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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

TMBT 2013 - Plan C or Act of God?

So we found ourselves on the way to the biggest and longest race of our life. This was it. All the past few months of pounding up and down Mt Faber every Tuesday evening, the endless weekends training at Bukit Timah was climaxing here in the foothills of the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu.

I have a very simple plan to do this. Cover the first 20 km in 5 hours and the balance 30 km in the remaining 10 hours. That should be doable. By my calculation, by the time it get dark, we will be out of the jungle and on the final stretch which was supposed to be a long long climb up on Jalan Kinasaraban to the finish line at Perkasa. But like all good story, the plot changes and the unexpected set in.

We set off on our allocated bus to the start line at 5 am. The journey took a fair bit of time even in the light early morning traffic and we arrived at our destination just slightly before 7 am. One funny thing happened along the way though. For some unknown reason, just barely 500 metres from the start line, the bus stopped along the road side and soon hordes of runners went down to 'water' the plants although seriously I didn't think the plants needed it.
Runners helping to water the roadside plant. (photo taken through the bus window)
The thing is barely 5 minutes later we arrived at our destination. To get to the start line, the runners have to cross a small bridge and that when the first hiccup occur. The suspension bridge can only take 5 persons at a time so with a few hundred runners pouring out of the bus, crossing the bridge was pitifully slow.
Runners queuing up to cross the bridge
By the time the last runner crossed over, it was nearly an hour later. And of course to make it worse, each runners still had to sign in. Why couldn't they use the attendance taken on the bus as good evidence and just ensure the few who drove there on their own need to sign in? That could significantly reduce the waiting time.
Another view of the runners queuing up to go over to the start
The race was eventually start off without any fanfare at about 8. And surprisingly, everybody in the 3 categories were flagged off at one go. Which was a big surprise to most of us. Shouldn't they separate the 3 categories into say 3 different waves of maybe 30 minutes apart? Because of this, a big problem occurred!

For the 2nd time in 3 weeks, I got caught in a freaking standstill bottle neck. Just barely 1 km into the race, I found myself behind this queue of runners trying to squeeze through a small path next to some kampung houses. We were stuck there for nearly 1 hour!

The cause of the jam? Another one of the suspension bridge which was going to feature very prominently in the early part of the race. Here, again, only 5 runners can cross at any  one time and thus the jam built up. The organiser should have anticipated this and started the runners in wave to clear this but somehow it never seem to strike them to do so!

The course overview that we were given mentioned that Stage 1 which was start to Water Station 1 was 4.4 km and time estimate for the average runners would take about 30 - 45 minutes. Big joke! 1 hour into the race, and I was still at 1.2 km waiting impatiently to cross over to start the race properly.

Finally we were over and the next nightmare begin. We had to climb a series of short uphills. The slopes were wet, muddy and slippery and progress was painfully slow. The sidekick had a problem climbing up this first slope and she was holding back the runners behind her.
That the sidekick in blue with a tail of runners behind her
Eventually, a local guy who I presumed was helping out as a marshal had to push her up all the way to the top. That slope got her rattled fairly badly. At this point, we took out our hiking pole but that didn't really help much as we soon found ourselves sliding and falling down as we went downward on muddy terrain.

And generally that was the sort of terrain that we had to go through in this first stage. Crawl up the hills and slide down the hills that inevitably will follow. The ground was so bad that my poor Altra Lone Peak couldn't find any grip at all and I fell left right centre and had the ignominy of having had to have someone else pull me up when I fell into a downward recess! But at least I could continue. Up on one of the slope, we came across our Singapore Blade Runner lying on the ground. Apparently, he had fallen and injured his knee and there was no way he could continue. After getting the assurances that help was on the way for him, we proceeded on.

And so we came to the highlight of this stage, another river crossing but this time we had to wade over a river. There was a rope to hold on to but it didn't help much as some runners slipped on the wet bottom and some shorter ladies like the sidekick had the water all the way up to waist height.
The sidekick making her plunge into the river
Eventually after 1 hour 58 minutes we reach Water Station 1, almost 1 hour 15 minutes behind the average timing (at least according to the course guide). All in, not too bad considering that we were held up almost an hour at the first suspension bridge! At the Water Station 1, we asked about the cut off and a lady volunteer informed us that due to the bottleneck, the cut off was being extended by an hour. That was good news for us and so we proceeded on.

Water Station 1 to Water Station 2 is 10.5 km in distance. The cut off to reach WS 2 was 5 hours. I reckoned with the extension of 1 hour, we should be able to make it on time. What I didn't reckoned was more slippery slopes and this time on ridges. That terrifies the hell out of both of us and we proceeded very slowly and cautiously. We were constantly being overtaken by other runners but we never overtook anybody. That was how slow we were.

The sidekick going down slopes after slopes.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Expect the Unexpected

In another 2 days time, I will be doing my longest race ever. For most runners nowadays, 50km is probably no big deal but for someone like me whose last full marathon was back in December 2008, this is going to be hell. And to add to what is already going to be a long haul which will foreseeably take me up to 15 hours to complete, throw in Mother Nature and I going to have an epic struggle coming up.

So how did I find myself in this situation. I turned 50 last year and i wanted to commemorate the occasion by doing a 50 km race. But I left it late and couldn't find any suitable race in the end. Fast forward to early this year. When the date for The Most Beautiful Thing, a ultra trail race in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah was announced, a light bulb went "ding". It is on 14 September and just 2 days after I turn 51. And the distance was actually not 50 km but 51.3 km which fit in even more nicely with my 51st birthday! So how can I not sign up for this?

But since I started training for it, I have been having loads and loads of regret. First, I actually hate the super long slow run in the trails that span up to 7 hours. It got so bad that I began to dread the sessions. But those are behind me and now all I have left is to fly to Kota Kinabalu and ......

The million dollar question is - will I be able to complete. My friend thinks I can do it in about 12 hours against the cut off time of 15 hours. 15 hours for a 50 km race? I can only imagine the event organiser set such a generous cut off is because the race is going to be super tough. And if that is an understatement, like here in Singapore, it has been pouring over in Kota Kinabalu and the first consequence of the race is that there has been landslide and the original route had to be rerouted. And the result of the rerouting is that the overall elevation gain has jumped from 2910 m to a whooping 4000 m! Throw in the foreseeable muddy conditions and I am really having the jitters now.

Maybe I should pray for more heavy rain so that the race gets canned and I get a nice holiday in the rain? Whatever it is, I really don't know what to expect. The only thing I am sure I can expect is the unexpected!

Wish me luck, won't ya?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Shoe Review - Altra Lone Peak 1.5

I gotta a decent mileage on the shoes and had the opportunity to test it out in various conditions so I guess this is as good a time as any to write what I feel about the Altra Lone Peak 1.5.

Design: I covered this in my earlier post. Still need getting used to the bright red color which really stand out but overall I have no problem with the design.

Weight: With my size 12, it weighs in at 345 gram which is fairly decent for a trail shoe. More importantly, after running in it for 3 to 4 hours in it, I still didn't feel its weight. Maybe it is because the upper material is kinda soft unlike some trail shoes which are hard to the feel.

Cuushioning: There is minimal cushioning. Heel to toe drop is zero but the inclusion of a "Stone Guard" rock protection helps helps to reduce the impact and poking from sharp rocks. But the minimalist folks won't really like this as the outsole and midsole adds up  to a fairly substantial stack. But for me coming down from the hefty North Face Sentinel and moving up from the minimalist NB MT101, this is really the ideal shoe for the longer distance trail runs.

Traction: What can I say about this? I have ran in normal dry condition, through "pondings" and just yesterday, over 10km of slippery clayey muddy terrain and not once did the shoe failed me. The shoes held well where it was supposed to be maybe because of the unique "claw" design of the outsole.

Flexibility: It is not flexible as I like but the slight rigidity probably helps to protect me from nasty ankle sprains. 

Water Proofing: Because of the 4 holes in the front of the shoes to drain water easily, water also get in more easily but I don't really feel the dampness as the water evaporate rather fast. 

Overall, having ran more than 90 km in it so far, I can safely said this is the most comfortable pair of trail shoes that I ran in. This will be my shoe for next week The Most Beautiful Thing trail race in Sabah and hopefully, it will carry me through the mud and watery conditions that are expected to feature prominently over there.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Gearing Up - The Heavies

The list of mandatory items are scary. There are so many items and to make it worse, my little North Face hydration bag is not able to contain all of them. It was either get a new bag or borrow from someone else. But in the end I settled for using an additional waist pouch to contain the other stuff.

Top of the list is my 3 years old North Face Enduro Boa. Into it goes the Geigerrig Hydration Engine which in plain speak is water bag. The  bag is rather small especially after putting in the 2liter bladder bag, there is not much space for anything else so the add on is the small little Mizuno waist pouch (foreground). The hiking pole gets strapped onto the Enduro bag.

(1) North Face Enduro Boa Hydration Bag (2) Black Diamond Hiking Poke (3) Mizuno Waist Pouch

The rest of the stuff that goes into the bag and pouch.
(1) Strobe Light (2) Wet Wipes (3) Home-made first aid kit comprising spray plaster, heat rub, bandages, plaster, anti-bacterial wipes (4) Luminous vest (5) Money (6) Sunblock (7)Jacket (8) Camera (9) Torch (10) Black Diamond Headlamp (11) Poncho (12) Emergency blanket (13) Gels (14) Bak Kwa (dried preserved meat) Not in picture: phone

Together with the water and the hiking pole, the whole freaking lot of stuff weight 5kg. And even after going through the water, it did not seem lighter. In fact, it got like even heavier after 4 hours of carrying it.  And I haven't even added in the full component of food.

Unfortunately there is no drop bag for the 50km so we will have to carry the whole load throughout the race. Packing the items in is a big hassle. And I will have to take them all out just to top out the water and then pack them all back in again. 

Sighed......... Its going to be a long long day.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Singapore Bay Run/Army Half Marathon 2013 - Screw Up of a Race!

The Army Half Marathon was the first race that I took part in back in 2004. So I always have fond memories of it. Over the years, I signed up for it 7 times, ran 5 of it and did not start 2 due to injuries. The last was in 2010. Since then I have stopped doing it, disappointed by the sheer size of it and the consequential poor race experience.

This year, however, seduced by the super low registration fee of $12.00 for NS man and the promise of 3 event apparel comprising a race singlet, an event tee and a finisher tee, I signed up for it. I also thought that this could be a perfect way to test my race fitness for the upcoming biggie. Big mistake!

First was - there was no event tee. Okay maybe I did not read the fine print that it was either a singlet or tee. That I could accept. But the race day itself.... it was a huge huge disappointment.

The flag off time was 5.15am. I never understand why they need to start a short 21km race so early. So I had to get up at 3.30 am to make it there. As it turned out, due to the heavy traffic from Orchard Rd to Bras Basah, we reached at 5am. By the time we walked to the start bay, the race had been flagged off. But even then there was still a big crowd at the bay. We took 10 minutes to reach the start off before we could start jogging.

First foul up. With 30000+ half marathoners, why didn't they start the race in waves? Even smaller races like the 2XU and the Run350 starts their races in several waves to ease the congestion. I estimated we were somewhere in the last quarter of the pack. Fortunately, Robinson Road was wide enough and I could run at a steady pace but overtaking was really impossible and rather pointless. There were 3 mini bottlenecks at Maxwell Rd/Shenton Way junction; Shenton Way/Marina Boulevard junction and Marina Boulevard/Marina Bay waterfront. At all these junctions, runners on the vehicular roads which were 4 lanes wide were forced into a 2 metre wide lane. Bottlenecks built up but thankfully these were short stretches and while we had to walk through, it was still passable.

From the Marina Bay waterfront onward to Garden by the Bay East, was the second foul up. The place was in semi darkness with minimal light from the buildings and park light. There were also many structures outside Marina Bay Sands Shoppes. With the poor lighting, while I did not see anybody fell, there were subsequent posting of runners who tripped especially at the staircase leading to the Helix Bridge. Again it makes me wonder. Did anybody from SAFRA or the event organiser note these type of details? Why didn't they put up portable lights along the way instead of throwing a few light stick on the ground? This was not touted to be a night race and runner safety should always be a priority but somehow some people seem to think that runners have night vision goggles and can see through all that darkness.