New Zealand Day 5 Tarawera Trail Marathon & 50k

After 4 days of enjoying ourself in cool NZ, we reached the purpose of our visit. The day of the Tarawera Trail Marathon & 50 K.  A few months ago, together with the rest of the group, I had signed up for the 50K. I must say quite reluctantly. I  am too lazy to train for long distance and the thoughts of running in our hot sun freaks me out. But still the thought of finally doing a decent 50K race in nice cool weather was too tempting and I followed suit. I figured this race wouldn’t be that difficult and I wasn’t too far wrong.

The race takes place in Te Puia in Rotorua. Te Puia is a geyser park and so as we waited for the flag off, we could see smoke and steam rising everywhere. I must say this has got to be the most unique race start ever. 13-DSCN6246Before the race flagged off, there was a prayer for blessing for the runners by a Maori Priest. There was also a Haka dance by the Maori.

The first part of the race took us through fairly wide open flat trails. It was an easy run and most of the experienced runners seem to take advantage of it to push fast. What’s the hurry?27-DSCN6270There is supposed to be an aid station every 7 km. Over here in Singapore we call it a drink station. But I call these aid station at this race, buffet table cos I never seen such a big spread. They have absolutely everything! From all sort of candies, chocolates, fruits, chips, bread to electrolytes, soft drinks …. Just look at the length of the table!02-DSCN6275 34-DSCN6287 I almost want to DNF here. What the point of suffering for the next 43 km when I can sit here and eat and enjoy myself!

But of course I have a mission to accomplish and have to continue. The next  7 km brought us through more of the same open trails before we hit the next buffet table. And then we have our first climb up this little hill. I think 500 m or so of trudging upward.03-DSCN6292This was the only climb that was steep enough for me to have to hold on to the trees and roots for support. After that it was all rolling hills. Round the corner we had our first glimpse of the Green Lake, one of the highlight of the race. 04-DSCN6298

And then we were out in some farmland where we had to run alongside the middle of the hill. Being a coward and scare of hurting my ankle on the grassy surface or worse rolling down, I decided to walk this stretch.05-DSCN6306it was a long walk up and down before another climb to the next aid station and then a long climb down and run over the farmland.06-DSCN6314

Out of the farmland and we begin to climb. Then the cursed problem that had been hitting me this year came back again. Out of the blue, my right calf seized up! Shit! I walked it off for a while but every time I try to run, it came back. And worse it moved up to the quads! Sigh…. there goes my race! And I still had another 30 km or so to go!

I managed to walk on and reach back the aid station at Green Lake. There I applied a little bit of muscle rub and ate a lot. The next check point was Buried Village where there was a cut off. I asked and was told I had 3 hours to cover that 7 km. I think even if I walk all the way, I will still take less than 3 hours. So it looks like I have no excuse but to continue.

There was a stretch just before Buried Village when we have to run on the road and surprisingly I could run. 08-DSCN6349I ran the entire 2 km stretch here. Oh mine, it felt good to be able to run again. The leg didn’t give any problem and when I reach Buried Village or what I call the Carnival, I knew I was home free. There was no way I was going to DNF this.

The aid station at Buried Village was unlike any I ever seen. There was nice picnic table, a long stretch of tented tables with again all sort of food and volunteers in costumes. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. And they served hot tea too! That why it is a carnival to me.09-DSCN6354After this there was a series of waterfalls. Beautiful. I think I spent at least 10 minutes there trying to coax my compact camera to come up with some nice picture.10-DSCN6368

And from one nice scenic waterfall to one nice scenic lake, Lake Tarawera for which the race and area is named after.07-DSCN6339

After walking for what seems like ages I see this:12-DSCN6398Time to celebrate? But no I have been forewarned that this is the most brutal part of the race. There is a steep uphill climb of 2 km. Sighed. And that climb seems like almost never ending. The only saving grace was that it wasn’t that steep and rather easy to walk up. No need to crawl. And what goes up must come down and finally after what seems like an eternity, downhill at last and soon the shore of the Lake and a final 50 metres run and I completed my first official 50 km trail race!

As I had expected, this is a relatively easy trail race. With the generous time given, one can simply walk the whole 50 km and still complete on time. In fact they do have a Walker category which flags off half an hour earlier. If not for my cramp which I still trying to figure out what causes it, I think a sub 9 hours is possible. As it is, even with walking almost 30 km, I took just slightly over 10 hours which considering the terrain and climb, I think is pretty decent.

There was a nice reception waiting for me back at the finish line. The rest of my group had long finished and were waiting for me. The race directors were there to personally greet each returning runners and the buffet table was still there plus coffee, hot dogs. There was even a hot spring for us to soak our tired legs in although I didn’t get to use that unfortunately.

The only bad thing was the transportation logistics at the end. The race ended on the far bank of Lake Tarawera and we have to rely on boats to bring us back to the mainland. But there were too few boats and it took too long to come. We waited for almost 2 hours for our ride and finally when it came, we were dropped off in the middle of an open ground with no bus! Cold, tired and hungry, the group of us huddled around in the open and waited for another half an hour before a bus turned up to bring us back to town. That was a big let down coming after the high of the completion. Hopefully the organiser will sort that out for the next edition. That little cockup aside, this has got to be one of the best and fun race ever (cramps aside). Nice easy route, good food, beautiful places, cool weather, what more can one ask for,

More photos of the beautiful race here on my FB page

Craze Ultra 2015 – Only a quarter Nutz

Originally I didn’t want to sign up for any local race, much less a long distance race. But the rest of the group all signed up for it as part of the training for the end of the year biggie. I entertained thoughts of just being a pacer to the sidekick but in the end decided to join in the “fun”. After all, it was just 43 km and not the really crazy 101 km or gasp…100 miles.

But of course as usual I didn’t take into account that I am totally under prepared for this. I mentioned this in my previous post that the heat will be my biggest nemesis. I conveniently forgot that I am running much less nowadays and wasn’t adequately prepared for this. The last time I ran anything beyond 30 km was in fact last September 2014 and after that it was mostly alternate weekly long run of max 20 km and with average weekly mileage of about 30 km. Hardly the type of preparation for a 43 km race.

The race started well enough. It was a bit hazy but the sun was kinder unlike the 1st Craze Fam Run and I reached CP 2 in under 3 hours which was much better than the Fam Run 1 and without walking!

U-turn back and by now Mr Sun is out and with it my energy. Halfway along Woodlands, I felt my left ankle twitched a bit. Not a good sign. I told M to go ahead while I walk it a bit. Unfortunately that did not work and the left calf seized up not long after. Worried that it will become full blown, I stopped running totally and walked and walked. Every time I try to run,  it was either cramp on left calf or cramp on right toes!$*&#(* I walked until the PCN outside the Sports School where I finally decide to take out my Salonpas spray. But that didn’t work. Signed…. So I decided I will continue walking until CP 1 which was like no more than 3 km away. Hopefully by then, it will be ok. Vincent caught up with me at the Ulu Sembawang PCN and Brokie along Mandai Ave. I watched enviously as they zoom off.

After walking for close to  8 km, I thought I try running from CP 1 to make up for the lost time. But it was not meant to be. Barely 5 steps and the right toes seized up. Shit… I dare not push it. At least I can still walk. If I push myself, I will likely end up on the floor. Trying to force the pace would inevitably result in cramps on the left calf or the right toe. So it was back to walking. 1 step at a time.  Surprisingly, despite so much walking, only 2 person, Vincent and Brokie had overtaken me.  After what seems like a long route march, I reached Sembawang Road. Now the end is in sight! One foot forward and it was Upp Thomson Rd where it was super hot and dusty with all the construction work going. Still I forced myself on refusing to stop even to take a breather. But eventually I stopped again to spray some more heat spray and then to buy a cup of sugar cane drink. Refresh and rejuvenated, I tested my foot with a short run and wham… the freaking cramp came back. Sighed…. just not my day. At the Cheers next to the former Long  House and barely 1km from finish line, I bought an ice cream.  Then I came out and walked up the kerb and the right hamstring seized up big time! I almost cry – not from the pain but from the frustration! So close so near and yet powerless to  do anything and it now looks like I will have to limp slowly back!

I dragged myself back walking gingerly so as not to tax the foot. Kelly Lim overtook me somewhere outside the Old Folks Home but eventually I hauled myself into MacRitchie Reservoir to finish the 43 km (actually my Garmin and almost everybody else Garmin show 45 Km) in 7 hours 40 minutes. Rosemary came in shortly after and asked who was that lady in red cap in front of her. Lol. That was me with my gingerly walk……:(

So I was right that the heat will get to me. The conditioning was not enough and I was not adequately prepared. I am glad though that I finished and did not took the easy way out by hopping into a cab. So now at least I am a certified quarter Nutz.

I also now I know where I stand and how much more work I got to put in to prepare for the year end race and until then, I swear this will be my last local race.

Trailblazers 100

[ADVERTORIAL]

Last year Dr Tan Poh Kiang, HCA Hospice’s Care President ran 100km in the Singapore North Face 100 to raise S$100,000.00 for the Hospice.

This year they raising the stake and looking for 100 ultra runners to join in this very worthwhile fund raising effort.

ScreenHunter_110 Apr. 06 21.34If you an ultra runner and qualifies to run in the 100km, why not sign up to help raise fund for the Hospice.  That way, you can run and do something good too.

For contact details, visit their page at https://www.hca.org.sg/hospice/events/trailblazers100.  More information about last year effort here

Fantasy Island 50

I know and I swear many times that I will no longer do any long races and yet when we decided to tag along with the Princess when she flys in Scotland to begin her studies, the first thing I did was to look for a race to run in – and not any race but an ultra. And almost as soon as I signed up, I begin to regret the decision cause I hated every second of the long runs that I have to do leading up to it. I hated having to wake up at ungodly hours, hated plugging away for 4 to 5 hours almost every weekend in the hot sun and most of all, hated that feeling when I feel so weak, tired and helpless as I attempted to shuffle my way to the end of each training run.
Yet when I finally found ourselves at the start line of the Michael Mover’s Fantasy Island 50 in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae somewhere in Scotland, there was only excitement and this expectation that I was finally going to break the duck and complete my first ultra distance run.
This was not a competitive race if it could be called that. In fact, it was more like a fun run. The format of the run was pretty straight forward. Each runner can run up to a maximum of 5 rounds round the island each round being approximately 10 miles (16 km). There was no prize for those who finish the most rounds neither was there any prizes for those who do the fastest single round or anything of that sort. In fact anybody who runs pay the same registration fee, gets the same thing, a medal, a t-shirt and lots of tlc from the organisers. The run starts at 8 am for those doing 3 rounds and more and 11 am for those who wanted only to do 2 rounds or less. The gungho 2 of us decided to try for 4 rounds ie a total of 40 miles or 64 km.
There were probably about less than 100 runners in total and when the race director started announcing which participants were doing how many rounds, the reality of what we were going to do sink in and the pressure built up especially when it turns out that we were the only 2 foreigners not from UK there and she kept referring to us as “International Runners”. So paiseh :} The run was flagged off at 8+ after a warm up.
The few fellas doing 5 rounds promptly shot off with those doing 1 round also going off at a fast pace. During training, I had planned for us to complete each round in 2 hours but the sidekick caught up in the excitement and nice cooling weather went ahead. I tagged along about 200 metres behind to look at the scenery. And there were plenty of scenery – from beaches, beautiful bay, rolling hills, farmlands, monuments to all sort of water birds and animals. But careful to pace myself, I restricted my photo taking, promising to take more photos in the later rounds when the feet gets more tired and more time will be spent walking and thus photo taking.
Weather was nice initially. Not too cold probably around 16 degree C. There were 2 water points – at 3 miles and 7 miles serving orange juice and water. Because there were so few runners, it soon became a lonely run with the ocassional vehicle and cyclist passing up and every now and then, the runners catch up, got caught up and played “musical chairs”. Still I managed to complete my first round in a pretty decent timing of 1 hour 45 minutes. The sidekick had finished her first round earlier and was waiting for me. I decided then to put on my hydration belt as I felt the water points were too far apart for me especially as the sun was coming up. Took about 10 minutes to rest before resuming. The sidekick had went off already and I could see her running with a pack of runners about 200 metres in front. When I came out from a toilet along the promenade, the whole lot of them had disappeared from sight. :{
I decided that I wasn’t going to try to catch up. Instead I adjusted my pace to about 7 mins pace and started taking photos as well.
A rare shot of the sidekick(in pick top)

Even then I managed to complete the 2nd round in less than 2 hours which means I was now ahead of my target pace by almost 20 minutes. But by now, it was getting hot – actually very hot and I was starting to feel unmotivated. The sidekick had already gone far off so far that I couldn’t see her at all. But I knew I had to finish this and come out with something. So off I went again. I soon caught up with a gentleman, Paul whom I had overtook just before finishing the 2nd round and who I noticed had continued straight on to his 3 laps without stopping.

We got to chatting. He was attempting his first 3 rounds of this event. Previous year he had completed 2 rounds and now was back for more. But like me he was tiring fast under the hot sun and soon we were walking instead of running. We chatted a lot, walked a lot and run very little. I found out he had not completed a full marathon yet and so when we hit 42km, I congratulated him on achieving his first marathon distance. We talked so much that we walked the rest of the way until we reached Millport. That was when we decided to save some face and ran the last 1 mile back.
That me with Paul
The sidekick had finished about half an hour earlier and was waiting for me. I was surprised that she had not gone on for the 4th round. She said she noticed that the organisers were packing up their stuff and she felt bad if she had to make them wait for her to finish another round. So that was it then? Well not quite. Actually during my last round, I had also decided not to go for the 4th round. It was simply too hot and nothing could be achieved by completing it. But I had 1 unfinished business.
When I crossed the half century mark 2 years ago, I had decided to do a 50 km run to commemorate the occasion but I left it too late and couldn’t find a suitable race. Last year, I signed up for the TMBT 50km race as that falls in September which was my birthday month but sadly I dnf that. So this time, I decided that even thought I couldn’t finish the 4 rounds which we had set out to do, I have to do at least 52 km to mark my 52nd birthday which was just a week ago. And so like a crazy fella, I went off for another short run and returned to clock exactly 52 km! It took me nearly 7 hours to do this but I am happy that finally I have done minimally a 50 km distance and in such a beautiful place too with wonderful support from the organisers, Maria, Angela and the many other ladies those names I failed to catch. Thank you very much especially for the delicious chocolate cake.
Here are more photos of the lovely little Isle of Cumbrae taken by the Princess who had tagged along, the sidekick and me.
Photos of the lovely coastline

Rolling hills and farmlands

Rock formation that couldn’t look out of place in Stonehenge

One of many memorials for the islanders of Cumbrae who fought for the country in the past with some dating back to the days of the Viking!

The beautiful town of Millport looking like time had stand still here

And plenty of birds and animals
All in a worthwhile experience in a beautiful place. But will I come back for this again? I said again and I will said it again, no more long races. And someone please remind me of this the next time I sign up for something crazy like this again:)

Nathan Singapore City Race 2014

Last year was the first time I took part in this race. And I enjoyed it a lot despite that being one of the longest race I did. So when this year edition came back with a new apparel sponsor, I roped together last year kakis and signed up for it. The goal was to emulate or even better last year’s feat when we covered the race in 38 km 2 km short of the actual distance of 40 km.
So on Sunday morning, together with 2 new team mates and an original member who “bandit” for the fun of it, we found ourselves at the start line at Marina Barrage. 
That us. Forest 6 + 1
The format of the race was similar to last year i.e run either as a solo participant or in a team of up to 6 members. There were 4 categories to choose from – mini, short, mid and long. Each categories has 5 checkpoints except for the long distance which has 6. Of course, we being “itchy backside” has to go for the long distance which has 6 checkpoints and a total distance of 45 km provided the runner run correctly.  For us our goal was to see whether we can take “shortcuts” and this is one race where shortcuts are allowed! In fact the more the merrier.

We started late and so consequently got the map late. They only give us the map when all the members of the team are in the start chute and so 10 minutes after everybody else in our category had gone off, we got our map and we let out a collective groan. The furthest checkpoint was Old Ford Factory way up in Upper Bukit Timah Road. And there were 2 checkpoints which was neither here nor there. For me, the ideal route would be something that can be done in a loop like last year but this year route was different. On the map although it was obviously longer, there was less trail. The dilemma was which checkpoint to go in which sequence so that we don’t run further than necessary.

The obvious choice was to go to the nearest checkpoint which happens to be Sultan Mosque and just a stone throw away. We start off at a nice easy pace down Garden by the Bay, cross the Helix Bridge, Rochor Road, Beach Road and 3 km later, we found ourselves in front of the beautiful Sultan Mosque, our first checkpoint!
Sultan Mosque. 
From here, we had a difficult choice to make. The next nearest check point was CP 6 at Shaw House in Orchard Rd. But that was going to be open only at 9 am and we were still early. If we go straight there, we will be too early. However, the other nearer checkpoint was  CP 10 at Alexandra Road. It doesn’t make sense for us to go there first and then turn back to Orchard Rd. That would be going on a mini loop – a waste of energy. The other alternative was to go to CP 10, then to CP 8, 9 before going to CP 11, the Old Ford Factory and finally coming back to CP 6. The problem with this option was that we will have to climb Pepys Hill which was not something that I want to do and then we still have to run back from Bukit Timah to Orchard in the afternoon heat. In the end after some hesitation, we decided to go ahead to Shaw House and if we are early, we could grab something to eat while waiting for the CP to open. 
We ran along North Bridge Rd, Bra Basah Rd, Orchard Rd and along the way, took a lot of photos. Still we reach Shaw House well ahead of 9 am and so we sat outside Isetan to wait.
At Shaw House with a volunteer who accompanied us all the way from Dhoby Ghaut to Shaw House
From here, after another lengthy discussion, we made the decision to go straight to CP 11. The rationale was this was the shortest route there from whichever CP and this was also the most “hot” stretch and we should get it out of the way first. So in a repeat of last year’s run, we ran from Orchard Rd to Tanglin Rd, Nassim Rd, Evans Road, Bukit Timah Rd, Jalan Anak Bukit and finally Upper Bukit Timah Road. We skipped the Green Corridor which was a good decision as there were big trees along the stretch of road outside the condominiums along Upper Bukit Timah Rd and those provided much welcomed shade from the by now blazing hot sun.
At Old Ford Factory
So far we have covered 19 km in a super slow time of over 3 hours. 3 checkpoints completed and half way done. We walked a fair bit, stopped to buy drinks, take pictures and enjoy the scenery. The return journey was a fairly straight forward route. Go back via the Green Corridor, exit Queensway – CP 10 then CP 9 then 9 and back to finish line. Should be a piece of cake. But we forgot the sun had melted the cake and there was no cake = no energy. It was a hot hot trudge down the freaking never ending former railway track with the sun blazing down mercilessly on us. Unlike last year, we met very few runners. Most of them were going towards Bukit Timah which means they have to tackle Bukit Timah Road later.  We walked a lot along this stretch. Of course, we also took a fair bit of photos:)
Doing this 10 km stretch took us 2 hours!
Finally after 2 hours of sauna, we exit the freaking railway track. Never mind that this was the only trail we were covering this year. A short run down Alexandra Road and we were at the Harley Davidson showroom, which was CP 10! Bladdy hell, the checkpoint has no isotonic drink. Only water. Thank goodness the water was cold. But the bestest was the aircondition inside the showroom.

The air con was so shiok that we spent easily half an hour there. The ladies of course were imagining that they were riding the big Harleys with some hunk whilst the guys were wishing… Oh well, never mind what we wished for! But all good things must come to an end and finally after a long long time, we finally dragged ourselves away to continue our journey. 

But we are smart people and just a stone throw away was this awesome place!

.
Hell yes, after an half hour break at Harley Davidson, and now barely 1 km later, we took another break – at the famous Alexandra Village Food Centre. We had sugar cane, soursoup, lemonade but no avocado and we were buying from the stall that made the Avocado shake famous! What goodnus!. We took another super long break here. Consequently, for the last 7 km, we took more than 1 and a half hour! Super super slow and super super slack! But what the hell, despite the heat, I think everybody was still having fun.

After we finally dragged our butt away from the stools at the food centre, we made our way to the Hort Park for what else but another 10 minutes break! This time it was a toilet break. Ha ha. The break was also to prepare us mentally for the short climb to Kent Ridge Park
“Climbing the slope of Kent Ridge”
Ok it wasn’t much of a slope or a climb but when one is hot and tired, any teeny weeny slope is a hill! But fortunately for us, because we know the area here well, we were able to go straight to CP 9 Reflections at Bukit Chandu which is a war museum by the way and not the Reflections at Keppel! I think we would have love to go inside to enjoy the air con look at the exhibits but we were kinda running out of time. So after just a water and of course photo break, we were off to the last checkpoint.
CP 8 is at Labrador Park. By now I was hoping they make things easy for us and have the checkpoint at the MRT station entrance but sianz, no such luck, it was all the way in at the seaside. And of course to make thing worse, we went to the wrong side and that cost us another 500 metres 🙁 On the way in, we had seen people making their way out so either they were going to CP 9 in which case they were going to be very late back or they didn’t know the way well. We smart guys took the scenic route via the park connector.
The view from the Labrador Park
By now it was already after 3 pm. We have been out for more than 7 hours and although we have completed all the checkpoints and were on the home stretch, it was still a long long stretch back to Marina Barrage. And this time there was no respite from the sun. We were reduced to walking almost the entire stretch of  7 km along hot noisy dusty Keppel Road and then down hot quiet Robinson Rd. And of course, the ladies must still have their photos and the air con break at MBS no less!
Outside Harbourfront Centre
And after 8 hours 40 minutes, we jogged past the finish line at Marina Barrage! One of the longest timed run and distance I ever undertaken. We didn’t managed to reduce the distance either. Our watches shows various distances ranging from 41 km (mine) to 47 km (sidekick). Brokie’s watch was 45.2 km. I think the problem was the many buildings that we went into. So I think we shall take the middle distance which is 45.2 km which means we were spot on on the route! I think a lot of people took much longer distance.
Our finishing run (picture from Finisherpix)
And despite taking 8 hours 41 minutes, we place 15 out of 33 teams. Not bad eh? Frankly, I think if we had not stopped to cool ourselves down so often, we would probably have shaved off at least 2 hours. But timing or how far we ran was never an issue here. We were not doing this to win or race against the clock. If we had pushed ourselves hard, we would not be able to enjoy the race. There will be no photos, no water break at Alexandra Village, no imaginary ride on a Harley and no fun. We were there to have fun and despite the heat, the cramp, the cursing and swearing, I think we did managed to have fun. A lot of it. Although I will think twice about signing up next year unless…..

TMBT 2013 – Plan C or Act of God?

So we found ourselves on the way to the biggest and longest race of our life. This was it. All the past few months of pounding up and down Mt Faber every Tuesday evening, the endless weekends training at Bukit Timah was climaxing here in the foothills of the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu.

I have a very simple plan to do this. Cover the first 20 km in 5 hours and the balance 30 km in the remaining 10 hours. That should be doable. By my calculation, by the time it get dark, we will be out of the jungle and on the final stretch which was supposed to be a long long climb up on Jalan Kinasaraban to the finish line at Perkasa. But like all good story, the plot changes and the unexpected set in.
We set off on our allocated bus to the start line at 5 am. The journey took a fair bit of time even in the light early morning traffic and we arrived at our destination just slightly before 7 am. One funny thing happened along the way though. For some unknown reason, just barely 500 metres from the start line, the bus stopped along the road side and soon hordes of runners went down to ‘water’ the plants although seriously I didn’t think the plants needed it.
Runners helping to water the roadside plant. (photo taken through the bus window)
The thing is barely 5 minutes later we arrived at our destination. To get to the start line, the runners have to cross a small bridge and that when the first hiccup occur. The suspension bridge can only take 5 persons at a time so with a few hundred runners pouring out of the bus, crossing the bridge was pitifully slow.
Runners queuing up to cross the bridge
By the time the last runner crossed over, it was nearly an hour later. And of course to make it worse, each runners still had to sign in. Why couldn’t they use the attendance taken on the bus as good evidence and just ensure the few who drove there on their own need to sign in? That could significantly reduce the waiting time.
Another view of the runners queuing up to go over to the start
The race was eventually start off without any fanfare at about 8. And surprisingly, everybody in the 3 categories were flagged off at one go. Which was a big surprise to most of us. Shouldn’t they separate the 3 categories into say 3 different waves of maybe 30 minutes apart? Because of this, a big problem occurred!

For the 2nd time in 3 weeks, I got caught in a freaking standstill bottle neck. Just barely 1 km into the race, I found myself behind this queue of runners trying to squeeze through a small path next to some kampung houses. We were stuck there for nearly 1 hour!

The cause of the jam? Another one of the suspension bridge which was going to feature very prominently in the early part of the race. Here, again, only 5 runners can cross at any  one time and thus the jam built up. The organiser should have anticipated this and started the runners in wave to clear this but somehow it never seem to strike them to do so!

The course overview that we were given mentioned that Stage 1 which was start to Water Station 1 was 4.4 km and time estimate for the average runners would take about 30 – 45 minutes. Big joke! 1 hour into the race, and I was still at 1.2 km waiting impatiently to cross over to start the race properly.
Finally we were over and the next nightmare begin. We had to climb a series of short uphills. The slopes were wet, muddy and slippery and progress was painfully slow. The sidekick had a problem climbing up this first slope and she was holding back the runners behind her.
That the sidekick in blue with a tail of runners behind her

Eventually, a local guy who I presumed was helping out as a marshal had to push her up all the way to the top. That slope got her rattled fairly badly. At this point, we took out our hiking pole but that didn’t really help much as we soon found ourselves sliding and falling down as we went downward on muddy terrain.

And generally that was the sort of terrain that we had to go through in this first stage. Crawl up the hills and slide down the hills that inevitably will follow. The ground was so bad that my poor Altra Lone Peak couldn’t find any grip at all and I fell left right centre and had the ignominy of having had to have someone else pull me up when I fell into a downward recess! But at least I could continue. Up on one of the slope, we came across our Singapore Blade Runner lying on the ground. Apparently, he had fallen and injured his knee and there was no way he could continue. After getting the assurances that help was on the way for him, we proceeded on.
And so we came to the highlight of this stage, another river crossing but this time we had to wade over a river. There was a rope to hold on to but it didn’t help much as some runners slipped on the wet bottom and some shorter ladies like the sidekick had the water all the way up to waist height.
The sidekick making her plunge into the river
Eventually after 1 hour 58 minutes we reach Water Station 1, almost 1 hour 15 minutes behind the average timing (at least according to the course guide). All in, not too bad considering that we were held up almost an hour at the first suspension bridge! At the Water Station 1, we asked about the cut off and a lady volunteer informed us that due to the bottleneck, the cut off was being extended by an hour. That was good news for us and so we proceeded on.
Water Station 1 to Water Station 2 is 10.5 km in distance. The cut off to reach WS 2 was 5 hours. I reckoned with the extension of 1 hour, we should be able to make it on time. What I didn’t reckoned was more slippery slopes and this time on ridges. That terrifies the hell out of both of us and we proceeded very slowly and cautiously. We were constantly being overtaken by other runners but we never overtook anybody. That was how slow we were.

The sidekick going down slopes after slopes.
But this was also the scene of many spectacular views – of rivers, padi fields and the surrounding mountains.

But out in the open, the sun was blazing down and it was hot hot hot and everybody was walking. We also walked. There were more suspension bridges to cross, streams to wade through, muddy hills to ascend and descend and our shoes went from wet to dry, clean to dirty and back again to dry to wet, dirty to clean!

The final long trek up to WS 2

We reached Water Station 2 in 5 hours 05 minutes. With the 1 hour extension of the cut off, we made it or so I thought. But the volunteer here said – no extension or at least not that he was aware of! WTF! He warned that those who choose to continue may end up disqualify and do so at their own risk. We were highly perturbed! That changed my plan totally. Without the extension, we have only 10 hours to complete 35 km, a tall task considering that it was not likely that we can increase our pace. 

So we sat there to rest and discuss our options. There was Plan B. We could execute that. Plan B which was something that was always been on my mind since we started was to divert to the 25 km if we find that we couldn’t cope with the demand of the 50 km. But I didn’t really want to do that since we had signed up for the 50 km and not 25 km. And it was too early to think of Plan B. Then I studied the course guide again. If we continue, there was a very strong likelihood that we could still be in the jungle when night falls. And I didn’t relish the thought of that. And especially after finding out from the volunteer that the area around Miki Camp where Water Station 3 and Checkpoint 2 were located have very tough jungle terrain. And so we sat there trying to figure out only next move while watching more people stream in and then move off. I was very reluctant to go ahead if it means I have to negotiate down slopes on ridges in the night. So was it Plan B then?
Then I saw something in the horizon.
Storm clouds. That change the game plan totally. If the rain comes and we are in the forest, it was going to be hell! And the already difficult task to complete the 50 km could become impossible. I knew we were not going to continue if it rain. I have always been bad at going down hill. Already without the rain, going down the wet and muddy hills was a torture. With the rain, there was the real possibility that I might just slide all the down to the river from the top of the ridge.

And then the rain came.Although it was still bright, visibility was practically reduced to 1 metre. Later on we found out that the TMBT organiser described the rain as the worst in recent years. That was how heavy the downpour was!

And with that, this was it. We surrender. Gave up. Kaput. We sat there to wait out the rain and the vehicle to bring us back to the finish line. We chatted with the other runners who had also dnf and the volunteers and we were convinced that we had made the right decision to dnf. One of the runner who did 50 km last year and was doing 100 km this year said this year route was so much more tougher. A few of us including the volunteers started talking about the route. A volunteer claimed that it was even tougher up in Miki Camp and he pity those who are inside there and caught in the rain. Another volunteer said the race was suspended and all runners had to stay at the nearest Check Points or water station until further instructions. Later on we found out that was not the case.

The bus eventually came for us almost 2 hours later while it was still pouring. Along the way, we passed one of the river that we had passed earlier and was shocked to see that it had became a raging rapid. And that further convinced us that we had made the right decision to dnf.

But still there are regrets. That we have not been able to complete what we set out to do. That we were not mentally strong enough to take the challenge. And there are the .. what if.. what if we had not been caught in the 1 hour bottleneck. Could things have been different? What if both of us have not run together? Could one of us have at least finish the course instead of us pulling both of us down together?

But in a way too I have no regrets. I knew the Sidekick will freak out if she has to trample through the jungle in the darkness. And I will be terrified as hell of falling off one of the ridges into the raging river. Maybe we are mentally weak. Too weak but at least we stay to fight another day. On hindsight, we probably choose the wrong race to do our maiden ultra-trail. This TMBT is not a race for newbies. But overall, I think I walked away from it wiser and did enjoy the experience despite the torturous time in the jungle. But I don’t think I will be back. But then again, who knows what going to happen next year, right?

More photos here