Twilight Ultra Challenge 2011

The Malaysian contingent
The Malaysian contingent.

While last weekend’s TUC, my 15th marathon, reaffirms my believe that ultra runners are one of the nicest folks (the camaraderie enjoyed between this set of runners are “mo tak teng” (unrivalled) on the planet, it also taught me several things.

  1. One need not log insanely huge mileage to survive an ultra. Weekly totals of 70K should be sufficient. But, and a large caveat at that, expect a painful and tough going experience. Which leads to the next point.
  2. An ultra is all about enduring. However your techniques, training, strategies are, you’ve to accept that pain is the common denominator. Whether you disassociate or the type to meditate on the painful sensation coursing through your feet and legs, an ultra runner needs to be able to get along with pain. I wouldn’t say that you need to be a masochist or pain junkie but you need to be comfortable in dealing with it.
  3. I realize that I need to accept the fact that until I embrace fact No. 2 above, I’ll probably won’t be able to hit the 50-mile (80K) mark, the accepted minimal distance in the ultra circle. During the course of the run, I went through everything in the ultra textbook, from boredom, elation, deep focus, despair (when I realized that I’m still not up to the mark) to the hills and valleys of emotions. Never have I been on an emotional rollercoaster ride such as this since last year’s North Face.
  4. The breaks should be kept in check. Ideally kept to 10 minutes, I observed that what separated the performers from the the non-performers were the amount of time spent sitting down. We’re of course allowed to rest but the key is to minimize the downtime and keep moving however slow that may be.
  5. “Fast” and “Ultrarunning” do mix. There are indeed many ultrarunners that night who were literally hammering the loops. I’m until now, amazed as I recollect the sight of these machines at work.
  6. One can’t be too gung-ho when tackling an ultra. I overestimated myself by doing a commando on this event. There wasn’t much allowance in terms of rest and pre-race preparedness. Arriving a day before would be ideal.
Before the Jetstar flight at 8:40am.
Before the Jetstar flight at 8:40am.
Arrived at Changi, about to board the train to the city.
Arrived at Changi, about to board the train to the city.

When it comes down to it I have to concede that for the lack of running the last 2 weeks, the below par (nutritionally speaking) lunch and “Walk-of-the-Lost” to Marina Square from Raffles MRT station, and the caution of avoiding injury in view of commencement of Gold Coast Marathon training, the reality is I wasn’t strong enough mentally to tackle the ultra beast. It was the same situation as I faced for my first few marathons. But unlike the marathon, where technical mistakes can be rectified quite easily, my shortcoming for the ultra is more intrinsic. It’s about my mental preparedness.

The Lost Boys trying to find their way to Marina Square
The Lost Boys trying to find their way to Marina Square
Part of The Lost Boys route.
Part of The Lost Boys’ route.
The Marina Sands
The Marina Sands
The climb up Marina Sands. I composed this shot in a way to show the immense steps.
The climb up Marina Sands. I composed this shot in a way to show the immense steps.

The start of the event was rather frantic for me having got to the race site with hardly 20 minutes left to the 5pm start. Luckily I’d changed into my running tights beforehand and could do away with public stripping. Only the provision of my urine sample for a sports study detoured me to the loo nearby. Thanks to Mohan, my luggage were stowed away and I deposited my special needs shoebag with the volunteers. There wasn’t a need for special bottles for me as I was carrying my UD10 bottle. In my haste, I only managed to stash a bag of Powergel chews, my iPod shuffle, a Clif Bar and the Lumix in my pouch. The race site was well laid out and the 200 plus crowd were fantastic. Spirits were high and things were really lighthearted.

The race gets underway!
The race gets underway!
Lots of furry friends along the way.
Lots of furry friends along the way.
This is a particularly nice stretch to run. Mouthwatering as well with seafood restaurants just to the right.
This is a particularly nice stretch to run. Mouthwatering as well with seafood restaurants just to the right.
David Ong aka HappyFeet of Team Fatbird
David Ong aka HappyFeet of Team Fatbird. I like the lens cover of his LX3. The campsites and beach are just to the right.

I stuck to my plan of walking 2.5K for every 10K covered for 20K. I ditched any attempts to keep stock of timing after that and went by feeling. The weather has been cooperative even though it was predictably humid, overcast and breezy. The large crowd of kids, adults (in bikinis and most are with more coverage 😉 ), dogs, bikers, skateboarders, and campers at the beach-fronting park contributed to the runners’ hectic weaving in and out. Other that the crowd issue and the concrete surface, it was a nice place to run.

Adventurous duo. This couple ran TUC as part of the Gobi Desert March training.
Adventurous duo. This couple ran TUC as part of the Gobi Desert March training.

The volunteers were fantastic. I was informed that many of them are secondary schoolers who get to earn volunteer-credits for their contribution, an excellent initiative by the Singapore schools. As the runners’ names are printed quite large on the bib, my name was cheered as much as when I was running the NYC marathon! That and the statements made on my BV tights! The boys and girls who made up the course volunteers were just awesome throughout the night, especially the groups near the restaurants and skating rink.

The ever helpful volunteers manning the Banana Buffet.
The ever helpful volunteers manning the Banana Buffet.
The bottles and special needs bags tent. The race is a Bring Your Own Bottle one but there are still plastic cups used
The bottles and special needs bags tent. The race is a “Bring Your Own Bottle” one but there are still plastic cups used. Total abstinence of plastic cups are very tricky but at least kept to a minimum and their usage were recycled.
All the beachside barbeque and picnic pits were occupied.
All the beachside barbeque and picnic pits were occupied.

We were served some pretty good stuff throughout the night. Free flow of the pleasant tasting HEED electrolyte drink from Hammer meant that I needn’t consume my own electrolyte tabs. There were plenty of bananas too, while some super supportive folks brought chocs, sandwich and many other foodstuff to help runners maintain their carb intake. David Ong aka Happyfeet (thanks bro!) even distributed ultra refreshing “ho liao” (tasty) red bean ice lollies to many of us! But after several bouts of personal battle with feet pain, I limped to the nearby Burger King with Lynette (thanks Lynette for your stupendous support, care and treat!) and Frank to load up with the real stuff. I knew I had to eat even though the beef patty tasted like sand. I’m sure it wasn’t but my tastebuds were screwed then.

But the beef and mushroom burger washed down with Coke did the trick as I sought to progress from the meager 35K logged. At that juncture, there was a need for me to further breakdown the chunks from 5K to 2.5K, with the westward leg the toughest and loneliest. I rationalized that my running leg has to be brisk and quick so that I didn’t prolong the pain, so I made sure that for every 2.5K walk I did, I scooted the next. The same BK and a can of Naughty G ensured that I had my best running stretch in the late stages of my run. I passed more runners at that later stage than when the race started.

After calling it a day (or night) at 50K in around 9 hours, I was disappointed with my mental resolve in seeing the pain through. It wasn’t the lack of stamina. My mental endurance was clearly lacking. I questioned if I was even ready to tackle races exceeding the marathon distance even before my marathon goals are achieved. Maybe I’m not meant to run the ultra, which isn’t a shame really because I’ve always maintained that the ultra is a deeply personal journey. It may merely mean that I’m not ready to make that journey now. Lots of questions to be sure, but just like my past experiences on the marathon, I think there just might be a road ultra attempt in the future, quite possibly the 2012 Twilight (so Ben, you better keep this race going!).

Victor en route to his 100K. Was he briefly tempted by the wafts of Black Pepper Crab?
Victor en route to his 100K. Was he briefly tempted by the wafts of Black Pepper Crab?
Race Director Ben (left) who will be racing Boston 2011 with the McDonalds Trio
Race Director Ben (left) who will be racing Boston 2011 with the McDonald’s Trio
The timekeepers keeping score of the runners loops. Good job guys!
The timekeepers keeping score of the runners’ loops. Good job guys!
My race ended a few minutes before the time shown on the clock.
My race ended a few minutes before the time shown on the clock.

Finally, despite the dissatisfaction of my run, I had fun. There were moments of sheer hilarity and fun as the lot of us went about tackling our inner demons. If there wasn’t any fun, I would’ve outright declared that there will no longer be any future outings for me! For now, I’ll just concentrate on my immediate goal of doing well in Gold Coast. And on top of my compliments to Ben and his team for doing such a great job, congratulations go out to my fellow travellers and runners who were part of the inaugural race. Yim, Victor, Shine, TPC are all now Centurions with 100K under their belts while Karen, Cynthia, Zack, KA, Pui San, Alexis, Paul did very very well too. Good job, guys! Thank you also goes to Frank who was like my travel agent 🙂

The humongous medal and very nice t-shirt.
The humongous medal and very nice t-shirt.
The Lumixs close up of the medal at f/2.8 is pretty impressive.
The Lumix’s close up of the medal at f/2.8 is pretty impressive.

Sidebar: The world is indeed a very small place. On my hopover to Singapore, I managed to bump into my ex-boss at the Raffles MRT station while still lugging my bag from the airport. Then while waiting to board the flight home from Changi Airport, I ate at the same eatery as another colleague of mine. If that didn’t nail the serendipitous nature of these meetings, my ex-boss walked into the same Sky Train car back in KLIA.

TNF 100 Duo 2010

What could possibly possess runners to put themselves through a 50K footrace across unthinkable terrain and weather? I can think of a few reasons: self challenge, peer pressure, ignorance, insanity. Sometimes all of the mentioned.

I wanted to make up for all the loss of running in 2009 by having a great comeback and also to celebrate 40 years in existence, not including the 9 months in the womb, of course. So there has to be something crazy, something big, something unattempted. And it has to do with running needless to say. Since returning to an active running schedule, it has been more of mileage rather than speed for me and when the registration opened for the TNF 100 in Singapore, I was one of the early sign-ups. That was back in early June.

Things started to gain a bit of momentum with the KL Marathon, followed by the River Jungle Marathon, a few long training runs of the marathon distance and a couple visits to the trails. It was about going the distance but embarking on a debut race always entail some learnings. My first marathon was horrible and I’ve learned never to repeat the same mistakes for my next 11. I fully expect the same take-aways for my debut ultra adventure.

Overall a good experience with the budget carrier Firefly
Overall a good experience with the budget carrier Firefly
TNF Boutique at Marina Square
TNF Boutique at Marina Square
BV gear to put through the grinder. Thanks to Karim, Matthew and Frank
BV gear to put through the grinder. Thanks to Karim, Matthew and Frank

My goal was simply to finish within the 9 hours’ cutoff, walk the uphills and run the flats. But the plan was too simplistic. I was ignorant of the actual terrain and was expecting too much similarities between the local trails and the ones that we will be covering in Singapore. The ultras are too vastly different from the marathons, in terms of how the body responds. Food and fluid intake becomes more critical and the only surefire plan is by way of experience. It’s only through really long training runs, simulations and races that one can learn what and how much to take in. Wrong missteps will basically screw your race.

The Fragrance Hotel is located just barely 10 minutes from the race start by cab. My breakfast was cup noodles and a cup of coffee. I wanted to eat more but last night’s dinner was still in the stomach and I just couldn’t cram more food in. Frank and I checked out at 5:32am and was already at the showering area of the MacRitchie Park by 5:40am. The air was still, humid with all signs pointing to a hot day out. Soon enough the number of runners grew and the Malaysian runners pretty much located ourselves. Syah and Ian looked ready to rock. They’re certainly the fittest duo of our group. What followed were the customary photo sessions. All good, and that took the edge away from the stress to come. I’m grateful for Kash and hubby for accommodating Frank and my luggage handling. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known what to do with it, having checked out from the hotel.

We made our way to the check-in stations at the start to have our hydration packs weighed. We must carry a minimal of 1.5L of fluids each. I think mine weighed about 2.6Kgs at least, with a pack of GU gel, GU Chomps, Forze Bar, Clif Bar, Clif Shot Bloks and the necessary map, wallet and passport. I was garbed in the sponsored BV Sport compression top, shorts and calf sleeves. Thank you Karim, Matthew and Frank! The staging area was starting to fill up with the 100K Duo runners (the crazy ones doing the 100K Solo had started at 4am) and it was fun catching up with familiar faces and friends.

The Japanese contingent
The Japanese contingent
Part of the Malaysian contingent
Part of the Malaysian contingent

The clock hit 7am and we’re off! I had nothing on my mind except the present moment. From this point onwards, you’ll have to excuse the generality of the report. I had no inkling of the names of places but a report is still in order, so let’s get on with it. First 2Ks were run on bricked and tarred surface – very familiar to road runners and nearly everyone was running a little too briskly for an ultra. Oooh yes, the race had just started and everyone was still smiling.

Dont let the tranquil scenery fool ya. Hell waits within!
Don’t let the tranquil scenery fool ya. Hell waits within!
Not long after the flag off
Not long after the flag off

I believe it was at the 2K mark when we entered into the trails. Also immediately was the first climb. Not steep but I was already soaked and dripping with sweat from my head. Such was the humidity. Team Macam Bagus (Syah and Ian) was long gone and I was running with Poh Seng in some parts as he was waiting up for Chin Chin (Team Tri-Ultra). I remembered telling Poh Seng that the pace was rather fast for the first 10K. Lots of twisty turns and ups and downs, and the surface was getting more and more treacherous. I didn’t have much problems with roots compared to the rocks. The rocks were akin to those blasted from the quarry, except smaller. I kicked a couple of those and nearly kissed the ground only to be saved by some quick reflexes. Next up was the undulating Rifle Range Road which gave me the opportunity to cover some miles. The exit from the trail was quite welcomed in fact.

Kash and Nik in the blur
Kash and Nik in the blur

After Rifle Range Road, we had to deal with the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and some mountain bikes plying the Belukar Track. I was walking quite a bit from here and I was trying hard to get the mental game going, which was a real challenge. The iPhone never left the SPIBelt ever since the trailhead of MacRitchie. The battle was at hand and the last thing I wanted to bother was taking it out and putting it back in, even though some stretches were really quite beautiful with sunlight streaming through the trees. There was even a small brook that we had to cross but it wasn’t something to get your shoes wet in.

It got decidedly tougher from the Gangsa Track. The miles go by very slowly for all the effort expanded and I noticed that my core temperature was going up. I doused myself with chilled water at every given opportunity at the water stops and that helped up to a point only. The conditions were just started to get brutal. The water stops were very well managed. Drinks aplenty, with lots of GU gels and Mars bars. A few even had bananas. Bananas were the best and I responded almost immediately after each banana.

Clif Shot Blok in mouth, its time to dig in deep. Real deep.
Clif Shot Blok in mouth, it’s time to dig in deep. Real deep.

The worst section of the race without doubt was the Mandai and Lor Asrama. Seemingly endless curves of track hid the climbs. My race well and truly went downhill from here even though the uphills were just beginning. The scramble up Hill 265 being the culmination of the torture we were put through. As bad as Hill 265 was, it allowed me to stretch out the glutes and quads as I scaled the short but very steep climb, occasionally on all fours. I managed a few phases of good running to try to make up some time. Sipping the Nuun mix in the Nathan helped I believe but my stomach was not feeling optimal. It could be due to a combination of heat, electrolyte-fluid imbalance and lack of fuel. There were no cramps on the legs, no blisters to contend with, no headache nor light-headedness but the stomach just didn’t feel right.

The Mandai section continued to dish out pain in dollops and the downhills was equally painful with the bountiful sharp rocks. They had everything there – shingles, pebbles, and the deadly fist-sized rocks. I saw several conventional running shoes sans soles. Shoes, feet and legs were shredded. Along the way, a 100K Solo participant would pass me from the opposite direction. These guys were an inspiration. Those whom I came across didn’t appear to have bodies like Dean Karnazes or Scott Jurek. If fact you wouldn’t be able to differentiate them from anyone else which begs the question, what’s the quality that really makes them extraordinary and to be brave enough to attempt such a monumental challenge.

Meanwhile the sun was doing all it could to sap the juices out of the walking wounded. Exiting Mandai was such a relief even though the battle was just slightly more than half done. I spent 7 minutes at the Mandai stop to cool down. I had refilled my hydration pack with water and Camelbak Elixir but I needed to make sure that my core temperature didn’t go up further. No chafing nor blisters yet, though I was beginning to be affected a little by the varying and alternating shadows and hard sunlight in the trails. That made it hard for my eyes to adjust especially when going down a rocky path.

What followed were more of internal battles as I shuffled/walked on. The shoulders were beyond tired and least of my concern, and the stomach issues came and went but the feet hurt like crazy. Mentally I was focused on counting down the miles. It became easier with 40K done and in fact I had a good couple of Ks after 40 and that was when I knew I’d finished. The earlier thoughts of whether I’d make it back on time was banished. It was then a question of whether I’d make it back under 8 hours. That unfortunately didn’t happen as I crashed again with 3K to go. That section before exiting the trail for the last time was endless. But once out of it, there were just a short distance to go. The reservoir was packed with activities like rowing and canoeing. I was surprised to see Victor there with his camera. Encouragements from finishers were comforting and as I rounded a corner, more familiar faces like Khairul, Raymond, Michelle, Ben (who’s not a man but a machine – he finished in 5+ hours) and my partner Frank who really shouldn’t have waited for me but did so to finish together. A very nice gesture. And with that my very first ultra was over and done with. Total time: 8:17.15.

Team Runnerz Circle - Over and done!
Team Runnerz Circle – Over and done!

My left calf cramped up big time while cooling down on the sidelines with Victor, Poh Seng, Chin Chin and Seok Bee. After that, it was time to hit the showers before packing up to leave for the airport. At the budget terminal I forced down a Double Filet-o-Fish and a milkshake while Poh Seng and Frank fulfilled their beef cravings. The flight back was on time and after Frank dropped me off at a pickup point, I was back home after a short drive. With TNF in the bag, there are several more races to go for the year. Next up is the Genting Cross-Country in a couple of weeks’ time, followed by the Penang Bridge Marathon in November. Oh yeah, I weighed myself last night and I found that I lost 3 Kgs.

Going home
Going home

Post race analyses:
I couldn’t have chosen a more difficult one to start. Even the toughest road races I’ve endured pales in comparison to this race. No longer will I look at road races the same way again. In fact many returning TNF runners commented that it was tougher this year with some course changes and weather. I know that I shouldn’t complain or provide excuses for a poor debut (I know, completing itself is already an achievement) because tough trail races are meant to be that. Don’t believe me? I’ve dug around for some race reports on the Leadville 100 (I chose Leadville as an example because I know of its varied terrain challenges) and I invite you to take a look at the photos and read the race report of Pete Stevenson here. I shouldn’t really blame the course but rather seek to toughen myself up. I’ve to think of my hydration and fueling plan should I undertake another ultra. This element can make or break a race, so I’ll be spending sometime researching this. On the gear side, I think the Cascadia did its job well, holding up to the jagged rocks. Even though I scrapped the shoes really hard as I did my death shuffle, durability is top notch. The use of Bodyglide and the asics socks didn’t give me any blisters which is pretty amazing. The BVs also provided critical support. My only wish is that the top comes in white for tropical weather use. A day after the race, my shoulder aches from the lugging of the hydration pack but otherwise no chafing nor blisters as a result of the pack or apparels. The one thing I out to have worn were the shades.

Race organization
Water and refreshment stops were handled very well. Enough snacks and drinks and services were quick. Race start was fine and checking in was simple enough. Directional signages were sufficient in the trails but there could’ve been more distance markers. There was no need for traffic marshalls due to the nature of the race but there was a major junction where some control would be preferred. The runners, though, were already too beat to dash across the road and were contented just to follow the traffic light signals. I’d recommend this race to those seeking a different and much more difficult challenge. Will I do this again? I’ve learnt never to say never. With terrain specific training a 7:30 is a doable timing. The challenge is finding the time and resources to put in the necessary work. Meanwhile I’m focused on a few road races and we’ll see what 2011 will bring.

Special thanks:
With a race this long, it’s impossible not to rely on friends to make it happen. I’d like to thank in no order for their company, help and assistance throughout the training and on race day. My thanks go out to: The POR Gang for the happening trail runs (let’s do it again soon!), Poh Seng, Chin Chin, Frank, Yim, Loke (for the Newton route training, which I’m sure counted on race day), Tey (always for the encouragement), Karim, Matthew and Frank (for the BV gear), Kash and hubby (for the baggage handling) and Frank again for the logistics, planning and finishing together.

Photos courtesy of David Ong, Pui San, Sim Shao Chong, Calvin C and Weng.

Oh yeah, in doing the TNF yesterday, I also logged my submission for the Worldwide Half Marathon!

Nike Human Race 2008

Race Report

Go global
Nike Sales Malaysia’s invitation to participate in the Singapore leg of the Human Race was too good to turn down especially when the city state was the only South East Asia venue to host this global event. Trust it to the sports marketing giant to put on a superb show, uniting 25 cities, celebrity runners and iconic athletes, and not to forget one million runners together for the benefit of 3 charitable organizations (20% of the registration fees go to the runner’s charity of choice). For this to work, Nike latched on to the power of the Internet, weaving the event promotion, registration, and training into their Nike+ portal. This allows participants to set up virtual challenges and log their training. Those who couldn’t make it to the appointed venues could also run the race virtually. The choice of date was significant since it’s to take place on Malaysia’s Independence Day – 31.8.2008. Each registrant has their own selection of beneficiary for personal reasons and believing that children are indeed our future, my choice was

About the charities
The campaign was created in 2006 by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in partnership with Nike and Microsoft. The goal of the campaign is to give more than nine million children better access to education, sport and technology by 2010. The website exists to raise funds, but also to give voice to those who often go unheard, allowing visitors to see pictures of the camps where children pass much of their lives, read refugee children’s stories and understand what refugee children’s lives are like.

Lance Armstrong Foundation
The Lance Armstrong Foundation – LAF – was founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. The LAF is a nonprofit organization located in Austin, Texas focusing on providing practical information and tools people with cancer need to live life on their own terms. LAF’s agenda include Prevention, Access to screening and care, Improvement of the quality of life for cancer survivors and Investment in research.

World Wildlife Fund
WWF was born into this world in 1961. Since those early days WWF has grown up to be one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. Currently there are more than 1300 WWF conservation projects underway around the world. Almost all WWF’s work involves partnerships with local non-profit agencies and other global NGOs.

A scare
My participation, however, was nearly derailed by the muscle strain I picked up just 3 days before race day. Luckily I recovered enough to make the trip down, even though I was a little stoned by the muscle relaxants! Everything had been arranged by Nike from our flight and hotel stay to race pack collection, and thanks to Frank who helped pick up the flight tickets, all I needed to do was to be at the KLIA on Saturday morning. I was the first to arrive and soon enough I was joined by Frank and Pueh Tian. We killed time at McDonald’s while waiting for the boarding time. Only at the waiting lounge did we linked up with Niki Cheong from The Star and Richard Augustin from the TimeOut KL magazine.

Our ride in the tiny 737 was pretty bumpy and there were so much thick clouds that I knew it would be a wet weekend. We cleared customs very quickly and before long reached the Gallery Hotel soon enough. There were many banners promoting Sunday’s race from the ECP stretch all the way into the CBD area and the results show – due to the level of awareness generated, Singapore was the first country to fill up and close the registration process. I’d say it’s a result of good marketing, a large population of fitness enthusiasts and a credit to the Singapore government’s health and fitness programs.

The race pack

We were met by Alison Lee, Nike Malaysia’s Marketing Communications Manager, at the hotel with our race packs. In each pack was a red Sphere Dry tee with a unique race number, a large Nike polycarbonate water bottle, championchip, wrist bands to denote starting category and access to the Nike Partner’s tent, race guide, and various vouchers. We took a bit longer to locate our room numbers as they were painted (quite small in fact, which led me to think it was done intentionally) on the floor instead of the door. Well, such is the case of a boutique hotel! Then it was a short walk to Robinson Quay for a late but very nice lunch at a Belgian restaurant. We headed separate ways after lunch with Frank, PT and I opting to hit Orchard Road for some shopping.

The Gallery Hotel

After a fantastic lunch at a Belgian restaurant. Note Tintin’s gang painted on the wall

Shopping is also a workout
1 heavy downpour, 4 shopping malls and 6 DVDs from HMV later, my legs were starting to feel the effects. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped to admire the lantern floats moored along the Singapore River in front of the CentrePoint mall. Much as I’d liked to spend the night chilling out at the numerous waterholes there was racing to be done the next day and I’d yet to sort out my race kit, which I did while channel surfing between the EPL game and HBO. It was lights out by midnight.

Race Day
I didn’t hear my watch alarm ring but by 7:15am I was down at the coffee house for breakfast. The plan called for an excursion to the Raffles City area. This time we opted to walk there, instead of riding the MRT. Weather was superb for walking with a steady breeze and plenty of cloud cover. At the end of the 2KM walk, we had quite a few silly photo opportunities. You can check that out in the photo album. The skies looked threatening though and I bet at least 11,000 other people were praying that it wouldn’t pour. That’s the number of runners who will be hitting the race at 4:15pm. Well, 11,000 and the hundreds of dedicated volunteers, performers (did I mention that there would be performances en route as well as after the race?), and hardworking crew. Lunch was at Funan’s Pastamania.

Shoe of choice for the race. An arty farty shot to match the boutique hotel

The Alkaff Bridge, part of the race route, in the background.

Familiar faces
We were early to the Padang and we observed that it wasn’t as soggy as we thought it would be. It seemed that everyone was concerned about the state of cleanliness of their Lunar Trainers! It was nice to catch up with Siva who was on stage duty and later Wong whom we met at the Nike Booth. After all the wacky photo shoots (again!), and a chitchat with an American who desperately wanted to run but couldn’t register on time, we proceeded to deposit our baggage. Thus far, everything was efficiently organized. Stickers were provided to ensure that we don’t forget which baggage counter we left our belongings.

2 of the ridiculous shots we took. We had too much time!

Finally we made our way to the Esplanade where the staging area would be. The crowd had been steadily building up and the sea of red was swelling. I didn’t opt for a warm up, a requisite before a 10K, since I didn’t want to risk my quads. Instead I rested at the steps inside the Esplanade and enjoyed the aircond. While my legs felt OK in my walkabouts, I wasn’t quite sure how it would react when the pounding started, hence my decision to play safe. With 30 minutes to go, the 3 of us headed down to the starting pens. We were assigned the 1st pen which actually was for the elites and faster runners. Of course I felt out of place even if the rulebook mentioned that those aiming for sub-50 were to be allocated the first start. I guess I felt that way because there were many obviously faster runners who were assigned to the “slower” 2nd pen. Among whom were BoSe and David Ong. It was almost coincidental that we could hook up despite the huge crowd. A handful of runners were in Lunars. It was getting packed in the holding area and I wished we could just start. The skies were holding even if there was a very light drizzle.

The Wave 1 start. Can you spot me? Hint: Look to the right, and squint.

A DJ and 2 MCs were hamming up the crowd but I thought that having the teen who is a cancer survivor on stage was a nice touch. He and his family would be flagging us off. There was also the WWF panda mascot. It certainly allowed the runners to relate to the charities they contributed to. A couple of short interviews later, it was time for action.

The air horns sounded and everyone burst out of the pens running like being chased by bulls in Pamplona.

The first K was a ridiculously fast 4:50. The second K was even faster at 4:37. I was monitoring my quads for any sign of discomfort but they seemed to be holding up. Given the narrow start, there were plenty of jostling as the back runners tried to get in front. I’d lost contact with Frank and had Pueh Tian for company for a full 4 seconds. The pace continued for the next couple of Ks and I thought that I might not be able to sustain it for the whole distance. By the 3rd K, the crowd around me became sparser. At least within the 3 feet around me. That allowed me to make clean and fast grabs at the water stations. I couldn’t sustain the sub 5 pace after the 3rd K and my splits hover between 5:00 to 5:10. I didn’t find the narrow riverine paths a problem. As I passed the packed pubs along the waterfront, I jestfully shouted “beer, beer!”. It was unusual then to experience some hot spots on both soles. The sun peeked out from the clouds and it suddenly turned warmer. A combination of tiredness and slippery surface slowed me down further in the final 2K but I hung on for a 51:06 finish. The distance was quite accurate at 10.09K. A check later at the Nikeplus website showed that I placed 33,343 globally.

I wasn’t too happy with my timing as it was nearly 3 minutes slower than my best but considering the circumstances and conditions, I wasn’t too beat up either. Most importantly, finishing the race meant that I could partake in the festivities that laid ahead. There weren’t much of a crowd after the finish line, so I quickly de-chipped and collected my finisher’s baton containing the exclusive bracelet. The volunteers did a great job in clearing the queue for water and refreshments and I was able to collect my baggage very quickly (unlike the chaos of the Singapore Marathon). The young volunteers at baggage check even complimented my finishing time, which was a nice gesture.

The finisher’s bracelet

Part of being an invited guest meant that I could gain admission to the Nike Partners’ Lounge where plenty of food and drinks awaited. You could also guzzle as much Heineken as you wanted if beer was your preferred post-race carbs. I ate lightly and finished a can while camera girls snapped polaroids of guests. The concert on the stage were shown live on my dream TV – 42″ Panasonic plasmas, lined up at various spots in the lounge. I pulled Shaharudin, who finished 5th, for a group photo and also saw Jeanette Wang, Singapore’s top triathlete and winner of this year’s Sundown Marathon. I observed that she was very disciplined in her warm down. I thought she spent at least 15 minutes on her cooldown routine.

The Malaysian contingent including Shaharudin (2nd left)

The post-race spread waiting for us at the Partners’ Lounge

Niki, Richard and Pueh Tian joined us not long after and once everyone had eaten and drank, we walked over to the Media Centre located in the Singapore Recreation Club to collect our press kits. Niki had to submit his report back to The Star and we had an opportunity to browse the press photos trying to find our faces.

The concert in full swing

Since the trio wanted to hang out at the post-race concert, which featured top Singapore rap and hip-hop artistes and an upcoming band from the US, Boys Like Girls, Frank decided to join me over at Robinsons as I wanted to pick up some toys for the kids back home. I settled for a Ben 10 bag for Carbokid1 and a Thomas The Train carriage for Carbokid2. On our 2K walk back to the hotel we picked up a kebab each at the Shiraz stall along Quay. The Singaporeans were so efficient that even before the concert was over, the council workers were already dismantling and removing the street boardings, barricades and buntings.

Packing was a little difficult early next morning due to the generosity of Nike and my shopping. Some violent shoving and teeth gnashing later, I managed to put away all the stuff. The ride to the airport in the pre-booked Merc Vito was smooth with no traffic jams. To kill some time, I took the virtual SLK on several spins on the X-Box console at Changi and there was no changing the fact that I still sucked at Need For Speed. The 10am (75% empty) Airbus flight home was way more comfortable that the rocky ride in the Boeing.

In closing this account, I’d like to record my heartfelt thanks to the generous people of Nike Sales Malaysia namely Alison Lee, Siva Shanker and Wong Li-Zren for inviting us to the party. They not only showered the Malaysian contingent with great hospitality and made us felt at home, but worked unbelievably hard to put up a smashing event for the 11,000 of us runners.

Read more accounts here: Niki | Frank | Pueh Tian

Adidas Sundown Marathon 2008

At the agreed time of 9am a day before the race, the group of us (Choi, Frank, Shine, Cheang, Guna, Runwitme and I) were there. I believe, including Uncle Sonny’s party, there were at least 14 of us in the same bus. It almost felt like we were on the Pacesetters bus heading to the Singapore Marathon. Shine and Tey were penned down to run the ridiculously insane 84K ultra marathon, while the rest of us “just” the usual 42K.

This marathon was to be my 9th marathon, the 2nd for 2008. By year end, I’d hopefully knocked off 3 marathons. The last time I completed a trio of marathons were way back in 2004, I think. Even after completing 9, I can attest that it never gets any easier. Having trained for the 2008 KLIM in November last year, Sundown was to be my winding down race before my 1 month break from any structured running. I’m just tired and despite the 5 PRs set for the races done this year – GE30K (2:56), KLIM (4:16), Orange Run (sub 49 minutes), NB15K (1:18) and RMAF (1:48) – I’ve not felt comfortable nor relaxed doing the last 2. It was time for a break before the periodization-base phase in July for my November marathon.

Singapore here we come! Photo courtesy of Frank

Back to the race report. The journey down was very smooth with a 20-minute stopover at Pagoh. I channel surfed – watching Bruce Willis’ 16 Blocks, Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma 2 and a bit of Armageddon. With little running the last 3 weeks of the race, my race strategy was just to hack it. Get it done and over with while trying to enjoy the experience. I didn’t anticipate sleepiness to be a factor having gone through the much worse Penang 12-hour Walk and the Putrajaya Midnight 30K simulation run. With no regular runs, however, anything and everything WILL go wrong.

We reached Singapore on schedule and while the rest separated to collect their race kits from Hi-Velocity’s office, I caught a cab to my friend’s apartment nearby. After rested for a bit, I took the MRT to City Hall area to check out some stuff for the family back home. It was, after all, the Great Singapore Sales. Even so, our purchasing power were somewhat diminished with the disadvantaged exchange rate, so it was just some knick-knacks for the folks back home. I settled for a couple of rare CDs at Grammophone and a few items at the Running Lab, including a pair of Injinji toe-sock. Singapore runners like to accessorize to the hilt, so it’s a good place to check out stuff that you read about in Runners World but never see in Malaysia. I had pasta while waiting for my friend to get off work and later a bowl of Korean noodles with him a few hours later. I retired that night stuffed.

The spartan race kit – an ultra large bag for marketing and the yet to be launched
adiZero vest. Note the personalized bib. Photo courtesy of Frank

The next early afternoon was spent covering the Nike, Mizuno and Asics running boutiques in The Paragon followed by another hefty serving of pasta. Then it was back to the apartment for some feet up. I napped for all of 10 minutes. Pre-race dinner was a really tasty Subway Turkey Breast on Honey Oat sandwich. After which I caught a cab with Justin and headed for the Changi Village starting area. The crowd and cars leading up to the area confirmed that we’ve arrived to the correct place. Not long after we hooked up with my travel mates and then all of us deposited our bags.

There wasn’t much to do after that except to survey the area. The crowd was big – a reported 6,000 for the marathon and another 300 for the ultra but not too big to the point of congestion. The crazy ultra marathoners were already in their first loop having started at 8pm. Music and atmosphere were tame compared to the Singapore Marathon. There’s bound to be comparison, but to be fair, this is a debut event.

Photo credit Runwitme

All of us walked to the starting line with 30 minutes to go and before long, after the “good lucks” and “all the bests”, we were let off promptly at midnight. Because we were only allowed a narrow lane to run, I covered the first 400m by power walking. Many overtook in the inner and outer lanes. The organizers ought to have had the entire width of the road for the runners. There was really nothing noteworthy except the highlight of experiencing the sight and sound of the airliners taking off into the still night. Despite an unusually wet weather from the day we arrived, the rain did nothing to lift the humidity.

Second grouse, after the forced-herding, was the unpreparedness of the first 3 water stations. The 2 or 3 volunteers simply couldn’t cope. The stations were small and within seconds, all filled cups were snatched up. Some runners even grabbed the full 1.5L bottles. I was lucky as I was able to bypass these stops as I was carrying my usual disposable bottle filled with my personal concoction. Frank had raced ahead while Choi wasn’t far away. The objective of the event is to showcase Singapore’s new Park Connectors, a comprehensive network of links between the established parks. After the Changi String Of Lights stretch that never seemed to end, we finally reached the East Coast Park (ECP). People were out in force there, with many campers, picnickers and boozers providing some appreciated vocal support. I was running OK, averaging a 6-minute pace but was definitely tiring for some reason. Even with insufficient training, tiredness seemed to come too early. Perhaps it was the humidity.

I kept the effort until after the 22K mark just after we cleared the ECP and had to climb over a pedestrian bridge. Now the 5 pedestrian bridges were unlike those we see here – you go up a flight of stairs, hit the short straight and come down the other side. No siree. The ones we had to clear were like monster bridges complete with multiple switchbacks. That was to be my 3rd grouse, even though in hindsight, it was something the organizers needed to do since this was a feature of the park connectors. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that everyone was cursing.

At the 23rd K, I told Choi to go ahead as I was starting my walk breaks. It was going to be a long night/early morning. I had long ceased to note my timing and was just focused on clearing the remaining miles which never seemed to come any earlier. We were led through apartment backlanes, car parks, dark meandering and undulating paths, twists and turns and here comes my 4th grouse. Concrete. 80% of the distance were on concrete surface. We were asked to run on the concrete pedestrians paths and not the roads and my lower legs were being thrashed. That was why I was so happy to reach the packed sand Bedok Reservoir loop where I was able to cover the 27 to 29K in 15K speed. There wasn’t any pain in that stretch and I was able to gain some ground. Alas, it was back to concrete before I knew it. Both my archilles tendons were hurting and my left plantar was twinging away too. Although I’ve no history of injuries to these critical spots, I decided that I would not risk them and just walk the rest of the way to the finish.

I remembered at the 30K mark that there was only 10 more Ks to go and surely I could sustain a 10K race pace here to quickly wrap up the proceedings? I was wrong as with how most things went that night. So it was back to repeating the run-walk routine till the 38K when I somehow got my wind back and managed a decent running stretch right until the finish. We ran and ran but the finish line didn’t seem to appear. It was getting quite demoralizing that the last K was uphill and twisting over the concrete walkways again. We could hear no music nor see any crowd. Then suddenly there it was in the distant. But wait, we had to clear another pedestrian bridge, though this one pales in comparison with all the others that came before it. Finally the finishing chute and that was it – I completed my 9th. In 4:49 – I somehow managed to come in under 5 hours.

My Garmin read 42.89K and another even read 43K. It was certainly an overdistanced race. The consolation was the nice finisher T-Shirt and the beautiful medal. After catching up with the rest and wolfing down the drinks and bananas, we collected our bags and waited for the rest to come back. Then it suddenly rained and heaped more misery on us. It was getting quite chilly too. I then decided to go back first, while the rest continued to wait for Cheang, Shine and Runwitme. After failing to spot a cab, I hopped on the feeder shuttle and then the Pasir Ris MRT back to the City Hall interchange. Before I reached back to the apartment, I made an error in getting off the wrong station. Oh well.

All I can say was that the event met its objectives to highlight the parks and the connectors, even if the runners suffered for it. The men’s winner was a Kenyan with a timing of 2:40 and that’s the testament of how tough the race was.

Photo credit Frank.

I can’t describe my respect for the ultra runners who had to go through the course twice and in the later stages in wet conditions. I’m equally intrigued and inspired by their mental and physical strength. The distance they’ve to cover is madness and for all my admiration, the thought of even doing one right now simply eludes me. At this moment I can’t think of anything else except to recover, rejuvenate and rediscover the hunger and be ready to come back to training.

I’m indebted to Justin and Jeanne for their time and hospitality, and my travel mates for their company and Choi for arranging the bus tickets. Malakoff 26K in Penang guys?