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Sunday, March 16, 2014

In A Daze Over Haze

My training recently has not been dictated by the time I have available to run but more by the unhealthy air that we're having. The bad haze situation we've been experiencing lately has really put a huge damper on my training mileage.

For the past two weeks, I've had to wake up every morning, groggily look out the window, sniff the air like an animal and see if it was 'safe' to actually lace up for a run. While the 'lazy to wake up' part of me will rejoice at being able to jump right back into the warm bed, the competitive part of me curses and frets at the missed opportunity to acquire some much needed mileage.

My total mileage has dropped by more than half of the average 80-90k I've been hammering in weekly. As it is, it's already pretty difficult trying to get mileage like that without sacrificing a lot and constantly being under the threat of having to sleep in the porch from spending too much time running, the haze is something that I could do without.

Unfortunately though, the haze looks like something that we're going to have to factor into our lives on a regular basis these days. Certain changes in daily routine need to be done and that includes changes in my training plan. How to achieve that is something I'm not entirely sure at the moment. It's not like I could just drop everything and run when the weather clears up a little (though I wish I could).

Running through rain or sun is no big deal. At least that's doable but not through the haze. That's pretty suicidal if you ask me. Race organization has also taken a beating with the current unhealthy air. I dread to think of the tough decisions the race directors have to make due to the 'unsafe' running conditions. Cancel a race and be damned. Don't cancel and also be damned.

Times like these make me wish I didn't cancel my gym membership two years back. At least then I could have at least utilized the 'dreadmill' to get in the lost mileage. It won't be the same as pounding the roads but at least I'll still be able to run. I could look into getting a treadmill but I'd need to print some money first and once again, the prospect of being locked out of the house is very real. As it is I've been warned that I'm spending way too much on run gear already.

But with a few key races lined up, mileage is something I cannot skimp on. I'm going to have to grab every opportunity to run during good breaks in the air quality, even if it means running late at nights or at ungodly hours of the day. Something will have to be worked out, at least until this hazy weather clears up and things get back to some semblance of normalcy.

'Sniff, sniff', is that clean air I smell out there? Looks like it might be time to lace up for a run!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gunung Nuang Ultra Challenge 2014: Race Report

It's great to take a day off work after a strenuous and hard race the day before. You get to rest, laze around the house, watch TV shows you don't get to see on normal days and also write race reports. The Gunung Nuang Ultra Challenge 2014 that was held yesterday was one of the most painful races I've ever been to. I knew it was going to be difficult but I didn't know just how difficult it would be.

I am getting so fed up of this posing ...
Jamie, Choon Yuen and me car pooled to the race location with Jamie once again graciously volunteering to drive us there. We set out at 5am from our meet point in Puchong and reached Nuang a little over 45 minutes later. The place was already packed with cars and runners getting ready.

I didn't have much to do to get ready seeing as how I decided to go light for the run. With the run being a loop of 5k up and 5k down, with one water stop at the top and the main one at the start, I ditched the hydration vest and opted for the handheld bottle. I sufficed 500ml would get me up to the top, refill and head down again to the main CP.

The GC Group prior to race start.
Pic courtesy of Jamie Pang.
So armed with just a handheld, one gel for each loop, I left the rest at the main CP and would pick one up at each loop, my anti-fatigue caps and endurance amino tablets with me, I was all set to tackle Nuang. Or so I thought at that time anyway.

The flag off was right on time. We had 12 hours to complete a minimum of 50k to qualify for a trophy and get the finisher tee. The start was slow with the path being narrow. It was mostly a walking start up the inclines which I had no idea how steep they really were cos it was pretty dark. The runners spread out a little along the way and I started running a little, mostly on whatever descents I could find. I was practicing a little caution cos it was dark and I was unfamiliar with the terrain.

Gulp, gulp, gulp ...
Pic courtesy of Kelvin Tan.
About a kilometer or so before the u-turn at the top, the front runners were already making their way down. I shook my head in awe and kept moving. I reached the CP, topped up my bottle and immediately headed out knowing that 80% of the return leg would be downhill. I managed to run at a nice easy pace all the way down and hit my targeted time for the first loop.

Arrived at the first CP together with Jamie. I think both our strategies were to keep moving so there was no dilly dallying around. A quick bite of a curry puff, topped up my bottle and headed out back to the trails. Jamie was out a little quicker than me and I played catch up but by then the sky was brightening up and I was able to see just how steep the inclines I negotiated in the dark during the first loop was. My motivation level dropped immediately. 'Damn, I have to do this at least 4 more times!'

Jason (the tasksmaster), Khairi (who tamed Nuang) and me.
Pic courtesy of Khairi Muin.
I cursed, gritted my teeth and kept on moving. I knew it would get progressively harder each time I hit the climbs. By the time I reached the 15k u-turn mark, I was practically huffing and puffing. Filled my bottled, downed a gel and my tablets and got out within two minutes. Again, I was thankful for the downhill stretch. Started off at an easy pace downward again.

I had on my Skechers GObionic Trail (GBT). It was a bittersweet feeling. Prior to the race, I was toying with the idea of either the GOrun Ultra or the GBT and opted for the GBT cos I wanted more control of the terrain and the GOrun Ultra wouldn't give me that. With the GBT, I had excellent control and traction over the loose and dry trail but the GBT being a minimalist trail shoe, I was taking a pounding from the huge and plentiful rocks along numerous long stretches. Like I said, it was a bittersweet thing.

How long more is this going to take?
Pic courtesy of Lina.
I had to adapt, slower running along the rocky stretches and faster along the non-rocky stretches or at least as fast as my legs would allow. The second loop was also done in target pace. Another quick bite and fill and I was out again. This time though, I knew it was going to be practically impossible to keep to my target pace. The extremely steep and long climbs almost all the way up was going to take its toll. By this time I was totally envious of the runners that had trekking poles with them. It really would have been helpful to have used the tracking poles to transfer the load to my upper body instead of my legs.

Pic courtesy of Tey EngTiong
I tried looking for a stick or something but found nothing that would hold my weight so it was down to just me, my quads and the climbs. It was torturous. I was crawling, willing the legs up the climbs. There were times mid climb where I had to stop, bend over and try to catch my breath. The climbs never seemed to end. It was up, up and up with very little descents or flats. The only consolation was that everyone was suffering just as bad as I was, save for the front runners who made it look so darned easy. Damn you guys!

I was thankful to see the CP at the top finally emerge. Now it was mostly downhill but let me tell you that by this time, with  the feet in utter pain, going downhill was as bad as going uphill! The descents while welcomed was painful simply because they were steep. With fresh legs, it was bearable, but with shot up legs, it was hell. I had no choice cos it was the only time when it was possible to run. I shortened my cadence, took really, really small strides and made my way down slowly. Even then, there were time I had to walk downhill.

With Richi who did a great job.
Pic courtesy of Richi Lim.
Yes, I had thoughts of just DNFing at the time but I was doing this for the wife, who has put up with countless times I've been away from home training out there for hours. If I gave up, then it would have all been futile. So I kept going. Besides, I seriously wasn't doing all that bad, timing wise. I was still within where I expected to be by the end of loop 3.

I was a little hungry by then cos I didn't get any breakfast before the run. I was expecting something a little heavier on offer. I checked with Julie but she said I was a little too early for lunch. I grabbed a couple of slices of watermelons and bananas and some Mentos sweets on offer and headed out. I guess a much longer stop for lunch would have to be done at the end of the 4th loop.

Stealing some of Richi's Success.
Pic courtesy of Lina.
The fourth loop was hell! The legs were so beat up that it took a huge effort to keep going. All aspirations of keeping to a target loop time was all but thrown into the jungles. I was crawling all the way up. It took me an hour to reach the CP at the top and equally the same amount of time to traverse back down. I think the walk/run ratio was close to 80/20 and I was so glad to see the end of this loop.

Lunch in the form of fried rice was ready and I wolfed down a pack, grabbed a few cups of coke, some watermelon and took a 10 minute breather before making my way for the final and last loop. I just wanted to reach the minimum qualification and that was it. I wasn't going to spend an inch further in the trail!

No! Caught walking again.
Pic courtesy of Aron Soo.
As expected, the climb was as tough as ever. But this time, I played it a little different. I took real small baby steps up and they were less stressful than trying to trudge up the climbs with bigger steps. I could practically walk up at a slow but decent enough pace to catch up with some of the runners who were struggling up the climbs.

About three quarters up the skies opened up a little and rain came down. I enjoyed the coolness it brought but was worried about having to run down cos the path would be slippery as hell. I tried to quicken my walk to reach the u-turn so I could make it down before it got too tricky to negotiate. I reached the CP in close to 1 hour 15 minutes, yes I was that slow by then, and headed off almost immediately before the rain got worse.

I hope no one will see me steal the entire bottle!
Pic courtesy of Lina.
A funny thing happened at this point though. I don't know if it was because I was trying to outrun the rain or because it was the final time I was going to be in these blasted trails but I felt re-energized and my spirits were up. I managed to get back to proper running and save for the one or two climbs the downhill stretch had, I was practically flying all the way down. I ran with reckless abandon, which was silly of me cos I almost went flying flat down from stubbing my feet against protruding rocks but heck I was just glad to be finishing.

I was so energized that I was practically yelling at everyone on the way up to 'keep going' and 'good job'. Most of them gave me a thumbs up and a smile but some gave me nasty looks ... hahaha! I would have been pissed too if some idiot was yelling at me to keep going while I was struggling up the climbs.

And finally, after 8 hours 34 minutes (according to my Garmin), I finally completed 50k. The relief and joy was so apparent that I was smiling all the way to pick up my finisher trophy and tee from Jason who was trying his best to prompt me to do another loop. No way was I going to go up there and suffer for another loop but in all honesty, I had ample time to make another loop if I wanted to with 3 hours 25 minutes to spare for the attempt.

Almost done with the torture.
Pic courtesy of Jimmy Teh.
But sanity called for me to call it a day. I went out there and did my best and I'm happy with the results. I gave it my all and dug as deep as I could to keep going without giving up. The good I take out of this was that I suffered practically no cramping, no blisters and no chaffing. The experience I take out of this is immeasurable. Will I do this again? I swore on Facebook, I wouldn't but heck, ask me again in a few days and I might sing a different tune :D

Before I end, let me say that the organization was simply first class. A huge thank you goes out to the volunteers on hand who did an incredible job of catering to each and every runner personally. Every time I was back at the CP, they made it a point to personally take my bottle and fill it up for me and offer me whatever food there was before I headed out. First class job, folks. You played a big part in seeing me through this as well.

A thank you also goes out the Subang LYNR group for cheering me on every time I passed their very vocal and supportive cheer location. And finally, to my fellow GC teammates, a damn fine job you all did! But please, the next time you fellows find an ultra to register, don't include me!

Elevation that tops out at around 503m or so ...