for points were the younger ones, and those who had started out so enthusiastically looked sheepish, for they were not the first to return.

We girls, quite satisfied with the morning's run (as though we had completed the race themselves) returned to the building, but we could not help being conscious of the fact that we were lucky not to have to run a Cross-country Race ourselves.


Zawiah bte Laidin, L6A.

Zawiah Laidin Some tiny tots seemed highly excited in the early hours of the morning and had to get about in animation in order to relieve their pent-up excitement. The older boys on the other hand were forming solemn groups discussing the terrible forthcoming ordeal. They had gone through it several times but their old bones just could not get used to running these cross-country races.

The bell went for assembly and the principal announced that there was to be a cross-country race. Groans echoed the announcement. A small outburst of laughter broke forth from boys who were determined to have a walking competition instead throughout the whole event.

At eight thirty everyone went into the field, some dawdling, some fisking about. The multitude was a motley crowd. The dazzling house colours were toned by some faded jerseys which were once purple or yellow. These colours then divided themselves into three groups.

The whistle went and a third of the group of colours broke away charging forward like a gigantic rhinoceros. Those in the lead looked keen but the rest were already slowing to a pace which could just manage to overtake a small cat. When we were rushing to get a closer look at these boys we heard a stampede on the metalled road and were surprised at the speed of the charging rhinoceros which we had thought to be a heavy ponderous one.

The other two groups soon followed the first. Pilots of aircraft would undoubtedly think that this long line was the Loch Ness Monster walking ostentatiously on the road, with its scales, the heads of the boys, being perpetually blown up by the wind, revealing the heavenly colours of the rainbow. This monster had a severed tail which was moving quickly, trying in vain to join itself to the body again.

Start 1957Some tubby chaps had great difficulty in trying to catch up with the others but others of the same species ran miraculously quickly. The young boys enjoyed every moment. Some of the older members had joints which needed lubricating, some looked so fragile that we were afraid they would collapse in the middle of the race. There were a few whose stomachs seemed to be leading the way at the time and there were quite a number whose arms and legs were in their way all the time. Quite a fraction looked as if they were going to punch the next person they met.

The line disappeared from the view. We went to our desks ready to record the winners' names and we prayed that our houses would win. A few boys came back after a very short time. They ran to us, giving us their names and panting for breath. Some lay on the ground looking helplessly up at the sky. Most rushed off to the refectory to refresh themselves. On the way to there, they were given some Mentholatum.

All the boys were drenched wet and radiated a pungent smell. They were very tired. Some of them, perhaps, felt like giving up the race but this was overcome by the strong urge to earn a point for their houses. As a result most of them managed to qualify.


George Abraham, 5D

George Abraham

During an assembly the Headmaster announced every boy in the School would have to take part in the forthcoming School Cross-Country Run unless he had a medical certificate. Many a boy had a shock, especially the fat ones. At least I did. This shock caused the loss of a few pounds of fat which had taken years to accumulate.

On Friday, May 18, 1956, 99% of the boys made no excuse and took part in the run. Most had donned their house jerseys though two or three boys could not get suitable jerseys because of their enormous girth. Yet these fat boys were sporting enough to take part.

Promptly at 9 a.m. the Class Three boys left, followed three minutes later by the Class Two boys and six minutes later by the Class One boys. Every boy reaching the finishing point by 9.33 a.m scored a point for his house and for himself.

I am one of the fat boys in the school, and this is my personal experience of the run. I did not see much of the boys who qualified but I saw those few who were lagging far behind as is always the case with a very fat boy in a run.

I had three minutes to watch the colourful spectacle of the Class Three boys from the embankment before my turn came. The whistle blew and off went us Class Two boys. I was running at quite a good speed. When I came to the other end of the field leading to the road, I stopped running and started walking. I was already panting. I walked with a few boys who complained of backaches and headaches. My excuse was obvious. My legs were trying to carry more than 200 pounds of matter. My companion, Surjit Sen, who is nearly of the same size, saw the boys and girls cheering and so he ran on. [See Surjit's account after this.]

Crossing Drain I paid no heed to the cheering and kept on trudging. I had hardly gone 300 yards when the Class One boys, who had started 3 minutes later, caught up with me. I decided that I was not to be left behind and started running too. The thick cluster of boys now thinned out into a long line.

I thought of getting a lift back, but I had to maintain the Victorian traditions and so kept on running or walking. We crossed kampongs, drains and thickets. The ground was often slippery.

We came out onto a road and there were some labourers at work. They stared at my companion and me, wondering whether they would have to mend the road again or whether we had come to steam-roller the road for them. We came to a steep hill and by a miracle I managed to climb it. I caught on to the shrubs growing on the slope and my weary legs managed to lift the 200 pounds. I was staggering when I had finished climbing the hill.

We found ourselves heading for the main road. How happy both of us were when we overtook eight boys. We finally arrived at the main road and were walking down it when I observed an old man drinking his morning coffee. He was about to sip his coffee when he spotted us and started laughing. He had a good morning laugh before having his morning coffee. I hope the laughter helped him to digest his breakfast. Both of us are proud that we did him a good turn.

When we arrived at the school gate, we saw that some of the eight boys had beaten us. But we were not last. Girls and boys were cheering us. My companion was encouraged by the shrill screeching of the girls and he spurted forward. While I was running past the crowd, I heard somebody shout, "It is a mambo all right!" When I was about sixty yards from the finishing post, I began to sprint up and won loud applause from the boys and teachers as well. I shook hands with my companion, who had finished the course in nearly the same time and forgave him for betraying me.

I completed the course in 42 minutes. I never thought that I could beat 5 boys. Don't you think that it was a good feat for a fat boy?


Sujit Kumar Sen, 5A

After 44 minutes 59.99 seconds of rocking and rolling, running and walking, I reached the school entrance. And so ended my part in the historic run which the Victoria Institution holds annually for the year 1957.

The boys paraded in front of the pavilion in their colourful House jerseys. Unfortunately I could not wear my House jersey as I am sure you know that my well-developed body was too big for even size 36. I think that the Houses should provide bigger jerseys for big-sized boys like me.

I regretted very much to learn that the illustrious George Abraham could not join me in my struggle. The reason was that I had stamped on his big fat toe the previous Saturday and he was still recuperating from that unfortunate episode. I was disappointed because there was no one to keep pace with me. (I am a fast runner you know!)

The Class III boys left the school padang at 8.22 am. To my surprise the small boys were already charging ahead neck to neck, as if they were doing the hundred yards dash. The first few were even looking back to see how far the ones behind them were. To the small boys I say that if you want to win long distances, "ini macham tak boleh."

The whistle went and I found myself following the crowd. I kept in pace with the crowd up to the Maternity Hospital along Shaw Road. I almost entered it for I had a terrible stomach ache then. Near the roundabout the cars stopped automatically to behold the Victoria Institution's Zatopek galloping across the road. Even the traffic policeman forgot to raise his hands when he saw me. Shh-h shh-h, do not tell his tuan or the poor fellow might get the sack.

Country Road Near the cemetery I panted like a dog with my tongue out and my side ached like hell. I seemed to be revolving. I felt like a new person and I could feel my bones popping out of my flesh. Then when I looked back I saw the Malayan four-forty sprinter about to overtake me. I began to run again and when I passed a number of huts near the cemetry, the women and children came out to see what was going on. When they saw me run past, I am sure they must have had the treat of their lives.

As I ran a further on I saw "sister boy" of Form 5A in his blue jersey trying to make progress. I kept pace with him for some time but it was a neck to neck tussle. Then slowly, like the tortoise, he overtooked me. When I reached the school compound I saw "sister boy" was ten yards ahead of me.

I had still the strength to do the hundred yards dash to the tuck-shop. I gulped down five bottles of orange crush. I don't think I would do the same in a party though, so don't be afraid to invite me.

I have also written to the Public Works Department for recompense me for flattening about two miles of public road free. I should be given some compensation, don't you think?


Ooi Boon Teck, L6B1

Ooi Boon Teck It was not until the other day that I spotted Ah Fei, the junior edition of our long lost friend, Ah Fatt. At first it was his massive bulk, then his astonishing anthropometrical figures of 40-45-40, and finally certain familiar idiosyncrasies that struck me. With the same chubby tubby rotundity, given a boost in height, Tweedledum and Tweedledee would not look more alike. So this is Ah Fatt's kid brother, I said to myself.

I next saw Ah Fei on the sports field on the morning of Friday, May 18th. In dazzling red jersey, one size too small to show to the best advantage his unstatuesque build, he was tackling the three-mile course with his roly-poly bounciness.

Ah Fei has always loathed the countryside. He has always been equally averse to running. Therefore, this grotesque product from the cross between the country and the race earned his special disfavour. The terrifying prospect of being involved in what was expected to be a hot-cross-run had been an incubus to him for the past week. I found him considerably reduced.

He could easily have visited an M. D. and his enormity could have easily aroused sympathy and won him a medical certificate. Perhaps some genuine excuses might even have been found among his superabundance of adipose tissues. But in a spirit in keeping with the name of Fatty, he wanted to have a go.

Jalan Kerayong So off dashed this lumbering monstrosity in a flash of red, the rural silence inevitably marred by the thump of his heavy tread. He sped away with a springy lightness which soon degenerated to a jog which again decelerated to a walk. The walk became a dawdle, and the dawdle changed to stumble. At last the stumble terminated in a halt by the wayside. And there were two miles more to go.

His lower limbs being now out of gear, he fell on his fore paws with an ingenuity and resourcefulness found perhaps only in the V.I. But Ah Fei was not Joe E. Brown to walk with his trousers upside down. Instead he thumbed a lift.

A kindly R.A.F. sergeant understandably picked him up and would have whisked him back to school had Ah Fei not remonstrated vehemently. What! To be brought back to the school as the first casualty and to be greeted with bellyfuls of derisive laughter from the reception committee of blue skirts at the gate? This would be ignominy worse than death.

Instead he calmly hopped off at Birch Road and quietly slunk away into hiding until the runners began to return. Lest somebody might think it fishy he joined the middle of the line and beat the time barrier by a hair's breadth.

"Have you really qualified, Ah Fei?" asked his classmates in disbelief.

"What? Do you think I cheated?" he bellowed brazenly. And he left them gaping in awe!

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created: 29 September 2000.
Last update: 10 September 2004.

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