Monday, January 16, 2012

Annapurna 100: The Race

Race starts at 5:30am. I was already awake at 4 sth. It was cold as usual. The major concerns that I had was the low temperature & the altitude. For top, I wore 2xu as base, and the Salomon red shirt as the secondary layer. I also wore the buff, white cap & for pants the knee length Salomon tights. As for socks I wore nike as base, and another thicker socks. I choosed the NB minimus for shoes.

As for hydration, I used the Salomon XT adanved skin 12, which was great cause I could chuck in the top thermal layer just in case. And I also brought trekking poles.

5:30am was still dark, with another hour before daylight. We were let off, and soon we were running the streets of Pokhara. The first 12km will be on tarmac. The temperature was in the sub 10 range. But once I started moving, that didn't bother much. We were running past some buildings & houses, bridges, and some minor elevation up.

I think after half an hour, my right knee pain started to creep up. Not good. Seems like the injury is still there.

By 12k, the run detoured from the tarmac, into a village called Hyangja. There were spectators cheering us on as we make our way to the first checkpoint. I stopped by to fill some water into the bladder, as I wasn't carrying any. I did bring a 600ml bottle of accelerade as well. At the checkpoint they had ramen soup, with potatoes & salt, as well as water in bottles.

The route afterwards was 10-20% gradient dirt road. I started to use my poles. I could still move on, with some pain which I could manage. It wasn't at the speed that I usually could push.

The weather was an anamoly that day. It had been cloudy from morning. Thus, we can't see the beautiful mountain range, even as we were running nearer to them now.

As I was running on the road, suddenly, a sign showed Dhampus to the right. So I followed. Then I met 2 Nepalese runners who were resting, and they asked for something to eat. So I gave each a date. I guessed they must have bonked or hadn't ate breakfast. Then we ran alongside some open rice fields, when a japanese runner ran the opposite way. I guess he was on the phone trying to find the way. Are we lost?

Seems like it. A big group of runners, including me, was running in padi fields cut off the slopes, which were kind of odd. I thought we were supposed to run on obvious tracks? Problem was there wasn't much signage from the race.

Anyway, I followed some guys, and soon we reached a village. That lead uphill where I saw Roger, and a few more meters it was the 2nd checkpoint at 23km mark.

I went off after having some potatoes, and making sure I have salt in it. The next part was gradually uphill, as we head up to Deurali, Pothana (1890m), and Pitam Deurali (2080m). I kept a fast moving pace, trying to move up the ascent as best as possible using the poles. As we went up, it got more chilly.

Then it was a really steep downhill, with rocky steps. I had to traverse slowly as downhill caused more pain on my right knee. The poles helped greatly. Else I would have been more crippled.

I noticed I was moving slowly, which took more time. The 12pm cut off at Gandruk is slowly seeping away from target. There was a Brit lady who I paced with most of the way. She had signed up for 100k, but decided to do the 50 instead. She was kind of chirpy and seemed enjoying the race.

As I moved past Tolka (1700m), I could see Mount Machapuchare among the clouds. Although it's still cloudy with no blue skies in sight, the mountain size was huge, and at that moment it felt awesome just to be running there.

It was now drizzling a litle, with cold wind sweeping by the valley. The amazing thing about the track is the sheer vertical drop on the left side, almost a few hundred meters drop. There's no railings, so if you do fell over, it could be a long way down.

After passing more houses and farms, I finally reached Landruk (37.5km) at 11:20am. Great, I still have 40 minutes to Gandruk. It was all descent with stairs down to the river. With the hampering knee pain, I have to descend slowly. After crossing the bridge, I tried my best to push the pace. I wanted to get to the top before 12. It's steps after steps vertically up. And that's 800m up to Gandruk!

Just to give you an idea, how high is that: KLCC is 450m plus the antenna. You'll have to plus another 350m. That means the whole KLCC can sit inside the valley, and still you have some space on top.

I reached Gandruk (1940m 40km) at 12:20pm, exactly an hour from Landruk with a distance of 2.5km only. I took quite a long rest, gulping down ramen & potatoes and even hot milk tea. It was now very cold at around 5c. After leaving the station, I took my thermals out and wore them as outer layer. My fingers were getting numb as well.

I decided to go for the 70km now, since 100km is out of reach. After this it's still all the way up to Tadapani (2590m). I think I reached it at 4pm, which was really slow. The wind was really blowing hard at Tadapani, and the cold just gets colder. I didn't stayed too long, as I have to move to get to Ghorepani.

It's still climbing up most of the way here. I bumped into George, and we criss crossed a few times. I couldn't passed him on the downhills, but on the uphills, I could. I was pushing the pace regardless of elevation or fatigue. As we went up to 2800, it started to snow! It was a first for me. At first it started to snow lightly, but as the altitude went up, the snow started to feel more like rain. I was elated to see snow for the first time. But daylight will soon turn into darkness.

By 5pm I reached a lodge at Banthati (I think), went in and have a hot cup of milk tea. I really needed one, as the snow fell even heavier. George came in, drank his juice, and quickly left. He wanted to get to Ghorepani asap as well. As I left the lodge, a man bid "Good luck with your madness". Well, I guess running in this weather is indeed madness.

It was some uphills a bit more, and by this time, the thickness of the groud snow has grew into inches. I was alone, and it was getting dark. I turned on my headlamps. It's now trying to see George's track in the snow.

At the top, I reached a formation of rocks. The westward wind was blowing snow all over the place. On the left & right were sheer drops of unknown depths. It was an awesome sight to behold, if not for the creeping darkness, I would have enjoyed hanging there. Soon after, it was descent.

And for this reason, I was glad to have the poles again for support and balance. It made descending in snow easier.

As I almost reached Ghorepani, a guy with a Nepalese runner "Daba" came from behind. They claimed that somebody might have lost the way. Was that George? I couldn't tell. But one of the locals took my lamp and went searching.

I was glad to reach Ghorepani (2874m) around 6pm. It's very dark now. At least there's a heater in the middle. We all sat closed to it, trying to get some warmth in. It's hard to describe how cold things were. When night sets in, that's when it gets colder by a few notches. It was snowing heavily outside, and some local kids were having fun throwing snowballs at each other. But we were all huddled near the heater.

I was now thinking if I should just stayed there, and forget about the race. To continue, it would mean going in the dark, with very low temperatures outside. Soon, a finnish couple joined us. Finally after some rest, we decided to make it all the way back to Birethanti. Walking in daylight will take 4 hours. But with the night it will take more than that. I took out my poncho and wore it.

We started the trek at 7:30pm and kept walking, chatting at some point. Daba was a bit injured in his knee as well, so the finnish lady gave him some painkillers, and their poles to help him going.

Now walking in the snow wasn't that cold. But as we descend lower, snow turned into rain, and the snow beneath turned into cold wet slurpy mud. After 2 hours, we reached a checkpoint at Banthanti.
It was really pouring now, and coupled with the knee pain & cold, at times I couldn't really take it. But there's no choice to move forward in this terrain. Even if you stopped, there's no fast accessible roads to this part of the trails. The only way is to walk all the way down to Birethanti.

After resting, we went off again. I was only worried about the 3280 stone steps downwards at Uleri. The steps just kept on going and going without end of sight. It's wet and slippery so each step was cautious. For myself, the knee pain just makes things very slow. Finally the Finnish lady offered  a pain killer, and I took it since we have to keep on moving.

As we descend, I could see faraway yellow lights from villages. It gave the sense of space in the darkness. We were really descending a steep slope but how steep? I couldn't tell.

Finally when we reached Sudame, things got better. I think this was the last checkpoint, before we walked on open roads still on the descent. I was getting sleepier on the walk. I have finished all my physical reserves, and all I have left was the mental part. I was moving purely on will. The pain killer was also playing havoc with my gut. I knew I could vomit anytime.

We got lost a bit as well. We should have joined the main road, but detoured abit.

Finally we reached Birethanti at 1:15am. I think the time was 19:51 for 70km. Roger & Ramesh was there to greet us. I felt a sense of relieve that we have made it. Afterwards I was too tired and cold to think about food. Not that I can eat anyway. I grabbed my bag, head to the cold lodge, changed into a new set of clothes and slept. The thing was I didn't had any blankets and socks, just a thin sheet. It was terribly cold. But I did sleep.

Woke up in the morning with my toes numbed. Went to grab some breakfast and chatted with a few fellow runners. It seems like many has decided to stay at lodges along the path, instead of continuing in the dark.

After the breakfast, the bus took us back to Pokhara. Though the distance is short, but it took 2 hours as the bus has to move up a hill, then descend on the other side of the valley.

There was a prize giving at 11:30am, where they hand out medals & certs to the finishers, and a lunch for all the participants afterwards.

Just some thoughts about this race. NB minimus is indeed not the right shoe as most of the paths are paved with stones that can be sharp. The steps are made of stones as well, so more protection is needed. I think I have tested the minimus to the extreme by using it here. If the path has many stones, it's a better idea to get a thicker sets of shoes, cause it's easier to just step on it, and move on.

If you were wearing minimalism, one has to think where to step, which waste time.

For the steps, you'll need to train going up vertical elevation for a few hours. The limiting factor for ascent is your cardio, rather than technique. For the descent, try running down steps in quick succession. It's hard to find the same altitude in Malaysia, but mountains at 1500m should suffice.

I think this is a very hard 100k to finish within 18.5hr, but it can be done. I was racing with injury so that really slowed things down. But I still doubted I can finish the 100km even if not injured. It will take a few tries to get this right.

* Sorry no pictures on the race. Perhaps the organisers will have some soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Annapurna 100: Ride to Pokhara

Kathmandu valley

Descent after passing hills surrounding the valley..

Annapurna range...

 Range right of Annapurna
 Stopped for fuel.
 The bridge where we had to walk to get to Pokhara.
 Machapuchare up close.
 View of the blockade.
 It's a festive atmosphere in Pokhara for new year's eve.

 Registration for the race

Woke up around 4:30am. It was freezing as usual. I had the bag packed last night. The bus, coordinated by Roger, leaves Summit Hotel at 6am. Using the Hotel's request, I got a taxi to get me there. That cost 600nr.

Not many were still up when I reached. The runners who stayed there had breakfast before the ride. It seems like many participants who were joining this race have strong credentials. The french guy Sylvain Bazin, had done UTMB, and said there's harder mountain races in France apart from that. Tori, had climbed Aconcagua, a peak of 6962m in South America. Then there's the italian couple who lives in the mountainous northern region of Italy. In terms of altitude, I have yet to even reached the highest peak in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu.

I secured a right view seat, just to get a closer look at possible mountains & valleys. As the bus heads westwards & up above Kathmandu valley, the scenes of locals minding their own morning life came into view. The outer region of the city has a few brick factories, with tall chimneys spewing up smoke, which was another source of pollution.

After reaching the top of the hills, it was descent, most of the time. It was a clear day, and some snow caped peaks were in view. They seemed distant. On the right of us, were deep vertical drops of a few hundred meters the least.

It took at least 6 hours to get to Pokhara. We've had some hiccups at a small town. Seems like the Maoist internal faction were creating trouble by blocking the main road. At one moment, a guy stormed the bus, and asked 2 locals who were in the bus, runners I assumed, to get off the bus. Tourist were actually exempted. But Roger quickly brushed them off saying they were guides.

As we reached Pokhara, the same group, this time created more blockade with some buses, parked diagonally across the streets just before a bridge. It was a ruinous moment. So, we all left the bus and proceeded to walk the next few km. We hardly walked a few hundred meters, when we boarded another bus from the other side to Pokhara. Our bags will come later.

From Pokhara, the Annapuran Massif, and Annapurna II & IV views were impressive. This was the first time for me looking at snow caped mountains up close. The idea of running there was tantalizing, yet I am still worried if I could stand the cold or the altitude.

Upon reaching Pokhara, we have to get off just before entering the city, as it was geared for new year's celebration the next day. Finally, after some walking, we reached Barahi Hotel.

I met up with Mr Yong Yuen Cheng from Singapore at the venue during registration. He wasn't the only Singaporean. Katja Fink, who stayed there, was also in the race. She was the first lady in TMBT 100k in Sabah.

The briefing was conducted by Roger Henke and Ramesh Battachan. Race starts at 5:30am There will be 2 cut off times. One at 12pm at Gandruk, and another at Tadapani at 4:30pm for the 100k runners. For 70k runners, one must reach Gandruk before 2pm before being allowed to continue up to Ghorepani.

We were given maps as well. The course were designed such that you can sign up for 100km, but if you decided to do 70km, you can just cut across to Tadapani, and if you want to do 50km only, a descent to Birethati from Gandruk for 10km will complete that. Gandruk is only 40k into the race, and according to Roger, most of runners will ultimately decide the next due course, upon reaching there. The race ends at 12midnight

After the briefing, we still have to wait for the bags to arrive. I haven't booked the hotel in Pokhara, and was a bit worried. I have met with Dana, a fast talking Australian doctor, who was doing his housemanship in Kathmandu. I managed to get a booking at the hotel (Three Sisters) he's staying.

While walking there, even his pace was fast. Upon reaching the hotel, I found out the room was given to someone else. Luckily, Mr Yong has mentioned he had a spare bed. Finally I stayed there, which was a better idea, as it was real close to the starting line. Three Sisters is a 20 minute walk.

It had been a long day, with the bus journey & briefing. Sleep wasn't easy with the sounds of new year's celebration in Pokhara's street.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Annapurna 100: Flight to Nepal

Suvarnabumi Airport: looks better than KLIA

The Himalayas!
Kathmandu airport
 At the top of Tibet Guest House
 Prayer flags in the air...

Summit Hotel!

 The view from the hotel was just spectacular. The 3 mountain range can be seen from here, a rare scene.

 Temples around Thamel area.

Another view of Kathmandu in the evening.

After mr25, I got back to training mode. With 2 weeks to the event, there wasn't much time. Grace Lim graciously lent her trekking poles. I was a bit skeptical at first. But having an injured knee, and having pain, or minor discomfort, as I would like to call it, isn't a promising way to finish even the race.

So I tried them up Bkt Segar. And it was awesome. I could ascend & descend without putting more weight on my knees, which prolonged the time I could be out there. Or at least, if I was too crippled, I would just use the poles to shift my weight forward.

I tried 5 loops, ascent of 1000m, at that was quite a workout. I tried 10, but missed out on the last loop, cause I was just too tired, even using my mind to turn things around, I was barely making it out. It was a vertical ascent after all, But I was happy that at least I finished 9 loops for a total of 1872m.

All in all, I wasn't too happy with the mediocre training, but that's the most I could put up, without getting too much injured.


The flight to Nepal has a transit in Bangkok for a night. I coudn't really sleep there. It was cold as well, without any jacket on.

The next day, I was seated next to a couple who were under an NGO overseeing the Himalayas. They were grateful enough to let me seated to the window, and overlooking the Himalaya range. I coudn't contain my excitement as Everest, Lhotse, Lantang, and some other range not within my knowledge came into view. They looked like white clouds hovering above the sky. And our plane cruising altitude seems the same as the height of the mountains.

The couple did gave some advice on what to wear during winter time in Nepal. Yes, it was winter, which is also the least tourist traffic time of the year. Also, they did warned about the pollution and the safety issue in regard to water & food.

The first thing that hit me, when overseeing kathmandu is how sporadic the buildings were. Then, how simple, and small the airport in Kathmandu is, compared to Suvarnabumi in Thai.

I went through the immigration, and luggage check without much hassle. Then I tried to seek the taxi that would bring me to Tibet Guest House. Luckily the hotel said it as it was. After getting another 2 passengers from Korea, and we're off to the hotel.

Another thing that struck me was the smoggy air, and the layer of haze that just lies across the city. Then there was the shock of the terrible roads & infrastructure throughout the journey. Not to mention the garbage strewn in the waterways & all around. I had trouble breathing a few times.

Finally we reached the hotel, which was really nice. The management, however, warned us of scheduled power cuts. The room I stayed didn't have a heater, and therefore cheap, costing 24usd for 2 nights.

Soon, the low temperature hit me. I think it's around 15c. I have been to a server room at 18c, and it was terribly cold. I quickly unpacked, and went searching for winter clothing. The couple had advised to get a 'down' jacket, so I got that, with a pair of gloves. Still, I have trouble with the cold.

Had dinner, then went off to bed at 6:30pm local time. I didn't have much sleep at the airport in thailand. Sleeping wasn't that pleasant either. Everything is cold, including the bed.


I woke up the next day, and felt much better. It was way much colder in the morning. I went up the rooftop, and the view from there was amazing. Kathmandu is a big city, and a unique one that is. Every single building is different, with it's own design, number of floors, and color, and age. And the smoggy smell still persists, giving the air a certain permanent odour.

After having a hearty breakfast in the hotel, I went for a walk across town. I have downloaded the map on my phone, so I figured I could walk from Thamel to Kupondole, where Summit Hotel is located. I also wanted to see more of Kathmandu, so I guess walking a few hours will be a nice idea.

The interesting thing is, I was mistaken for being a Nepalese a few times. Some sellers spoke to me in Nepalese, and I have to say I wasn't able to speak. But most just ignored my presence.

I finally reached Summit hotel, after asking for directions at Kupondole. That place was just luxurious, and even has its' own pool. Roger Henke, the race director was gracious enough for a chat. We talked mostly about the race, and notably the cut off times involved. He has this kind of grin, that somehow I felt like saying "this 100km is real tough, and if you aren't a local, you have no chance of completing it". There's truth in that as I would later find out.

The race TMBT 100km in sabah was generous with 36 hours. You could walk that entire course with that time. But Annapurna 100 is 18.5 hours only. And given almost 6000m in total elevation, that is one tough one to pull off. Yet, the local runners are doing it in sub 12 hours!

After the chat, I walked back to Thamel, passing some old temples, which was kind of interesting as well. But I wasn't too focused on the sight seeing part. I knew I have to get things packing for the next day's ride to Pokhara.

MR25 ultra marathon: Injured

While training for both MR25 and Annapurna100, I tripped over a root and scraped my right knee on the trails. It was bad enough, as blood were streaming down to my socks & shoes. Worse, I could see half a cm gash deep in the knee cap, with some scraps around.

Thankfully, some passer by gave me a clean towel, which I wrapped onto the knee. Then, painfully, I walked gingerly back to my bike, and walked & cycled slowly back to my house. It was serious enough to take a trip to the clinic to get it dressed up, and got some medication.

It's a bad time to be injured. I've got a major race coming in 3 weeks time.

The first day, I walked with lots of pain. After 2 days, it felt better.

I resumed training on the 6th. I have no choice, given that I have to race MR25 ultra in Singapore. I ran 2 times around my house, and once in FRIM. But I knew it will be hard for MR25.

For the first loop of MR25, the usual pain at the right side of the knee kicked in. That slowed me down considerably. Khaliq Samat seems like injured as well.

The weather was pretty cooling with clouds, that rained a bit. I turned on the ipod to mask the pain.

But that's the most I could do. I quit after 5 loops. Then I felt the usual nausea, which means I will be vomitting soon. Which I did. Actually I was more depressed of the vomitting than the injured knee.

After I did some study, it dawned on me that I suffered from hyponatremia, a condition where your body loss to much salt (Sodium specifically), and couldn't balance things up. I couldn't believe that after all these years doing ultra stuff, I have neglected this basic principle.

But you learn from mistakes & injuries. Life just have to go on.

Nike We Run KL: Breaking the Barrier

Just a day after the 5km race, my sis & I joined the Nike 10km run around kl. The start was a bit confusing. How come some runners get VIP treatment? While we're waiting at the start, the usual strong guys were there, and some kenyans too.

As the start time draws near, they let us pass the front VIP pack. I inched my way to the start. Then we're let off. The first few km was just trying to get the pacing right. I noticed Jasni was way in front like 150m. Then Richard Habeya came rushing by. Oh, seems like he got the legs this time.

Anyway, as we went into brickfields, I managed to inch closer to Jasni. At moments, he was trying to push forward. Alongside us were the women kenyan runners. Running at this high speed was zen. I didn't feel like dying, nor do I feel like I could run faster. Everything just flows. I didn't want to push things so we went along together.

At 5km mark, I clocked 18 minutes. As we went along the way at Bank Negara, I passed Richard. I was actually trying to chase Ong Wei Xiang, who's putting on a fast cadence, out running both Jasni and I. I knew we have like 2km left, so I tried to bridge the gap. That was succesful. Then as we ran pass the last water station, I knew there's another hill before going down to the finishing.

I used my mind to bend reality. I imagined the hill was flat. And I went all out. By the time I reached the top, there's no more pacing or running style. It's do or die. I raced to the finishing arch in 37:24 to get 6th in my category (25 above), ahead of Jasni and Ong.

There wasn't any prize, as only top 3 were given. But it doesn't matter. For once, after working on speedwork for almost 2 years, and figuring what works and not, I've managed to break another milestone. And that's what really matters.

Larian Koperasi: Run like Hell

It was a really short run of 5km. But somehow, it seems like all the elites are here, including lots of indian runners. Some guys looks like they have been doing track work for ages. Rumours has it, since that the kenyans aren't allowed in this race, more fast runners showed up to get a swipe at the prize.

Anyway, from the start as we were let off, lots of runners were doing sprinting work. I noticed Barry Lee went ahead too fast. Now, I always been wondering why he shoots off like that.

I kept my pace, as I knew we'll encounter a hill. Somehow, I managed to inched behind Jasni. We went up the hill with lots of huffing & puffing. It seems like no one is setting any pace. If you've got something left in the tank, just go.

So that's what I did. There's no pacing needed in such a short race. I managed to passed him, but I can't really remember where. All I know I was home running this.

When I was done, he had just finished behind me. For once, I've managed to beat him. But I knew 5km isn't our bread & butter. And it's not the best yardstick to predict consistent results.

Turning into the finishing.