Monday, 15 October 2012

The Most Beautiful Thing 2012

I finally made it to the second edition of The Most Beautiful Thing, an ultramarathon amongst the foothills of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, West Malaysia. There were 25km, 50km and 100km categories, all of which filled up soon after entries opened.
Smiling faces at the start
Leading up to the race, updates from the race organisers were peppered with weather warnings and equipment cautions, and I'm pretty sure most of us arrived expecting the worst. Transfers from KK to the race start were meticulously planned, kudos to the organisers for taking that on and dealing with nearly 400 competitors arriving from different countries on different dates and times.

It was good to see all the usual suspects again, mainly friends and acquaintances from the last couple of years racing the SAC Ultra Run (organised by the same race directors). I knew there were more than a few strong contenders for the men's 100km race, including last year's winner Jiri Vystein. Aman's race briefing was very thorough as usual, whilst I was hoping the weather would hold and I wouldn't to have to use too many items from the mandatory equipment list!

Judging from the route changes from last year, and the increased elevation gain (4500m D+), this was going to be something of a challenge! I'd just taken on a new job at the beginning of the week, and my plans to get some decent rest went right out the window with my hydration strategies!

I'm sharing a room at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters Hill Lodge with Ford (fellow Hammer-Salomon athlete), and Anders (aka Desert King, winner of RTP Sahara 2010 and Atacama 2011). From his Facebook updates, Ford has been training like a demon, and Desert King is making a comeback after nearly a year off with injury.
George, a former schoolmate and triathlete, now turned ultrarunner.
It's pretty nippy up up where we are, and a heavy downpour that starts just before the race briefing doesn't help matters. Everyone seems in good spirits, though, and despite the cold and wet, I'm looking forward to the race.

Come race morning, the rain's stopped and the skies are looking promisingly clear. The first hitch in our race plans is when our transport doesn't arrive to pick us up. That's the last time I'm trusting the lady at Reception! Next time I'll remember to take down some numbers as backup. 10 of us (all staying at Hill lodge) end up trudging down the hill laden with all our luggage to Reception, where we manage to snag a mini-bus headed to the race start by the Kundasang War Memorial. We're all there in plenty of time, and get stuck in dropping off our luggage and drop bags. There's a small ripple of stress when some runner realise they haven't got proper tags for their respective bags, but I have a roll of red duct tape and a marker pen ready so pre-race nerves are assuaged a little.
With Anders and Aman (Race Director) before the start
All the categories are starting at the same time, so we're all gathered, chatting and waiting for the start gun. The weather feels great, cool with a gentle breeze .. if this holds up it'll be ideal conditions for a comfortable run!
Mass start
Before I know it, we're off. I head out the front with a few of the men and settle into my own pace. 100km is too long a distance to push hard from the start. I had pleasant conversations with other runners along the way for most of the first 50km, including a bit of a chat with Jimmy Tee, the eventual winner of the 100km. I had Dave Spence for company till about 40km, when he decided to lie down in the middle of the trail, the lazy bugger. To be fair, he had cramp all over and couldn't really get up ;)
Steve and I just cresting one of many hills!
Running in the cabbage patch.
So far I'd been feeling fine apart from a headache at the start that wouldn't go away. I put that down to altitude and not being properly hydrated before the race. My nutrition (Perpetuem at regular intervals), hydration and supplementation (Endurolytes every 30 mins) was going according to plan, but at around the 30km mark I had a growing sensation of nausea that I just couldn't shake. At WS4, I had to sit down to re-group .. it shouldn't be going wrong this early on! Jonas came past looking chirpy, with an update that he'd helped Dave up to his feet. I finally got back on the road after about 10 minutes, not feeling any better, but I figured I'd DNF at 50km if I was feeling the same.
My favourite pic from Dr Dev Sidhu :)
It really felt like a long, hot, uphill struggle to the 50km checkpoint. It's also the finish point for the 25km and 50km events, and I was glad to get there. Ford and some other familiar faces were there, all in various states of physical and mental agony. I tried not to think about quitting there, but the nausea was really quite overwhelming by now, and my headache just got worse. I moved slowly, refuelling my pack more for something to do than to think about going out again. Vincent, Sebastien and Dave all came in after. I saw Kate, the eventual women's winner, come in, refuel and head out .. exactly what I should have done, but my will was gone. Had some soup with rice, together with coke in the hopes that I would throw up ... no luck there. At least the food stayed down, and after some consideration, I got going again. I'd lingered there over 45 minutes. I figured I'd take it one checkpoint at a time .. finishing didn't seem like a possibility right then.  
Shahran at his 50km finish, Well done, mate!
The rest of the way was hard. It's all a bit of a blur, but I remember meeting Andrew who very kindly accompanied me in the dark. There was a thunderstorm along the way, headache and nausea not abating, and lots and lots of hills. I didn't even want to look at the laminated course profile I'd brought because it felt so daunting. Just one step at a time, keep moving forward. It was great seeing some of the other runners looking strong. Jacky ran past with seemingly boundless energy, and somewhere along the way, Dave, Vincent and a few others were running alongside.
Andrew Loh, such a lovely and humble chap .. and my night-time bodyguard.
I was alone when I finally reached CP12 .. and then couldn't find it! The poor tired marshalls were asleep in the truck with the lights off and I'd have missed the CP if I hadn't seen the boxes of mineral water stacked on the side. Claus turned up a minute later, he'd been checking the signage leading to CP12 as it seemed a few runners had missed the turn.
Great night shot of Anders
Dave and another runner caught up and we made our was from CP12 to the finish together. I was grateful for the company and the borrowed energy .. not to mention the illumination from Dave's Black Diamond Storm. My Princeton Tec Apex Pro, despite having 130 lumens, was on it's last battery legs, making my eyes even more tired and it was hard to spot the markers.
Dave Spence, great company and the only person I've ever seen carrying tomatoes as race food! :)
We finally made it to the finish, greeted by a very supportive timekeeper. A finishing time of 18h 49min, 2nd woman and a bloody hard event! Aman and Claus were there too. More runners finished, including Vincent, Jonas, Sebastien and Andrew. While we waited for transport to the hotel, we tried to stay warm and refuel. I was so tired and aching all over, I couldn't think straight and all I remember is that I wanted a hot shower desperately and then a nice clean bed.

I'd have liked to have stayed at the finish to watch the others who were still struggling come in, but I was all done in. My nausea continued on till the next day, although the headache thankfully subsided by mid morning.

Kudos to everyone who started, regardless of a finish. The conditions were tough, and well beyond what I'd expected. Glad all my Hammer Nutrition stayed down despite the nausea, and even more glad that I changed from the Sense to the S-Lab 4 at 50km!
Lovely ultra ladies!
The organisers, volunteers, photographers, drivers, marshalls and admin staff did a commendable job given the weather and the long hours, all to make sure a bunch of ultra-crazed runners were safe and happy doing their thing!

Congrats to Jimmy Tee, winner with a new course record, and all round nice guy :)

Check out the pics of the race on the TMBT FB page as well as links to race reports from the runners' blogs.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The TNF100 Rollercoaster

TNF100 Singapore took place four weeks after TMBT (yes, I know .. race report still to come for that one!), and I was keen to see how the event would turn out given the disappointment it was last year, and if all our feedback had been taken into consideration.

Arriving at Macritchie at 10pm, there was clear signage pointing to the start area, and most areas were well lit. It really was great to see lots of new faces and some very familiar ones at the 100km tent, an awesome turnout of 88 runners from all over the world getting ready to run.
Some of the 100km runners before the start, Patrick with lovely ultrawomen Jacqueline and Naomi, and my new friend Kin from HK :) (Pic: TNF100)
We all busy ourselves with prepping our bags, getting weighed in, catching up with friends and finally rocking up to the startline. The gun goes off, and at 11pm on the night of Friday 12th, the 100km runners of the 2012 TNF100 Singapore are off. The boys at the front are already at a pretty quick pace, no doubt spurred on by the long, easy strides of Ricky Lightfoot, from the Salomon Trail Team.
With Ricky Lightfoot 
Race start (Pic: TNF100)
About 1km into the trail, I'm joined by Jimmy Tee, winner and new course record holder of the recent TMBT. Jimmy and I have a nice chat for the next few kms, and we're joined by Matt from Sydney at about 4kms. At this point I'm slightly disconcerted that I'm running way too fast for a 100km race (but it was fun!), and also plagued by major headlamp envy ... my Black Diamond Storm didn't seem to be emitting much light at all, but running with Jimmy and Matt (who had a headlamp and super bright handheld torch) was like running with my personal floodlights! :) Somewhere along Rifle Range Road I realise I have my headlamp on the 'sidelights' setting (doh!) and I turn it to 'full beam' .. tadaaah! My world is bright again!

We get to Kampong trail and we're joined by Sam. The four of us pick our way through the trails and once out at Rifle Range/Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, I ease off and let them go. I don't want to blow up later on and trying to stay with the boys would've killed my race. I'm enjoying my run in the dark, all race nutrition going as planned, and I haven't tripped over anything yet! :)

I'm passed by a few runners including Henry and Eugene, and pick up a companion just before the Mandai Orchid loop in the form of Francis. We run the loop in the wrong direction (my fault), meeting Jimmy, Matt and Sam in the opposite direction, as well as Henry and a couple of guys from China and HK. Getting into Lorong Asrama, I see Ricky speeding out as he yells some encouragement ... the man is a monster! Didn't see any of the other frontrunners and soon I'm alone again as Francis takes off.
Ricky leading at Lorong Asrama (Pic: TNF100)
Anders refuelling at Lorong Asrama (Pic: TNF100)
Jimmy and Matt with Sam's elbow :) (Pic: TNF100)
The Asrama loop felt much longer than I thought it would be. A quick refill at the water point and it's back out on the road for the return leg. At about 35km I'm starting to feel pretty tired .. eyes closing, legs heavy and fighting sleep. I'm starting to pay for a fast first 30km, and looking forward to some Red Bull at the 50km station. I picked up two companions along the way .. Kin from HK and Jianzhong from China. I inevitably end up running with some sprightly older men in ultras .. just so happens I run at 'old man' pace! ;P These two were hilarious and great company .. it was like listening to 'chicken and duck talk'! My Mandarin is atrocious and my Cantonese non-existent .. and these two didn't speak English but we were enthusiastically trying to converse the whole way! They did make some very strange noises though, lots of coughing, seriously heavy breathing and top-notch hawker uncle-style throat clearing throughout! One of them (not naming names!) let rip the loudest three-part fart on a quiet stretch and scared the living daylights out of me. Nonetheless, we all made it to the 50km tent in about 5:47h and spent a couple of minutes sorting ourselves out.

I downed half a bottle of Red Bull and put the other half in my pack. Exchanged greetings with Henry S. who was sat down trying to regroup, replaced my Perpertuem flask, put Oakleys and a visor in my pack and got ready to head out. Kin and JZ both decided to come with me, and our noisy little trio headed out into the dark for our second loop. I'm revived by the lights and Red Bull infusion at the 50km checkpoint, and we're making good speed, albeit slower than the first loop. I'm hoping to get in under 13 hours, and JZ is already suggesting that we all hold hands for our photo finish! Kin is a 3:10 marathoner and JZ about 3:45, both of them very chipper and looking strong.

I stick my foot between some rocks in the Kampong trail, and nearly go head over heels, but luckily managed to stay upright and carry on. My shin and ankle really hurt, but I take a leaf out of Cliff Young's book - he once said the doctor's told him he had arthritis in his joints so he decided to 'run it out' (a strategy which appeared to work!). At this point there's pain emanating from everywhere and my theory has always been that it'll hurt the same regardless of if I'm walking or running, so I might as well just run.

When we get to Dairy Farm Road, my regular swig of Perpetuem is rudely rejected and everything comes spewing out. Uh oh. Not sure what happened so I take another swig and immediately throw up. one last try to swallow some food is met with the same effect. Not good! I run to catch up with Kin and JZ who have ambled on ahead. Lucky for me the Dairy Farm aid station wasn't far away and they had bananas. I grab one, take a few bites and pray it all stays down. The banana seems fine and we all carry on running again.

I see Eugene just after Zhenghua Park, sat down on a bench and looking pretty ill. Kenneth, his brother and another friend are looking worried for him, saying he's feeling pretty rough. I offer him a sour plum, hoping it'll help with the nausea, wish him luck and carry on. By this time our trio is starting to stretch out a little, and I'm having to deal with my Perpetuem puking issues. At Lorong Asrama for the second time, I attempt a Hammer gel just before the aid station. Just manage to get a small gulp down my throat before it all comes rushing back up again. Ugh. Ok, looks like I'll have rely on bananas from now on as all I have are gels and Perpetuem. I briefly contemplate not having anything for the rest of the run, but there's 30kms to go and not a viable option at this point.

I'm on my own inside the Asrama loop, passed by Mark, Lexus and Regis about halfway in, on their way to podium finishes in the 50km event. My shin/ankle is killing me, my feet feel blistered, and I'm starving. Ah, the joys of ultramarathons! Coming out of the Asrama loop, I see more 50km runners including the insanely chirpy Angelina and Randall, who make me laugh with their enthusiastic greetings. On the way back, I feel mentally energised knowing it's the home stretch (albeit a loooong one!), and try to offer some encouragement to the runners I meet along the way. There were far too many to mention, but it was so good to see all of you on your own highs and lows, battling it out to test your limits. Thanks for all the encouragement in return, seeing other runners along the way always gives me a boost!
Angelina and Randall .. boundless energy and hamming it up for the camera! (Pic: Francis Kayano Chia)

I surprised to see Ash just before the hill up to Zhenghua Park (he started the 100km yesterday with us), but he ignores my questions and hand me a life-saving box of raisins instead (still having issues with Perpetuem). He's so chirpy and encouraging, and that really was one of the highs in the race. There were 5 or 6 mountain bikers sat across the road, all of whom suddenly went "5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10! Only 10km more to go! Go! Go! Go!" That was such a funny moment and cheered me up no end as I head up the hill to Zhenghua.
Meeting Ash at 90km (Pic: Ashley)
Matt the Aussie is at Zhenghua, having succumbed to heat and chafing, so I pass him my BodyGlide and say I'll get it off him at the finish. Yaoming comes blazing past just before Dairy Farm, and Jasmine zips by at the end of Rifle Range Road on her way to a first place finish in the 50km event.   200m back on the trail and I trip and go flying downhill. Some lovely runners in the 25km event help me up and I'm off again. The last 7kms I have to dig deep, I really haven't got much left, with pain and fatigue all conspiring to tempt me to just walk. I'm trying to make 13hrs, and it looks very iffy. Henry S. comes past and we run together for a bit before I have to slow down again. Finally the adrenaline kicks in with 700m to go, and I finally make it over the line in 12:56:21, and first woman in the 100km event. Could've been better, but then again it could've been a lot worse.
With my noisy friend JZ from China! (Pic: TNF100)
Elated finish (Pic: Running Shots)
Henry S. and I .. so glad to finish! (Pic: Running Shots)
Taking stock, I wouldn't wear the Sense again for anything more than a 50km race. I'm not Kilian, and I put my feet under unnecessary pain given the terrain. Blisters on both big toes, and an inflamed Achilles tendon where the heel rubbed me, these all kicked in later in the race. I love the Sense, but they'll be my short-course (up to 60k) racers from now on! I pulled something in my ankle when I wrenched it in the Kampong Trail, now being iced, compressed and elevated so hopefully that clears up fast! I'm not sure why I had issues with Perpetuem, I can only guess it may have been because I used the leftover pack I used in Sabah. I'd carried spare Perpetuem in my pack during the race in case my race timings were off and I needed more food, then brought the unused ziploc packs back and chucked them in the fridge. Used them for TNF since I thought it'd be a waste to bin them .. not sure that was such a good idea now! :P
Ricky wins with a new course record

Ricky Lightfoot won (his first 100km race!) in an impressive record-breaking time of 8h 38mins, Jimmy Tee in second place at 10:44:55, and Anders Jensen third in 11h 23mins. Well done to all who participated, doesn't matter how you did .. what matters is you tried! :)

The organisers deserve a pat on the back for a job well done. The markings were well-placed and very reflective. Barriers, traffic cones and aid stations all well planned and laid out, with marshalls and volunteers in abundance doing a good job. The start/finish area was bustling with runners and supporters, and everyone looked pretty happy. The course was challenging enough, and the 100km winner, fell runner and Salomon athlete Ricky Lightfoot even remarked "I'm surprised at how hilly it was!"

There are always improvements that can be made, but I'm truly glad that TNF100 this year was an event we can be proud of. I enjoyed every rollercoaster moment!


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Food for thought

Words of wisdom from Scott Jurek. See the big picture, listen to your body, and believe the impossible is possible.

All the best to everyone running TNF100 this weekend!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Salomon Synapse - The First Natural Motion Hiking Shoe

About 10 days ago, Salomon brought the media together for the launch of the Synapse Asphalt. Being Salomon, this wasn't any ordinary press event .. the Synapse was introduced to us by way of 'The Hungrier Games'.

We all donned a pair of the Synapse (also comes in a female specific fit, perfect!) and were ushered off to a pavilion in Bishan Park. After a short briefing and a practice session, the Games began. In true Hunger Games style, we had to run and search for hidden laser tag guns, then 'kill' everyone ... last (wo)man standing was the winner.

The torrential rain at the start of the Games really did test the grip and comfort of the shoes, particularly since we had to play undercover on the void deck of some flats. When the rain eased we were able to expand our boundaries to the park itself. Running, dodging and sprinting for cover the Synapse felt super comfy and I never once worried that I'd slip on the wet floors. It was quiet, too .. sneaking up on people to shoot them was never easier! :)

Kudos to Salomon for an adrenaline filled afternoon .. it really was great fun, and the perfect demo for the Synapse. 
Taking aim at The Hungrier Games
The laser tag was very kindly provided by John Lim of Tag Team Inc. The crew were informative and helpful, and the game really appealled to us competitive types!

The Synapse Asphalt is the first dedicated hiking shoe adapted for Natural Motion, designed to  move
fluidly on a variety of surfaces and terrain, provide cushioning and flexion, but are extremely light.

The Synapse Asphalt comprises three unique elements. Dynamic Ride, a very light OS Muscle provides light, flexible cushioning. OS Tendon adds rebound into the sole to keep you moving from stride to stride.

The next element is called Dynamic Traction, a combination multi-directional grip and staggered, reversed lugs help maintain full contact with the ground for great traction on any terrain or surface. Add a high abrasion rubber compound, and the Synapse will grip to everything from scree to rock to soft ground and mud.

Finally, Dynamic Rolling is created when the first two elements combines with a high heel drop. The sensation is that your shoes help your feet keep going, a little faster than they otherwise might.
Synapse Asphalt - Ladies model
The upper is made with welded Sensifit and Quicklace, providing precise fit, outstanding foot hold and easy adjustment. There is a toe cap and mud guard for protection for good measure.

“When we started looking at the trend, and seeing the kinds of people that train in the mountains every day, we realized that today’s mountain athletes like to mix it up,” explains Anne Deroulede, Product Line Manager for Hiking Footwear at Salomon. “From bounding down a rough trail to scrambling over rocks to moving very quickly over even terrain, we wanted to create a shoe that excels at all of these
things, but maintains the Salomon DNA of fit and precision. Synapse is the solution for the kind of mountain practices we will see more of in the next few years.”

Priced at $209, the Synapse Asphalt is exclusively available at Salomon store @Velocity, selected World of Sports and World of Outdoors stores.

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