You know you’re in a trail territory when the slip-slaps of your shoes on the road are replaced by the squishes and scrunches on the mud and pebbles. Instead of the din and smog of passing vehicles, you have the cacophony of cicadas and the heavy air of the humid jungle. Or the occasional shouts of “Bike!”.
Brush, leaves and undergrowth caress you and depending on how deep into the trail you go, you’ll have leeches for friends. The trails that I’ll be frequenting will be more suburban than virgin. Nevertheless one must be prepared to come out of the trail with a few scrapes and a dozen mosquito bites (strange that it’s called that since the bloodsuckers don’t bite!).
With a week’s break from work upon me, and with a half-day’s work done, I decided on a whim to head to the Kiara trails for an introduction of off-road running. I’m not too familiar with the various loops that this area offers but I figured I can always backtrack should I get “lost”. The trail is well marked and run in and chances are I’ll meet people inside, so my venturing there won’t pose too much of a risk.
The plan was to sandwich the off-road between 2 sessions of loops around the lake. Starting time was rather early at 4:30pm so that I can exit the trail before it gets dark. I had on me the Garmin, hydration pack and S3. That was about it. A short spell of very heavy downpour prepped the course up to test the Cascadia. I coated my limbs with mosquito repellent since I knew from experience that there are plenty of them waiting for me.
As I entered the trail, I had another runner in front and I allowed him go ahead while I took a few shots. A few minutes later I couldn’t even see him and I was pretty much alone in the trail. And boy, was it really tough. The first couple of minutes were spent getting my trail legs going. Tripped a little over some rocks but didn’t fall. Kiara has always been quite a technical course – plenty of fallen tree trunks, rocks, hard climbs and switchbacks ensured at the end of my run of 38 minutes, I covered only a little more than 3K! I ran into countless of spider webs which luckily didn’t get into my eyes. All my senses were engaged fully as I scanned ahead. Most of my uphills were covered walking and there didn’t seem to be an end to it and to play it safe, I enabled my Garmin’s Back To Origin function to lead me back down. Now this part was really fun. I threw caution to the wind as I hurtled down the single track trail. I leapt over the earlier-passed tree trunks and roots. The Garmin was awesome, beeping when a turning was coming up – in fact it was quite accurate. The downhill was exhilarating and I now know why the mountain bikers were so hooked on it.
I exited the trail drenched in sweat and got ready for a few slow loops around the lake. I managed only 4.6K for a total workout time of about 70 minutes. It was a satisfactory first run and I know now how hard the task at hand is going to be. Totally different from road running, the trail can grab you by the throat from the get go. You don’t need 10 minutes to realize that the going is going to be challenging . To prepare for the TNF, there’s really no other options than to adopt specificity in your training. You’ve got to hit the trails, there are no exceptions. Every part of your body (and senses) are engaged and dodging overhanging obstructions while negotiating the narrow path will tax you. And TNF is 50K of all that! Despite my tiredness I still noticed quite a few squirrels, a cat and a black feline looking critter (didn’t see what it was) which scrambled out of my way.
At this point I have no other clue as to best way to prepare for the race except to keep at it. It may seem impossible at this point in time to fathom completing 50K in the trail but I still enjoyed the feeling of heading into it. I don’t know how to articulate it yet but it’s pretty fun. After all there’s always the downhill to look forward to.
The 1.5L High Sierra Wave 50 hydration pack performed surprisingly well. Other than the expected sloshing sound, it didn’t slide left and right as I ran. When I jumped over the obstacles, it didn’t bounced too much as it was snugly secured against my back. No pinching experienced on my shoulders too but I can only conclude this over a much longer run. The only thing which I need to get used to is the bite valve. The Wave 50’s valve is further protected from leakage by a pull and twist action and despite doing so, it was a bit difficult to get the fluids out of it. Maybe it’s a matter or getting use to the system.
If you’re familiar with other bladder system please let me know since I can always replace it with another. All in all, RM128 is a good buy for the Wave 50 compared to much more expensive brands. You can find the High Sierras at the Tearproof outlets.
This is already a way too long post. I’ll leave the wrap up on the Cascadia for another day.
When entries for this year’s final edition of the Putrajaya 100 (rebranded Toyo Tires Putrajaya 100) opened some months ago, I didn’t bite. It has been a bruising year at work and I’ve struggled with moving the mileage beyond what’s needed for general fitness. In case you’re unfamiliar with the venue, Putrajaya didn’t get to be infamous for nothing. Even when Nick signed up for the 78K category, he earned more ribbing from the gang than admiration. There was even a hint of sympathy for him too.
So it was unbelievably perplexing, that in the course of the next couple of months, more of us found ourselves to be part of Nick’s troupe. For the life of me, even now, I can’t believe I was suckered in. And like lemmings, Lum, Cherly and Jeanie came along too! The monies paid, there was really little chance of not turning up, even if all the running I did leading up to that night was just the maintenance sort, fluctuating between 30-50K weeks.
However, at least on the runners’ side, was the favourable weather forecast for the night. Evenings have been stormy (conditions which I love) and certainly beat being put on a slow roast. The list of mandatory items were long and carrying the load presented an equally challenging task for the long haul. But you can’t negotiate on safety.
The plan was to pack as light as I could. Where possible, I brought along alternative gear in my carry box. The red Saucony Palladium packable jacket was eventually replaced by a RM5 Daiso poncho when rain didn’t appear to be on the cards. I also reduced the number of nut bars I carried and ditched the single pack of gel, relying on 2 remaining bars and a bag of mixed roasted nuts for fuel. From my experience in TNF Hong Kong, my primarily nuts fuel plan worked pretty well, staving off hunger while providing denser calories. A single 500ml soft flask was included being a much lighter option, instead of the UD bottle. I decided to bring along a clear lens shade as eye protection from rain, insects and what-have-you.
My final load was comfortably packed into the UD SJ pack. The new Salomon 1L race vest would’ve been ideal but there wasn’t much room in that one, unfortunately. Apparels were also of the bright and light variety, Saucony’s Speed of Lite vest and shorts, a buff and a safety vest over all that. Footwear duties went to the Kinvara 7 instead of the earlier intended Guide 9. Again, it was part of the “go light” strategy. Socks were the Pacific & Co ones which feature reflective nubs. No compression wear. Drop bag facilities were extended to only the 100K and 100 milers, so the Petzl Nao will have to be carried throughout my 78K distance.
Frank was kind enough to drive Jeanie and I to Putrajaya and since we were early, we made a short detour to Equine Park for a light snack. I had a large bowl of ABC to stay hydrated and cool myself down but skipped actual food since I wasn’t hungry. It’s never easy running in a heavily stuffed mode. When we got to the race site, and having gone through kit inspection and race number collection, it was just chilling around sipping on the Americano which I’d brought along. It was getting clearer that there would be no rain that night. Thankfully, the air was cooling with a slight breeze going.
Prior to flag off, Arman gave a quick briefing covering the important safety reminders and route updates. Finally, along with 40 or so other runners, I was finally let off. I emptied my mind of any doubts or emotions and just went with the flow. The number of 78K runners was smaller than the nearly 100 52K and close to 140 runners for the 100K categories.
With Jeanie running strongly, I decided to hang back. Nick, Lum, Cherly, Frank and Leong (who turned up to lend support) were all close by and we took things really easy, walking frequently and not the least bothered that people were passing us. The night was still young and self-preservation was of utmost importance.
When we got near to the hotel where Nick’s wife was waiting, we put on a grand show of 5:45 surge. Naturally as soon as we passed the section, we resumed our walk break! Nothing like these nonsensical moments to take the mind off pressing matters 🙂 .
We got to CP1 pretty smoothly and after a quick refill of the bottle and a bite of 2 slices of bread, we resumed our journey. Several mouthfuls of ice-cold Coke helped to freshen things up too. Not long after that, we had more company in the form of CY, Richi, Zijill and Julia who biked along. As much as I’d like that ice-cold beer (CY and Richi kept reminding Nick and I), I kept my focus on the task at hand. Thankfully, the McDonald’s along the way was so crowded I wasn’t tempted to head in for a snack!
It goes without saying that with many of the gang present, there would be more than one photo taken! I felt a little bad as we were proceeding rather slowly, and these guys were on bikes. After CP2, we lost them, thinking that they could’ve backtracked to support Frank, Jeanie and Cherly. It must’ve been difficult for them but they somehow appeared again when we arrived at CP3! We’ve covered 26K, which wasn’t even halfway but I was comforted that we’ve about to start the difficult 13K to CP4, the halfway point, and the same distance back to CP5 (CP3) for a total of 26K.
With the clock past midnight, Nick and I gingerly (and should I say, briskly) got through the Muslim cemetery stretch before the route joined up with the highway to CP4. Along with Nick, we covered another 6K before I spotted someone hustling at great speed towards us. Somehow I knew from the running form, that the person was Frank and I was proven right. He had put in some serious afterburners to have caught up with us. Jeanie and Cherly were still in the game much further back.
As we continued our run-walk strategy towards CP4, egging Nick along, we cheered the returning runners from the 100K category. Then there was Jeff, on his way back and in the lead in the 100 miles category. After sharing some pain management tips with me, we wished him the best as we moved along. Several stretches of this sector were in total darkness, so it was great to have Frank’s powerful headlamp to complement our Petzls.
CP4 was located at the top of a steep climb but boy, was it a relief for me to get there. Nick was in some pain with his inflammed knee. We urged him to consider resting longer and should conditions turned for the worse, he could at least hitch a ride on any marshall vehicle heading back to the staging area or earlier CP. With some hope that somehow he’d make it, Frank and I departed for the final half of the race. Perhaps triggered by copious quantity of Coke, there was a greater sense of urgency and I felt that the timing was right to focus and close down the distance to the next 2 CPs (52K and 58K respectively) the best we can. My legs were still fine and there was some confidence in my strides and I thought, “Just go with the flow”. With Frank, we made some good progress, passing runners along the way.
Then in the distance, we spotted 2 lights – it was Jeanie and Cherly! So good to see that they were still in it! And with that we went our ways. Our spirits lifted, no doubt. Next party we ran into was Piew, Yan Leng, Kien Siong and Li Leen – our next bunch of supporters. We hit the 2 CPs in very good timing, with pace ranging from 6:10 to 6:30, passing more runners than ever before. Fatigue started creeping in only after the 58K mark, with the discomfort stemming more from the pain in the metatarsals than anything else. I had encountered no cramps, no gas in the stomach, no water retention issues on the extremities, just some mild discomfort in the tummy – nothing a hot drink can’t settle. I’d been fueling well on nuts, bars and some bread slices but a hot drink would’ve been great. But Frank has been kind enough to pace along and we were still power walking!
By the time we embarked on our final 8K, Piew and Yan Leng had had to leave us. The progress was slow but it was already too near to completely stop.
With 4K to go, Frank and I were operating on getting to the next lamp-post or bin and so on, but with the spirits lifting as we drew ever nearer to the finish, we ran more than we walked. We passed 2 more of our category before crossing the finish line in 12:55, and not a moment sooner as the day was warming up quickly.
All in all, it was a great outing for me. My expectations had been really low, with hardly any significant mileage, but with friends’ support and right fueling, I somehow finished in a relatively comfortable state, with no injuries. Thanks to the GCAM gang, whose names I mentioned earlier, for turning up and Frank for not abandoning me over the 2nd half of the race. We covered the 2nd half faster than the 1st which was a wisely executed strategy, getting us the 5th and 6th position respectively. It was only at the finish that I learnt that Nick has decided to stop at the 52K mark on account of his condition. We were just glad he made the hard call as there are upcoming races to be run – and yes, we need him for more vain shots! I should thank all the volunteers, crew and the PACAT organizing team for the hard work out there. It’s never easy putting everything together and staying out there for the runners for such a long period of time! This year’s edition was the last time we run the roads of Putrajaya and we look forward to finding out where next year’s edition will be held.
Saucony was also a sponsor for the Toyo Tires Putrajaya 100 this year and all 100 mile finishers, over 20 of them, won themselves new pairs of shoes!
With the longest run done, it’s time to enjoy a little downtime before revving up the legs for an early 2017 marathon over the next few weeks.
Note: I wonder if there’s any leftover Sapporo’s from that night? 😉
From sniping photographers to mind-numbing looping around the unforgiving concrete surface, yesterday’s B2E seemed to have it all. Positioned as a “fun ultra” by RD Jeff, no doubt itself a paradoxical statement, 100+ runners attempted to go around the lake as many times as possible within a 12-hour window. Completing a loop would chalk up a meager 2.35KM. The route presented hardly a challenge in terms of elevation but the surface would make mincemeat of the legs.
The last I attempted a hamster mode of running was some years ago at the Twilight Ultra Challenge (race report) but while TUC started in the afternoon, B2E kicked off at 6:30am. As would be the case of an event organized by runners, there was much fun to be had before the start right to the end. Except for a few loops where we went on our own, Nick and I ended up covering our distances pretty much together. I decided to run only the first few loops in the Skechers Nite Owl (a review is forthcoming) but since they felt comfortable I stuck to them up till the 18KM mark. My 2nd toenail on my left foot was causing some problems and I knew I’d to nip any issues quickly in a race this long. I quickly detoured to the car to change into the Energy Boost, which is a size larger and the Boost was the shoe that stayed with me till the end. I also had the GOultra in the car should there be another reason to change.
The race for me pretty much started as a run-walk affair. The detour to the bike path offered a good short stretch to walk, which was a relief. No matter how slow we ran, the lower legs were taking a beating. Things became bad when I felt sharp pain around the right knee cap. It became difficult to go down the steep slopes peppering some spots along the route. Things weren’t rosy for sure and downright demoralizing to have occurred so early. I thought, “Legs, please don’t get thrashed at just 20+KM!”. There were only 2 options, quit or just keep moving forward. Chose to keep moving and after 4 very slow loops, the pain surreptitiously went away and I could resume power walking. The objectives were simple from then on, just focus on completing each loop and nothing else. When I was asked how many laps I’d done, I told them I had no idea, which was the truth. My thoughts then went to completing the marathon distance which I hit before the commencement of the route reversal at 12:30pm. By then I was already walking more than I was running. Though my pace couldn’t hold a candle to Uncle Oliver’s, I could still hound a casual jogger up an incline until he gave up!
The weather had been fantastic up till 11:30am and even with the sun bearing down on us at 2:30pm, it didn’t get dreadfully uncomfortable for me. A gentle breeze was always present to cool things down and the 2nd section of the route was very shady and cooling. Barring my legs, I thought I did pretty well in the heat. Nick and I, safe for the brief stops at the checkpoint, kept moving. The funny thing was how the mind was fooled by simple thoughts such as “I’d done 18 loops, I could do another 3!” and before I knew it I was sniffing at 50KM. From there, the motivation was to beat my former hoo-doo of 52KM and when that happened, it was to pull in another 3 loops and then another 2 loops. That went on until I decided to call time at 26 loops (61.1KM) so that I could make it back on time for a dinner with the family. Time check was 5pm or thereabouts.
I’m quite ambivalent about just hitting 61KM even though I know I’ll have less difficulty reaching this milestone on a road race than on a surface as hard as the Lake Gardens’. It was meant to be a run to discover more about myself, what worked and what didn’t. Obviously, leg strength seemed to be an area of concern but there’s time. Of course, the trails will be more lenient but still…
Then there’s the fueling and hydration bit. I was cognizant of how I was feeling, if I was over or under hydrating. When the fingers started to feel a little swollen, indicating water retention, I kept myself off the electrolytes and consumed only water. I didn’t pee the entire 10 hours and thought it was a problem with my hydration or kidneys, something I’ll need to read up on.
There was no cramps the entire 61KM, which was great. What could be better was the fueling part. By 2pm I felt some hunger creeping in and was telling those around me how I wished for Char Koay Teow and Ipoh Hor Fun. I hadn’t take in anything solid other than a banana, a slice of Nutella bread and Perpetuem tablets and completely forgotten about the raisins and peanut butter bars sitting in the car boot. By 3:30pm I was so famished and attacked some junk food while scrounging for something even more solid. Thanks to a volunteer who pointed me to the correct table, I found and wolfed down half a pack of fried rice. It tasted awesome but then again, even if you’d given me something horrendous, I’d probably think it tasted like Jalan Ipoh Bak Kut Teh. I seriously need to pay attention inculcating a fueling discipline.
Mentally, I thought I came out better than when I did TUC several years ago in that I was able to work my way past the pain. And I was surprised that nearly all photos caught me smiling. I didn’t even fish out the iPod to “zone out”.
There’s no denying the value of crowd support in a time-bound/ultra-distance event, from the volunteers to those who came to cheer the runners. There were even 2 unofficial tables set up to provide physical and mental sustenance to the runners. There were sufficient ice, water, isotonics, Coke, bananas, chocolate bars, Pringles, cup jellies, nasi lemak (didn’t dare eat this) and fried noodles (didn’t take this either). The fun atmosphere prevailed throughout the day. The mileage I clocked was meager yet each loop I completed late into the event was greeted by cheers and applause from the volunteers and supporters. I also believe B2E set the record for the highest photographer-to-runner ratio.
B2E wasn’t an easy run, the pavement being the worst culprit. In my opinion overcoming that poses a greater challenge than the number of loops and weather you’ve to face. If you’re game for it, be on the look out for next year’s edition!
Somewhere along the arduous struggle up Kat Tsai Shan Au to the Dragon Mountain (Lung Shan), pushing through the thickets, it dawned upon me that not meeting the cutoff times at the CPs would be something of a reality. Rich and I had both teamed up to support one another from CP4 – the day was approaching nightfall with the hardest sections yet to come.
The day started brightly enough, Francis, Steve and I shared a cab from Olympic Station to the race start at Tai Mei Tuk, a HKD178 and 40-minute journey. Temps were mild and the winds gentle perfect for some running. We were a little early arriving at 6:35am, when the tents were just about readied. Dropped off the finish line and drop bags and we had some time to mingle. There were many familiar faces in the crowd and it was nice catching up with friends I’ve not seen in awhile, most of whom were down for the 50K.
Starters numbered 481 (38 women, 223 men) for the 100K, while the 50K had 571 starters of which 328 were men. As the 1,000 of us waited on the road for the horn to be sounded, I was very calm. Que sera sera and I just wanted to get the adventure started off. As expected, the first section was crowded but largely, this group of runners was hardly slothes. Rarely were there complete stops as we took on the steps of Pat Sin Nature Trail after a short warm up on the road. That suited a newbie like me just fine as the goal was just to keep walking up the steps briskly. When the heart rate got too high, I took 10-second breaks and carried on. The trail eventually opened up after the Bride’s Pool and I could run a bit. This section had a stream crossing which we thankfully could skip over and a narrow road crossing (Bride’s Pool Road). Seeing that I arrived pretty comfortably, I hurried over to the park toilets to pee, had my bottles topped up, and the game continued. Total time spent at this CP was less than 8 minutes. Per the course notes, given out, total elevation gain was around 400m (loss was approx 315m) over this 6.6K section.
The start of the next section was more stairs, this time steeper. The descents were tough, in my opinion tougher on the legs than the ascends. The surface was a combination of small loose pebbles and medium sized rocks and granite steps with several switchbacks along the ridges and cliffsides. The views were pretty breathtaking yet unless you’ve confidence in your footing and shoes, it’s best to really concentrate and not take any selfies! Along with the warnings given by the trail vets, I had programmed my mind to accept the neverending steps, so there was no whining on my part. My strategy for the race was just to keep going until I finish or they yank me off the course. Hardly any pressure, really, other than to have a great experience. While it started off very hard, the last 2.5K of this section was very nice, weaving over streams, concrete paths before reaching a village in Wu Kau Tang. I was just a little disappointed that this CP had run out of bananas but grabbed 2 handful of cashews (my favorites) and a slice of thick bread to chow down. I stashed the leftover cashews into my ziploc just in case the advance CPs ran out of more food. The total elevation gain and loss were 505m over an 8.1K section. I had a 36-minute advantage on the cutoff time at CP2 and I spent under 10 minutes here.
The distance to CP3 would be a long and unending one at 13.5K and the most diverse. We went through the usual stairs, both dirt and boulder types, concrete paths which greeted us after a long steep descent down towards the coast line. There were plenty of mines in the form of cow patties (both fresh and dried variety) on the steps. In fact nearly everywhere in the later part of the section. These cows can climb! However, they were not seen until I reached the coast line. Some little sections I was literally alone and I could imagine the seasoned runners really banking in some time here. Several abandoned villages and cemeteries littered the route as well. I’d increased the time advantage to 44 minutes by the time I arrived at the CP3 station. Elevation gain over this section was 650m. My pee was still plentiful and clear. I was hydrating well alternating between Gatorade, water and electrolyte drinks. I was chewing on the Perpetuem tablets and taking in Aminos and Anti-Fatigue capsules every hour but it got me a little that some of the items listed in the CP Provision List were not seen. I’d yet to see a drop of Pepsi and there was no hot water to mix the tea and coffee at CP3! Ordinarily I’d have put in my feedback with the CP Supervisor but I was to focused with continuing on, I didn’t care. I was great to meet Warren and Steve at the CPs and it was here that I saw Rich for the first time since the race started. I swallowed down a banana, refilled the bottles and wandered off towards the next CP.
We had, up to this point, come across groups of hikers and trekkers along the course but none as large as several groups of teenage school kids lugging rucksacks and camping gear. These kids were awesomely fit, humping the load up the stairs at a brisk pace. I made sure I wasn’t caught again once I passed them. That required some pushing of the pace on my part. The weather was slowly but surely turning for the worse with rain coming down steadily. I took out the jacket and steeled on. Temps dropped and as we headed higher and higher my breaths turned foggy. It was quite miserable at some points and that needed some re-focusing to get myself through this stretch. Emerging from the climb and nearer to the end of the section was a fantastic feeling. I passed 2 friendly Singaporeans running the 50K and another 100K dude at a “meadowy” section. These 3 had exchanged leads often with me since leaving CP3. An extended good run finally brought me to a small pack as we headed up towards a couple of power pylons with “No Lingering” stickers. 3 to 4 nice rolling stretches awaited before the eventual descend into CP4, the Hok Tau Barbeque site. My time advantage had increased to 1 hour 3 mins. Hunger had set in and I wasted no time in getting myself a cup noodle, a banana and 2 cups of coffee. I needed all that. The CP was well supported and a girl even asked if she could bring me my drop bag. Stashing all the stuff into the 10+3 wasn’t easy and I admit to losing some time here as I struggled with that while consuming the food. It was here that I asked Rich if he wanted to hang together and I was glad he agreed. By the time we moved out, my hour-long advantage had been whittled down to 30 minutes but I can’t change anything now, can I?
The CP5 cutoff time was 8:30pm over which we must cover 9.25K. We left CP4 at 5:30pm and with 3 hours, most would think it’ll be a walk/climb in the park. Little did we realize that after pushing through the road and stairs portion, my good vibes were dashed when we were directed to the worst section up to that stage. We were about to be bushwhacked. It started with overgrown thickets which masked the paths heading up Kat Tsai Shan Au to the Dragon Mountain (Lung Shan). The climb wasn’t difficult but we couldn’t see where we were stepping. I used my poles to push the branches but it didn’t work too well. To clear this section, one has to have some level of bravado and just bulldoze one’s way through but that approach could somewhat be executed had it been light. In fact it would’ve been downright fun in the daytime. Unfortunately, Rich and I were at it after nightfall and with the rain steadily coming down from the side, it was anything but. Thankfully Buddhist hymns were playing out from Rich’s cell phone and that lend a claming factor and as slow as we went, we quietly knew that we’d to stay safe. Then things became even more dicey when the climb became steeper and steeper to the point where I had to scramble on all fours and grab on the shrubs for leverage on top of the poles. The wind wasn’t letting up and the rain had turn the narrow path slick. With that it was Nuang all over again as I stumbled a few times – the Wildhorse which had been performing great was failing big time. My thoughts immediately went to the Fellraiser back home. A good thing was the way was still visibly marked by the highly reflective 3M tapes. With the steepness came the dangers as many barely visible ruts were cut across the paths and stepping in them would’ve twisted an ankle or two. Also a steep drop was omnipresent to our left. If any of us slid down, I won’t be here typing this out. A few steps, turn back to check on Rich and repeat. It was dangerous enough that taking out the camera for a few shots at the peak didn’t cross my mind. It was all about focusing and getting off the hill. But there was the challenge of going down which was equally tricky. Other than Rich and I, there was another runner close by. I used him as a gauge and at times I’d lose him only to regain the gap. No doubt he was having a tough time as well. Once we hit the exit of the bush, we were faced with a long downhill on the tarmac. A quick peek at the watch showed that we only had another 30 minutes to make CP5. The issue was we didn’t know how far it is to the said check point. So Rich and I ran. And the dude also started doing the same. Rich and I picked the pace up and the dude couldn’t hang on. I shouted encouragement to him that we could still make it. Dude didn’t reply. We went ahead through the twisty roads, passing through the backlanes of homes (Tang Hang Village). My eyes were scanning for arrows and signages but couldn’t spot any. There were no marshalls around either and it came down to instinct. Then we spotted a large arrow which pointed to the bike lane along the busy Jockey Club Road before connecting to the Fan Ling Highway. A few hundred meters down a marshall pointed us to the pedestrian bridge to get to the other side of the highway. Things were getting rather desperate as the minutes ticked down. We then came to the MTR station, which I went up thinking all the shouting I heard was by the volunteers. It turned out that the commotion was by street vendors hawking their wares at the station. Came back down and ran ahead and there it was. CP5. They had packed up with mere minutes to go. Only the timing mat remained but the folks were super enthusiastic and did everything to refill our supplies (only water, Gatorade, and bananas) after we stepped over the mat. We hit the mat with just 2 minutes remaining at 8:28pm. It had taken us 2:41 just to cover 9.5K, mostly expended during the bushwhacking section. While Rich and I recoup our breaths, the dude arrived but he was already over the cutoff time.
The marshalls and a few volunteers then explained the situation for us and laid out the options. We could push ahead in the now pouring rain for the next CP, which involves a climb up Kei Lak Tsai (256m) and a demanding ascend up Pak Tai To Yan (over 500m) before arriving at CP6, 9K away by 11pm. They were concerned that the second hill may take a much longer time especially on the tricky descend due to the worsening conditions. Over 700m in elevation gain, in pouring rain and darkness in 2.5 hours. Should we not make it, exiting from CP6’s Kardoorie Farm itself isn’t easy as it’s a secluded spot. The other option was to DNF at this point since Fan Ling MTR Station was just a stone’s throw away. Rich and I weighed our options and decided to call it a day. It was an amazing feat that Rich got this far in his sandals (he started out barefoot) and with the worsening rain, I’d definitely be falling all over the place in the Wildhorse and not make CP6. Remarkably The Dude decided to push on despite the doubts in his eyes. He had already missed the CP5 cutoff. Another late arrival, also decided to call it a day and we made our way to catch a train to Tai Po Market 2 stops away. The locals were probably used to seeing dripping wet and dirty runners on the train because nearly everyone didn’t bat an eyelid when we walked in. When we got to Tai Po Market Station, Rich and I decided to have a hot meal before catching a minibus back to the race start at Tai Mei Tuk to collect our baggage. I couldn’t eat much but at least I got some calories in. Back at Tai Mei Tuk, I changed into a dry top and caught up with Steve who had completed his 50K. We learned that things weren’t going so well with many others up at Tai Mo Shan and there were many DNFs. An hour or so later Steve and I were back at Olympic Station with Francis was already waiting for me.
And that was the end of my adventure. I set out to experience the race and I did. I’ve no regrets nor am I too disappointed of the outcome. To think that one could simply come and “conquer” nature and distance would be tantamount to misplaced confidence. I’ve never entertained the illusion of certainty when it comes to new experiences, more so for an ultra this tough. It was always taking one step at a time and making the next CP. The lessons I learned of the terrain, weather, and distance out there are priceless, something that I don’t think can be easily shared through words. Because of that very reason, I’d say that the best way to learn would be to fail. Prepare to the best of your ability and get out there and try. The stress of daily life will be there and will put a damper on the training but that’s life. Running is an important part of life but it isn’t Life itself. Maintaining this perspective on our running will make the experience more enriching, regardless if we fail or succeed.
I think I got the gear part right except the shoes, although I should’ve had the poles with me from the start.
I’ll never, never again rely on the Wildhorse for races where there’s any chance of rain.
The expected discomfort of the stream crossings didn’t materialize as the water weren’t high enough to pose a problem. Nevertheless the rain ensure there was no dry shoes out that day.
Hydration went very well.
Fueling could be better. While the Perpetuem was OK, I needed denser calories like onigiris.
Only took a gel after CP4. Should’ve taken a pack from CP3.
The TNF HK 100K category isn’t a race for beginners or newbies. The runner faces a technical route on top of uncertain weather and tight cut off times. You’ll need a buffer of 2 hours at the earlier CPs, to make it to the end. Also, the non-claimable drop bag made things trickier. If the bags could be sent back to the start for the runners, I’d have removed some unneeded items from my bag or had a change of top.
I spent too much time at CP4 due to all the eating and restocking.
I should’ve bagged my long sleeve top. By the time I put them on again, it was already wet from the rain.
Stair training are essential for any ultras, not only for those races in Hong Kong.
Descending is often overlooked and needs it own training routine as well.
Organization could be better. Mid and backpackers didn’t get some of the mentioned food and drinks. Baggage were left out in the open and some runners’ clothes were wet as a result of the rain seeping into the bags.
Nuang is still the place to train as it has a multitude of trail conditions, short of stairs, to mimic Hong Kong.
12. Engaging the glutes made a difference in the stairs section but I should’ve practiced it from the start.
I’m in awe of those fast runners. They were at least 2 hours ahead of me up till CP5. That could very well make or break one’s race since it’s easier to clear a tough section in daylight.
Bottomline: I need to build strength in order to run faster. I ran out of time as a result of not capitalizing on the “easier” sections.
I know that some friends were looking out for me and I know who you are, and I thank you from my heart. The very knowledge that many got my back provided me strength during the tough parts of the course. From the stats below you can see how hard it was for the 100K participants.
This outing would not have been possible and more enjoyable without the blessing (more like a laugh) of my wife and family, the much appreciated hosting of us by a friend, and the meeting up with localized Malaysians over there. It was my first time to Hong Kong and as much as I like the food there, I really can’t see myself liking the place. I didn’t even head down to Mong Kok nor the Boulevard. Most certainly a return to the trails beckons – it’s only a question of when and for which challenge. Meanwhile, it’s back to marathon training and racing for Q1 2014.
I was dreadfully over optimistic when I signed up for the 100K category months ago. The intention was to make this my first 100K leading up to next year’s Comrades but a few factors beyond my control scuttled any such thoughts. Wrote in to the organizers to request a downgrade to the 52K category which was promptly given. Halfway through last Saturday’s race, I wished there was an even shorter distance!
Like Nick, I opted for simplicity which meant no compression gear, no additional food other than several Hammer Fizz tablets and 2 handhelds. Even though Putrajaya isn’t that far from home, I still had to wake up at 3:50am just to make sure I secure my parking before collection my race number. My chance I got a space next to Frank. As I feasted on my cup noodles and soy coffee, I had to make some adjustments to my race gear as the SpiBelt decided to snap there and then. It was fortunate then that I brought along the Inov8 Ultra Belt in which I could stash the electrolytes, arm sleeves for sun protection and phone.
Pre-race mood was typically laid back befitting of an ultra event, unlike shorter races. Camaraderie was strong as are many the presence of many familiar faces. I was hardly awake and really should still be napping in the car but I got caught up with catching up with my friends and the many photo ops. Even as the clocked ticked closer to the start time, indications were already clear that the day would be hot. After a short briefing my RD Arman, the insane 100 milers were released. The 52K category folks were let off with just a simple “Go!”
The plan was to run steady and get the training run over with as quickly as we could, this being the longest run this time of the year before Chiangmai and Newton to close off the year. The first few Ks were nothing out of the norm, the route was familiar and runners were still pretty much running in small clusters. Even so, we were somewhere up ahead amongst the 52K folks and were soon passing the 78K, 100K and 100 Milers who naturally had to take the pace down several notches. Much respect to these runners. Mentally I’m not anywhere close to their bravery, not at this gawd-awful spot called Putrajaya.
Everything was dandy and we checked into CP1 (10K) in excellent time. Things started to become drastically worse not long after CP1 when instead of heading straight under the bridge, a bunch of us went up the bridge to cross over to the other side where Herriot-Watt University and Maritime Center were located. There was a municipal truck which blocked the signage at the bottom of the bridge and we followed the only sign visible, which was up. After some deliberating at the top of the bridge between Nick and a few other runners, and spotting some already running along the path fronting the University, we decided that that would be the right way and off we went. Along the way, I asked one of the municipal worker if she saw any runners who had passed earlier and she replied in the affirmative. That assured us somewhat not knowing then that those folks also went the wrong way! It wasn’t until 3K later that a back-tracking runner from the 100K category directed us to head back.
Our hearts sank quicker than rocks in a pond. Every minuscule problem in an ultra is amplified – a wrong turn will cost you buckets in time and distance, not to mention unnecessary precious energy expended.There wasn’t anything else to do but double back the 3K (contributing in an extra 6K) we came from as quickly as possible. When we arrived back at the bridge, we debated if we should just proceed to CP2, bypassing the correct stretch, since we had covered that when we were lost. A handful of seconds were all that we spent on that question. There really wasn’t any other way. In an ultra, you deal with mistakes and problems, and do what’s right. Our conscience won’t allow it, so off we went to make up the missed portion of the route. Incidentally, that was the hardest stretch to run because of the unforgiving surface. Where possible, we ran and walked on the grassy sections. Shanaz pulled away midway through this section and Nick brought up the rear. By the time I got back to CP2, I reckon we had lost 1.5 hours. I was well and truly famished and dug into slices of bread and a cup noodles. Hunger won over the absurdity of eating hot cup noodles in the oven-like conditions. Nick then went off to collect his ice-cold drink from his loyal support crew while I wondered why I signed up 😀 . I thought if I should wait out the heat since I had plenty of time but wisely decided to get going and get the dang distance wrapped up.
From there I was pretty much on my own. I don’t analyse my thoughts during these tough moments in an ultra. Even when I was alone in unfamiliar territories in conditions much more miserable (e.g. TNF HK) than that afternoon in Putrajaya, my mind was mostly just set on one thing – keep moving forward and finishing the job. The other thing which helped tremendously then was channeling positive vibes to fellow stragglers and even joking with kids on their way to an Upin & Ipin concert. It’s wonderful what a simple nod, wave or “Keep going!” can do to a fellow runner and your own psyche. Some time later, I finally arrived at CP3. The area was cooling with plenty of trees, so a breather was in order before making the journey back. Because I was smarter by that time, I took a couple of shower breaks along the waterfront near the Pullman Hotel. There were taps at one of the beach and waterfront toilets and I made sure that my head and upper body were thoroughly soaked several times along the stretch. As a result, I was able to string together longer stretches of running and arrived at CP4 without encountering a Fukushima-scale meltdown. By that time it was already noon. I swallowed a few more slices of bread, ditched the smaller bottle and pushed off to cover the same terrible section again. I ran into Shanaz and Nick, both of whom were already on their way back to CP5 but I was quietly egging the skies to open up. Rain clouds were already blowing in in the distant and it was only a matter of time before it rained. When it did, and just like sea monkeys, it was so sweet. I’m one who’s always rejuvenated at the slightest contact with rainwater and when it rained that afternoon, I managed to put in a decent run to get back to CP5, the final one. Stopping just long enough to refill the bottles, I took off again, mostly walking. The brief shower had stopped but the conditions were much more tolerable since.
Fell into stride with Beau Helmi and we walked towards Wisma Putra before I picked up my pace further. I even managed to pass some friends with 5K to go, mainly by walking fast. With 2.5K to the finish, it was all running and quick shuffling. Just as I crossed the line, the watch died. I remembered seeing 56.3K but it didn’t matter. Time recorded was nearly twice that I’d targeted.
Despite the tough conditions, it was great to finish without any injuries, cramps and stomach discomfort. I could’ve eaten more but largely depended on keeping myself well hydrated at all stops except for the section where we went the wrong way. Surprisingly I didn’t find it too troublesome to run with 2 bottles for such a long time/distance. My hats off to all finishers especially those in the 100 miles and 100K categories. They’re from another planet, for sure.
In closing, my thanks go out to the PACat Adventure Team led by Arman, Zul and Zinov along with the merry band of crew. Everyone worked hard and this being a debut year, there were certainly areas for improvement. The event was run as a non-competitive one and depended largely on the integrity of runners. Due to that reason, some key sections weren’t manned which meant runners could run any which way, intentionally or otherwise while in a daze. There were so many photographers who covered P100 that we runners have many fond (and painful) memories to last us several days/weeks/months before many would yet again click on that damn registration button to bring on the next painful adventure!
“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”
― Sigmund Freud
One does not race an ultra. Not unless you’re an elite or someone who enjoys the pain and suffering. To the majority of runners out there, an ultra is to be experienced once just because. Some do it because their friends are doing it. Fewer do it as a penance and to seek something more spiritual out of the experience. Even fewer actually thrive on them. I fall somewhere between “for the experience” and “spiritual”.
To seek anything more than that on top of finishing the run injury-free is simply foolhardy. A week off GCAM14, a week down with flu and cough and 2 weeks left to Aug 23 really are not circumstances to be preparing for one. If you’ve been following developments, Starlight was rescheduled from May. Be it May or August, it sat in between marathons. Simply put, be careful in scheduling your ultras alongside your marathons. More so if you’ve gunning for a PR in your marathon. Ultras can be disruptive not only to a rocky marriage but also marathon training! Here, I’ll need to clarify that my personal (and I emphasize “personal”) qualification of an ultra is a 50-miler, 84K and above. 50Ks aren’t ultras in my books unless they’re of the bat-crazy Skyrunning variety where even a 10K distance is enough to crush the legs and soul.
That said, I’m glad that the whole ordeal is over last weekend. Unlike fellow runners’ (you know who you are) preparations of weekly diet of Genting Sempah, mine as explained earlier had been non-existent. Too late to chicken out, I found myself at the start with a small group of 150-200 runners, some of whom were in the relay or shorter categories, on a wet yet humid Penang night. My approach to this was really on a KISS approach – don’t overdress, don’t over-gear and just run/walk very easily right from the start.
I went with the Inov-8 Race Ultra 1 rather than the UDSJ pack because I didn’t want to over-strain the shoulders over the longest distance I’ve ever attempted. A single 500ml bottle on one side and the other water bottle pouch was freed up to carry other knick-knacks like food and miscellaneous stuff. Met many friends from Singapore, Penang and KL prior to the flag off from Straits Quay.
Things were uneventful from the beginning with the highlight being walking the entire length of the crowded Gurney Drive. Aromas of Penang famed street and hawker food wafted through the night air, teased me to no end. The hawkers were literally just inches from me over the Weld Quay stretch. Oh to be in Penang, yet with no chance of savoring the delicacies! To rub salt to the wounds, I was subjecting myself to extreme discomfort!
I reached CP1 in around 1.5 hours, sweaty but comfortable. Nick called out that he’ll be slowing down due to a buggy knee. From there on, I was pretty much running alone, at least as far as my friends are concerned. A handful of runners were around me but it was the start of a long journey battling my demons. The Jelutong stretch were familiar to me and those who had run the past editions of Bridge Marathon. A new experience would be the detour to a concrete pathway off the highway along the waterfront. Youths on motorcycles loitered the dark area, boys smoking, girls played coy with the boys – you get the idea. I was just glad to exit this dingy section.
Next up after CP2 located before Queensbay Mall, was the Bayan Lepas industrial area. Runners weaved through the factory complexes gradually moving away from the hustle and bustle of the city towards the outskirts of Georgetown. I wasn’t having such a ball even if my body conditions were good. The motivation was just not there. I was really on a “let’s just try to wing-it” mode. Ran past the junction leading to the haunted WWII War Museum and pitch dark stretch of road in Batu Maung. Dimly lit CP3 was at a petrol station and I spent a bit more time there. 4.5 hours had passed and the going wasn’t smooth. The mind just didn’t click with the body. The nice thing at CP3 was cold Coke. There wasn’t any bananas so I relied on my bar. Also mixed in the first sachet of the Hi5 4:1 carb-protein drink. Leong was already there. No signs of Piew, Yan Leng and MC who had stormed off much earlier. I called Nick on the phone thinking I’d wait up for him and he said he was about 2Ks away. I downed more Coke but after 10 minutes, I decided to get going.
The next section after Teluk Kumbar would be a tough climb but I found it very enjoyable. Perhaps the muscles were just too tired of the flats already and the glutes and quads were just raring to fire up. I passed a number of runners who left CP3 ahead of me and thoroughly enjoyed the climb. Air was very fresh after the rain and the sound of crickets and bull frogs’ mating calls reminded me of childhood days. An affable runner from Singapore savored the moment too and said he missed those days when Singapore wasn’t overdeveloped. I overtook more runners on the descent, running all the way down. I was mindful of not pounding my quads coming down and cleared the section quite easily.
CP4 – halfway mark where many would be making their go/no-go decisions. For the life of me, I can’t remember for sure what my timing was now. I reckon it was between 6:10 to 6:15 because I was averaging between 1:20 to 1:30 for each 10K (didn’t turn my GPS on). I ate half a cup of corn in butter (took it easy with the corn because I didn’t want to take on too much fiber), half a cup of noodles and half a Clif bar. I didn’t see any fruits or bananas. Drank 3 cups of Coke and refilled my bottle and got back on the road. I didn’t want to linger too long for fear of unwanted negative thoughts creeping in. After all, if things go south for whatever reason, there’s always CP5 to make the call. So far the RELA marshals were doing excellent jobs. Intersections were manned and they patrolled the roads too. After passing the narrow streets of the town, we gradually found ourselves on along village roads. Other than an occasional dog, boredom and fighting the mental demons, the journey was uneventful. I wasn’t focused on anything specific in particular. Thoughts flowed in and out and there wasn’t anything that I could grasp or focus on. The roads were in equal parts well lit and dark, nothing a good headlamp can’t remedy.
Things started to get difficult after CP5. The soles were aching and lower back began tightening up. Sat down twice for a few minutes at bus stops along the way and was passed by 4 runners. Nice of them to ask if I was OK. A few minutes later, I was back on the road, trudging along and running short stretches. The early morning sky was breathtaking as the haze-free air revealed so many stars in the skies that you couldn’t count! It was such a treat, truly a moving and inspiring experience. We get so much light pollution from cities and metropolises these days, that to witness such sights were truly rare. At least not in KL. The lesson here was surely to keep one’s head up even when the going gets tough.
I struggled for a few more hours before arriving at the foot of the long and arduous but should I add, enjoyable climb up the highest point on the race course? It was already 5:30am and some senior folks were on their way down from the morning walk. The endless tight twists and turns were welcome respite from the long and boring straights. Again, it was over the climbs that I overtook those who have passed me. All the lunges that I’ve put in seemed to have paid dividends! Along the way, I ran past a few small and medium-sized waterfalls that dot the section including the famous Titi Kerawang Falls. Would’ve been nice to soak in the icy cold water!
When I arrived at CP6, the volunteers said that there were only around 30 runners behind me. I wasn’t sure how accurate that information was but that got me moving quickly enough once I got my water refilled. It was downhill all the way to the Teluk Bahang Dam but unfortunately I didn’t have the strength nor endurance to capitalize on that unlike earlier. Neither did I have any time to enjoy the stunning sights of the dam. The sun was up and the morning was getting hotter by the minute as more and more cyclists (Penang have a large cycling community and Penangites are canvassing for a bike lane) rode past me.
CP7 located right next to the Teluk Bahang was such a welcome sight. The RELA members warned that we should get going as the traffic was building up. I wasn’t going to waste anymore time anyway as I just wanted to get the whole thing done! If only I could move quicker than a sloth! 14 Km of the most hair-raising stretch of road I’ve ever ran laid between CP7 and the finish. It really was like this classic scene from Bowfinger, right down to the script. Yup, I was doubting myself. I was in boat loads of pain. My tank was empty. Hard wasn’t even an accurate word to describe it as the sun baked me good. Like Eddie Murphy’s character, I even thought of the remaining 14K as an errand. I just wanted coffee but I only stopped at a convenience store for a RM1 ice lolly. I had to fantasize that the bus drivers as professional stunt drivers too and just trust that I’d get through unscathed 🙂 .
14K was actually 13K over-distanced for me at that point. I was busy exchanging texts with my wife – not that she was busy encouraging me to keep going but she was updating me on the critical condition of a family member in hospital. I kept that thought in mind whenever the pain came up and just jobbled (jogged+hobbled) towards the finish. When I crossed the line, I’d “only” taken 14 hours 15 minutes to cover the 84K, 45 minutes more than I’d projected when I hit CP6. If anyone asks me now the first feeling that struck me when the clock stopped for me, I’d say 1 word – RELIEF. For sure, completing this distance was pretty amazing. And I’m glad that I kept going and saw it through even when the urge to quit was so strong but I’m quite sure these traits are common amongst ultra runners. I had doubts that I could see it through with not a single mile of specific training put in. And that’s not because I don’t give it any respect. Race scheduling, marathon training and life just got in the way. It’s because I’ve too much respect for an ultra that Starlight will be the first and last time I’m committing to such things with no preparations. Now that I’ve done it, I can attest that with adequate preparation, 84K is not an impossible adventure to be undertaking. Physical conditioning over the months and years will certainly get you there. On the mental aspect, it depends on how you’re wired.
Other than extreme sleepiness and tight legs a day after the longest distance I’ve ever covered on foot, I’ve thankfully emerged unscathed. By rebuilding back the lost nutrients, I hope to resume marathon training between 7 to 10 days’ time. Huge props to Yan Leng (3rd placing in women vet category), Piew and Gan who totally ate up the roads of Penang. That’s what weeks of training at Genting Sempah will get you. Big congrats too to Nick who really stuck it out despite losing his way – he had all of us biting our nails waiting for him. And finally, Leong who recognized his limits will only get way better from his experience.
Volunteers were great along the course and back at the finish. I wasn’t in a rush for time, so I was served well and avoided the congestion of the fast group of runners at all the aid stations.
Plenty of chilled drinks at all aid stations.
Slow runners get their deserved welcome back at the finish.
RELA members did a good job manning the junctions and traffic. I always felt safe with their patrols. They were friendly and supportive too.
Supportive Penang folks along the way, even though they probably thought we were crazy.
Southern and Western portions of the island provided the best experience in terms of scenery and environment.
Could be better:
Though I see no solution except to exclude this stretch, the Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah road was dangerous. No other way to describe it.
No portable toilets. Many bushes benefited from my contribution. I did my share giving back to nature.
No 5K distance markers.
Don’t recall seeing fruits at the CPs. Some bananas would be nice.
Many roads in Penang are being upgraded. Runners and organizers should be wary of safety issues. To everyone’s credit, no untoward incidents happened during the event.
Received the finisher tee for the 84K relay but it’s no big deal . I didn’t run this for the t-shirt 🙂 .
Taking on 2 marathons on zero ultra-specific training should not be attempted simply based on what I managed. I was physically hammered and the soles of my feet hurt so badly that I wanted to (but thankfully didn’t) lie down. Mentally I experienced the expected lows of wanting to quit but I recognized those symptoms (through plenty of reading, learning and listening from seasoned runners) and just cast those thoughts out. I ran and walked mostly in a blank state of mind and didn’t even listen to my specially compiled playlist on my iPod. The motivation to look beyond the pain only came after CP7 when my wife updated me on the condition of the family member (who had very sadly passed away).
What got me through uninjured? A few factors probably mattered. I’m listing them here to remind myself that I could’ve done better had I actually trained and optimally motivated. It’s also to caution anyone out there who thinks completing one without training is something that can be done. As everyone is wired differently, you could in fact do it better. Or much worse. So do make your own evaluation.
I’m not a weight-challenged person. A heavier person would’ve pounded the pavement with much more impact than I did, more so in the later miles when the running form has deteriorated. More damage, more pain, higher chances of quitting.
I didn’t carry any injuries going into Starlight.
I adopted the run-walk routine right from the start, not when I was exhausted. I recognized my shortcomings and was on a conservative and self-preservation mode.
When I ran, my pace was so slow that I think it hurt me more to have run that slow!
The slow pace allowed me to burn fat instead of carbs. As a result, I truly bonked only around the 60K mark.
I’ve had consistent monthly mileage since middle of last year. I was always in an “in-training” mode and have done a number of 50s since then.
I’ve had strength training built into my program.
While I was a newbie to ultra distance, I wasn’t a newbie in terms of “book knowledge”. Of course theory and practical execution should not be mixed, but I didn’t enter the event totally blind.
To approach Titi 50 merely as an extended River Jungle Marathon (RJM; race reports here and here) would be wrong on so many levels. Firstly, it wasn’t just 8K more to run (it’s closer to 12K), the extended section happened over the most challenging parts of the RJM route. Next, the 50K category started at midnight when the body and mind would’ve slowed down (more on sunlight, melatonin and the circadian cycle). Which meant that at a window when the body was supposed to rejuvenate and produce growth hormones, we would be outside slogging away.
Having run RJM (race reports 1 and 2), I knew what awaited us. Instead of starting from the Chinese School at Bt.18, we would be starting from the Waterfront Thai Restaurant at Bt.14, taking the RJM 1st edition route towards the dam. Nearly everyone from the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) Training Group reported for the race and from the outset I saw that the venue was a well chosen one. Ample parking and spacious grounds meant plenty of space for runners to mingle and chill. There was no pressure, at least non visible. It was just going to be a social run for me, an opportunity to put on some mileage with friends and to test out the Skechers GOrun Ultra (GRU). It also won’t be the longest distance I’ve undertaken as I’ve taken to tagging on extra distances prior to race starts since last year. Instead of the distance, the actual test would be the long ascents and descents on top of sleep deprivation.
From previous experience of running a large part of the route, I knew that I won’t have much problems clearing the initial 15K. That involved tackling the 3K climb up the first hill and down the other side towards CP1 by the dam. Up to that point, I had only a short walk break – inserted near the summit of the 3K climb. It was around there that I caught up with Nick, him having taken off like a rabbit on steroids. Soon after we had to run through ashes in the air from an earlier fire in the bush. The weather was that hot, of late. I was glad to have my buff, which I used to cover my nose and mouth. It made breathing a little difficult but hey, no ingestion of ashes! Just as I thought Nick was the only one I knew around me, McIjam scampered past us like a rhino on steroids. As we refilled our bottles with the help of Weng Woo, Wai Yee and the scouts at CP1, I asked McIjam what the heck he was doing running so fast. “Going downhill ma,” he replied sheepishly.
Not wanting to waste time at the CP, I carried on towards CP2. Other than the start/finish 3K, this section was relatively flat and I increased my pace a little. It was a conscious decision on my part, knowing fully well that I’d be walking at some stage up the 9K climb. I reached CP2 under 1:45 and still felt wakeful (thanks to the Coke) and pretty good. Jeff was there encouraging the runners and checking on the CP. The long climb started out gradual enough and indeed very runnable, at least the first 3K which RJM covered. This winding section was both a pleasure and a pain to run. I liked the solitude – the runners were spread further by then – and the sounds of trees rustling in the wind. As I headed upwards, the cooler the air and the stronger the wind got. I admit that it can be an unnerving experience, alone along the backroads but the full moon was bright enough to light the way and we’re still pretty much on the road and not in the jungle. Occasionally some hell riders and support cars would pass us but the longer the climb got, the more tiring it became. I began alternating running with walk breaks to keep moving and caught up with and passed Kew. The lead exchanged again a short while later and dropped me for good. The run-walk routine would continue until the Negeri Sembilan border marker and a descent followed before finally climbing towards CP3. Gan, Kew and Richi were already there and I asked them to not wait for me as they were obviously stronger climbers.
At this point, I felt a little empty in the stomach (but it wasn’t hunger) yet somehow I couldn’t see the need to eat. It was sheer stupidity to have thought I could deal with the remaining 26K on what I had left inside. All I downed were 2 sticks of KitKat, 2 slices of watermelons and a few Perpetuem tablets. It was getting chilly and I put on the windshell In hindsight, I should have also opted for the bread to settle down the stomach. On my way back to CP2 there were still many on the other side of the road making their way up to CP3 and I saw that I wasn’t in too bad a position – probably smacked in the middle of the pack. The lead runners were already too far ahead to be seen. The long descent proved to be a torture for the stiff legs. While the GRU provided excellent impact protection, the stiff legs were proving inefficient in tackling the downhill. Disappointingly, I couldn’t capitalize on this “easier” section. There was some walking down this long stretch and I caught up with Tay Poh Chye who was on his way to finishing yet another 100. Chatted him up a bit before I went on my way.
I reached CP2 with Khairi in attendance. We chatted for awhile and as I stretched out the legs (standing up, no sitting down for me please!), Nick suddenly popped in followed closely by Piew and Yan Leng. Both Piew and Yan Leng looked so fresh that one could’ve thought that they were just starting their run!
Again not wanting to rest too long, I set off by walking up the slope immediately after the CP. Once I cleared that uphill, it was back to the run-walk routine. The air was fresh and quiet, disturbed only by the barking of the village dogs. It was 5am-ish already and would be getting light soon. The mind was focused just on 1 thing – getting to the next CP which thankfully isn’t far off. The trio of Nick, Piew and Yan Leng drew up and pulled away. At one stage, they were as far as 200m away. They were running so effortlessly in efficient strides. I dug in and halved the gap just as they checked into CP1. Took a 10-minute break before the 4 of us headed up the final 4K climb which was steeper than any sections we’d undertaken earlier.
The push to the top was not easy of course, but we kept the walking pace quick and even managed to pass a few stragglers. Once we crested the top, all 3 took off like they just saw a ghost and suddenly I was alone. The final 4K was neverending, which was unfortunate since it was really the easiest and flattest section. I’d bonked and no matter how much I willed the mind, I couldn’t get the legs going. some toiling later, the race was done. Tey who was at the finish line informed me that my timing was 7:08. It would’ve been nice to dip below 7 but I’d messed up my fueling and there was no 2 ways about avoid the bonk when one committed the stupid error.
Yet I enjoyed the outing tremendously. The weather was excellent, though I did catch a slight cold after, and everyone in the GCAM group finished. Time to get onto the next one in 2 weeks’ time!
Some thoughts on the event:
The organizers can take heart with a lot of things done right, for a debut event.
Good choice for a Start/Finish site
Ample space for parking and mingling
Mini buffet at the finish
Adequate Safety Personnel
Medics from National Sports Institute
Excellent and Enthusiastic Volunteers
Boy Scouts and Girl Guides
Unofficial supporters/runners who ply the route offering food and drinks
Well-stocked Water Stations
Fruits, drinks, bread, jelly beans, candies
Could be better
Mandatory gear check not enforced resulting in tricky situation with errant runners.
DQing of runners must include proper tabulation (eg timestamp, location, reason) to avoid ambiguity
Attendance taking at all CPs not done
More police presence could’ve reduced the Mat Rempit menace
Burning from the dry and hot weather
Mat Rempits (if the cops can’t manage them, who can? Charles Bronson?)
“The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering.”
Igjugarjuk, Caribou Eskimo Shaman. One of the many quotes in “Extreme Running” by Kym McConnell & Dave Horsley
To a non-runner, the word “marathon” other than being the name of a city in Florida, town in Greece or Ontario, typically refers to something that’s very challenging, that which takes a large measure of effort and time to accomplish.
Therefore it’s common to come across terms like “food marathon” or in food-crazy Malaysia “makanthon”, “TV marathon” and so on. In fact, by just attaching a “-thon” to the end of a noun and sometimes verb instantly transforms a random thing and into a major undertaking usually involving large participation. Think “Walkathon” and “Telethon”.
The definition of difficulty is very subjective of course. A couch potato may find running 2K a marathon. Many iPad addicted 6-year olds may find running 800m impossible.
The longest distance I’ve covered – be it walking or running – has been 55KM. Not that far if you asked me since the roundtrip for my day’s commute to work is 60KM. And even though there’s some considerable amount of pain (admission of weakness!) over the last 5KM of the 55, I’ve never considered the distance to be an ultramarathon and therefore myself an ultramarathoner, much to the amusement of those in my running circle. It’s a matter of semantics and titles I know, and I’m not taking away the amazing accomplishments of others who have achieved that milestones.
Since an ultra is a very personal journey to be undertaken in one’s own terms as opposed to being peer pressured, here’s my own definition:
An ultra needs to be more painful and life affirming that what I’ve gone through in that 50-55KM journey along Singapore’s ECP, MacRitchie Trails and KL’s Putrajaya pavements. Painful and extreme enough to my mind and body that overcoming it will trigger some sort of enlightenment, realization and epiphany (hopefully not along the lines of never to do it again!). For all the expected discomfort, I want my journey to be meditative, a form of penance, acceptance of my limitations, and fully aware of my thoughts and emotions that I’ll be battling. It sounds like a romantic notion of an ultramarathon and I’m not sure if that’s even what a runner goes through in such an event, what more in sleep deprived mode!
I don’t know a lot of things about finishing an ultra (21 marathons under the belt means nothing), nor about the art of preparing for one in the first place. I don’t know if I’m lucid enough midway to recognize and appreciate the changes to my mental and physical state. However if one comes out a better person at the end of the journey, it’s an undertaking worth embarking on. Even if it requires being run over by the proverbial truck at the 70K mark.
I run the marathon and all distances under it to find out how fast a slow middle-of-the-packer like me can be. Any distance over 42K is done purely out of fun and a chance to experience new paths, trails and roads with friends. Right now, my threshold for fun is capped at 50K and I’ll continue to be selective in entering such events. If there’s no fun to be had, there’s very little incentive for me to be putting in the investment of time and money for that. You might have guessed by now that I don’t give a damn to the pursuit of titles. Life’s too short for that.
So it was the lure of fun and the nostalgia of Mt. Nuang that brought me back to the foothills of the famous spot. Pangsun, from which we will be starting our 10K loops, is located far away from where I live. My weekend schedule is tight enough to ensure that my visits there would be rare. With Nuang being the training grounds for established local ultra runners and strong hill climbers, I would toe the line rather short on fitness having just come off Titi 2 weeks ago. The mix of cough and cold, and some niggling knee issues which crept up of late didn’t help either. But no excuses – the aim was just to enjoy the outing and come out unscathed for the April marathon.
The trailhead up to Nuang was so festive on race morning. The site was very well organized. The start/finish area was separated from the hospitality area, which kept things tidy. There’s something about the ultra community that’s different from the rest. Sure there are the color coordinated folks that we see at the road races but mostly, the runners you’ll see at these long haul back-to-nature events don’t give much of a hoot as to how they look. I for one, looked like a clown with my multi-colored outfit. Totally unplanned, by the way. I just went with the lightest apparel for the job. There were folks in sandals, slippers and Salomons. Still, there were those in matching Salomon and Compressport outfits. Some were equipped with trekking poles while many were there as if they were about to do some road running. I would later spot a runner who hand carried his sling bag up and down the hill and another hand-holding a large tumbler of water in the oddest manner. As long as one gets the job done safely.
The flag off followed immediately after check-in and a short briefing of the ground rules. If one is caught littering, 5K will be taken off the runner’s log. Nice. I was well prepared for a tough day out and yet not 500m into the trail, my heart rate would already be working hard. Only the darkness eased some of the visual pain. When it was clear that the elevation would be that hard, the race strategy became all too simple – walk up the climbs, try to run what little flats there are and depending of the conditions of the legs, shuffle down the descents. Expectedly there was a short queue for the bib marking at the 5K CP but there was no hurry. I refilled my soft flask and promptly made my way down. Along the descent, I got a bit annoyed at how the soft flask was bouncing around like crazy (remember this scene from Ace Ventura 2?). When I got to the bottom, the first thing I did was to swap out the flask with a traditional bottle filled with Coke and ditched my headlamp. At the same time, I wolfed down a slice PB bread which I packed from home to ensure I didn’t repeat the Titi fueling folly. A look at the watch showed a decent 1:15, ahead of the planned 1:30. I wasn’t about to waste time and politely declining the curry puff offered by Cally, I went off to start my second loop.
By now, the trekkers/runners were well spread out and I was able to use the poles more freely. They certainly helped in the ascent. Upon reaching the 15K CP, it was another very quick pitstop before heading down. Nick was about 150m ahead while Richi was nowhere to be seen. I was enjoying the cool morning air when I suddenly felt some twitching on the right knee. The discomfort quickly build up to a degree that I was very close to pulling out of the race. The going was very hard and I knew that it would not get any easier but I kept my calm and slowly walked all the way down. The steepness certainly didn’t help as did 2 tricky sections where we had to negotiate rocky terrain. By the time I got down to the base, my mood was cheered by the level of enthusiasm the crew and volunteers were displaying. It was fantastic and everyone who passed the trailhead arch had their “hero moment”. The folks from the Le Sabuns were there too with their “unofficially official” support station. I limped to the hospitality area where Julie was already boiling a pot of barley drink, I told (ok, whined) Cally that I had a bombed knee and she immediately leaped into action with an ice pack. I rightfully blamed the ITB and while the knee was being iced, I probed the hip area and found the source of the pain. 15 minutes of icing sufficiently numbed the knee and the tight hips loosened a little postponing my premature departure from the race for awhile more. Puzi and the drinks crew were doing a great job ensuring everyone had enough ice, water, Coke and isotonics. I had a Kitkat, another slice of bread and a handful of raisins before trudging off.
The 3rd loop was really tough but I had Razif for company for part of the way up. He was deep in UTMF training and Nuang had been his training ground the last few months. We would jog the early flats and hiked the climbs. In ditching my poles for a lighter climb (not that the Komperdells were heavy), the glutes were getting their year’s worth of workout. The gulf of ability between Razif and I was indescribably huge and I shooed him off before I slowed him down more. By then, the Garmin 620 had intermittently lost signal under the trail canopy and I’d reverted to tracking by elapsed time instead. The day was really warming up rapidly and on a few open sections, the participants started to feel the rising temps and most were slowing down. The bees certainly had a field day buzzing around sweaty people, attracted to the salt no doubt. Other than CY, Batman Ben also reported he was stung. The 3rd descent was uneventful other than the knee issue.
Cally worked my knee with the icepack again while I downed half a pack of fried rice, another bar of Kitkat and slice of PB bread. My hydration and fueling had been great. Thankfully, I got something right. The thought of DNFing was stronger than ever, however, and I was really battling the decision to preserve the knee for the April marathon which I’ve invested money and time in. But the icing worked just enough to make me feel like I should take the risk and try another loop. And that was how the 4th loop happened for me. The number of runners out in the trails had gotten scarcer by then, with the number of campers outnumbering participants.
With the 4th loop tucked away and plenty of time on the clock remaining, I took a longer break wolfing down my last slice of bread, a mini chocolate bar, a handful of raisins washed down with copius amount of Coke. The 25-or-so minute rest provided some respite from the noon heat, although I felt really bad to have Cally ice the knee all the time I was seated there. without the icing, I wouldn’t have been able to continue. With the sole intention of getting it wrapped up as early as possible, I staggered to my feet to start my final loop. But just as I was leaving the refreshment area, Jeff came in bearing a large bag of plum flavoured icicles! My walk can wait then! The treat was heaven sent and I slurped down the stick. As I turned on my turtle pace up the hill, Batman Ben drew alongside and we spent a little time catching up as we brisk walked. It’s been so long since I saw him, the last time during his event, the mindnumbing, joint-crushing Twilight Ultra Challenge in Singapore several years ago. He dropped me like a rock half a mile later. He’s not called “Iron Lung” for nothing.
When you’re walking slowly, you get to appreciate your surroundings more. I’d noticed the darkening skies and windy conditions. If it wasn’t for my bummed leg, I’d have enjoyed the dramatic turn of the weather. Nevertheless, it was a welcome change and the climb wasn’t as energy sapping as I feared. A few minutes later, it started drizzling. I’d to pay more attention to where I was stepping, what with the proclivity of the Wildhorse to slip.
With 2K to the 45K CP, I bumped into Nick who was on the way down to finish his 5th loop. Just as we parted, the skies parted too and my, did it rain! Ordinarily I’d love to run in the rain but on the trails, I was a little more apprehensive. I wasn’t geared appropriately and my pace ensured that I’d have to stay out longer than necessary. But in a long haul event, one has to tough it up and roll with it. Mentally I urged myself to keep going to keep the body warm while shading my eyes from the rain. Puddles started forming here and there and I made sure that I avoided planting my feet on any slick looking surface. I’ve been to Nuang twice and twice it’s been a wet affair! The wonderful volunteers at the CP had evacuated to a well setup shelter and the bees were no longer a nuisance in the pouring rain. I had my bib wiped and marked and off I went, 5K to the finish. This time I was surprised to see Yim heading up.
Apparently he registered for the event but was still in recovery mode from his weekly adventures. Soon enough he was on the way down again and we got to do some serious chit chat. That got me out of the funk and I, in all likelihood, covered the downhill quicker – the rain had stopped – than I did the last 2 loops. After crossing the line and battling “Slave Driver Jason” for my completion token, it was time to shower and freshen up to cheer the rest of the participants. There were plenty of war stories to be shared all round. The camaraderie was unlike any found at the road races and I really had fun catching up with friends. An hour later, Nick, CY and I were in the car heading home, tired but happy. For me it was a slow 9:18 for the 50K, but I was just happy to emerge unscathed.
The event, IMHO, has been a success. The organizing team had been fantastic and I’m sure other participants will agree too. I’m especially grateful to Cally (I owe you coffee!) for all the icing on my knee, which contributed greatly to my finishing and without injuries too. As I’m writing this 4 days after the event (publication of the post scheduled on the 5th day), the soreness is nearly gone and I’m already looking forward to getting back to prepare for the marathon.
Here’s my take on the race as a whole: Route: 4/5 Organization: 4/5 Support: 4/5 Runners’ amenities (food/water/bath/toilet/rest area): 5/5
Could be improved: A more cheat-proof check-in/out punch card system
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!).
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 🙂
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.