Monday, November 30, 2015

Putrajaya 100 Miles: 52K Category Race Report

After the suffering and pain I went through last year with Jamie, I swore I would never sign up for something as crazy as this ever again but there I was on a warm hot humid Saturday night along with hundreds of others about to get ready for another 52km run around the hard, painful and humid streets of Putrajaya once again. The wife actually rolled her eyes and said she doesn't believe me when I said that I would never sign up for stuff like this again. I guess she was right. Intelligence was also never one of my stronger traits.

Signing up for the Putrajaya 100 Miles 52km category didn't come easy. I was toying with the idea of signing up for quite a while. Jamie wasn't too keen to sign up again, smart fellow, and I didn't want to run it alone yet I wanted to run this for the memory of a good friend/avid ultra runner, the late Zg Zackaria. Then Foo said he wanted to sign up and now I had company so I signed up for it before I changed my mind and that was it.

My ever loyal medal model ...

Little did I know that Jeanie also quietly signed up for this on the sly. It was to be her first attempt at taking on an ultra marathon and when I accidentally found out about it, I offered to pace her through her attempt. Putrajaya can be a daunting place to run an ultra marathon on your own, especially one that flags off at 10.15pm and runs through the wee hours of the morning. And besides, now we had three GCAMers running the race.

I didn't really have much training nor enough mileage leading up to the race. I've just dived into marathon training and this race falls right smack at the start of my training plan and there I was going to be putting high mileage in only my third week of marathon training. But the company was good so I was sort of looking forward to it.

The wife was there last year to show support for me and stayed at the race location the entire 8 hours I was out running. She wanted to do the same this year but with the race starting at night, I didn't want her waiting around all night on her own. So I checked her in at the Everly and told her at least I know she'll be nearby and safe, that was good enough for me.

Jeanie and Foo came over to Alamanda and I joined them for dinner before we all headed to the race location for them to pick up their bibs. I had picked up mine much earlier after the strict scrutinizing of the mandatory items.

For the entire week before the race, there has been thunderstorms practically every evening. Chances of a thunderstorm on race day was very high. Unfortunately that was a totally wrong assumption. When we got to the race location, the weather was hot and extremely humid and I was sweating profusely just standing there. This wasn't going to bode well for the race.

Gear wise I went extremely light and minimal just skirting the legal limits of the mandatory item list. I had my custom GC tee and UA shorts, keeping things loose and comfortable. My shoe of choice was the Skechers GOrun Ultra Road, which was the most cushioned shoe I had. For hydration, I had a hand held bottle. No hydration vest cos I hate the darn things and a Puma waist pouch that I somehow squeezed all my mandatory items in!

Foo, Jeanie and me just before race start.

After getting all our gear in order and doing the usual 'picture taking before race' thing, Jeanie, Foo and me got ready for the start. The start was in waves of 20 and Jeanie was in the first wave, We told her we'd catch up since we were in the second wave. Both Foo and me ambled along at an easy 7:30 pace looking out ahead for Jeanie. It was to be a long night and we were not going to be sucked up by the crowd and speed along with them. With the speed some of them were doing, I was sure I'd be seeing them again.

After a kilometer we still couldn't find Jeanie. So we upped the pace a little cos we were sure she was on a faster pace. We finally caught up to her and pulled her pace back down. We needed to keep things easy if we were going to get through this with the least possible pain. I was looking forward to hitting the Palace of Justice area cos I knew some of the team would be there to run along with us for a bit. True enough, I saw them there waiting just as we got to POJ.

As always is the case with them, the fun started from there. Soon enough Jeanie pulled away again on her own. I raced off to the front to peg her pace back down and this time I made sure I stayed with her. Just as we reached the Mosque u-turn we saw Frank who was running the 100km on his final 5km stretch. We all stopped to chat and it was unanimously agreed that the team pace along with him back to the finish. He could do with their support more than the three of us at that point.

Race start. Pic courtesy of 99c ...

So, the team went along with him but not before assuring us they'll see us down the road again later. The pace from that point was nice and easy. I made sure Jeanie was keeping stride with me and Foo leading up the rear. We were both determined to make sure she gets through this just fine. After all, this was really all about her.

The first 9.7km or so was pretty okay though the night was stuffy and humid. Just as we reached CP1, we saw the team there waiting for us and our spirits were lifted. I had already informed both Jeanie and Foo we'd take 5 minutes at the CP and head out again. I wanted us moving as fast as we could on fresh legs before the fatigue of the second half of the race would start slowing us down.

I asked the volunteers where do I check in and they said no need, just keep on running. I was a little surprised cos last year we had to log in our bib numbers manually on paper and though this year we had timing chips but I didn't see a timing mat. The volunteer told me the next u-turn would have one. I took his word for it and we headed out in 5 minutes on the dot, this time with the team tagging along with us. The company and support was totally welcomed as we ran along the second stage of the route along the Putrajaya lake. This wasn't a stretch I was looking forward to cos of the hard concrete surface.

About 3km before our u-turn point, the team bid us luck and headed off back to their cars. We were sad to see them go but was thankful for the short time with them. The three of us got back to focusing on the race and made our way along slowly. We finally got to the u-turn point and once again I was asking where the timing mat was and was told to just make the u-turn and head back to CP1, which doubled up as CP2.

Pic courtesy of Rany Tan.

Alarm bells started ringing in my head. With no record keeping of checking into the CP's, the opportunity to cheat or take short cuts were aplenty. Nevertheless, we kept on moving. With the time slowly ticking to midnight, my eyes were getting heavy. I hardly had enough rest prior to the race and it was beginning to show. Foo was also looking sleepy. Jeanie was the only one amongst us that was all wide eyed and awake. She kept talking to keep me awake and it helped.

We finally made CP2 and I decided to fill my handheld with coke. I really needed the caffeine and sugar it provided. Again I said we'd stay at the CP for 5 minutes before heading out. After gulping a few cups of ice cold coke, swallowing a sandwich or two, we were off again. Slightly longer than the planned 5 minutes but no big deal.

The next stage was my favorite cos it was a short 6km out and back stage. Again we made our way along the opposite side of the lake. This was where I had to shout at many runners who were lost or going the wrong way or just didn't know how to get to the next CP. This was also where I was confused last year so I know how they felt. I wasn't going to be like some people last year who just kept quiet knowing that Jamie and me were going the wrong way.

I told Foo and Jeanie to wait up a bit and take a breather while I go tell the confused fellow runners how to get to the next CP or to just follow us there. Most were grateful for the guidance and we all made our way towards CP3. Foo decided to 'wake up' at this point and was a chatter box again much to Jeanie and my relief. He started 'recruiting' fellow runners to run along with us and was a source of encouragement to everyone, urging everyone along.

Pic courtesy of Rany Tan.

We had quite a posse running with us by the time we got to CP3 which we all agreed we would take 10-15 minutes of rest before heading out. The journey thus far had been tiring but well on track. After the extended break, it was time to head out again. But our spirits were much better cos now we were on the way back. Half the journey was done.

Jeanie was holding up pretty well. She hardly looked tired and gamely ran with not an ounce of complain. We ran when we could and walked when we had to. Foo was again falling into his zombie mode (his own description) and Jeanie and me were left to keep ourselves entertained. We ran/walked back to CP4 and I was dreading the next stretch.

At CP4 we made a decision for a 15 minutes rest again as Foo needed to take a power nap. Jeanie said she'll start off first with a few other runners, I told her to go ahead and I'll catch up while I waited for Foo to top up his bottle. Suddenly the tummy started acting up and I told Foo we needed to head out cos I know there was a toilet about 1km down the road.

We caught up with Jeanie and I left Foo with her while I ran ahead to the loo. I told them not to wait for me and just keep going. After sorting my tummy issues, I ran off after them. It gave me an opportunity to run at my marathon pace to play catch up and just as I was 400 metres out I realized I left my handheld in the toilet! Damn, I had to double back and had to really up the pace to catch up with the two of them since they had quite a sizeable head start.

I was surprised but happy that I could still pull off a 5:00 minute pace with bloody tired legs to play catch up. It's good to know that I could call on some speed even when fatigued. Storing that in mind for later analysis, I caught up with Jeanie and Foo who decided to wait for me further down the road. This next stretch was torturous. It was never ending and the u-turn could not come fast enough. My legs were tired, absolutely tired from the hard torturous pavement. Foo went on ahead to find the u-turn mark and wait for us.

When Jeanie and me finally got to the u-turn, I was surprised that there was no one at the u-turn save for a small almost obscure sign. If Foo hadn't already spotted the U-turn I would have just dragged Jeanie along even further. I had memorized some landmarks when we first hit this u-turn hours ago but my mind was already zoning out and trying to remember where the landmark was, was a point of futility.

Now it was back towards the last CP and then we could finally make the journey back to the finish. This last 6km was really pushing my pain tolerance level to the max. Even with the GRUR, my most cushioned shoe, the legs were absolutely fatigued. I'm not used to heavier and thicker shoes for long distances at the pace we were doing. We were all tired and sleepy (except Jeanie who was like a night owl!) and more walking was done than running.

Pic courtesy of Rany Tan

About 3km before we reached CP5, I told Jeanie and Foo that I really needed to start running to get the pain off my feet and said I would meet them at CP5 for the final trek back together. They urged me on and I took off. At times like these, running faster was a lot easier on the legs than having to walk. I made it to CP5 and topped off my bottle, munched on some sandwiches and waited for the two of them. It wasn't long before they turned up. I waited for them to get ample rest and we were finally off for the last leg of the journey, the final 9km or so.

Before making our way out of the final CP, I messaged the wife to update her on my status. I told her earlier that I may not be able to update her much cos my reading vision is horrible without glasses, especially at night. I knew she would be worried nonetheless. I was not surprised to receive a reply text from her at that hour of the morning as I knew she was a light sleeper and would have been up or at least half asleep waiting for some news from me. Once I got her reply to keep fighting, I got off my butt and steeled myself for the next leg.

This last 9km was where Jeanie excelled the most, Foo and me were already on our last ebbs of energy. We were all dead tired and yet she didn't let that get to her. We were shuffling along at a turtles pace and in fact slowing Jeanie down more than we were helping her. She strategized that we should run 4 lamp posts and walk 4 lamp posts. Without waiting for agreement from us, she started off on the first of her 4 lamp posts run. She was on to something with the strategy and her enthusiasm got me going again.

I pushed whatever fatigued I had to the back of my mind and strutted off along with her. Foo said he'll back us up from behind. With the 4 lamp post run / 4 lamp post walk strategy, I was starting to feel alive again. My feet started to wake up and I was back in it. We slowly started overtaking those in front of us again, one by one. Foo would constantly chase us down and keep our rear safe. We were set to make her an ultra marathoner by the end of this run.

By the last 5km, I could tell that Jeanie was beginning to feel fatigued even more. But she gamely pushed on. No letting up whatsoever, she was determined to finish this! We modified the 4 run / 4 walk strategy to a 4 run / 6 walk one, giving her more time to recover before the running. She kept telling me to go ahead since I was back up to speed and not let her slow me down. Nothing doing, I told her. I promised to start and finish the race with her and that's what I would do even if we had to crawl to the finish.

Just at the last 1.5km mark, the smiles started appearing on all our faces again. The finish was in sight. Just a couple of minutes more and the pain and suffering would end. Oh and Jeanie's lamp post strategy saw us overtaking 11 runners (by my count) as we made our way to the finish!


We were finally down to the last 200m or so of the finish. The relief was so apparent on our faces as the three of us crossed the finish together, stride for stride after more than 9 long hours slogging it out there. Jeanie was now an official and bonafide ultra marathoner! A huge congratulations goes out to her for the determination and success! Well done, Jeanie, now we can prepare you for the 78km one next year ... LOL!

As for me, I was a happy man. I signed up for this race to improve on last year's outcome and though I never achieved that, I am more than happy to have helped a fellow team mate and  good friend to her finish. That's good enough for me anytime. Personally for me, I take a lot of positives out of this in preparation for my upcoming marathon early next year.

I started this race without any special needs or gels whatsoever. I practically had no food or supplements in my pouch. Hydration was in just the form of plain water and coke and whatever food I had was obtained at the CP's. In all I think I had 9 small sandwiches, a couple of watermelons and that was it. I experienced no cramps or any other race crippling discomforts save for the achy legs that are common with long distance running.

Overall, the race was pretty good. The Pacat team did a good job as always in making this a memorable race for the three of us. But that said aside, I have a few observations and suggestions that I'd like to add here that may help make the next edition better.

The signages along the route were a tad too small. Yes, I know that we're supposed to know the route but I saw a lot of runners being totally lost about where to turn at certain points especially towards CP3. I stopped to direct as many as I could on the proper path for as long as I could but slightly bigger signages would have helped a lot more. I memorized the route and also knew the route from last year's experience but a lot didn't bother to memorize or study the route and bigger signages would have been a little bit more helpful.

The check point signing in also was solely lacking. None of the check points required any of the runners to log themselves in unlike last year. I'm not sure about the other categories but the 52km had only one timing mat at CP3 and that opened up a lot of room for cheating or short cuts along the rest of the route.

Aside from that it was basically a good race. You guys did a superb job in organizing an event for newbies to get a feel of what it's like to run an ultra marathon in as safe an environment as possible. A good job also to all the finishers and fellow runners who urged the three of us to keep moving when we were crawling along. And most importantly, kudos to the volunteers for a job well done in tending to our needs!

Will I sign up again? I said no way when I crossed the finish but ask me again when the pain ebbs away in a few days time!

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