Route 68 Challenge – 50km, May 10, 2015
Sort of crazy to sign up for this run. After all I didn’t do any Full Marathon (FM) in 2014, feeling not fit enough and for 2015 I focus on improving my running times over Half Marathon (HM) and shorter distances. Still that event made it in my calendar.
Considering DNS (Did Not Start) even days before I did it nevertheless and managed to complete it as overall champion over the 50km in 4h:38min:26sec for self measured 49.04km resulting in an average pace of 5:41 min/km. Here the details of this suffer fest …
Why did I sign up?
Must be one of the mysteries in life. I am a very unlikely Ultra runner. I can’t pace myself to run at a slow pace. I get terribly bored by long runs, guess I haven’t done any run longer than 30km in 2014 at all. This year I did 3, 2 of them back in Germany in a totally flat area at cooling temperatures and 1 only one week before this race.
However I sometimes get rather excited by superficial things. In this case by the finisher shirt. Provided by 2nd Skin this was one of the rare occasions to actually get an authentic shirt and not a cheap finisher shirt as with most other events that only print the logo of a big sports attire brand on a cheap and lousy fabric shirt. The design is nice and quite unique on a long sleeved shirt.
Beyond that and that was eventually much more important to sign up, I knew this race is organized by Jeff Ooi and Jason Tan. This meant quality, a race organized by runners with good Ultra Run experience. From other events organized by them I read a lot of positive feedback and saw happy runner faces on photos.
A list of runners having signed up was updated on the event page. Once seeing many familiar names and friends on that list, there was no more holding back – I signed up. Cost RM156, quite a bit but a quality event costs and I had full confidence this would be a good race. I was not disappointed.
Preparation – Nothing special except a lot of EMS and TRX strength training.
I did not at all adjust my running training for this event. As mentioned, 2015 is all about becoming faster over 5km, 10km, HM and not doing long distance runs such as FM or even more. I follow a training plan provided by Mark Williams and do weekly speed and hill interval sessions, complemented by easy runs. Like that my weekly mileage reaches around 60km and felt that with this I should be able to sustain a 50km distance.
What I did change however was the addition of strength training. Never having been my forte or focus, I evolved and improved a lot since I became a Personal Fitness Trainer last year. I took up EMS (Electro Muscle Stimulation) since then and recently also TRX (suspension training). Both have changed my physique a lot!
Especially with EMS I feel strong and very confident now when running. I do EMS normally twice a week, it is a short workout of 25 minutes but its intensity and efficiency is incredible. Of course EMS training can be adjusted to any level but runners normally have an increased pain threshold and I am making full use of that. During the runs on the day after EMS training I feel especially strong. Despite sore muscles I perform on those runs so much better than I used to. For example the other day, when I just went out for quick recovery run and ended up running nearly 22km in a 4 minute pace.
As such I continued my EMS and TRX training in the days before this race, cutting down on mileage (tapering) but not on intensity of my strength training.
Beyond that I started to carbo load 4 days before the run. For me that means I eat around 200g of Spaghetti every evening. This proved to be the right strategy. I didn’t run out of steam, in this case glycogen, i.e. I did not hit the wall, as runners describe it.
What helped me psychologically was a good LSD (Long Slow Distance) run the weekend before Challenge 68. I knew I had to do such a run before the 50km race to prepare and condition my body for such a long distance. As mentioned above, I normally get bored during such runs that stretch usually over 30km, thus I don’t do many of those. Luckily the LYN Runners organized such a run on Labour Day, 1st of May. My running buddies helped me to pace my run on that day. I managed a great 33km run without getting really tired out, all because I controlled my pace. This was another big confidence booster.
I was so ready for the 50km run. I knew I had the stamina and I knew I had the strength to compete successfully.
Race Day – 10th May
Taking the advice serious that there aren’t many parking spots around the event area, I decided to utilize the bus service offered (cost of additional RM20). With my run starting at 7am, the bus left Dataran Merdeka at 5am. I was well rested, having been able to sleep for a few hours before.
The bus ride took only less than 30 minutes and I arrived well before the start of the 68km race scheduled at 6am, seeing the around 400 runners starting their suffer fest. Time after flew by fast, chatting with other runners and doing dynamic stretching, waking and activating those sleepy muscles and punctual at 7am the 300 50km runners were unleashed on Route 68.
These pictures show the information I had to prepare myself for the route. On top of that I asked some friends how the route would be like in comparison to the legendary Ammah hills, the home pitch of the LYN Runners. Nobody ever ran the entire route so only knew that the first few km will be going “slightly” uphill, slightly they said, haha. Find the actual elevation profile below and let me describe how it felt running it …
Right from the start I tried to control my pace. Target was to complete the 50km within 5 hours, giving me 6 minutes per km on average. At the same time I was keeping my options open to go for number 1 position, should the situation/competition allow it. As such I positioned myself within the leading group to gauge the competition.
Quickly two runners obviously knowing and pacing each other took the lead at a 5 minutes pace. I tried to be close for a while, seeing if they slow down but they didn’t. After 4km or so I decided to let them go and slow down trying to avoid early fatigue. With that also my competitive spirit vanished, with those 2 runners being so strong I had no chance to win this thing, winning was anyway only a funny idea. I usually over-estimate my physical condition when racing.
I reached the first check point, A1 – Indian Temple. It was a cooling morning and I didn’t drink much. Still I stopped to refill my water bottle even though it easily would have lasted until the next water station but as I didn’t compete anymore it didn’t matter.
I continued my run. The elevation really didn’t feel bad, it actually felt light and easy – just like my friends told me. At times I was not sure if I run uphill or downhill, just thought that is the terrain with rolling hills, going up and going down. Looking at the elevation profile (above) however, the first 15km actually went uphill all the way.
Thanks to the start at 7am it wasn’t dark anymore. Traffic was light, only a few heavy trucks passed, complemented by a few cars. I seemed that my easy pace was good enough to run a comfortable race at 3rd position, couldn’t hear anybody behind me and I didn’t turn around either, I normally never turn around when racing, trying to run my own run only chase others but don’t run away from others.
Reaching 2nd water station, A2 – Digi Tower. Had a bit of discussion with my running friends about this, as I am working with Digi, this made this station somehow special. Special also that this station was manned by Wai Hong, a good running buddy. So I stopped again, refilling my water bottle and talking nonsense. You must apologize runners in such situations, it is early and runners are excited, full of adrenaline. As I was not competing anymore I just stayed there longer. After a short while I saw some runners coming up the road. Really was minutes ahead of them, until I stopped at A2. Kinda silly of me to still hang around the check point now. Doing this I allowed the previously runners behind me to catch up. First was Laurence (eventually finishing 4th), then Wen Shan (finishing 2nd) with his striking orange running shirt. Both refilled their water bottles and ran off. I was still hanging around A2 for a while.
In a nutshell, I reached A2 on 3rd position and left it at 5th position – mmmh. Quickly I caught up to Laurence, now behind Wen Shan. We talked a bit. Didn’t see him before at a race but turned out he has been in Malaysia for a while with an impressive history of races and future running plans. I moved ahead now, after a while I was getting very close to Wen Shan. I decided to just run behind him, helping me to control my pace.
Pacing, i.e. running, too fast was still my biggest worry and Wen Shan ran at a nice pace of just below 6 min/km uphill, hoped to continue like that for a while. However, upon him slowing down to hydrate I had to pass and continue alone.
I started to overtake 68km runners starting an hour before me. I met Sebastian just before reaching the end of the 15km uphill section. Again joked around and did run backwards to pose for a photographer – yeah, runners a vain. During that Wen Shan overtook me again and ran off very confident and strong – impressive. I started to pursue him after a while, now again on 4th position.
Got closer again but upon reaching check point A3 – Genting Sempah with Renee being one of the support team I spent again more time than I needed to refill my water bottle but enjoyed chatting for a while. The third placed runner increased the gap now considerably. After a few minutes I continued my run.
Now on the 10km downhill section I picked up pace, doing a few sub 5 minutes km. Reached the next water station A4 – Kampung Bukit Tinggi quickly. With that downhill part I hit a sub 2 hours HM distance (21.1km). This gave me some motivation and I decided to take it now more serious again and not spend unnecessary time at check points. Still I was 4th. Running downhill I cursed every km, I fast fast because it was rather steep BUT I knew I had to run this same section uphill on my way back. Really would have preferred a shorter downhill section.
Getting closer to check point A5 – Bukit Tinggi Junction, the U-turn for the 50km race I expected the leading runners to meet me on their uphill run. I guessed they must be 3 to 4 km ahead of me. However, they wouldn’t show up. What happened? I was sure there hadn’t been any runner going up until that moment? Strange! I was getting really close to the U-Turn now.
I think I saw check point A5 already only a few hundred meters away, when I met Mohd Haidir on his way up the hill, he must be the leading runner I thought – and I am really close, less than one km! And where is Wen Shan? I reached A5. Jason, Jeff and Kelvin Ng with a number of volunteers were there. I remembered the race information, there was chocolate at this check point, was thinking of it nearly throughout the entire run but Jason and Kelvin wouldn’t somehow let me come close to it. They just allowed me to refill my water and pushed me to continue the run. Just before that I saw Wen Shan, the 2nd placed runner was leaving A5. Seems like all the runners ahead of me struggled and lost a lot of time somehow, whereas I felt rather good and energetic.
As I didn’t get any chocolate I decided to leave A5 😉 The 10km long uphill battle on a steep slope started. Jason told me I am 4th but only saw 2 runners going uphill before me. Mmmh, let’s see. Running uphill was nice, many runners from the opposite direction cheered and clapped for me, many made photos – must have been the pain painted in my face they wanted to capture?
Occasionally, depending on the curvy uphill run I saw the first two leading runners. Mohd Haidir slowed down and was taken over by Wen Shan. Shortly after I took 2nd place maintaining a constant gap of a few hundred meters between me and the leader. Wen Shan ran strong but I licked blood. Suddenly I had again a reasonable chance to finish as champion. For a short while I regretted the lost minutes while stopping at check points or along the route. Without that I would now be leading by a few minutes. But like we say in Malaysia “nevermind”, like that there was a lot of excitement now with Gajah Putih chasing the leader.
The run up the steep hill was hard. My engine ran really hot now. I counted the km. Can’t really remember A4 on the way back but certainly refilled my water and drank available Coke and 100Plus. 4.5km now to reach A3 – Genting Sempah, the gate to the last third of the run. It is always a bad idea trying to close the gap to the runner ahead of you while running uphill, so I didn’t increase my pace. All I wanted to do is to run consistently.
From the surroundings I tried to judge how close I was to A3. The building of R&R Genting Sempah appeared to my right. That was good news, as A3 is only a few meters away from that building further up. Saw Wen Shan walking now, thought that is a good chance to get closer but the stretch was too steep now, I also had to walk. My legs were burning.
When I reached A3, the leader already left. I refilled my water and poured down easily half liter of cold 100Plus – thank you Renee and all others at A3, what a treat! Looked at the next stretch. Still uphill?!!! Renee said the rest is downhill but when I looked, it was actually uphill. She said a bit more, then the downhill part actually starts. Now that helped.
Saw ET Tey (Tey Eng Tiong) standing up the hill making photos. Cool, nobody between him and me and maybe 200 meters to look cool and strong while he’s taking photos – have I mentioned that runners are vain?
OK, photos done. Now let’s talk business, another 15km to reel in the leader. I felt good. 35km in the legs, didn’t hit the wall (thanks to my 4 days of carbo loading), no signs of cramps and a loooong stretch downhill until the finish line – coolest.
I passed underneath a bridge where a lot of bicyclists took a rest. They cheered for me heard words like “Kuay Lo”, “Matsalleh” and “Orang Putih” with a touch of admiration 😉 Really inspiring and wind beneath my wings. Now where is the leading runner? I reached the top of the climb followed by the longed for downhill part. A few meters further I saw him. Wen Shan slowed down, he was walking, I suspected he suffers cramps.
I stopped when I reached him, asked if he is alright and needs help. He sat down and I offered to help him stretch his leg, fighting the cramp. I allowed me and stretched his right leg. After a short while he said he was OK. I got his reassurance that he is OK before continuing my run.
Wasn’t really sure how to feel about this. Would have preferred a proper running battle, rather cramps knocking out my contender but that was beyond me. I actually now had doubts if I was on first position now, as Jason mentioned at the U-turn that I am 4th and I only overtook 2 runners. Anyway, I enjoyed the downhill run. Was only a bit concerned if my muscles would hold through this part. It is quite a challenge for the muscles to suddenly pick up speed running downhill after a gruesome uphill run.
Next checkpoint now on the way back was A2 – Digi Tower, where Wai Hong was waiting. I started to feel tired now. Good to have passing bicyclists cheering for me and showing me there thumbs up. How to defend my position for another 13km or so? Wondered if following runners would be fitter and catching up to me. Downhill running is actually not my strength. In most races I beat my contenders during the uphill and flat sections.
Eventually I reached A2 and just before stopping there I heard steps behind me … I was actually happy to see Wen Shan, he recovered from his cramps. I was happy for him because he ran so strong and disciplined before, he deserved a top position.
Wai Hong offered cold spray that I accepted. Normally I don’t need and avoid sprays but thought it may help. I took a risk doing that, as it was something I did not have experience with and it is actually a bad idea to try new tings during a race. I also tried to eat a banana but couldn’t swallow it, I was too worn out at this moment to have solid food. Now I dared to ask Wai Hong if there is anybody ahead of me – he said no. So I was the leading runner now, for the 2nd time in my running I could become champion but wait, there was also Wen Shan. He must have recovered very well to catch up to me so fast. Together we left A2. I told Wen Shan to just pass me and not holding back if he could.
Another 10km to go! I now just gave everything I could. Soon there were no more foot steps to hear behind me but I didn’t turn around at that stage. Again, I just wanted to run the best I could – if that was good enough I’d be happy, if not enough, so let it be it.
While it was rather overcast before, the sun now came out. Sections not shaded by the trees were really hot. I drank more and more water. There were a few meters of flat road, those felt like running uphill. I took the last of my 5 gels and hoped for the best.
I reached A1, the last water station before the finish line. I was still leading. Quickly my water bottle was refilled, took a sip of Coke and ran off. I didn’t look back, didn’t dare to.
You may imagine, the last 5 km felt like a Full Marathon now. The road now just felt like never ending. My muscles were screaming and burning. All I wanted to do now was to stop running and start walking. You can tell how desperate I was, as I now started to look back. Argh, I could see the striking orange shirt of my pursuer, relatively far, maybe 2 minutes behind me. I didn’t know how far it still was to the finish line, I couldn’t afford to walk. Muscles were so so tired and in burning pain. I actually screamed in pain a few times – how to tahan?
Never went through this before, sort of nice though. I arrived a mental turning point – should I give in my physical needs and stop or force my body to move on? I knew it couldn’t be that far anymore to the finish line. So how? I thought of the quote used by many runners, something like “Pain is temporary – Pride is forever”. Sounds like a no-brainer but in that situation it isn’t. Pain is very relevant and why not stopping now, I may still become 2nd.
Well, it was a great struggle within myself but I continued running first until I made a decision how to proceed. Not telling myself that I deceive myself. I never intended to decide how to proceed to keep me running. Very much schizophrenic. Guess I try to explain non-runners what is going on in a runners mind sometimes and yes running such distances is crazy.
After what felt like an eternity I reached the soccer field with the start/finish area. I saw someone indicating of me approaching. I think uncle Sunny and somebody else held the finish banner I was supposed to run through maybe but it was too massive, stopped before it.
Eventually I could stop, champion for the 2nd time in my short running career. Extremely pleased about that. I enjoyed the ice and cold drinks. 3 minutes later Wen Shan came in – good stuff. He told me he had been running for only 2 years. Crazy fast development but nowadays Ultramarathons are so popular that people promote very fast into this category. 16 minutes after me Mohd Haidir came in 3rd, also great performance. He was walking when I passed him at around 30km into the run, so he recovered well.
The event was great. I loved the warmth of friends and fellow runners, competing or at the check points. A big thank you at this point to you all!
The number of runners was good. I think next year the quantity can be maintained, as far as I could see there was no impact on traffic or so and despite running on an unsecured road it was safe to run, first of all due to the mandatory kit of having to wear a headlight, blinkers, reflective vest, mobile phone and at least 500ml of water.
Jeff and Jason together with all volunteers you deserve a big tap on your shoulder for an event well delivered!
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