Monday, September 29, 2014

Ironman Langkawi 2014

27th September 2014 was the faithful day I completed my first ironman in Langkawi.  Touted as the 3rd toughest in the while ironman series and one, that I can attest to.

3.8km open sea swim.
180km bicycle ride.
42.2km run.

And i completed each task at hand. No, it wasn't easy at all. I'll blog of this soon I promise. It was certainly an achievement that's new in my books and an unforgettable one.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Great North Walk 100s (GNW100)

What is this GNW all about? Let's have a little read from the excerpt picked from the official website.

The Great North Walk is a 250 km walking track that runs between Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia.  It was opened in the Australian Bicentennial year of 1988 and passes through some of Australia's most outstanding scenery.

The Great North Walk 100s (GNW100s), organized by the Terrigal Trotters running club for the first time in 2005, are two simultaneous trail races, a 100 Mile and a 100 Kilometre, along The Great North Walk south from Teralba on Lake Macquarie.  The 100 Kilometre race will finish at Yarramalong in the scenic Yarramalong Valley and the 100 Mile at Patonga on spectacular Broken Bay.  Although the route is primarily on foot tracks and fire-trails, it does include some minor back roads.  There is more than 6,200 metres (20,000ft) of ascent (and descent) in the 100 Mile and 3,800 metres (12,500ft) of ascent in the 100 Kilometre.

Both races will start at 6:00am on Saturday, 13 September 2014.  There will be cut-off times at Checkpoints en route and the overall time limits will be 22 hours for the 100 Kilometre and 36 hours for the 100 Mile.

Yes, it's actually a hiking route all the way from north Newcastle back down to Sydney! I have read accounts of hikers taking about a week doing the whole 250km route leisurely. But this GNW100s is not your neighborhood hike. Take the option of either 100km (103km to be exact) to be finished in 22 hours or the more challenging 100miles (175km to be exact) in 36 hours. Sounds easy but there are mighty elevation thrown in too. About 3,800m elevation gain for the 100km category and 6,100m elevation gain for the 100 miles. This ultra trail itself has been giving loads of pleasure to ultra runners since 2005.

I'm not exactly new to GNW having tried hard to complete the 100 miler last year. But i failed. The weather last year was so stingy hot (40C) that as many of 50% of the runners dropped out at CP2 (50km). I managed to continue on from CP2 but the heatstroke/dehydration coupled with minimal trail experience brought me to my knees at CP4 (103km). Left with just half an hour on the cut off time, I decided to throw in the towel as the remainder of the journey would not be easy either given the state I was in, read exhaustion, tiredness, etc. The good thing is, you are still accorded a 100km finisher though even if you failed to complete the 100 miler.

So this year, 2014, I wanted to complete this unfinished business. Badly. Last year I had the company of Shine who completed the 100 miler. This year, fortunately, Seow Ping from Hong Kong took the bite and went into the 100km challenge. Well a travel companion is better than none I suppose.

Seow Ping and I goofing around in the car. Well need to keep sane before the race. We arrived on the Friday morning before. Something I'd not recommend given the long haul flight and were a good rest is a necessity. Her parents were nice enough to pick us up from the Sydney airport and have a quick brunch before parting ways.

The starting point is in a town called Teralba. Accessible by train from Central Sydney which takes about 2.5 hours to get there. Trains are scheduled every half an hour. Quite a scenic ride into the country side along the way. But mostly i dozed on and off in the train itself. By the time we got into Teralba was late 6pm and the darkness has already begun to descend. It gets bright around 6am here and the dark around 6pm from what's left of the winter season here.

Hailed a cab and got to Warner's At The Bay hotel, the official one where most would hold up for the night. We went for a bit of shopping for the ultra and a quick dinner before heading back to freshen up, complete the packing for the drop bags and carry on bag and called it a night. 

The ups and downs for both 100km and 100miler. Daunting eh? Granted it doesn't have extremely long ascends of 1,000m but these short ascends can be quite steep and furious to say the least.

The overall map. All the way from north down to south. The actual GNW trail actually starts in Newcastle and ends at the Sydney cove. One thing to note for this ultra is the 'minimal' number of water stations/checkpoints. There are only 4 for the 100km and 6 for the 100miler. So do expect a distance of between 20 to 29km between checkpoints! So you need to be very self sufficient, specially with water.

Last year I got caught out from CP1 to CP2 (28 to 52km) where the sun really was blazing hot. Carried  only 1.5litre of water which wasn't enough. This year, although being moved from the traditional November (summer) to September (end of winter) I didn't want to take any chances due to the long distances in between. I made sure I have 3 litres of water with me between checkpoints. Which meant that was already a 3kg weight I had. 

Coupled by the mandatory items of top and bottom wool thermal wear, reflective safety vest, analogue compass, printed out detailed maps and detailed directions, rainproof/windproof jacket, etc ... the total weight of my backpack came to at least 4kg! And I had to carry that for the total 175km, which is the actual distance.The shortest distance between checkpoints was 22km and the longest was 29km. So all in all, it's quite a self supported ultra. 

The 6 checkpoints. There were 2 unmanned water stations which was a blessing to ensure we don't run out of water. Water stations were well stocked and manned. Foods includes water melon, bananas, lollies, chocolates, Hammer gels, biscuits, bread with nutella, boiled potatoes, soup etc. Hydration includes water and Hammer Heed drinks. To me all of which is more than enough. The rest is left to your own self to manage. Suck it up ok. 

And of course the volunteers were a gem. Always so helpful and raring to give you that pick me up to continue on. Even the medics were on alert taking in your weight at CP 2, 4 and 6 to ensure your weight do not dip (or increase) within the 5% boundary. If it did, you're courting trouble with your health. Nothing I can fault with the volunteers, medics and even the support team. So very helpful. In fact sometimes too helpful lol. At a few checkpoints, the volunteers insisted in taking my bottles to help me fill up with I was reluctant as I could do that myself. They insisted. And insisted. I relented lol.

The good part is you can have a drop bag at all the 6 checkpoints. I decided to go with a drop bag at CP 2 (50km), 4 (100km) and 6 (150km) only. Generally a change of socks and at the CP4 drop bag a change of fresh clothes. Usual food/hydration supplies in each bag. 

Unfortunately, I didn't have a good night's sleep at all. Tossing and turning every hour. I attribute it to the jitters i have with this ultra. You'd think I'd be so used to such ultras now huh? The other thing was my niggling sore throat and flu that came back to haunt me again and again in the past month. DNS was on my mind though. 100 miles is no joke with that bloody sore throat and flu bugging me.

Morning 3am came and the alarm went off. I was groggy but decided to just suck it up and see how what I'd go. Hey! No try won't know ok. Although I am being cautious about my health all the time.

 Last selfie of Seow Ping and I at the starting line, waiting for the time to come. We got to the starting point about a 10 mins ride by cab. Got your race kit, and dropped off our drop bags and finishing line bag. 

No bibs given, back to old school. Wrist bands for both hands. On my left bib no and name and on my right, my weight taken at various checkpoints. Simple and it works. At each checkpoint your check in time and check out time take by the marshals.

After a simple race briefing by the Race Director, Dave Brynes, we were left off. It was a cooling 20ish degree or slightly less. Not that cold really and once we started moving, it was just lovely weather to run.

The first 6 kilometers were just roads heading up. Above is crossing the railway bridge above to the other side. Reflective jackets are mandatory when you are running on roads no matter what the time of day is. And again mandatory after 5pm till 7am the next morning.

And the the road went upwards. Gradually sloping higher and higher before we reach the trail head detour. I was generally just running at a comfy pace for my engine to warm up. 

Off into the start of the trail head. Volunteers and marshals there to ensure we don't get lost. Something to note. This ultra trail has no markers put up. You will need to rely on the detailed maps and directions that you've printed out and follow those little green posts that says 'The Great North Walk'. Yes, there are changes one could have gotten lost. Or like me, get a GPS and load in the gpx file and then follow the bread crumbs!

It was still going up but quite easy terrain to run on. Those eucalyptus trees around were rather soothing to run past. Perhaps a koala or two were on those trees. Didn't have time to spot them though.

More ups running across electrical pylons. Most ultras I've been does run through them somewhat.

And up again ... sigh

And more ups hehe. I think you get the idea here. The only way is ... UP!

Path becomes narrower but quite a joy to run on. Surface is a bit soft so it was kind on the legs too.

There were some parts where we'd get off the trails and back onto roads for a bit before heading back into the adjoining trails.

You'll see a few of these telecom towers typically built on top of peaks. Means ... yeah head up to peaks many times.

I got into CP1 in about 4 hours and 11 minutes which was a comfy pace. Refilled, ate some potatoes and went off. Stayed for about 5 mins max really. Thanks to Seivland Poh for this picture. Ignore that muffin top ya.

Gorgeous views on some of the peaks that one can see far and wide.

Nice right?

From CP1 to CP2, we were running in the denser forest. Something like FRIM or Nuang back home.

The little man post I call these and one must pay attention in spotting these as they mark the correct way. Miss is and you go wondering somewhere else. I got lost a few times for about a km or so and had to double back. Became overconfident even without looking at my gps for the directions. Serves me right but hey, it's all part of the game and fun me thinks! From the above, the direction means go straight.

Another important post to look out for.

Also important signs to take time to read. Always follow the one that rads 'The Great North Walk' and the direction it says. You won't go wrong that way.

The trails became increasingly dense and many times we had to get on all fours to make our way. A bit of an adventure but nothing overly too difficult for experiences trail runners.

More gorgeous views to be had on the way. Keeps your sanity me thinks specially on such long hours on the trails.

Some hanging bridges to traverse too. Part of the game.

From thereon to CP2 I kinda stopped taking pictures. Tiring ok!!! I got into CP2 with a time of 7 hours and 27 mins covering 52.5km. This was with quite a bit of heat but not as bad as the year before. Stayed a bit longer here to hydrate and eat and to cool off. It was already 1+pm when I got here and the sun was still high up.

CP2 to CP3 involved more climbs in the hot sun which many of us took it lighter to ensure we keep things in check overall. There were climbs over closed gates that keeps the livestock in. Also we had to dabble with electric fences lol. Was curious though to throw a stick at it and see if it ... zaps like in the movies. Hmm.... after the climbs, the trails went on a rolling roller coaster up and down trails. Runnable if you are up for it. The day got cooler as the sun began to set. Out came the headlamps and reflective vests too. To CP3 means going back into the denser forest/jungle similar to what we have here in Nuang - from camp lolo to pacat kinda terrain. Can't run much here just have to be careful not to fall down being slippery and all.

Aptly called The Basin this CP3 at km 81.6. Time I took was 13 hours and 30mins here. Dark, getting much colder. At some points I used my medium layered gloves and decided to just us my arm sleeves with my compression top. Took more time here to eat, hydrate and rest. Had lovely hot soup here which made a world of difference. Thanks again to Sievland Poh for being a gem support me and many others at each checkpoint!

Then onward bound to CP4 (103km) with a distance of 29km. Quite a long one and since it was night, I was trying as hard to fight the sleepiness. As I double back from the Basin, I met up with Seow Ping and she was doing well. From the Basin into the dense jungle took quite a while before the last 10km or so opened up to tarmac roads. My left quads gave me issues here. Not sure why and I don't think it was a case of insufficient salts although I made sure I replenish them hourly.

It was tight, and when I ran (or tried to run), it just stiffens up badly and sore. Damn. Tried to stretch it but to no avail. So where I could I walked, and jogged some. I was sleepy now. Every now and then there would be a runner passing you but I hardly cared. Decided to listen to my MP3 and that somehow did work keeping the sleepiness away. Fine. I had to sing out loud sometimes to my favourite tune so excuse the singing ya.

The last 10km road was a bit weird. We passed ranches all around, and could see many homes there. In front of each home they have a weird setup of scarecrows. There's scarecrow statues, props and what not and even signs depicting what that setup was. It was freaky for me cause it was at night and seeing those 'things' in such a mock up made my imagination go a bit haywire! I sometimes though I saw errr ... things that go bump in the night lol.

Still, persistent I was and finally made it to CP4 after 18 hours 26 mins for 103km, woohoo! A far cry better than last year's for 21 hours and 30mins! The same place I DNF-ed last year too. Took a much longer break here. Changed into fresh gear, top and bottom. Had more soup and Sievland Poh was a real darling serving me here yet again!

And not long after that, Seow Ping completed her 100km GNW ultra! Good for her. Bad for me as I still have another 75km to get on lol. Congratulated here and didn't stay long before I continued on. Still a very very long way to go and I had to keep my mental up after nearly a day's worth of running.

CP4 to CP5 was about 28km away and another long one. It was again back to more climbs of 350m and a few of them littered along the way. Trails became slightly easier to walk/run if one still have the energy. Didn't see anyone in front or at the back for a long time now and it was a lot of alone time on the trails.Sometimes when you're presented with so much climbs after completing a 100km distance, you just don't want to think anymore but just put one leg in front of the other, and keep on repeating that. The more you think ahead, the more frustrated one can be so keep it to small manageable goals from now on. Keep thinking about the finishing line and how glorious your finishing would be! Ok snap out of it ... focus or else you'd fall off the sides of the cliff!

Finally daybreak came at around 5.30am and I was just happy seeing daylight and the sun slowly peaking out. The last couple of hours were running in some foggy environment which was difficult at times. It got much colder in the last leg and I had a long sleeve Columbia top on top of my compression top. That's all. Didn't require the need of a jacket at all.

Finally I got back onto the road, and after a few more km or turning here and there, I came to CP5, km 132 with a time of 25hours 20mins. It was a smaller checkpoint here. Rested, rehydrated, refilled ... you know the drill by now. Had soup again to warm up the stomach and off I went. It was more roads rolling up and down before heading back into the trail head.

From CP5 to CP6 was essentially downhill so to speak but it wasn't all downhill. Some small bumps here and there and I manage to get my legs running again every now and then. Another 18km before reaching CP6, quite manageable since it was daytime already. The last part before reaching CP6 on the Old Princess highway was incredible. We passed this overhanging road/bridge over the ridge/river above us which span for a 100m or so! Quite awesome really as I was all the way down there by the river. But it's music to my ears when i hear vehicles from afar and I know the checkpoint won't be too far when there's roads involved.

Got into CP6, km 150 with a time of 29 hour and 8 mins. Time for the home stretch of 25km. Umm .. but 25km is still a long way to go with this weary, tired and exhausted body. Did the same drill and had more soup before strutting on for the home run.

The sun was getting hotter. Hotter than the day before. It stings. It does. Luckily there's an unmanned water station 9km away. But to get to that 9km took an eternity. There were few peaks of 200+m here to climb. Steep too. Took everything out of me to make these peaks in the hot blazing sun.

The top of these peaks were different. Solid and at times flat. And we were made to traverse the tops for quite a bit before heading down, then up again at another similar peak. I actually enjoyed these part of the trail though although plenty climbs to be had. Also passed a waterfall which was delightful and refreshing to see.

View from the top of these many peaks. Can see quite far ahead really. Hot but rewarding views. Don't be fooled by the last 25km stretch thinking I had like 7 hours to complete cause these peaks, one after another took the wind out of me! The sun will sure slow you down for one. The steep climbs would be another factor. In fact, only 5 hours were allocated for this leg of the race and I took about 6.5 hours to complete!

So I had to turn on my turbo mode where I could and tried to run as much where I could to make up time. I somewhat underestimated the timing and I was lucky I made it before the cut off time. That 9km alone took like 2 hours to get to! After refilling water at the unmanned stations, I hurried on for fear of not making the cut off. Even the last 5km wasn't spared of nasty surprises of more steep climbs and downhills! It went on and on and you could see the sea already thinking the end is near.

Nah, more km to be done before finally the last drop onto the beach. You could hear a bell being rung from far away. Customary when the organiser's spots a runner coming down onto the beach for the final 200m run on the beach! And with that gusto of wind, I trudge onto the sandy beach. Never mind it was tougher to run on the sand either cause the end ... is near.

Last few meters now on the beach. Took out my Malaysian flag and proudly displayed it in full awe and glory. Thanks again to Sievland Poh for this picture!

Finally. Reached the finishing line of 175km in the official time of 35hour 16mins. The cut off being 36 hours. Kind of underestimated in the last leg but all is good! Ranked 52nd. I think there were about 160 starters.

 And of course, you have to kiss this GNW marker by the finishing line! 

Overall a very good experienced with my 2nd 100miler ultra after UTMF in April. Am happy I've conquered it this time bringing with me more experience and persistence. After all, 35 hours on the roads with just your legs is already a crazy thing to do and no mere mortal would even think of doing it!

Overall well managed and planned ultra. Checkpoints were well stocked and volunteers were more than helpful at all times. Enjoyed the wholesome experience being touted as one of the toughest ultra trail in Australia!

This is ultra no 12 for 2014 and a total of 37. Combined with a total of 48 full marathon, to date I've accomplished a total of 85 marathons. Hope to hit the magical 100 mark by next year!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

2014 Mid Year Review

Yes, half of 2014 has gone by. Just when you thought you were having loads of fun running here, there and everywhere else. I try as much to do a mid year review, predominantly as a reminder to myself how I've done, or have achieved or areas that requires further tuning or improvements.

In summary, I've well sort of cut down on shorter events and focused mainly on longer events, ie ultras. In contrast I've only completed 3 full marathon in the first half. In the years before, I would have done a dozen or close to that number. Having said that, the number of ultras for the first half have gone up quite a bit year on year. 4 last year (100km ultras mainly) compared to 9 for 2014 (mix of 100km road/trails and 100 miles). That said, trying to get back at speed for full marathons took a beating looking at the result of my 1st full marathon this year in Hatyai that returned a so so 4:38 timing. To which I did try to focus back on speed and was rewarded with a 3:57 timing in Melaka's International Marathon early June. See? Tough to juggle both paces or perhaps I was just looking for reasons.

Part of the collectibles for the 1st half of 2014. There should be more. Not sure if my cats played with them and left them somewhere in the litter bin.

Here's a quick list of the events for the 1st half of the year by chronological order.
No Race Name Date City Country Finish Time Distance
12 Salomon MR25 X-Country Marathon 06/22/14 Singapore SGP 04:52:00 Marathon
11 Melaka International Marathon 06/08/14 Melaka MYS 03:57:36 Marathon
10 Hatyai Marathon 05/25/14 Hatyai THA 04:38:16 Marathon
9 TNF100 Australia 05/17/14 Sydney AUS 16:49:47 100 km
8 TNF100 Philippines 05/03/14 Baguio PHL 24:32:30 100 km
7 Ultra Trail Mount Fuji UTMF 04/25/14 Tokyo JPN 42:41:09 168 km
6 Twilight Ultra 03/30/14 Singapore SGP 14:38:01 100 km
5 Translantau 100 03/15/14 Hong Kong HKG 28:48:28 100 km
4 TNF100 Thailand 02/08/14 Khao Yai THA 14:40:44 100 km
3 H1 Hardcore Cebu 100 miles 01/31/14 Bogo PHL 25:47:00 100 mi
2 Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra 01/18/14 Hong Kong HKG 17:54:51 100 km
1 Watergate 16 Hour 01/05/14 Kuala Lumpur MYS 14:10:00 100 km
  • Total of 12 events. 3 full marathons, 7 100km ultra, 1 100mile ultra and 1 168km ultra
  • Furthest distance being 168km UTMF in April. A first for me for such a distance on trail
  • Best achievement would be improvements in my Vibram100, slashing 2 hours from last year and grabbing another silver trophy with a time of 17:54. Still plenty to work on if I want that gold trophy next year
  • Best back to back succession, 3 in 4 weeks. UTMF 168km, the following week TNF100 Philippines and 2 weeks later TNF100 Australia. Bloody tough is all I can say but with the proper recovery, not truly impossible. TNF100 Philippines was more of a revenge for me since I DNF-ed in 2013 so it was something I had to absolutely cross off this year!
  • 2 DNF. Yes, I am human too. The hard to crack H1 Ultra 100 miles which I could only manage to 100km and the recent Ocho Ocho 220km which I managed to get up to 200km. That said I am still happy to overcome the 160km limit and go past 200km for once. Not the last for me attempting bigger distances.
  • A total of 1,154km just for the 12 events above excluding those that I've DNF-ed or the shorter events in between which I've not mentioned.
I am forever grateful I finished the above relatively injury free. Well some small ones here and there but nothing to big to manage that some rest and ice can't fix. In between I did do a century ride which I loved and will be doing a few more as the months go by. 

What's the highlight so far? Has to be UTMF and the recent Ocho Ocho 220 ultra. Learnt so much from both. Physicality is one thing but I'd figured the mentality to uphold sanity is more crucial after being on the road for over 40 hours. Like I've said before, I'm still learning myself. Not something you'd get from books solely or from theories. It's when you 'walk' it yourself, you'd understand better. No substitute unfortunately.

I am pleased thus far. Some hits. Some falls. But hey, that's part and parcel of life. Here's looking for more new adventures for the 2nd half of 2014. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Beyond 100 miles - Ocho Ocho 220 (OO220)

One doesn't stop challenging themselves. Something I believed in. The more complacent one is, the lesser you'd move forward (or try for that matter). Trying in itself to me is a form of challenge already. Maybe you'll conquer it on your first try. Then again maybe not. But the act of trying itself dictates so much in oneself, and I found out with this road ultra in the Philippines.

Say hello to Ocho Ocho 220. Ocho in Spanish simply means the number 8. Double Ocho Ocho just means 2 loops that forms the figure 8. 220 means ... well 220km (give and take). Fortunately it wasn't 220 miles!

The upper loop with green arrows will be the 1st look, back to the starting point being the Baguio Municipal Hall and then make the 2nd loop denoted by the orange arrows. Give and take, each loop will be about 110km or so. More on the distance later.

I am fortunate to be able to 'sample' such distances within this region. Something rarely heard of and not many race directors would want to go the 'extreme mileage'. Then again I do know Singapore has begun to remove the limit of 100 miles and gone 200km already! I've done the Craze Ultra (facebook link here), twice. Once in 2012 and another 2013. I can safely tell you that running in hot and humid countries like Singapore or Malaysia ain't an easy feat. The sun is already a big factor dragging you down when you accumulate the distance. And running in the sunlight for 2 days well ... is unthinkable! :)

For a start, there weren't any elevation profile given by the Race Director. Perhaps since this is the first inaugural time this is being held in Baguio. Baguio for those uninitiated, is perched up high at around 1,500masl (metres above sea level). Something like Genting Highlands that we have here in Malaysia. Nice and cooling throughout but since winter has long passed, the day time can get a bit too warm for my liking.

I'm a data geek in my ultra events. And yes, it does pay to do a bit of homework to understand what you'd be facing and hopefully, that would make you wise in the preparation of both mileage, inclines, gears and even hydration and nutrition needs. After all, 48 hours in this single stage race .... is a bloody long time! I tried to plot the route in MapMyRun using just the route graphics above. Not that hard really since it's purely done on the Philippines highway and few turns. I expected some elevation but having approximately 5,200m of elevation gain over 220km is ... quite insane! Worse still the elevation ascend/descend comes in 1 big chunk and not progressively. That involves from the start, going down about 30km from 1,500masl down to sea level! Mind you it's not all downhill but included some elevation upwards to tackle ok. Then flat for about 50km and then make your way up Baguio again (for about 30km) to complete the 1st loop for about 110km. Repeat again for the 2nd loop (slightly different from the 1st) and voila! Finished. So I thought.

There we have it! 12 brave (or crazy depending which way you look at it!) stood in front of the Baguio Municipal City Hall on a Friday, June 13 2014, 5am, in the drizzling rain. No, those specks are not snow but secretly I wished it was. I think it was a cool 18C or so. Not overly cold, just nice to kick things off. Those 12 are accomplished ultra runners with many completion under their belts. We do have a lone female though (hey what happened to the rest?) from Singapore, Kelly Lim which I'd want to give mention for braving this ultra! Writer being the one in blue on the right side with that inverted L lightsaber.

The Race Director, Jonel Mendoza (crazy fella but most loved for coming up with insane distances), gave a quick briefing on the water stations. This is generally a self supported race. Don't expect water stations and goodies every 10km or so, cause there are none. There were only 3 water stations and checkpoints in the 1st loop spread out over 110km. The rest is up to you. Have a support crew if you will. Else like me, loving the tough difficult ways decided to just hack it! Yes do or die, kamikaze assault if you like!

I've done similar self supported ultras before, the last being H1 Cebu Road Ultra 100 miles generally self supported. Most about everyone had a support crew except I think 3 or 4 of us. But I'd have to say the other support crews were generous, kind and every supporting the lone us. More than happy to extend what they have in their vehicle to us, from drinks to food to massages (kidding!). I wasn't that afraid of the day time. Plenty of sari sari (local small sundry shops in hut style) littered around the whole route and where you can get drinks (coke, water, mountain dew and some small bits of food). Once in a while when you get into the bigger towns, even 7-Eleven can be had (and the aircond!).

The rain wasn't the hard kind. In fact, I loved it. Small little drizzle which can get your top wet but not your shoes or socks. At 5am, after Jonel said a prayer for the safety of everyone, we were let off. Daylight will break in an hour or so but it was still headlamps out. Immediately, the faster few went off into the dead of the night. I was generally in the mid or back group with another few. I needed half an hour before I was fully awake and digested that I am in a 220km ultra. Then only would my engines fire up.

The pictures I stole here are not mine. Credits to those who snapped these. Either the support crew or volunteers! This was that long 'tunne' which we ran through. I noticed this during the bus ride to Baguio each time and was fascinated to run through it! The eerie echo sound it made from the engine roar was a bit spooky, specially the 2nd loop when i had to traverse this in the dark.

So the few of us was in a little group. Sometimes they in front, sometimes I was. Anyway it was downhill and occasionally some bits of steep uphill. The thing I didn't like was the diesel smoke from the trucks and buses which was ok for a while but unbearable as time ticked away. And yes, I had to make a pit stop in some bushes. No guessing what I had to do next but I was good to go next. It was Bryan from Malaysia that I tagged at the back after my break, all the way to the 1st pit stop.

A surprise water station at Pugo/Tubao junction was there around km 34 after we were done with the downhill. It was still drizzling as you can see I have my waterproof jacket on. Not too heavy at all. Refueled and off I went again. Still far far ahead to conquer.

This was the 2nd checkpoint/water station called Agoo at km 49. That eagle reminded me on Langkawi as we have a similar eagle there too. It was big! After this water station, a right turn towards Caba. Now, were at sea level. The rain stopped here. And I could feel the humidity even though it was somewhat cloudy! And sweat I did! Buckets! One funny incident happened here. I think the locals were bewildered by us runners. Granted there were not many of us but you can't miss us with the big bib in front and running around like a mad man! The aunty was selling Dragon fruits along this stretch. You could see many small stalls selling dragon fruits and others, such as mangoes. As I passed here, I smiled and said hi. She smiled back, greeted me and thrust a Dragon fruit in front of me. Heh, I stopped abruptly looking shell shocked. She said, 'take it, it's free for you. You're a runner right and you're no 4 now!'. I could only grin ear to ear hearing that. Not because I was number 4, but the warmth of the locals there.

I said thank you as I didn't want the prospect of getting my hands blood/purplish red peeling them. Well unless she peeled it for me lol. The rest of the route to Buang was flat, humid. I was running on the right side of the road, since Philippines is a right hand drive country, and therefore i was facing oncoming traffic. Cement pavements were there. Now it's tough to run on something so hard. More over trying that over 200km! Sometimes none in the more rural places. In place were gravel and big rocks, sometimes grass. The grass and small gravel were no issue were fine with me. Those with bigger rocks was my concern in the 2nd loop. More later.

Then I kinda got bored. It's been over 12 hours on my feet. Nothing to appeasing with the scenery and decided to do selfies to keep me sane. So from time to time, I whipped out my handphone and shot some selfies. Wicked, I know.

Some where heading to Buang after crossing a long bridge and just before reaching the last check point of this 1st loop. What was going through my head? Don't you wanna know!

Buang! Km 72! It was getting to 5 or 6pm I think. The Bawinas (Tom and Gay) husband and wife tag team were here, graciously manning the last 2 water stations round the clock till the past runner had gone by. Thank you and good to meet you again after H1 Ultra trail in February! Then it started to drizzle yet again. But I found it refreshing with the drizzle. Didn't cause me to have wet shoes or socks.

The last 50km was generally going up hill already. The long long climb back to Baguio where we started. And we climbed non stop. It could only make you or break you. Mental toughness is where I summoned from my past experience. To make it easier, I just break it to each 5km. And each 5km done, I will sit by the roadside for a couple of mins to drink, eat or just have a breather. It was already dark. The Naguilian Road was endless in the dark. I haven't eaten anything solid in the last 15 hours and I was hungry. There were a trucker lay by somewhere there where i see many truckers parked, and eating. So I decided that I wanted rice. Something warm, The lady was very nice. I just pointed to the rice. Then I said anything that has meat on it. Vege or anything warm or soupy. I was served some rice (not too much), grilled pork I think and some vegy soupy combo that looked like chop suey.

Who cares. I had hot coffee too and that was heaven warming up stomach. The 2 truckers next to me joined in the conversation of what/why/how I am running. When I told them the 1st 110km loop, they looked crazy shit at me. And then I had to mention the 2nd loop of 110km and they just shook their heads, looking bewildered. The lady said I was 4th still. I had a good 30mins break and with that I peeled my ass from the comfy seat and head on. Another 30km or so and I'm done with the 1st loop.

When we started, there were many support cars that zoom past me and waited for their respective runners. Something like drive 5km ahead and wait. Repeat until ... you're done. I see them a lot in the 1st 50km and by now I see none. Perhaps they were all lagging behind. Don't know but it was a lonely lonely last 30km. Not before I suddenly bumped into Marcello who was supposedly be with the top few. He is a fast runner winning many ultras but I guess it wasn't his day. I could make out he was hurting inching his way up the remainder of the inclines. It seemed he had very bad chaffing and diarrhea. And that is a lethal combination in any ultras. I tried to urge him to fast walk with me up the inclines but lost him after a km or two. Sigh.

Then May, support crew for Robert swung by. Heh, I was delighted but a real presence haha. You can tell I was disillusioned by now. Seeing things which may or may not be there. The occasional bus or truck swings by  and the exhaust smoke were killing me! At times I resorted to running on the right side as there were no pavement on the left. Then back to left and then right. Safety first I told myself. I had a blinker on my back and headlamps in front.

You can almost hear me jumping for joy when I am finally made it back to civilization! The bright lights! The sounds of pubs/discos and whatever nots making music or sounds! And yeah more exhaust fumes lol. Then I saw the most delicious thing ever in my life! A life saver! The thing I most long for in any ultra!

 Yes 7 Eleven! You just can't imagine how glad I was seeing this! The aircond! The cold drinks! I sat there for half an hour I think pondering what can I do with the remaining 110km or so. Everything was on a all time low and it does work if you take some time out and regroup. So I had a delicious pack of milk chocolate (called Moo there what else lol) which I might add has loads of protein to begin muscle repair. Also a cold cold cold Gatorade which I downed like a madman in a single go.

Then I had to peel myself off the comfy seat and continued on. I think it was a good few km before I got back to the Baguio Municipal Hall, and man that certainly boosted my ego for a bit! I was exhausted and seeing Jonel, his wife, and good old Nick Pasiken eased some of the worries away. Had some soup, some drinks and told them I just wanted to snooze for a bit. I was wrecked. It was just before midnight I arrived there. Meaning I took around 19 to 20 hours completing 120km (that was on my Garmin Oregon 650). Dang, had extras I thought. Ah well then I guess the next loop should be less than 110km so I thought ... hmmm....

Watched showed 12.15am. Was in 3rd. Robert arrived earlier. 1st was Wilniar and I think by the time I arrived, he had already gone off for his 2nd loop. Didn't care. Needed sleep. Told Nick to wake me up at 1am. 45mins of siesta should be good to energize I thought. Then I was dead. As a log.

Nick took this. I was dead on that bench for 45mins. Thanks to Jonel for the emergency blanket. After all, we were back up high at 1,500masl and the winds got a bit chilly.

Soon 45mins were up and awoken by Nick. I got up in a daze. Where am I? No, not my comfy warm bed unfortunately. Took me a while to realise that I have another 110km or so to complete sigh. Went to pee, washed my face. So far my plan was going ok, hydration and nutrition wise. Felt I could go on. If not running most of the time, a walk/run plan was on my mind. I had some food, filled my bottles and off i went close to 1.30am. Ahem... Robert was still snoozing haha. But I thought he'd catch on soon. I was told Wilnar was already 30km ahead near the eagle statue station. I thought oh well, he's doing well.

Thanks to Jonel for getting Nick and his pal as my unofficial 'support crew'. They had to get to Agoo water station but it was still early as not many have begun the 2nd loop. So they went ahead every few km and waited for me. It was dark. The downhill highway was rather lonely at 2/3am. The occasional bus coming up or trucks liven things up. Then I remembered, creap the dreaded exhaust fumes yet again. I did what I could with my Vibram bandana, cupped to me nose. Did help although it was drenched with my smelly sweat. I felt ok. Where I could, I just jogged downhill, letting gravity do the work. Legs were working ok, perhaps a bit tight every now and then on my quads.

So every 5km or so, I will meet Nick and partner. Refilled where I could and soon daylight broke as I reached sea level. Then at 8am, the sun came out. No rain whatever but it was so scorching hot it stings. I was reduced to walking and the occasional hiding at the littered bus stops, catching my breathe and reducing my heart rate that shot up to max easily in the heat. There weren't much shading to be had and it was a matter of gritting my teeth and moving step by step. After like 3 hours of hot sweltering heat, it turned cloudy. And yes, it poured thereafter. Heavily I might add drenching my socks and shoes.

I finally reached Agoo water station (the last one I might add), before making a left turn towards Santo Thomas. It was pouring cats and dogs. Thank god for the heavenly Red Horse, alcohol laden beer and sweet juicy mangoes! Who said beer is bad for you in an ultra? I was still 2nd and Robert I presume wasn't too far behind. Later I heard he wasn't that a happy chappy realising I sneaked off first lol. 49km in a about 9 hours for the 2nd loop. Not the best but I shall not complain with the heat and rain. So long I can still move without much issue, I am fine with it.

The left turn went through through a small town. Not sure if that was Agoo town, didn't quite cared. But it was way way busy. Pavements, be it concrete or rock/gravel were sometimes non existent. Flooded even but I didn't care anymore. Would just walk/run through it. Sometimes the cars/buses/trucks will splash them up all over me. Thanks. Shower I needed much but it didn't bothered me. But here's where my problem began.

I decided not to change my top or socks after the 1st loop. No blisters or chaffing that time (I was too lazy t change really). Socks were dry and so were my shoes. But now, it sang a different story. It was drenched wet. When large amounts of moisture meets your shoes and socks, hell breaks loose! Socks were soggy. Shoes were soft, specially the soles as it was wet and didn't offer much cushioning in the wet. I was wearing my Brooks PureDrift. Not a lot cushioning which works out well for marathons. With the absence of concrete pavements, and not replaced with grave/rocky pavements, my soles were being tortured way too much. Poke. Poke. Poke. Part of my mind closed off the pain. Rubbing of the balls of my feet clad in squishy socks and the soles of the my shoes weren't helping. Soon I was developing lots of hot spots on my forefoot.

Rosario. The last small town before the ascend to McKennon road begin. McKennon I think was like 40km of inclines to be had, and all uphill. Some were steep. Worse that the climb back to Baguio in the 1st loop. That picture was to appease myself but I know my soles were hurting lots. Coming up to Rosario there were a steep hill, and the rain was like a big flood flowing down the hilly road. I find that it was a bit dangerous here as they pavements were already flooded and vehicles tend to be a bit too fast. Not much safety net to run on the pavement, so i had to switch to the right, to the left, many times. And only the rocky gravels as pavements.

Into McKennon road was already getting dark. It was getting a bit cooler now with the ascend. The MNR/McKennon turn was a bit confusing for me. Thanks to the map and loading the whole route on my Oregon 650 helped me. The last thing I wanted know was to get lost with 50km more to go. McKennon road was a tolled road. At the start vehicles had to pay toll to use it. And I thought there were no tolled roads in the Philippines lol. It was single lanes both sides. Sometimes with concrete pavements, sometimes no. Since it was uphill and downhill, vehicles came fast and furious specially the opposite ones. Scary. Took out my headlamps and blinker at the back and walked gingerly.

Man, it was a long long uphill at McKennon. Somewhere halfway I saw that hanging bridge! The same hanging bridge and CP5 in the recent TNF100 Philippines! Awesome I thought. But luckily I didn't have to traverse the bridge at night! My soles hurt badly now since the last 20km. I think if I had clean dry socks, that might help reduce the hotspots. Or even dry shoes to change. That's the hindsight I guess for not having a support crew. I cursed myself lots but on the other hand, I slapped myself silly and told myself to suck it up and move on!

I wished Robert would overtake me at some point. The climb into darkness was starting to play plenty tricks on me. This was coming to 40 hours on the road with just 45mins of sleep. As I glanced on my Oregon 650 it showed 200km! A bit of joy since i've breached the further of 100miles thus far. So I thought another 20km and I shall be done with. As the distance dragged by, my lower back was getting so sore. That's the problem I have with too much walking over extended periods. My quads and calf were very tight. Every now and then a couple of stretches helped. From Camp 1 at McKennon road I was supposed to make it to Camp 7 and back to civilisation. It never came. When I saw a flurry of lights ahead, my heart jumped with joy thinking it's civilisation. But with every twist and turn of McKennon road, it wasn't. I was dismayed and felt broken.

It goes round and round and round uphill. Someone mentioned Lion's head before the race. What lion head? I don't see anything resembling that at all or perhaps it was just too dark, I quipped. The elevation kept going up at some point reaching 900masl. Dang, to get to 1,500masl means a long lony to go. I finally reached the 2nd toll.Crap. It read 220km on my gps. Looked at the gps route, there's a good 15km to 18km or so of uphill to go. Calculated quickly and that would take me another 3 hours or so gingerly walking up the remainder. It was like 11pm and I was broken. The soles took the last beating. Every new poke got me ouching and ouching deep inside. My back sored like hell. My legs muscles were extremely tight.

I lay there at the toll gates for over 15 mins in case Robert would show up or May. None. It was close to midnight. I asked the locals and I was right. It was still far from town, another 15 to 20km and all uphill and that steep pass to the Lion's head. Part of me wanted to go on despite the agony. Part of me said, that's it. I came here to overcome 200km and I did just that. Yeah, I didn't finish so I'm still wondering till today, what's it like to finish the remainder distance? Don't know. Can't tell. Apart of me felt accomplished but yet a small part of me keeps on wondering ....

I took a cab back there to the Baguio Municipal Hall and man, was the ride really steep uphill. A km or two ahead, the nice lady and her husband (the driver) chatted with me. Again the horror story of running 220km got them bewildered and intrigued. She said she worked in Malaysia for many years ago and speaks good english and even a splatter of Malay. Then she opened her mouth and said ... the 1st runner came by 2 hours ago. I was stunned. Wilnar should be home and dry by now with a champagne in hand celebration. a few km from the last tool gate, she pointed out to Wilnar and his support crew as we passed them. I was surprised really and glanced to my right. There was Wilnar, his expression showed lots of pain and agony as his made the steep ascend to the Lions Head, assisted with a push on his back by his crew. I could only watch in tears thinking would I face the same should I have continued ..... (?). But well done to Wilnar for not throwing in the towel despite the difficulties. That is what Ultras are all about really. What pain?

I got back to the municipal hall and made my way up with long steps with a smile on my face. I was beaten but I was happy I managed to breach the furthest I've gone so far in a single stage event, unassisted. Whether I stopped at 200km or 220km, it didn't matter so long I've breached the 200 numbers. Jonel, wife and Nick greeted me as I told them what happened. The insane Jonel even wanted to ferry me back to the last toll gate and continue hehe. But I declined cause I'm done for today. I know they were disappointed and I can't say I wasn't at all. There's a lot to take away from this experience with the DNF. There I said it! So that I could rework these shortcomings and ensure it doesn't happen again with such distances. Events are aplenty. There's only 1 of you. Remember that. We are in these for the long haul.

Many thanks to the city of Baguio. I have seen pretty much the whole of Baguio on foot. Ran up and down the highway where the buses to Baguio ply. Had the rain. Had the sun. Had the sweet juicy mangoes. St. Miguel and maybe next time Nick, Red Horse too! Thanks to Jonel, wife and their crew for making such an event possible. How else can I ever attempt an ultra above 200km? Out of 12 brave, 7 finished triumphantly and 2 finished without assistance. It's tough I know. Been there too. Also to all the volunteers, the Bawinas, and many others that I didn't have the privilege to thank individually. You know who you are and also the many pictures by all the photographers which I stole!

Salamat and we shall meet again in another time and event!

More information of the ultra and results found here and well done to all finishers, you have my utmost respect! As for me, so close yet so far! :)

From the left, the author, OO220 Race Director Jonel Mendoza, Wilnar the winner and fellow countrymen, Bryan Kho. Needless to say we rocked Baguio for 40 over hours!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Melaka River International Marathon (MRIM) 2014

What can I say but I am a happy man today! Things went well despite some shortcoming in the initial stage. At the very end happy days for me indeed.

Let's talk about this Melaka International Marathon first ya. Race kit collection was ok. No dramas there. Move on to race day, we were eagerly waiting for the gun to go off. A quick glance at the back showed perhaps 300 participants. Not that great really.

Supposed to start at 4 am but we waited. And waited. Crowd started to get anxious and some boos aiyo. 17 mins later after some lengthy explanation of what to do and look out for the full marathoners,  we were kinda reluctantly left off! Bang went the gun and off we went into the night.

I didn't quite like the initial 5km in town. We went through back alleys. Under some bridge thingy.  Corner here. Corner there. Confusing really. And the high humidity and lack of wind was torture to us. Reminded me of Hatyai Marathon and perhaps a tad worse off.

So hot and humid it was. I sweat buckets. Not good. Let alone water stations are like 5km apart. So going through town in the dark I finally got to the 1st water Station. Sigh. They were giving out 500ml bottles. Bad. Very bad. Many took 2 mouthful and threw it away. Next to it was 100 plus served in the tiniest plastic cup like those you take for cough medicine. Best off all they filled it only 1 cm high. Double sigh. Water station need improving heaps. Worse still no ice. Everything was room temperature. That goes for all subsequent water stations. Ice too expensive?  Given the high humidity and heat, ice is required seriously.

I felt it was very difficult running in the high humidity. A case of seriously throwing in the towel. But I just pushed on gingerly. Any higher pace left me gasping for air and a heart beat that played to the samba beat. I know this will be a tough 42km. I just told myself to just take it easy as I've not trained much for full marathons lately.

The other big issue was the roads being shared with vehicles. No cones were lining the sides if the road for us to run. So so many times vehicles zoomed so close to me when all I had was a 3 foot width path to run on my left. I was terrified for my safety when 7 am broke and the number of vehicles raised exponentially.

By the time I got to 21km, I felt so torn with the heat and humidity.  Sun was coming up too. Not going to help. I trudged on. At some water stations they had sponges but with warm water. Duh. Used the drinking water or whatever water to douse my head. I rarely do this but was required to cool my engine which overheated all the time

From here on I latched on to familiar places but at times I had the sudden surge and urge to pace higher and left them behind. It was a lonely run sometimes. No one in front. And no one at the back. I could spot sometimes a runner far in front. I used again what I have grim my ultras to urge on. Everything threatened to shut down by 30km and I've already began breathing or rather gasping for air with my mouth a long while back.

But I won't back out. At the current pace there's a tingling chance to sub4. Do I want it? Hell yeah. Haven't tasted sub4 for a long while now and this being my 2nd full marathon this year and my 80th marathon. So why not cross no 80 with a big bang? With that motivation in place I pressed on. Digging very deep for the last 10km. Watch showed 2 hours 45mins. Plausible. If only I can keep the last 10km to a 6 minutes pace or below. Dig yimster I told myself.

In the last 15km I overtook around 5 to 6 runners.  Evident from their faces exhaustion,  heat and humidity taking its toll on them. No exception for me too. I swear the last 5km was forever. I thought I started to see bling bling stars already trying to keep that pace to sub4. More water baths that helped and it was a relief indeed.

Last 2km came. Happy hour time. My own term really cause I know the end is near. 1 more km read the marker. That was the longest 1km. You can see dataran pahlawan but need to detour left up a hill and a right down to the field in front of dataran pahlawan. I didn't have much in me already and just pushed on with all my might crossing the finishing gantry.

Oh joy! Done. Finished. Not before I was handed a no 10 card! Ironically I managed to snag 10th placing in my men veteran category! Heh how lucky can I be! Thereafter made a bee line to collect my finisher medal tee. A bone to pick here abs there were no signs telling us where to get that nor were there staffs at the there he finishing line telling us. It would be much easier to just hand them goodies art the finishing line itself me thinks.

My unofficial timing is 3:57:43 phew. In the nick of time! Gps read 42.47km which is acceptable. Am elated to get back to the sub4 club and the 10th placing is is a blessing in disguise. For that I earned myself RM250! Now let's go eat Melaka up!

Not a perfect marathon. Not the worse either. Many areas to improve and I heard certain stations ran out of water for the slower runners. Not good at all. I do hope they will take in the comments constructively and improve on next year. It'll be a shame if it's only happening once and only once.