Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Powerman 2011: Hot Race


After a week from TMBT, I don't have much confidence in pulling off this one. Finishing yes, but racing at peak ffitness is another matter. I just managed to do 2 short runs, and one cycling course for preparation. Running an ultra drains you for a few days.

Weather was predicted to be hot. Odd thing was, in rained buckets the day before. After looking at the winners list last year, I found out a surprise. Not only Danny Feng was a strong cyclist in P2k, he also won 2nd last year. That shows he's a pretty fast runner as well.

Race day. I stood at the front while waiting for the flag off. When the gun started, I quickly went up. I wasn't that fast. I didn't think my legs were there. So I tried the faster cadence method instead with lower cardio holding. What was surprising, Chan Jun Sen from UPNM was running alongside me. With the pace we were running, it's pretty fast. Another guy wearing black from singapore was fast too. At times I was chasing him, and at times I passed him. Somehow when I passed him, he would try to attack. I tried to keep my ego down. This wasn't the time to push all out. There's still the cycling leg and another running leg. Eventually I would learned that he was the winner for aged 20-29. The first run was completed in 0:40:28.

Time for the bike. The first few km was trying to set the speed up to 40kmh. Then somehow, more and more guys bunched up in what I could say was the first non pro leading group. Chan Jun Sen was with us as well, and we're both wondering why some guys in front were obviously drafting. I did my best not to draft by staying on the sideways or some lengths behind the cyclist in front.

When we reached a small bridge, there was a slight slope that caused my bike to dipped and shoke. My water bottle fell off. I just had one. In that moment I slowed down. I was wondering if I should pick it up, or continue. That aero bottle cost 120 per piece, but I decided that I could probably win back some cash to cover it up. If I had stopped, I would have lost the leading edge.

Problem was that was my electrolyte drink as well. I didn't brought any gels, so I thought that would suffice. I resorted to slowing down at water checkpoints to get water, but I ended up with gatorade. Something that doesn't sit easily with my stomach.

On the 2nd loop, we caught up with Shahrom. He stayed until the end. I could see that he was too trying to avoid drafting. There was a marshall beside us that warned some of us who were drafting. But on the 2nd loop, things were harder. We were passing slower guys, and some parts of the lane became smaller.

I do remember on the way back, a marshall standing beside the road, yelling at us asking us to break up.

2nd run. Things were tougher. I had twice of gatorade on the bike and it wasn't sitting well. Besides, the sun was up. Luckily I got my shades and cap. Without both I would have slowed down considerably. At water stations I was walking and pouring water on my head just to cool off. The heat always slows you down. And doing a fast pace is pretty hard.

I finished with a time of 3:12:37. Given the circumstances after 100k TMBT, I was pretty ok with the timing. Then I saw Richard Tang stumbled into the tent. He was drenched in sweat and looked like he had a bloody tough race. Then to my surprise I saw Danny Feng came in later.

After some hours the race, I was glad to make it 3rd. But such was the toll of the race on my body, that I wasn't pretty coherent during prize giving. I think the heat and gatarode might be the problem. But finishing with a better time margin than last year 3:34:24 proves that all the hard work in speed has paid off. I had a better cardio engine now. It's a matter of tweaking it to any races, given the adequate time to train, to perform at peak.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sabah TMBT: The Most Beautiful (Brutal) Thing 100km

The 100km route...
At the start...
After CP1
Running back to CP 7, among the padi plantation...

I've done quite a number of ultra runs on the road. But not many on trails.

100K's are always tough even on road. Put trails in, and it becomes a few times tougher. Put in the elevation and it adds up even more.

To date, I've only attempted one 100k trail which was the TNF sg last year. I DNFed at 60k after puking, which I believe was caused by gulping 2 power gels.

Sabah's TMBT was my next attempt at 100k trails. After 2 day SAC ultra run in the middle of the year, I knew before hand, the ups and downs can be horrendous.

Race day. I was bumped in with Tony Quay and Mr Chong. We woke up just after 3am. With a hazy mind we packed, then went down for the bus which will take us to Kota Belud. I seated beside Vincent Casanova, whom I had met at SAC ultra run as well. We chatted, and as the morning lights came out, the beauty of Sabah captivates us. The crocker range was clouded in mist, with hills poking up everywhere.

Finally we reached our destination. The first thing that struck me was Mount Kinabalu. I have actually forgottten the fact that this mountain is the most obvious towering object on the horizon. The view was just beautiful.

After some photo sessions, it's time for the start. We're let off the hook, and slowly I started up my pace. Jimmy Tee ran alongside, and we both made up a good pace. From the start, we both agreed on a quick pace. He was doing 50k, but I didn't mind.

There was a caucassion dude was trying to follow us, but soon lost it. I think he was the winner later.  The first check point (CP1 9.5km) was reached without much hassle in 0:51:39. I took some water, and then we both shoot off.

Then Dino came from behind. I guess he's into racing mode. All 3 of us just tried our best to keep  up with each other. The pace was as quick as possible. Most of the steep inclines, we just ran regardless.

Then we reached CP 2 19.5km at 1:55:35. But somehow after that, I just slowed down. Jimmy was trying to coax me to run faster. But I was wearing the NB minimus which was low profile, and slowed me down at the gravel roads, which was aplenty. Actually most of sabah road trails are made up of gravels, as they are used for 4WDs to go through. And of course, another thing is I didn't want to push the pace now. 100k is too far a distance to know if you can even survive that.

At CP3 27.5km, I could still see them from behind, but then I lost them afterwards. Reached CP 3 in 2:34:49. The locals put up some music with gongs. I thought that was nice.

There was a bridge that I had to crossed to reach (CP 3a) 3:17:01. The river passing beneath was just beautiful with crystal clear rapids. If I could have more time, I would have gone for a dip.

 After CP3a, was another hanging bridge. The condition was so bad I thought any moment the planks might break. Then there was a very steep incline uphill. Luckily it wasnt too high. That descended into a river that we have to cross waist deep, but it was a very slow moving and crystal clear as well. It almost begs me to stop for a relaxing dip, but this is a race, and I've got to move on.

After more villages, and crossing a final bridge, then that's when things become tougher. I've anticipated from the map, that things will go uphill after CP3a. In fact the previous entire route is pretty flattish. I went uphills, downhills, crossing into single track trails, small streams, and then finally reaching an opening which I thought was CP 4, but wasn't. There was some drinks provided though.

A caucassion guy who was doing 50km distance passed me at this point. Then I reached a major bridge, which lead uphill for almost a few km! Had to walk that one, cause it was just mind boggling steep. It started to rain as well, so I took off my poncho and tried it on vainly. Didn't bother with it later as it stopped.

Finally reach CP4 41.5km at 4:59:46. Overall my ranking was still 2nd. Dino was first, and he had left. The call for muslim prayer had started, so I thought I might as well do the combine prayers at the nearby surau. I think that took me 10 minutes. Soon after I finished, I was surprised to see the Czech guy and Khaliq Samat came in together. Uh oh, time to shoot off again.

So I put on a descent pace, and get my legs running up to CP5. The route was indeed getting exponentially steeper with very long stretches of 30 to 45 degrees inclination. The skies was getting darker as well. I just managed to reached CP5 49.8km just before it rained very heavily. Time taken was 6:10:09. Considering the terrain, I think the timing was pretty good. There was lunch provided nearby, so I digged in. Dino has already left for the next checkpoint. With another 50km to go, one will have to eat. I remember seeing the czech guy came in and left. Then Khaliq came afterwards as I was just finishing my lunch. Ahmadul, who is quite a seasoned athlete in triathlon and adventure races, came in as well.

I think I spent around 20 minutes for lunch. As I was leaving, Ahmadul followed suit. I was determined to create a gap, so I started jogging towards the steep slope up to CP6. Then it was climbing stair case most of the way, and boy was it long. It took forever to reach the village, and finally CP6 (7:01:48).

Then it was going through a rubber plantation, hill rice fields, and reaching a dense forest that we have to loop to get through CP6a. I remember the view here was just spectacular, especially the high padi fields. At first I thought it was the usual "lalang" (tall grass), but on closer observation I could see green grains.

Running past 50km wasn't easy. So I coax my mind, saying that running 100km is a privilege as you get to see more of Sabah.

I reached CP6a at 8:03:15 after much slipping on uneven mud and undergrowth. At this point, I just regard the slipping as necessary movement, and tried the best to get fast over it.  Met with Puzi and Shine coming in. I told them they have another hour to go.

When I finally reached CP7, I looked at the sheet; the leader was 40 minutes ahead. Strangely, I heard someone calling my name, asking me to sit down and have food. I didn't really cared, until I realized it was Dino. He said he was resting (due to his knee problem) and the czech guy has left a long time ago. I didn't want to delay further, so I said I'll go. He followed, but not for long. So, I just ran downhill all the way up to CP8 (same as CP 4) clocking 9:33:28.

At the rest point, I took out one sachet of electrolyte, and poured it into the bottle. Took a few sips, and I am off again. It's back to the major bridge, and then turning left for a long 4km climb! Saw Tony on his way up to CP4. He's doing 50km, so I guess he's well into target to reach CP5. At the bridge I hesitated with the direction until a british guy from HK (doing 100k) confirmed the route. So we went uphill together. The route wasn't easy as it took us more than 30min to reached the top. From some chat, he said he had done HK 100, and it's more steeper. He was carrying a Salomon bag, which I though was cool looking.

Then I felt something unwell, and I puked for the first time. Uh oh, not a good sign. But I kept going on. I have puked on too many occasions, so this time it wasn't s surprise. I was trying to pinpoint what went wrong and it could be the electrolyte I had drank at CP8. It was the same brand but different flavouring (orange).

By the time I reached CP 9 at 10:43:43, I wasn't in good shape. Dino and Ahmadul had caught up. I signed in at 3rd for 100k, but then I knew my race was over. I couldn't keep up with the duo, and it was getting darker. Dino mentioned the hills here were tough, and judging by all the past terrain, there's some truth in it. But the truth was we were running on a ridge, and it wasn't so bad. The thing that was, I was getting delirious from the purging. I purged 3 times, and ran out of water.

It was really walking & running afterwards. I stopped by at a side hut and lay there for 10 minutes, staring at the night sky, pondering how much more to go. With a tired body and mind, I pushed on further until I reached a house. I had ran out of water so I though I could get some. Turns out I was too messed up to even continute. The problem with me, was, if I puked, that's it. It's white flag. It has been at TNF sg, & MR25 last year.

The house owner, a local Dusun guy invited me to go upstairs. He was very nice to let me sleep on the sofa. His wife cooked a plate of rice and fried an omelette, and made some tea. I said I'll need to rest for the night, and they were ok with that. I tried calling Aman Avtar (organiser) to tell him where I was, but couldn't reached him. Then I messaged Raymong Ng & Tony saying I was in some house at a village. I did told them I was considering DNF, but Tony said something like it will be wasted since I wasn't too far from the fiinish. After my head cleared up a little, I recalled the cut off time was 36 hours. That means I still have 7pm the next day to reach.

I knew I couldn't run at this point, so I opted to sleep till 6am the next day. The house owner has a few dogs, and they barked whenever the runners ran past. Aman, himself came by at 12 mignight to check up on me. I was so surprised to see him. I guess he must have got the message from Tony. He thanked the house owner for letting me rest there.

Morning came, and after a good rest, I was feeling pretty good again. My gut wasn't protesting so I ate the rice and omelette, thanked the host, and left. I guess there's some good thing after all. I could now see more of Sabah's trails, instead of darkness if I had continued.

Some more steep downhills and I reached CP 10 after 23:34:37. I have rested more than 10 hours. From here on, it's running all the way down to the finishing. I passed some guys who were walking the trails. They had it rougher, as they had been up all night.

Just before reaching into Kg Pukak, I met a singaporean couple. I thought the ending was near, but we still have to go through some single track trails before crossing the last hanging bridge to the finishing.

The ending was just beautiful, with a river flowing beside a cliff, and an open field. I was just happy to see the ending. Finally it's over. Time taken was 25:13:50

This is an indeed a very well organised race. I have enjoyed most of it, and the view is just worth it. There's also 2 points to qualify for UTMB (Ultra Trail Mount Blanc), which is the top ultra trail race in France.

Another thing which I was satisfied, is that I have managed to read the entire route pretty well. After watching Kilian poured over maps in youtube, I now understand the importance of studying the map, and knowing which are the hard sections, and which are not. It's the same as Lance Armstrong, who does a rekkie of the current tour's route.

Personally I have finally finished a 100km ultra trail run. This one wasn't easy. I've done FRIM runs and the climb just pales in comparison. Total elevation given was 3450m. But I could stomach the hills. I've set my mind to overcome that. You can give me as many hills as possible, and I'll climb every single one of them. But I couldn't overcome my gut. I will still need to figure that out.

My next trail run will be MR25, then Nepal Annapurna 100km, and HK Vibrams 100km. I coudn't wait.