This is a very long entry. And don’t bother to try to get first placing for commenting. You will regret it. Ngeh ngeh ngeh. So just sit down, relax, and enjoy reading this report.
In a nutshell, this was a race where amazing things happened to me, and to the other runners who attempted the grueling trail under the scorching heat, all 50km of it. I don’t really know where to begin with. I am still hyped and jumpy and have plenty of things to share with you all that if I don’t control myself well, I might end up writing a novel-length entry.
But first of all, here goes the main credits:-
- To my wife and daughter, who were willing to sacrifice one Saturday without having me around. I love you both!
- To Rashid, who gave me the opportunity to use his ‘ticket’ to run at the TNF100 duo as part of the Fit & Geek team. Hope you are recovering well with your injury bro. Thanks again.
- To Rais, who has provided help in many ways from picking me up when I got lost at Novena, the taxi fares, for a place to bunk for a night, the help with our luggage, the warmth, the hospitality, the enthusiasm he has towards weekend warriors. Thanks so much bro. Without your help and presence there, many of us would be in much more trouble during this short trip.
- To Kash, my team mate. Thanks for accepting me to become your new partner even though you know how less my fitness was with my little amount of training as compared to you. Thanks for believing in me. And thanks also for the many other help, especially with the travelling.
- And to many other weekend warriors especially those who blogs, and those that I met during training. You guys kept my spirit and motivation high in doing this partially insane endurance sport.
As mentioned in earlier entry, from the day I decided to do this race to the race day itself, I only had three weekends to spend doing long runs specifically to prepare for this, be it on road or on trail. 50km is already more than a marathon distance. So being able to endure long hours on foot was of ultimate necessity. So, I doubled up my effort by doing three back-to-back long runs during the weekends, with a little speed and hill works during the weekdays when it was not raining. Although I was on a short notice to prepare for the race, I made sure my mind and body were at least 70% prepared. Anyway, please don’t ask me how to measure that 70% thingy. It goes by feelings.
The other thing that I may want to add is that, since I’ve done the Sundown 84km ultra marathon earlier in May, the thought of doing another more-than-42km running race put less anxiety and that at least gave me some sort of mental strength and confidence boost that I can do a 50km.
I crossed the country border by bus, and met Kash, Rais, Ian and Syah at Novena where both Ian and Syah were busy shopping. Syah (unintentionally) gave me a big hard smack right on my injured left shoulder when he saw me and finally revealed the ‘Kash’s secret partner’ guessing game. Ian was in a shock too when he saw me there. We then had burgers and fries for dinner before heading to Cold Storage to get some bottled drinking water for the race. After we were done with our last minute preparation, we went to Rais’s crib for a good night sleep (yeah, you wish!).
And there was one funny story worth mentioning here.
While looking for bottled water at Cold Storage, Kash grabbed the Gatorade powder that she plans to bring back since it is not easily available in Klang Valley. Syah and Ian jumped into the wagon and started to calculate whether it’s cheaper to buy the powder or the normal Gatorade bottled drinks itself. Kash acting like she works for Gatorade, started to explain and promote this Gatorade powder by claiming that the whole powder yields more amount of Gatorade once mixed with water as compared to buying the bottled Gatorade drinks.
The question is, we had no idea what quart means. And we kept on seeing “quarts” at the back of the Gatorade powder bottle instead of Oz of liters or how many scoops needed to make how many Oz of drinks. None of us bothered to pick up our hi-tech mobile phones to start doing some scientific volume calculations and in the end, we wasted 15 minutes there just to come to a conclusion that our brain cannot do maths a day before an ultramarathon. We nearly called Haza the math lecturer for help.
At Rais’s crib, Ian was nervous and claimed he can’t put his eyes to sleep. But surprisingly, between the three of us (including Syah), Ian was the one who started the ‘sleeping music’ first, nearly at 1am.
The Race Day
We were up and ready to leave the house by 5:10am. Headed our way for another big breakfast since we knew we will need the solid fuels in our tummies. I was surprised with the size of the nasi lemak they have there.
When we finally arrived at the race site, we quickly gathered among familiar faces. The pre-race atmosphere is always a fun place to be as we share our excitements and jitters for the race. At this time, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into.
Around 6:30am, we went to the starting gantry. We thought we were supposed to weigh our body before the race, but it was actually to weigh our hydration system to make sure we carried at least 1.5ltr of fluids to start with.
[0635hrs] I’ll be putting 3kg on my back, which consisted of 2ltr of ‘special recipe drinks’ (confirm no steroid ok!), 6 packets of gels, a spare socks, passport, cellphone, camera, deep heat cream, plasters and the CamelBak itself.
More and more runners started to fill up the starting line. Once we weighed our hydrations, we mingled around and I did some stretching and photo snapping. At first I thought there won’t be so many runners, but as the clock went closer to 7am, the whole area were full with participants from near and far.
Six teams of Malaysians contingent (Mohan is a Malaysian for the day) seen here. Kash was not in the picture. She was busy on the phone. There were a couple more teams from Malaysia but we couldn’t gather everybody around.
The moment of truth finally arrived. At 0700hrs sharp we were all released to start our 50km trail journey, with a cut off time limit of 9 hours for qualification. Most of the teams were seen to be running together side by side during the start. I made a decision to stick to my partner from the start line to the finish line. I didn’t want to do it alone, I don’t know why.
At the very first portion of the race, we were brought to run by the MacRitchie Reservoir itself before getting into the trail. I was anticipating some tough inclines at the start of the trail but Kash mentioned that she used to run on this trail few times and there’s nothing to worry about, yet. True enough, I loved this portion of the trail where the grounds were pretty soft and very little undulations now and then. There were times where I overshot myself at front, but I stopped and waited for Kash before continuing our runs together.
With a full tank of energy and excitement to enjoy the whole journey, it didn’t bother me when other runners overtook me. I maintained a slow pace with high cadence, which gave me a very stable and relaxing heart rate to carry on. However, I was sweating a lot and I loved it when I see sweats dropping off my chin. I also put on my 10mins timer to remind me to drink. The weather that morning was very calm, with a bit of overcast making the atmosphere inside the trail very comforting and fresh.
Basically there were not much of drama yet during the first hour of the run. Kash and I took it really easy that we could still manage some chit chat along the way. I can’t remember seeing the 5km distance marker either. At the moment where Kash stopped for a toilet break, Pui San and her partner came by and we started running together.
[0744hrs] Adeline in a very happy mood. Sad to know later on that somewhere after 15km she needs to get some medical assistance for the massive itchiness she experienced on her knees and arms. She must have been bitten by some kind of insects.
Since the big crowd has reduced its size, there were not much runners overtaking us anymore. Most of them running nearby us were at the same steady slow speed, enjoying our runs in the nature.
There was one moment where I heard a lady screaming and squatting down, holding her head, about 100m ahead of me. I though something fell onto her head and as we approached her, her partner was busy swiping her head with a cap, like trying to shush away something. True enough, there was a big ground wasp (or something like that) flying around her head. The situation was quite panicky. We stopped by to offer some help. The lady was still screaming and saying that she has been stung on the head. I also noticed another wasp flying and landed on my back, but I didn’t do anything and luckily it went away seconds later.
As more runners came by, another lady also got stung and by that Kash and I decided to run away from that dangerous area. My guess was that, maybe someone has stepped on its nesting area earlier and causing the wasps to went amok.
We continued our runs while thinking that we have never expected those kinds of incidence to happen during our run. We totally forgot about the other external factor such as this one. She might be lucky that only one wasp stung her. What if a whole group of bees came by attacking us the runners? It will be a good idea for us to at least know some basic survival skills in the wild. We never know, right?
[0802hrs] Right after the first hour, we get into a very long stretch of tarmac with some steady inclinations. The organizer lined up those yellow barricades all along the way to separate us from other vehicles.
The second water station cum the first check point came just before the 10km mark. I can’t remember stopping at the first water station though. At this water station however, many runners stopped by and helped themselves with the isotonic drinks or water, as well as plenty of GU gels and Mars mini bars.
The tarmac portion lasted another few clicks, and then we started to enter the Bukit Timah trail with a grand entry of rocky steep steps. The weather at that time was still shady and the sun has not shown its full face yet. So far so good. I can’t wait to enter into another trail.
The trail inside Bukit Timah was a mix between soft sandy-like track, as well as hard and slippery clay track. The track was much narrower as compared to before and I’m sure lots of mountain bikers love this trail. The undulations were pretty awesome too, not so punishing yet. Once again, I truly enjoyed running in this kind of trail at up to a point that I made a secret wish to come and stay/work in Singapore so I can run here every weekend.
We have included some walk breaks even during the beginning stage of the run, especially when going on inclines. I myself was making sure that my heart rate did not go overboard even while tackling the shortest or tiniest climbs. If I was not running with very small steps, I settled down with walking. Kash was still showing her strong spirit and she could still run very well. Shortly after, we came to the next check point and water station. Plenty of spectators were around too, cheering for their friends.
[0922hrs] We met Adeline again here (orange/red top, black shorts, facing back) where she told us she had some kind of allergic reactions, itchiness all over her knees and arms. Kash offered some minyak angin cap kapak, and we told the marshals there to get some medical assistance for her. She didn’t look fine at all.
I took a toilet break here too and felt much relieved then after. Though I haven’t finished all the drinks I carried on my back, I’ve been drinking three of four cups of isotonic drinks at each earlier water stations I visited. I also grabbed a banana to feed in some solid fuel. With already this much of trail we ran on, I am having difficulties now to remember what came next. Everything looked the same, basically speaking. Or maybe my brain has started to feel tired to remember during the run.
To tell you a little truth, although I was sweating a lot during the whole run, I didn’t feel that much tired or fatigued as yet. No signs of any muscles cramping either. Surprisingly, my energy level was behaving very well that day. I’ve only taken two gels up to this point if I’m not mistaken, and lots of the 'special recipe drink' from my CamelBak. But, considering the amount of time I’ve spent in the trail so far, I was quite surprised that my energy level sustained pretty handsomely, as if I was just finished running a 5km road run. From then on, my motivation and dedication to finish the whole journey quadrupled, and with that positive spirit I trudged on forward with Kash alongside.
What I anticipated came true. With very less distance markers (to my opinion), gauging our pace was getting more difficult. The journey felt much longer too. We only get to the 20km distance marker after 3hrs5mins. It translated that we've slowed down pretty badly. By just looking at the current performance, one may simply say that I can get to the 40km mark after another 3 hours, or 3.5hrs max. I also tried to think like that, but this was where our endurance in the trail were put to test. Simple maths don't work in ultra endurance race like this one
From the night before, Kash has been concerned about the first cut off check point, where each runners have to get to the 32km mark within 5 hours. Having done 20km in 3 hours, we thought we could simply nail another 12 clicks within two hours. We were positive at first, but as we go along we secretly started to have this little doubt in our heads. The sun has started to shine at full blast, the loose pebbles and rocks on the trail added the difficulties in running with a steady pace. Many times we were forced into walking, which further damage our timing.
[1012hrs] Having to see a familiar face at places like this was another kind of blessing.
I was actually surprised, but excited, to see Sasha offering some cold isotonic drinks and fruits. Thanks a lot Sasha!
[1013hrs] Just few meters from where Sasha was standing, there was the third water station. There was also a big shaded area where some runners sat down to either take a short break, or attend to blisters. I helped myself with more isotonic drinks and a banana.
If my memory is still working, after this third water station, it was the beginning of the Mandai trail. Many runners claimed that this is where the hardest challenge would be. Challenging to both the mind and body. I was busy trying to look for the next distance marker as I started to feel that we were already lacking behind the cut off time. Or at least, the turnaround point. I wanted to know whether we should put in more effort in running, or was it okay just to take it a little more easier by walking.
[1032hrs] The mind boggling trail. With long inclines scattered around, and loads of loose gravel and stones. Only with good and sturdy trail shoes one can endure this kind of torture quite easily. Or else, this is where disaster starts to build up.
Running has become more difficult to muster, be it on flat, uphill or downhill. I almost tripped and twisted my ankle a couple of times but luck was still on my side. I could see Kash started to beg for mercy. She was low on fuel, very low. Her whole body language clearly stated that she has started to experience the real fatigue creeping in. Every time I ran further in front of her, I turned my head back to check on her progress. At times I saw her running slowly, but most of the times she was forced to walking.
It was my turn to start worrying about our timing and pace, especially when there were no distance markers to tell whether we've passed the halfway mark. Kash's speed has reduced dramatically. Even her walking speed was slower than normal. I asked her about her system and she replied that she had no more energy left to run fast, and her toes were hurting badly, especially when going downhill.
As for me, I did not feel that bad yet. Yes the Mandai trail was very torturing to the mind and body but I kept a positive view and vision that we were going to get this done, sooner or later. I knew I needed to start providing more support to my partner, physically and spiritually. And I started to push Kash from behind whenever we were going on inclines. At times, I was also pushing Pui San. She too looked struggle.
Then, we came to a left turning where in between the trees I could see a very big climb we had to make. It was at Hill 265, and I bet no one could run up this huge and steep climb. Being at the foot of the climb, we took a little breather and started to do lots of prayers so that we could be able to climb up this monster hill up to the top.
Pui San had a bad incident that while she was pulling her self up by holding on a tree root, she had a bad chest cramp. After reaching the top of this hill, she looked a bit panicked and in pain. She kept on saying she had a pain in her shoulder/chest area. Her partner, Mohan was right behind her and I saw he came to assist her. Kash and I wanted to stay together with Pui San, but seeing Mohan was already there, we continued our run. Once in a while I would look back and there I saw Pui San hasn't started running. She was holding her shoulder, assisted by Mohan, who was also walking with her. I made a silent prayer that she will get it through to the finish line. Shortly after, we left her far at the back that she was no longer in our view.
At this time, even my camera battery has gone very low. Blinking red battery indicator has given the signal that it should be put to rest very soon. I reduced my camera usage with the intention to save up a little more battery for the finishing line's drama.
Kash's condition did not get better at all. She was hurting, she was suffering, she was at the verge of quitting. I continued to encourage her, with positive thoughts and plenty of lies such as “Kash, you look awesome”, or “Not so far ahead Kash, only few more clicks ahead”. I kept on pushing her from behind anytime we came to a climb, or anytime when she cannot even run on the flat surface. I also started to urge her to keep on running or we might not make it to the cut off time.
Thinking back to what happened during the run, it was such a funny experience for me at least. I know she was already too fatigued to be thinking straight, but I find it funny when Kash started to curse the organizer for selecting this torturous route for the trail run. Then, I threw her this question, “Kash, who is smarter? The organizer who gets money for doing this crazy thing, or we who spent money to do this crazy stuffs?”
Well, suffice to say I was lucky not to get her fist landed on my face.
The next significant torture came from the sunshine from above, and the heat reflected from the trail itself. It made me flash back to my experience doing a half marathon distance running under the scorching heat in the Desaru long distance triathlon. This time, it was similarly not forgiving too. I was wearing a sleeveless tri-top and both my shoulders and arms were totally exposed to the radiation. Amazingly, my energy level remained in the green zone. I would normally be sucked out by the heat, but not this time. Yes I did feel exhausted and tired and fatigued, but I could feel that I still have the energy to finish this race strong. And I wanted to bring Kash along with me to the finish line.
I can't really remember where and when, but at one point we had to go through the check point to which I believe was the 32km distance point. We were already out of the five hours cut off time but I was surprised there were no marshals or anyone to stop us or tell us to abandon the race. It was such a relief and from then on I was getting more sensitive with timing and pacing. I knew we had to work much harder if we were to arrive at the finishing line within the final cut off time of 9 hours.
With each steps we made, I saw Kash was suffering even more. She ran out of gel, and she very much needed something to boost up any little energy she could get. I offered her a gel, and also asked her to start taking the GU chomps we get from the race kit. At least there's something solid getting into her stomach. I shall not further embarrass her by describing how badly she fell apart in her total tiredness. Just imagine, after taking the gel and gummy bears, she still could not feel the energy coming into her. She failed to respond whenever I asked her to start running. I was getting very worried, and I know she felt even more devastated.
We took few short breather breaks here and there under the tree shades. I tried to keep it to the minimum by limiting the amount of time we stopped at each breaks. A glimpse of tree shades were all we needed really badly, as compared to the amount of heat we've been getting. I was sweating really hard, and also my body temperature started to raise a little bit. I was thinking of showering at water stations but I did not want my shoes to get wet because I did not want to risk having blisters.
When was the last time you saw somebody gave up on something? Well, this time I saw Kash giving up, few times. Not fully giving up though. I know in her heart she believes she can finish this torturous journey, but externally she was already giving up. Her lips said it, her body languages said it. I made a promise to her that I will stick by her side no matter what happens, and I also promised to bring her back to the finishing line, regardless of what timing it would be. But, I badly wanted to finish the race within 9 hours. And I know she wanted the same thing.
I may not qualified to be a personal trainer or a coach, but that was how I treated Kash from then onwards. I became her coach, I became her personal trainer for the day. I started to realize that I need to push her more and more both literally and spiritually. I kept on lying to her with all the good remarks about her well doing, with hopes that it would recharge her motivation And, not even the smallest glitch of doubt I had about her ability to finish the whole distance. I was only worried and concerned about her condition. I was so afraid she might just fell down and fainted, or injured her legs due to sprain or twisted ankle.
I kept on forcing her to continue running when she no longer could. I told her to just open up her steps and let me push her back on the many climbs we still have to endure on our way back to the base. When I didn't push her, she was not moving forward. She was like standing stagnant at one place even though her legs were moving.
The only pain I had was on my left knee. I've been having the pinching pain ever since the first 20km but I kept it to my self. I told her once that I felt pain whenever I tried to run, but the pain faded away as I kept on running for few steps. I also started to feel hamstring cramp trying to attack my left leg, especially when I was pushing Kash up the inclines. But I kept it to myself and continued doing what I was doing.
We refilled our hydration bags at the two stations we stopped. I told Kash to drink more frequently as the long duration of heat exposure may drive us into dehydration much faster that we thought. I also told her to cool her head down with water when we reached a water station to which she obliged. I hope that made her feel much better, although much wetter.
Out of a sudden, I noticed Kash was running hard. It looked like she has gotten her second wind. I was so uplifted to witness that amazing effort by Kash. I accompanied her to run, much longer periods than what she could run earlier. I welcomed her second wind with more motivational push that she can make it to the finish line, running strong. However, I still let her take some more short breather occasionally, and I still kept on pushing her while we were going on climbs after climbs after climbs. I also told her not to go all out yet, as the finishing line was still much further ahead. I also told her to keep on drinking more often as the heat was really getting on us, and we should not allow our body to get even a glitch of dehydration.
Between checking our progress and timing, I kept on cheering for Kash to keep going at whatever she could do in that tormenting situation. We get back to the familiar long undulating tarmac portion which means we were in our final 15 or 17 clicks away from the finishing line.
I was also starting to feel super hungry by this time. I regretted not taking a banana at the previous stop. My tummy kept on growling and making so much noise. I knew I needed to take in something solid, but I have nothing with me. The only choice left was to keep on drinking from my CamelBak but it was not sufficient to shush my hunger away.
[1500hrs] I missed taking a photo shot of the 35km and 40km distance marker but this one was in MacRitchie Reservoir trail. We've been on foot for exactly 8 hours since the race started. One more hour to complete the last 5km that felt like 15km.
At the first thought upon passing this distance marker, I think we could easily nail this one down in less than 45minutes. I was so positive that we can do it within the cut off time. There were still times where Kash resolved back into walking and claiming she had nothing left inside her to run. I told her to keep on trying to run or we can barely make it within time. I felt sorry I kept on barking at her to keep on moving much faster. At one time, she barked back at me. Perhaps I’ve been barking more than I should. Hahhaa. Anyway, I took it as a positive feedback. No hard feeling.
4km away to finish, we started to see the signboards of the MacRicthie trail with distance indicators. From 4km to 3km, the journey felt like a 5km. The nearer we get to the finishing line, the further it felt being inside that trail. We still needed to face few more final climbs. I was in such a hurry, kept on glancing at my watch now and then.
I started to do the count down as we went down pass 3km and 2km. Thinking she might not comprehend how far ahead that was, I told her we had 20 more minutes to get this settled. Then, 15 minutes to go, then 10 minutes to go. As I gave a final look at my stop watch when we were on the final kilometer, I predicted we will be crossing the finishing line with 5 more minutes to spare. That is if we didn't start walking again.
Getting to see the MacRitchie reservoir for the second time was the big bonus of the day. There were more spectators and runners who have finished their runs cheering upon us. I continued encouraging Kash to keep on running, as I saw she was still struggling to keep on moving forward. I even told her to start crying if that was what she wanted to do but she kept her promise not to cry during the race very well.
As we were going up the very final climb on the tarmac towards the finishing chute, I continued pushing her from behind while running. The spectators started to applause, and cheered on us. My pace went a little bit faster and stronger, and so did Kash's. She finally asked me to stop pushing and she continued running strong on her own. I joined her by her side, as I promised since the beginning. With a big smile on my face, we finally crossed the finishing line in 8hrs52minutes.
It was another proud moment for me to see Kash finishing another ultra run. It was once again a battle won. A battle against herself. And what made it special this time was that, Rais was there at the finishing line to receive Kash into his arms, as how they envisioned it earlier. Too bad my camera failed to function.
Right after crossing the finishing line, I saw KA and KD, and some other friends I now have difficulties to remember. I think my face was glowing with happiness and satisfaction. Or at least, that’s how I felt. And in spite of the little pain on my left knee, it was amazing that I was still feeling quite OK. Not super fresh, but not as battered as when I crossed the finish line at Sundown 84km ultra marathon. I then grabbed two cans of isotonic drinks and gobbled them down almost immediately. Azam (Kash’s little brother) brought along some fruits and cookies, sandwiches and muffins, but all I could swallow was a banana.
So, there you have it. My first ultra trail run experience. I had so much fun doing it, especially because some of my good buddies were also there to together participate or support. Between Sundown 84km ultra marathon and this TNF100 50km ultra trail run, I’d say both presents their own kind of challenges and both requires us to do loads of specific preparations respectively just to get to the finishing line. Both of them are equally tough, but you can train yourself to be tougher than them.
“To be, or not to be.” - EnAikAY.