But after a somewhat decent (an achy) night of sleep, I came to a realization that heck, shit happens. Yes, I 'Did Not Finish'. It's not like I cheated, swindled or killed anyone. I 'Did Not Finish' because I made a judgement call based on my condition at that current time and I think it was the absolute right decision. I'm not ashamed nor embarrassed of it anymore. I did the best I could given the circumstances and I'm proud of it. So I've decided to push my self pity aside and tell my story anyway.
Depending on who you ask, they will tell you #itsallnicksfault but I really don't know why I signed up for this particular Putrajaya ultra year after year even though at the end of each and everyone of those races, I swear to never do it again. Guess I'm a sucker for punishment or a perennial liar. Once again, that will depend on who you ask.
Anyways, this year, I opted for the 78km category instead of the usual 52km that I've done since the inception of this event. This year, just like last year, my wife and me decided to book a hotel again cos she wanted to be there to support me. We got an extremely great deal from Dorsett Putrajaya and booked for two nights since I was taking the Monday off after the race and give us the chance to experience the many hidden gems of Putrajaya which we never take the time to really look at. All my time at Putrajaya is normally spent running.
|Putrajaya can be a beautiful place to visit ...|
With all that done, it was time to train. I write the word 'train' very loosely. I've been battling with my meniscus tear injury comeback and it took a long while to finally be completely healed. My runs for the past 3-4 months have been nothing but short distance runs to slowly get back into the game. The longest mileage I've done prior to the race was 16km! Yes, a whole bloody 16km worth of long run and I mean one run. That's how I trained for this. How bloody awesome... NOT!
I've run an 84km ultra in Penang before and even with proper training done for that, I suffered throughout that race. To say I was going to suffer for this race is putting it extremely mildly. Genuine thoughts of not running this crept up a lot in the months prior to the race. But since a few close friends signed up for this as well, I opted to just go on with the race. At least I'll have company to share the pain with.
Fast forward to race day. After picking up my race kit, my wife and me check in to the hotel and I tried to grab as much sleep as I could before race start cos it would be a long night and I knew from past experiences, sleepiness would factor into the race. But try as I might, sleep just wouldn't come and this from a guy who loves to sleep. I re-check my gear instead.
I've been running the past few editions very minimal, with just a small pouch, narrowly flouting the mandatory gear check. In fact, I'm a very minimal runner. I hate having to carry or strap on anything and would be extremely happy if I could just run in a vest and shorts. But being an ultra and upping the distance this time round, I knew I couldn't get away with just a pouch, So I opted my very seldom used Salomon 12L hydration vest.
I tried to keep it as light as I possibly could but after stuffing it with all the mandatory items, like food, battery pack, cell phone, maps, rain jacket, thermal blanket, sweets, etc, it felt like I was carrying a whole load of bricks on my shoulders. I knew this was going to be a bother later in the race. For apparel, I opted for a Saucony tee I printed myself and a Saucony Hydralite shorts and my trusty Kinvara 7. Up to race day though, it was a toss between the K7 and the Ride 9 but the reliable and amply cushioned yet lightweight K7 made the choice easy.
So at 9.00pm sharp, the Race Director flagged off the 78km category and the suffering would start. The expected rains never turned up which was both good and bad. The initial stages of the race was pretty straightforward. Frank, Jamie, Jeanie, Lum and me kept to a very manageable pace using the run/walk method. The plan was to keep the legs fresh (or as fresh as one can be in an ultra) for the later stages of the race. The first 26km was incident free. The route was familiar and the pace was decent. My wife was waiting for us outside Dorsett as the route passed right outside the hotel. I was happy to see her and after a quick hug, it was back to work. Yeehoo also joined us for the first leg of the journey until CP1.
|Jamie was a bit too fast to be seen ...|
The rest of our support group consisting of Choon Yuen, Richi, Zijill and Julia turned up from around the 15km mark in their bikes to accompany us till CP3. We really appreciated all their company as they kept our minds off the race itself with their jokes throughout. Frank was keeping Jeanie and Cherly company while Jamie and me were on our own. The status quo was that way until CP3. After a slightly longer rest at CP3 where we bid our support crew farewell, Jamie and me headed off to tackle, what would to me be the most toughest and mental part of the route.
This was a long 13km stretch along the highway that led to CP4, littered with ups and downs along some oftentimes dark motorbike lane. I was glad to have Jamie's company. But unfortunately this was also where things started to go south for me. My left knee started acting up and though I was concerned, I kept going. The pain got a lot more noticeable by the 32km mark, which was also where Frank caught up with us.
I told the two of them to head out on their own cos both of them were fired up and I would only slow them down considerably if they stayed with me. I was already very worried about the knee and I could feel the onset of swelling. Both were adamant and said they would stay with me till CP4 where I could reevaluate my condition. I felt really bad and tried to move as fast as I could so I wouldn't hold them back too much. They really had a good shot at this and I was holding them back.
Once we finally reached CP4, we rested somewhat longer. After one of our longest stops, I told the two of them to head out on their own cos I wanted to rest up a bit longer and decide if I was going to DNF here. Off they went and I contemplated quitting. I decided that I'd try to head to CP3 cos I'm not one to give up so easily. By this a lot more runners were checking in and once they rested and headed out, I followed them. I didn't feel like running alone.
I had 13k to get through and this was really going to be a stretch. But strangely, I managed to actually run and found it less painful to run than walk. So I employed this longer running stretches and shorter walks and was surprised to see that I had left a lot of the runners I set out with way behind. I was happy. Hope begin to flood my depleted spirits again. I kept moving and could even muster paces of up to 6:30-6:45, albeit with a little effort. But when I stopped for walk breaks was when I knew things would not last for long. Nevertheless, I kept moving. I just needed to get to CP3 again to re-evaluate my situation.
I knew that Yan Leng and Piew were going to start their support from CP3 onwards but also knew that I wouldn't get to see them cos they would head out with Jamie and Frank who were a ways ahead. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to CP3, which was by now almost deserted. I sat there and instantly felt the throbbing inflammation in my knee. I knew there and then a decision had to be made.
Should I continue or quit? I can keep on going, hobbling along slowly but at what cost? Was this what I really wanted? To push on for glory and pride, screw my knee beyond hope or to think of the bigger picture? Did I want to spend a lot of downtime recovering from another injury when I just recovered from one? My mind was at war with itself.
'But Nick, if you quit now, you're a failure, a loser, a disappointment!', it screamed. 'Don't be a wimp', it sneered! 'What would people say?', it mocked. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go on, I'm not a quitter. I messaged the wife that I'm in pain but will keep going. She immediately called me and asked me how bad my condition was and to not push it. Go as far as I could and quit immediately if I had to. I told her I don't want to disappoint her but she replied that she wasn't disappointed and would rather I live to fight again another day.
After nearly 30 minutes of battling with my decision, I opted to go on but would called it a day if I thought it would get worse. CP3 saw me at the 52km mark and by the 54km mark, I knew that if I didn't want to be spending months on recovery, I would have to opt for a 'Did Not Finish' immediately. It pained me to admit defeat. I was devastated, honestly I was. I felt like a loser, a quitter and absolutely hopeless as I made my way back slowly to the race start location which was about a kilometer away and told the crew that I quit. When they cut my bib, it tore my heart to pieces!
I quickly made my way out of the race location cos I didn't want to be reminded of my failure. I said a silent prayer for my friends who were still running and urged them on. I knew they'd make it (and they did, superbly even) but I was unwilling to stay back and face any of them. I'd just share their joy from a distance. I was feeling so small.
I reached the hotel and my wife greeted me with a hug like I won the race itself! She told me she was proud and that I did the right thing to DNF though my mind wasn't accepting reason at that moment. I kept questioning my decision constantly while showering and stowing my gear away. Did I do the right thing? Was I a failure? Could I have done it? What would people say? Lots of questions were running through my mind. I couldn't sort them out.
I was feeling that way the whole day and even words of encouragement from my wife and friends failed to really calm my pain and disappointment. But after a good night's sleep, I woke up feeling and KNOWING that I made the right decision to DNF. Had I continued in the condition I was in, I am absolutely certain that I would have ended up throwing my future goals down the drain and I simply wasn't willing to do that.
|The support crew ...|
Looking back, I am glad that I made the decision I did. There really was nothing shameful or lowly in opting to DNF. It doesn't make me a lesser runner. It was a decision, tough as it may have been at that time, that had to be done and I would gladly make that call again if I had to. This incident has made me realize that if I fail again in the future, I just have to pick myself up, work even harder and move on!
That said, I have nothing but the utmost respect to each and everyone of you who finished the Toyo Tires Putrajaya 100 Miles, be it the 52k, 78km, 100km and 160km category. You guys are simply outstanding. And to those that didn't make it for whatever reason, a hell of a job trying!
Before I sign off, a huge congrats to Jamie, Frank, Jeanie, Lum and Cherly! Please don't blame me anymore, ya!
|Contemplating what next!|
Note: All pictures belong to the respective photographers.