Muar Cross Country Run 2013

Have heard a fair bit about the famed food of Muar so when we had the chance, we decided to go up there. The fact that there was a trail race was a bonus. So a group of us led by the Incredibly Macho Dude and his petite little wife hopped onto the coach and off we went for a weekend of makathon! Sadly, the famed food turned out to be a big disappointment. Hopefully the race will make up for it. 
We were staying in Muar town, I think and to get to the race site where the race pack collection was held, we had to walk there. We took directions from the locals and I think, down there nobody walk or cycle and we were directed all over the places and ended up walking 2.5km in hazy and hot weather before we reached the Chung Hwa High School. There were only a few people there. The race pack collection was short and sharp. Unfortunately, the sidekick discovered that she had been wrongly placed under the Men’s category even though from whatever angle I see her, she still looks like a woman to me! Oh well. Since we were there for the run and she wasn’t podium material, we left it at that. Just run!
We woke up at 4.45am the next morning. By now, we have found a shorter route to the site, thanks to the wonder of modern technology – the GPS. So we were supposed to do a warm up run there but all of us ended up walking the 1.8km distance there through a dark neighborhood. The stillness and quiet of the morning was broken only by the occasional vehicles and the loud call to prayer from the nearby mosque.

We reached there Chung Hwa High School again. There were probably only about 1000+ participants from what we could see. There was a big group of Safra runners complete with Safra and Singapore flags as well. In fact, we met many more Singapore runners friends there including the omnipresent Mohan. I believe Singapore based runners accounted for more than 10% of the total runners and form the 2nd largest contingent after the Malaysians. 
The setup at the start line was rather basic. It was just a banner with the word Start and a safety tape as the start tape. And oh yes, there was a group of young ladies doing some sort of energetic warm up which in most events could attract a lot of attention but in the darkness, nobody could see them well and they were generally ignored with most of the people focusing on a video wall which was playing the race from last year.
We were “flagged off” at 6.30 am sharp. We ran along this seemingly never ending Jalan Junid. It was still pitch dark when we were flagged off and as we ran along the road; we passed by many nice beautiful houses. The scenery changes with the light and as it grew brighter, the houses changes to shophouses and with dawn breaking, into kampong houses and forest along the side. 

And still we ran along the road. I thought we had signed up for a trail run? So why were we, after 7km still running on the road? But finally we saw this arch and that was it! We turned into a main road but almost immediately turned into a side road and into rural Muar!

And what a transformation! All the drudgery of the road was forgotten. Now the camera remained in my hand instead of going back into the pocket and I was stopping to take more and more photographs. It was still tarred road but this was rustic Malaysia with kampungs and banana trees and cow, chickens and goats everywhere. And the scene continued to change as we wind through the villages. We soon left the road and entered into the “trails” and with that, we were simply awestruck by the beauty beyond us. 

Yes, this was what we had come for! We had started the run with an average pace of 6mins but here, we stopped so often to take pictures and admire the scenery that the pace dropped to 6.30mins and then 7 mins but who cares! There were more important thing to do – like avoiding the “land mines” that were everywhere and looking at the cute signage. At times it seems like we were running in some wildlife reserves. There were warnings of all sorts of animals at every other turn! 

Maybe there are crocodiles in the beautiful streams? But that didn’t deter the ladies from venturing closer for photos!
So far we have been running on roads and soft grounds and other than the “land mines”, it was a very flat and easy route. Then we were directed into this grass patch. The grasses were pretty long and most of us started to walk here. 
Never know when we were going to step into a “landmine” or worse a hole and bust the ankle. We made it safely through this portion and were confronted with another uneven ground which was fine until we came to this long stretch of black dry mud flat! Thank God it was hot. Looking at the ground, I can imagine how muddy this stretch was going to be if it was wet and it stretch like almost forever (actually probably 300 metres at most) but everybody was walking here.

I think the fear is that the ground underneath is soft and too heavy a footstep and the poor chap will have to find out what lies below! Fortunately for us, we got out unscathed but that walk reduced our average pace to 7.5mins. Oh well!

But from here, it was a short distance back to Jalan Junid and another 3km to the finish line. By now, the sun was out in its full glory and the haze had yet to set in so we were all slowly beginning to boil. I put aside the camera and we started running, the logic being – the faster we finish the faster we were be out of the sun and so we managed to cut back the pace to just slightly over 7 mins and cross the finish line together in 2 hours 30 mins. Not great timing but well worth it for the sights and beauty of mother nature. 
This was supposed to be a no frill run. But once the race started, there were nothing no frill abut the support. There were adequate water points with water, 100+ and even coke for the runners at roughly 3.5km apart. Every now and then the ambulance will whizz by. There were even photographers and videographers along the road. The start and finish line set up may be basic but the spread for the runners after the race was definitely not. There were plenty of food to eat from a giant coconut each to water melons, apples, bananas and all sort of kuehs and of course the famous Muar Otar!

There organizer had also thoughtfully provided each runner with a small towel to wipe ourselves. Our medal was a nice piece of fridge magnet that had our finish position on it. What a great touch!

The distance of 21km is manageable and with just a difficulty level – 1 out of 10, it was so easy to forget that we were in a race and not an exploration run. Overall, it was a great experience and if somebody can direct me to where I can find real Muar food and not in that little joke of a food street, I might come back again just to eat and run!

The North Face 100 Thailand 2013

For my first race of the year, I decided to kick it off with a slightly bigger bang than the usual road race and flew to Bangkok for the North Face 100 Thailand edition. Having heard from friends that the TNF Thailand was a fairly easy race, I decided to go for this. Of course, I wasn’t up to the task of doing the 100km or even 50km and went for a safe 25km. But then the race site was moved to the more hilly PakChong district and my heart dropped a bit. 
This being my first oversea trail race and with a dismal record in the Singapore edition, I wasn’t very optimistic on how I was going to fare. Will I withered in the heat of the Thailand sun? Will I get another sprain? Excuses excuses. Haha. But I was really not going for any PB or any glorious finish. What I wanted to do is to enjoy and savour the run.
So armed with my trusty hydration bag filled to to the brim with water, gel, first aid, phone and a camera, the sidekick and I found ourselves at the start line at 6 am on a cool dark morning. We then discovered that we were to put it mildly, very “overdressed”. The Thai runners came without any extra – no hydration bag, no fuel belt and not even any hand carried bottles. It seems like only the foreigners were prepared to the nice while the locals apparently don’t need any of these. What did they know that we didn’t?
The 25km was flagged off 5 minutes later than the schedule 6 am to as the MC announced “for safety so that it will be brighter”. Still we found ourselves running in the dark for at least the first half hour before it was bright enough for us to see clearly. And what a sight! We ran into the rising sun! It is moment like this that makes running so memorable!

But not too soon after that, the sun rise was forgotten as we set out legs to tackle the hills and there were many going up and up at least for the first 5km.

The trails were wide ranging from 1.5m to more than 2m wide and with not that many participants, it was fairly easy to run without any “human jam”. The ground for the most part were soft trail with small loose rocks and laterites. While it may be difficult for grip, it didn’t really pose any problems for those with a good pair of trail shoes. However, what we had to be mindful of was “minefields”, not the type that can main or kill but something worse; cow dungs. And they were everywhere since there were plenty of farms around the areas.

For the most part, we were running right in the open and we were thankful that the sun did not come out at all. During the 3 hours we were out there, it was cloudy throughout and the temperature was around 20 to 23 degrees. With our slow pace and the great weather, it was photo shooting time as I snapped photo after photo of the every changing landscape.

The route wind through the base of the hills and the highest we climbed was all the way up to 550metres according to my GPS. Then it was a series of up and down but nothing that was really tough or not “runnable”. In fact, I think at least for the 25km distance, it is easier than the Singapore edition.

This is the course elevation

This being the outskirts, there were relatively few villagers unlike in say Cambodia but nevertheless, what little support from the villagers and the kids were a sight for sore eyes.

We finally finished our sight seeing race in slightly over 3 hours. I dare say if not for the many stops to enjoy the view and take photos, we probably will have finished in under 3 hours. In any case, this was a PB since my last race of the same distance in Singapore was a miserable 3.30+ hours. 

While some may not agree, I think after completing this, that the Singapore edition is tougher. Firstly, the weather here is fantastic and I understand it is like this most time. Secondly, the trails are easier to run as opposed to the narrow and rocky trails in MacRitchie or Bukit Timah. While there are more uphill here, the gradient are not so steep and long to force one to have to walk up the slopes. Unfortunately, I heard they will be moving the race site again for next year otherwise I will highly recommend this race for beginners to trail races.
More photos can be found on my FB and Runningshots.

TNF 100 Singapore 2012

Jinx? Fated? 3 times bad luck? How do I ever start to describe this? How could I once again mess up a simple 25km run?

Ever since 2010 when I first did this event and although I finished it, I wasn’t satisfied with the way I ran it and vowed to do it properly. So the following year, I trained hard, even formed a team to prepare for it but at the last minute, had to sit it out with a injury that forced me to halt running for a long time. So this year, although the long runs wasn’t adequate, I felt fit and confident enough to finally be able to close this chapter of my running in good stead. Instead, just barely halfway into the race, I broke the year’s injury free record and busted my ankle on a part of the trail that I had ran countless time and eventually had to DNF!
The day had started well enough. We reached MR bright and early to secure a car lot. Walked around, meet up with friends, took some pictures before we were flagged off at 8am. The earlier start compared to past years were warmly welcomed. We could at the very least avoid the hot noon sun.

I had no fixed target initially but somehow decided that perhaps I should try to complete it in 3.30 hours. The sidekick and I, we were supposed to run together but she went ahead once we hit the trail head. I was a bit surprised she went that fast but I held back keeping to a slow 8 minutes pace. However, eventually I caught up with her along the long uphill leading to Rifle Range Road. Weather was fine and I had barely touched the water in my hydration bag. Took a sip of water at the water point outside ST Engineering before continuing along the boring road. I was feeling great though. Hit the Durian trail before exiting back to Rifle Range Road. At this place, there is a low metal gate across the entrance to Kampung Trail. Most runners walked over it. But 1 guy, he tried to be a hero and jumped over and landed with a big cramp on his leg and went down. A few of us stopped to check on him. He said he was okay but I was laughing inside. Don’t be a smart aleck and do all sort of stunts while running!
But I laughed too soon. Coming out of the Kampung trail and crossing the last of the 2 drains, I stepped on a loose board and my whole ankle went kaput! A sharp pain shot out and I went shit! I stopped to walk a bit, flex the leg a bit. Seems okay and continued. The sidekick had by then caught up with me. We walked up the small little slope to the KTM trail. This is a new part of the route from the previous edition. It was flat and straight and I managed to run all the way although there was this niggling feeling. But when exiting this trail and going towards Dairy Farm, there was this down slope and the pain shot up with every downward step. I knew this was bad and this was when I started to contemplate giving up.
I told the sidekick to go ahead and I see how. Just before the toilet at Dairy Farm carpark, a friend was taking photograph and I accepted this as a sign for me to stop. If I had continue pass this point, I could have to continue till the end because the rest of the routes does not go near any road except Rifle Range Road and that was nearer to MR by foot than by car! 
So I DNF my first race with a lot of regrets and what’s if.  What if I did not DNF and just run and walk all down slope. I am pretty sure I will still finish well within the cut of time. What if I had just got the medic to give me a spray and that together with the adrenaline from the race, should see me through? But I reasoned to myself that I have greater fish to fry in the coming year and I cannot afford to jeopardise them by taking unnecessary risks all to just complete this race especially since this was the same foot where I had my metatarsal stress fracture.
My wrapped up foot courtesy of the medic at the finish point and Brokenrunner’s wrapped up palm. She fell at the start of the race and ran with her hand like this for the entire 50km!
Reached back MR just in time to see the sidekick completing the race with a PB as compared to the past 2. For me, another TNF Singapore that went to the dogs. But still it was great while it last. We stayed behind to take some photos of the runners, give moral support to friends before the rain and hunger drove us off.
Back to the race, with a new event organiser, this year’s event went tremendously well without a hitch. Learning from the feedbacks from last year, this year there were big sign boards, distance market at every 10km. No stolen directional signs or not that I heard of anyway. Along Rifle Range road, there was proper road divider separating the runners from the cars and wide enough for 3 runners to run together. At MR, the start route was clearly blocked off to other park users. There were plenty of ushers to direct people. Weight in was orderly. Race starts on time. There were free ice cream, sandwiches, muffins, bananas, oranges, biscuits, water, isotonic drinks available. Ample supply even up to late afternoon. Certainly I will be very surprise if there are any complaints.
The first finisher, Ricky Lightfoot(?) from England, in the 100km receiving his prizes from Walter Tan, the General Manager of Outdoor Venture Pte Ltd.
Photos coming up real soon. 

The North Face 100 Challenge

I have been looking forward to this race since last year when I ran into the dreaded wall and got defeated by the trail and the heat. But as things turn out, despite putting in so much more trail runs this run, the injury put paid to all my plans. Hopefully this will be the final race that I have to sit out this year. 
A number of friends are doing this and of course, the sidekick. She jokingly said she is on a blind date since she does not know who her running partner is. TNF people managed to swap my place with somebody. As things turn out, she never even got to see her partner. 

After dropping the sidekick off at MacRitchie and after the flag off at 10am (why must it be so late?), I went over to Mandai. The original plan was to go the Dairy Farm first to catch the 100km Duo people and some of the 50km Duo. But after calculating that the majority of the 100km Duo people would have passed Dairy Farm by 10.30am, decided to go straight to Mandai. 
At the junction of Mandai Road and the road to the zoo, there was a waterpoint there. Went in with Ultrawoman Kelly who had DNF after the first round when her back of knee came back. Took some photos before being driven away by the swarm of mosquitoes. 

Crossed the road to Lorong Asrama to await the runners coming out from there. Had earlier prepared some frozen drinks and fruits for Ocean 9, the group of TNF Trail Run Leaders and friends. Of course took some photos in the process. Photos didn’t turn out too good. Must be cockeyed!
Unfortunately couldn’t wait for Alck, the only Ocean 9 members left doing the 100km solo after the sidekick called to said she was not feeling well and had to rush back to MacRitchie.  Anyway, was glad all the Ocean 9 members completed within the cutoff and got their finisher medal.
The TNF 100 Singapore Challenge has always been a tough race for the local. The terrains are not as bad as other overseas TNF edition I supposed since we do not have steep hills and rivers but the heat more than make up for it. 
As per past years, there was a nice spread of food at the end of the race; Subway sandwiches and cookies, fruits, jelly and cakes. Overall, I would give the organisation a 6 out of 10, the 4 being some feedback from friends which hopefully the next year organiser will take note:
1. The last minute change of start time from 7am to 8am was unprofessional. It affects travelling plans for the overseas participants and should never have happened.
2.  Signage were put up too early and the results were that they were either stolen, vandalised or damaged by the rain and a lot of runners went the wrong way, some running up to 2km extra
3. Insufficient water. Water ran out at several water points and even at the finish line. There were milo aplenty but not everybody can take milo throughout the race. It could have been better for them to have isotonic drinks at the water points instead of milo. Or maybe at alternative water points.
4. Start the race earlier for all categories. Our weather is simply too hot for afternoon running. Maybe the 100km Solo can start at 7pm and continue into the next day. The 100Duo and 50Duo can start 1 or even 2 hours earlier.
5. Have a baggage deposit. The lockers at MR will not be enough for all the runners.
More pictures here

Tour De Trail 2011

Haven’t meant to take photos for this race but was at MR waiting for M to finish her run and decided to kill time by taking some photos. Small race in the format of the end of year MR UltraMarathon. Each runner have to run loops of 12km. Minimum to complete and earn a finisher tee is 4 loops.

There seem to be slightly less than 100 runners. Except for brief instances when my attention was diverted by yakking with friends, I think I managed to shoot 80% of the runners. Some of them are simply outstanding and can put all of us to shame.

This man must be at least 70 years old?
The ever inspirational Mohan. He did another full marathon the next day in Malaysia!
The female Champion
The Men’s Champion

 Here are the rest of photos.

A Series of Unforeseen Events – TNF 100

A friend I talked to was in awe when she heard I was doing the TNF 100. Aiyah, I told her, only 25km lah! No big deal. Today, after completing the TNF 50km duo, I would like to change that to “Freaking 25km. Can die!”. Yes while a friend of mine is happily traversing 250km in the Sahara Desert without a complain, here I am just  doing 25km and whining like a baby!

I had trained adequately or so I thought. I done so many runs in MR that the total number of runs this year exceeds the total number of runs there over the past 5 years. I ran the Rifle Range Road, Zhenghua and even went up Bukit Timah Hill. I also went to Lor Asrama even though I knew that we the 25kmers were not running there. I thought I did enough but unfortunately, it fell short, very short.

It all started well enough though. 4 pairs of us started together. My partner was of course M. In fact, I did I was the last one to cross the start line and remained so until the ranger station. I ran at a very comfortable pace. The target was to finish in 3 hours 30 minutes which could mean a 8.25mins pace; more than sufficient time to complete or so I thought. First 5 km – 35 minutes. 10 km – 1:11. A 7 min pace. I happily told M we were way ahead of our target time and if this continues, we could possibly finish in 3 hours! But I spoke too soon. We were out of MR by then and running on this mountain bike trail which we have not done before. It was narrow and had a lot of up-slopes. Needless to say, by now we were tired and like most of the other runners, we took to walking whenever we encounter an upslope. Actually not just that, I walked at upslope, walked when the ground is too rocky and walked when the downslope is too steep. The next 5 km took us 52 minutes! That was how slow we will! So the 3 hours was not going to happen. Back to 3.30 then. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, it should still be achievable.

The Bukit Timah Quarry

I was so happy when we hit the
 by now very familiar Zhenghua pipeline reserve there. We were finally on the return loop! But out on Rifle Range Road, the first of the unforeseen circumstances struck! I suddenly felt the presence of an old foe – the dread cramp! Coming up on the right calf! I immediately switched to walking and continued this pattern – walking whenever I feel the cramp coming and so I slowly plodded on until Rifle Range Link just after the stream when finally the cramp hit hard. And so I was forced to walk from that point on until the Ranger Station when I took a chance and tried to resume running. 20km done 2 hours 53 minutes. In my current condition, 3:30 looks very remote.

5 more Km to go!

And then out on the road after the ranger station, I went dry – my water bag that is! Unused to carrying a hydration bag, I thought I still had water but there was no more! What the shit! I had passed the ranger station and there was no water point at the Island Country Road. Looks like it going to be a long long 4km! I run walked and continued with this and at one point was recovered well enough to  run at a comfortable pace. And then the last of the unforeseen event struck! Or rather the MR jinx struck! While trying to give way to a group of runners coming up behind me and avoiding a group of walkers, I somehow lost my balance and took a tumble.Immediately, both right and left calves went into full blown seizure! Apart from some surface bruising, I think I hit the hip hard cos now it hurts like hell whenever I walked!

My first souvenir from the race

But I managed to drag myself up with the help of the nice angmo hikers who even offered me their drink and trotted the final 2 km to the finish line crossing it in 3:40, 10 minutes past the target. M did slightly better – finishing ahead of me by about 6 minutes.

Sad but well, serve me right for being so contemptuous about the distance. Will I be back for next year? Will I go on to do the 100km duo? Don’t bet on it cause I think I got enough to last me a life time!