(this report doesn’t have much photos yet, can’t find any at the moment. Will keep updating as I manage to get more)
Last year’s TMBT 50k was my first ever ultra race… also my first DNF (and so far the only one). Stories have been told and retold to death, so there’s no point for me to rehash everything again. Basically I was among the few to be caught in last year’s unfortunate flash flood at Miki Loop and along with 60% of the participants, DNF-ed at WS3. With that in mind, I’ve already decided that I’ll be heading back to TMBT 2014 to try and finish the race. Since then, I’ve completed several other ultras including a road 100k. So instead of going back for the 50k race, I upgraded my race to the 100k.
Fast forward to last weekend and again I find myself at Lingkubang, toeing the start line for TMBT again. The view of the school field just beside the starting line brought back memories of TMBT 2013. Can’t help but feeling nostalgic that this is where it all started for me. This time around, I had more friends with me – some trying the 55k for the first time, some back to redeem themselves from last year’s DNF. Wish my friend’s good luck before the race and we’re off at 7.06am.
Start – WS1: Sort the Ranks
This segment is aptly named “Sort the Ranks” because it’s truly a test of runner’s fitness. The goal is to reach a hanging bridge at Bundu Paka (around the mid point of this segment) as early as possible before the rest of the crowd arrives. You see, these bridges are dilapidated and only 6 runners are allowed to cross at any one time. This was the bottleneck point for last year’s race and I personally waited for 45 minutes then. The section started off at a relatively short flat gravel road before we join into a very steep ascend on a tarred road through Kg. Kebayau.
Managed to pull myself ahead and position myself in mid pack. Crowd control was fantastic at the bridge this year. There were only 9 other runners in front of me. And we waited for about 3 minutes before being allowed to cross the bridge. As I was crossing the bridge I glanced back and saw that the waiting line for the bridge has grown to about 20 people. There is also a major river crossing at the second part of this section where most of the nicest competitor photos were taken last year. Alas, no protographer at the river this year.
WS1 – WS2: Trail Seeker
Refilled by bottles and bladder quickly and I’m on my journey to Lobong Lobong (WS2). The view of the paddy plantation is beautiful against the backdrop sight of a mountain. 2 race photographers were hiding among the low lying bushes and took our photos when we least expected.
There was a slow gradual ascend in a mud trail littered with small size boulders that reminds me of a dried river creek bed. At the end of the trail was a long long long steep ascend in concrete towards WS2. I called this the ‘neverending road’ last year and it proves to be a nightmare again. Many runners slowed down visibly here but I pressed on to reach the top because I knew of a reward for reaching the end of this path. As we were going into WS2, I turned to pick up my “reward” from a local sundry shop. A bottle of Coke and 100 Plus isotonic! After almost 5 hours, these sugar heavy drinks are awesome!!
WS2 – WS3: Ridge Run/Leech Heaven
It’s 12 pm and my nightmare from last year became true as I was leaving WS2. It started to drizzle and I’m worried if we will actually be trapped in Miki loop again. To get into Miki loop, we have to climb 3 mountain ridges with pineapple farms. The ascend wasn’t very difficult because the rain cooled our bodies. Descending those ridges into Miki loop is another story altogether, the loose muddy soil is slippery and every footstep is swallowed by thick mud. One runner couldn’t even lift his feet because his shoes are so caked in mud that it got permanently stuck. In Miki loop, the jungle trail is flooded and its very difficult to differentiate the muddy ground from roots. I tripped a few times in it, but thankfully no injury. The organizers made the right decision to not cross the river at the end of Miki loop this year. I took 4.5 hrs to cover this section of the race, 1 hour longer than my estimated time and the cutoff is looming closer.
WS3 – WS4: The Dip
I reached WS 3 with 30 mins to go before cutoff. This was the point where I DNFed last year and it was a similar sight again this year. People wrapped in emergency blanket and shivering. Didn’t wanna waste time, I was out of the station within 5 minutes.At the flat section of this segment I ran my hearts out fearing the cutoff time to the next WS. One lady, Faith from South Africa looked rather lost and distressed halfway along this segment. Even after pointing her to the marker she didn’t notice it so I asked her to follow me. Managed to strike up a chat with her about the Comrades Marathon and rugby. I think listening to familiar topic calmed her down a little and she got stronger uphill, eventually overtaking me. I’m happy at least I helped her to carry on. Finally reached WS 4 after an hour. The marshall warned me to leave the place within 15 mins or I’ll risk a DNF.
WS4 – WS5: Road Rage
Rain stopped at around 6 pm. At the early stages of this segment, we had to navigate unmarked trails surrounded by overgrown lallangs (blady grass) taller than myself. As it got darker the paths got even more difficult to navigate. Was a relief when we finally entered into a highway road. Busses and vehicles zoomed past very quickly. For some reason, although I felt very hungry I didn’t want to eat my food because WS 5 is where they’ll be serving food to us. I was sick of energy bars by this point and craving for some real food. Bad mistake. As I was heading down into Bundu Tuhan to WS 5, I started bonking and moving slowly. Few runners begin to overtake me. When I realized this fact, I quickly ate my energy bar and managed to reach WS 5 in 13:18 hrs. Happy that I made up almost 1.5 hrs in time and I could take my time eating and cleaning up for the next half of the race.
WS5 – WS7: Restart/Stargazer
As I entered the hall, I’m surprised to see all my running buddies there. Wai Hong, Yik Yee, Alvin Chen, Hong Lan, Reyne, Amy, Edmund Ting whom I assumed were way ahead of me. I realized later that they have decided to wait for me to go together in the dark. I’m grateful for this because without them I wouldn’t have completed the race. After a quick change of clothes, repacking of my race kit and some food, we continued on the journey. This segment of the race was uneventful as its mostly on gravel road and in the night. With nothing to see, we’re mostly zombie walking through the 2 waterstations. I did manage to strike up some chatter with Yik Yee, reminding me of the time at Titi 100 (about the same time of day too) we also walked and talked about our life and work. Just as we were about to enter into WS 7 at 1 am, it started raining again and the cold wind at this high altitude is chilling.
WS7 – WS8: The Curve
At the start of this segment, we entered into a technical trail through a small section of cabbage farm. The trail leads downhill for about 600m. On any given day, the trail would be fun to run down. Not so much when its been raining, the mud wet and slippery. The trail doesn’t have any “stop gaps” that we could grab on like rocks or roots. Just a one way slide downhill. I descended slowly at this stage with some slips and fall along the way. The trail ends at a gravel road. With a small stream at the side I decided to clean my hands and trekking pole before carrying on. This made me fall to the back of the 7 men pack. I felt some of the funniest sensations here: something tugging on my poncho, someone breathing beside me. The weirdest was when I thought I saw a cliff just below my feet, blinking my eyes and they’re gone. I knew then that I’m starting to imagine things either from extreme exhaustion or lack of food. I quickly munched my energy bar and felt much better after a short while.
WS8 – WS9: Downfall
The later part of this segment involves a 600m descend into a valley. This was when the first light of dawn broke. I knew then that we will finish this race as long as we stick to the current pace. The worst is over and we have survived the night. As we descend to WS 9, with our renewed strength from the rising sun, some members of our group started to run downhill. I tried to run a little, but my quads were tightening and running downhill is becoming more and more difficult. Instead I chose to walk faster downhill. Reached WS9 which was the third food station for the 100k runners. Refueled on fried noodles and soup, went for a quick toilet break and off we go heading towards the rising sun.
WS9 – WS10: Over the Hill
Not done with the torture, we face a series of steep uphill gravel road. 385m ascend over 5km. Wai Hong and I found our energy and started to hike up the hill quite rapidly, and the rest of the group started falling back. At one of the bend, we heard a runner at our back running at quite a fast pace. Wondering who had the energy to run at such a pace after such a long distance we turned back and saw Vlad Ixel, the winner of TMBT 2013 100km cruising the terrain. Vlad ran the 28km Hasuu Tasu race this year, due to an injury. Soon after a few more Hasuu Tasu runners started overtaking us. Both Wai Hong and I waited patiently for our friend Yew Khuay to pass us. He ran the 55k the day before and again the 28k the following day. When he ran past, we cheered for him, good feeling to see a friend at the race course.
WS10-WS11: Home Stretch
Checking into WS 10, Wai Hong and I made a quick decision to not stop too long and continue on. Although the race is almost over, this stage is the most challenging for us. 665m elevation over 6.6km. What we didn’t expect was the trail hike up for almost 4km. With our quads absolutely destroyed by this point, the ascend was slow, torturous and painful. We were quickly joined by Alvin Chen and the three of us marched on to WS11. We were so exhausted at this point, that we started asking little kids running on the streets if they know the distance to Perkasa (end point). The kids happily ran with us to a checkpoint in the middle of this segment. The last 2 km to the finish was the most torturing. We could see the tower at Perkasa but we just don’t seem to be able to reach it. Then the rain begin falling again. How apt to finish the race in wet conditions, wrapping up our entire race. 3 of us, Wai Hong, Alvin Chen and myself finished in a time of 28 hrs and 50 mins. There were cheers and well dones from people at the finish line and Yew Khuay came to take our finishing photo together. I managed to strike a chat with Vlad Ixel at the finishing tent too.
We waited for the rest to arrive and the remaining 4 (Hong Lan, Reyne, Edmund and Yik Yee) arrived within cut off time. This race proved to us again that it is one of the toughest yet the most beautiful race course I’ve ever been in. I have finally finished my “unfinished business” from last year.
- The route markers have improved tremendously this year. I cannot think of a reason anyone could get lost with all the markers along the race course.
- The decision to add 8.5km of road before the hanging bridge at Bundu Paka is the right decision because there was almost no congestion there this year.
- The addition of 3 food stations for the 100km is a great change from previous year. When the body is pushed to go for such long hours, it craves for natural food and I think only food stations are capable of providing such a nutrition.
- I believe the key to finishing for myself was because I had company for the night stage of the race. Ever since TMBT 2013 I’ve learned the valuable lesson of pairing up with another runner during the night phases of ultra. The night is when your body starts to go to “sleep mode” and tend to give up when the going gets tough.
- I neglected my nutrition for certain parts of this race. And none more obvious than in this race that I learn the importance of nutrition in an ultra. The bonking, imagination and semi-hallucinations proves that improper nutrition could lead to some serious accidents.
- To Wai Hong who trained with me since April and waited for me at WS 5 to finish together. I am grateful for that buddy!
- The fantastic 6: Alvin Chen, Yik Yee, Reyne, Hong Lan, Edmund and Amy who went together with me from WS5 onwards. We all finished nicely this time. Amy – go back next year and finish it
- Andrew O’Brien, Kevin Lau, Karen Teo, Yew Khuay, Roy for tracking and updating my progress in the race.
- Frank for the weekday speedwork sessions and weekend FRIM strength sessions
- Renee for the pre-race hug. It means a lot to me
- Si Main for lending me the GPS. That allowed my GPS to survive for almost 30 hours
- Subang training kakis: who gave me a kick before the start of the race. Thanks for the good luck kick!
- All my other friends: thank you for your wishes and messages before, during and after the race. I hope someday you all will be doing TMBT as well and share your experience
- Saucony Malaysia for the Saucony Peregrine 4 used for the 2nd half of the race.