Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Running Race Stats

I decided to count and take stock of all my races since I started running somewhat more 'seriously' in 2003. This list covers only completed running events over a range of distances, both local and overseas. Good to note that total #marathons < #ultras. :)

A Year of Races and Climbs

The past twelve months had been a whirlwind of races and climbs around the world, not by deliberate design, but certainly an experience that I would look back with fondness. Many of these races were new to me, and each a cherished opportunity. I had a pseudo-masochistic target of having a monthly race, travel or adventure. With my previous work, I often woke up in a different country each month. That changed when I switched job in Sep/ Oct 2014, and thought that it would be auspicious to symbolise a new chapter with a race. So I gamely signed up for the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, and the rest fell in place. The majority of these races took place over a weekend (eg. Fri – Sun) or a public holiday long weekend. Race travel was often a creative challenge of finding the right flights and logistics.

There were so many races, PBs, awards, newfound self-awareness and growth, that I could not blog timely about all of them. So here is a chronology of events since May 2014 (yes I know, that is more than 12 months back), and some top-line recollections about each of them.

·        Mt Rinjani climb (1 – 5 May 2014) - A corporate expedition with bosses and colleagues. Half the members had taken part in the Mt KK Challenge in 2013, and we had a good rapport going. It was my second visit to Mt Rinjani and around the crater lake. On hindsight, the experience definitely came in very handy at my subsequent Rinjani Ultra race in Aug 2015. 


·        Salomon MR Marathon (22 Jun 2014) – 4th position; PB 4:41h 
·        SG TNF100 (50km) (11 Oct 2014) – 5th position; 5:37h
·        Salomon LT70 (Lantau 70km) (1 Nov 2014) – 15:45h

·        HK TNF100 (100km) (12 – 14 Dec 2015) – My second time DNF. Ooops. I started too conservatively and only warmed up/ picked up pace much later in the race. I also spent an inordinate amount of time at the checkpoints, stuffing myself silly with sushi-rice dipped in salt. I paid the price subsequently by getting myself cut off at CP8 (about 80km). Haiz. 

·        Vibram HK100 (100km) (16 – 18 Jan 2015) – This was my 4th edition of the race, and I still loved it. After learning from my un-planning errors from the recent TNF HK, I was determined to keep track of my times, especially how long I spent at each aid station. Happy to finally improve on my race timings and earn the Silver finisher trophy for coming in below 20h; 19:37h.


·        BKK TNF100 (50km duo) (3- Jan – 1 Feb 2015) – First time pairing up with Kee Leng, naming ourselves Chilli Padi. It was a relatively easy terrain; apart from a short scrambling early on in the race, the rest of the distance was definitely run-able. The race flag-off was 5am in cool weather. By 9am, the sun was out in full force and I was secretly glad that I was not attempting the 100km (two loops of 50km). Kee Leng was running with another friend, Hwee Hoon, who was training for her upcoming MDS desert race. I went ahead slightly, since the race was a cumulative timing of both runners. Along the way, I passed 1 – 2 other female runners but I had no way of knowing which teams they were in. I could only do mental calculations and hoped that we were not too far off. It was quite a close fight amongst the female teams, and an anxious time at the finishing line waiting for the girls to appear. We came in 2nd position with a combined timing of 12:40h; personal time 6:00h (1st for the duo and 4th compared to solo timings), earning our team S$1,200 worth of BKK TNF vouchers. Woohoo!

·        Mt Aconcagua (6,962m) climb (7 Feb – 2 Mar 2015) – Second attempt and a lot more conditioned. Alas, still did not manage to summit this bad-weather-prone peak. We were snowed in before High Camp, and on summit day, the snow was too soft and deep for me to tackle.

 ·        TransLantau 100 (100km) (13 – 15 Mar 2015) – This was a brutal, agonising 100km, the toughest of the HK 100km series; The total elevation was about 5,200m, taking us up the major peaks on Lantau island. I was fresh off Aconcagua and well-acclimatised for climbs. Nonetheless, I was hit by the z-monster and continued my tradition of sleep-walking after 2am. Luckily I had company throughout the race, and we completed it together at 26:50h.

·        Wu-Lai (U-Lay) Marathon (42km) (3 – 5 April 2015) – My first trip to Taiwan, to race in an event organised by a Singaporean (Sam). Finally, a road marathon! It was refreshingly simple in logistics and mental expectations. The route took us through the scenic mountains/ valleys of U-Lay, a popular hot-spring area near Taipei. We followed the vehicular path that wound itself around the valleys like a spring. Got a surprise 4th position (3:58h) at the race. J After the marathon, there was an optional 7km leisure distance. It was fun trotting alongside people who were walking their dogs and having a nice outing.

·        Gede Pangrango (42km) (1 – 3 May 2015) – This was my first time taking part in a race organised by Hendra Wijaya, one of Indonesia’s top ultra-endurance athlete. His races are nothing short of no-frills-back-to-basic crazy. This was the first race at the Gede mountain, comprising impossible ascents and descents of 1,000m at one go, over insane tree roots and an ultra-technical terrain. I was the second female runner but could not meet the cut-off time of 16h. In the end, there was only one female finisher, who was from Indonesia. And all our Singaporean runners DNF-ed. Good golly, lol. But it was a valuable experience that would serve me well in my future races. 

·        AU TNF100 (100km) (15 – 17 May 2015) – Absolutely enjoyed this race, and clocked a PB (18:50h) for my trail 100km! For that, I got a bronze finisher belt buckle - what I might do with a giant metal buckle is a separate story. The run around the Blue Mountains was incredibly scenic and well-organised, with a perfect weather and runnable terrain to tantalise runners. It was also the farthest trip I managed to accomplish over a Fri – Sun weekend. I would gladly do this again.

·        Mt Kota Kinabalu climb (20 – 23 May 2015) – a corporate event that I organised; it is always good to be back in the mountains. Alas, this was also two weeks before the devastating KK earthquake, a shock to many of us.

·        Philippines TNF100 (100km) (11 – 13 Jun 2015) – 7th position womens in 27h (out of 7 female finishers and an overall race cutoff of 30h); This year’s route was Nuvali – Tagaytay – Batangas, with a total elevation 3,574m. The climbs for this race were all upfront, and there was a major checkpoint cutoff at 54km; alas the organisers had to extend that timing by an hour or many would not have cleared it (myself included). The weather was unrelenting hot, and by night time, it was a real struggle to keep awake after being baked in the sun the entire day. It was my first race where I took a 10min nap, which refreshed me tremendously. I was touched by the Filipino runners’ and local villagers’ hospitality. One guy bought a coke from a street vendor and shared it with me, as we commiserated our misery fast-tracking to clear the mid-point cutoff. This timing of 27h was also my PW. :)

·        Salomon X-Country MacRitchie Marathon (42km) (28 Jun 2015) – Four loops of MR in the usual counter-clockwise direction (which was tougher than last year). This was my playground and I really wanted to do well at this race. Unfortunately, I went out too fast initially and the hot weather caused some very serious cramps on my last loop, where I had to be supported on the walk out. Lost my lead and dropped from 5th to 6th position, finishing in 5h. A hard-earned experience on what major cramping was like.

·        Sundown Marathon (42km) (4 July 2015) – I had challenged myself to attempt a sub-4h when I signed up for the race. However, that bubble burst after the spectacular cramps and tight ankles from the MR marathon in the previous week. Ran an ok pace, completing in 4:08h.

·        SG MSIG 50 (50km) (25 July 2015) – This was a new race, organised by our local Queen of Trails, Jeri; After the MR cramping experience, I took it slowly and conservatively, finishing 6th position with 6:50h. The hot weather and the endless Green Corridor made the race ever so mental, especially the last 10km or so out to the Tg Pagar end and back to the finishing point at Portsdown. It was forever. 

·        Mt Rinjani Ultra (52km) (6 – 9 Aug 2015) – In my mind, this was the penultimate race before I left SGP. One must not be tricked by the race distance of 52km over a seemingly generous course cutoff of 22h. The total elevation for this race was about 5,200m (in comparison, that was a similar elevation for TransLantau 100k). This race had a very low finisher rate of <20 1570m="" 2="" 3-day="" 3="" a="" about="" across="" adhere="" alas="" all="" alone="" an="" and="" anxious="" apprehensive="" at="" back="" be="" beautiful="" because="" before="" being="" best="" buffer.="" certainly="" checkpoints="" climbs="" compensate="" completed="" crater="" descending="" down="" ever="" finishing="" for="" from="" guy="" had="" hiong-sua="" hits="" i="" it="" jittery="" knew="" lake="" lawangan="" learnt="" little="" lost="" m="" make="" mapped="" meaning.="" misses="" mountain.="" my="" nbsp="" new="" no="" on="" one="" only="" or="" other="" out="" outpost="" over="" p="" pace="" point.="" race.="" race="" reversing="" rim="" rims="" route="" scared.="" sembalun="" senaru="" singaporean="" some="" straight="" summit="" take="" targets="" that="" the="" them.="" there="" this="" tight="" time.="" timing="" to="" took="" trekkers="" tried="" typical="" up="" us="" various="" very="" was="" were="" who="" with="" would="">

      It rained fairly heavily just before the race, but stopped once we set off. The good weather held throughout the race, and thankfully it was not rainy or windy on the way up the summit. Although Mt Rinjani was the second highest in SE Asia (after Mt Kinabalu), it was known to be more difficult due to its scree terrain at the summit area; it was very easy to keep sliding backwards and moving forward took double the effort. I loved the climbs, but was typically much slower coming down. The race was so so so very brutal; but for once, I did not experience any stomach upsets (probably thanks to the Tailwind endurance fuel/ drink mix that I was using). The race food was typical Indonesian sweet kuehs; it looked like steamed corn/ tapioca, filled with gula Melaka – it was delicious and energising for me! The trail running scene in Indonesia was in its infancy, largely due to the effort of race director, Hendra, and many local runners still retained that ‘kampung’ spirit on the race. One guy offered to take over my trekking poles as we scrambled down a particular tricky section, and then, as innocuously as he had offered, he returned them to me with a simple “You will need these now”. And at my last 5km, another runner generously paced and encouraged me in the trails, ending his selfless deed with a “Go on, you can run all the way now (knowing that he was not able to catch my pace on the flats).” I was extremely touched. I barely scrapped past the cutoff (22h) with a finishing time of 21:52h, nail-biting to the very end. All in, extremely proud and happy to be the first SGP female finisher at this race. I even brought a little SGP flag for the summit shot, in celebration of SG50. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Vietnam Mountain Marathon (18 - 22 Sep 2014)

This is a long overdue post about my first participation at the Vietnam Mountain Marathon (VMM) (20 Sep 2014). [Facebook page] [Ahotu news report]

It was the second edition of VMM and the sign-up from mostly international runners was very encouraging. Approximately 400 runners from 40 nations came for distances ranging from 21km, 42km and 70km. There was also a charity 10km that saw international runners pitted against the locals from minority tribes living in the Sapa mountainous region.

My journey to VMM was a rather impromptu opportunistic undertaking. Browsing the internet for races in the months of Sep and Oct 2014, I chanced upon the VMM listed on UTMB's website. The race dates and its nearby location was a great draw, with the 2pts UTMB qualifying race an added bonus. Familiarity with Sapa, having just been there in Dec 2013, was another comforting factor, such that I mentally knew what to expect in terms of travel and logistics. So I wrote in to the organisers a day after the closing date and managed to secure a slot for the 70km race.

The race organisers, Topas Travel, were very professional and proficient throughout my entire trip planning. I took the travel package, which included the overnight trains to/ from Sapa, accomodation in Sapa, race registration, various ground transfers etc. That saved me a lot of hassle in sorting out the travel logistics, and all I had to do was purchase my air ticket from Singapore to Hanoi. I was also very eager to squeeze in a trek up Mt. Fansipan (3,143m) - the highest in Indo-China - having heard about it for some time. Staring at the race schedule and trip itinerary, and after much consideration, I finally decided that I could do the trek on Sunday, the day after the race, and get back in time for the overnight train out to Hanoi. [On hindsight, it was quite painful. Would not recommend this back-to-back attempt to someone less accustomed to ultra-trails and trekking. More on this later.] I was prepared to do this by myself, in case I delayed other people from their departure trains or be delayed by others. Topas Travel took in my request, made some arrangements, and even helped to keep a lookout for other runners who might be interested to join in the trek. I was extremely impressed when post-trip, Topas Travel refunded me the 'excess' payment because I ended up with two other guys on the trek! Great integrity and customer service there.

Back to VMM... so I flew in on a Thursday to Hanoi and did a short city tour with some newfound friends from the same flight - Ben, Alan and his mum. All the runners then took the overnight trains to Lao Cai, from where we were then transferred by vans to Sapa town. One can imagine the logistical nightmare of sorting out more than 400 people (runners and supporters) onto their correct trains and vans. Kudos to the organisers and volunteers! The overnight trains are fairly comfortable - 4pax to a cabin of bunk beds. I shared a cabin with 3 girls from Hongkong who were going to the race as part of their Vietnam holidays. We struck up a chatty conversation overnight. Upon arrival in Lao Cai, we drove for about an hour to Sapa town. Some runners opted to stay at the race start/ end resort - Topas Eco-lodge (another 1h drive away), and the rest stayed in tourist hotels in Sapa town. There are pros and cons for each place. Topas Eco-lodge is a very beautiful resort set in the mountains, a little self-sustaining place, power, water, food etc. (More info on accomodation and race schedule on the VMM website) For convenience, this is where the race registration and briefings are held, the start and end points. However, there are no shops or other 'town' amenities, everything is contained within the resort. For those of us staying in Sapa town, the rooms are nice and comfortable, one gets to wander around the town a little, take in some of the daily sights, get a massage etc, but suffer the pain of waking up early for the transport to race start point.

Race day morning, I woke up at around 2am to prepare and catch the shuttle bus at 3am. The buses were a tad delayed, but we still managed to be flagged off a few minutes after 4am. It was dark and drizzling as we started the race, but thankfully it was not cold. I was in a normal Nike running vest and 2XU compression tights, armed with my trusty Black Diamond poles and my new TNF running rainshell. The first km was on tarmac before we veered into the trails. VMM took us on "trails beaten by buffaloes" and it was quite literally because we ran through endless paddy fields and farms, and came up close to these strong animals themselves. The rain continued throughout the race, sometimes a sprinkling and sometimes a drizzle. Eventually I gave up putting on and taking off my shell, and just went without it, because the drizzle would start-stop within 5-10min. The result of the wet weather though was countless mud pools, clay ponds, flooded fields and some stream-crossings. The mud came in all assortment of colours - black, grey, reddish, orange. Some came all the way up our calves and knees, others soaked and re-soaked our shoes. Staying clean was never an option.

Then there was the challenge of finding the reflective ribbons and marking strips along the trail. It was fairly easy to miss a marking, given how obscure the route was and how easily the markings could fall off. The VMM trails were considered technical as they were often not run-able. Imagine those picturesque cascading paddy field-steps that we see in postcards. Now imagine 'running' on those steps. Most times we trodded along the banks of those step-fields, which were about one shoe wide, with the next level down on the one side, and a flooded pool of rice plants on the other. At some other parts, we were walking along cement drains that were not really meant as footways. One must remember that this is a part of the mountains and village life that is not typically open to foreigners, and only the local minorities live there. Yet along some paths, we were squeezing ourselves through narrow paths lined with high shrubs, that the locals use for daily commute as they went about picking firewood or bringing harvest and produce out for sale. Such conditions meant that the race markings often get torn or dropped because people and animals brushed through the narrow paths, or local children found them fascinating as head and waist bands and made games out of them. Along the way, I picked up several torn ribbons and tried to tie them back for the benefit of runners after me.

The aid stations served only plain water and bananas. I must have eaten my year's quota of bananas on this race! The stations were usually situated next to little provision shops owned by the locals, where one could purchase drinks and biscuits/ snacks and support the local community. The sign-in and clocking of times was done by runners ourselves, marking out on a laminated recording sheet based on integrity. I was starting to love the race, with an emphasis on involving and benefitting the local community, trusting runners to self-police, and generally getting an enriching race experience. Or perhaps that was just me and my mindset going into the race. Granted there might be a couple of runners who were going for speed and timing, but I think the majority was there to soak in the adventure.

The route was revised from the first VMM edition, and the organisers inserted a 'hill' climb at the last segment of race. All three categories had overlapping routes from the end, ie. the 21k runners did the same last 21km as the 42k and 70k runners; and the marathoners did the same last 42k as the ultra-runners. Even though there was the new climb, I did not find it as steep as those in HK ultras (for those of us who are familiar with HK trail terrains).

The DNF rate for the race was pretty high, where folks either gave up due to the unpleasant weather and running conditions, or got cut off at various checkpoints. The last bit was finally on tarmac, winding our way back to Topas Eco-lodge, and I finally made it back in 16h exactly. Happy with myself for persevering because it was quite daunting after endless trekking and stream crossings. After getting some dinner at the lodge and the shuttle van back to Sapa town, and washing up etc, I finally crawled into bed past midnight, mindful that I still had a Fansipan trek to attempt in a few hours. Good golly.... (to be continued)....

Friday, August 8, 2014

Elbrus, the Climb (26 Jul - 7 Aug 2014)

It was an expedition that went fortuitously well. I had awesome weather where the rain missed us on a daily basis; an experienced guide, Gennady, who set a steady deliberate pace; and wonderful team-mates who were as gregarious as they were generous.

Elbrus, the Climb

A chance encounter with the team
To climb Elbrus on a whim
The stairwells our permanent playground
Up and up, step by step, round and round

Off we trooped with big duffels
A motley crew of seven
Laughter aplenty, no ruffles
Blessed with weather from heaven

Lovely Terskol we did our drills
Hikes through valleys and the hills
Ski-lift whisked to Barrels Hut
A quaint base camp to calm our hearts

Above the clouds and powdery snow
Majestic Caucasus and starry nights
Climb high, sleep low
The West Peak always in sight

“No porridge, no summit”
Declared Maria our matronly cook
“Keep my pace, wear your mitts!”
Barked our guide Gennady with a commanding look

Six-and-a-half hours we plodded on
Mental devils we fought to con
Up the traverse, down the saddle
At last, beaming in the summit cradle

~ PS, 7 Aug 2014
(summit 2 Aug 2014)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

MR25 Salomon X-Country Marathon (22 Jun 2014)

This is my first local race in more than a year. The task at hand was to complete 4x loops at MacRitchie (42km) in the 'reverse' direction, beginning from the fitness station (instead of the canoe station). I had some nagging 'injuries' for weeks and was not sure how they would hold up. The night before, I was liberally applying all sorts of pain relief and medicated plasters and whatever-that-might-work to my toe and heel.

The race flag-off was 7am, and being so-not-a-morning-bird, I kept waking up in the middle of the night, just so to check if I had overslept! It was an extremely stale and stuffy morning evening at 530am. If that was the weather for the race, good golly, good luck to all. Alas, right on the dot at 7am, the skies opened up and it poured. Dark clouds. Buckets. Lightning. The works. A good number of runners (yours truly included) sought shelter at the visitors' centre, wondering whether the race would go on or not. I was quite prepared to go home and snuggle back under my covers. That was not to be. A couple of minutes later, we realised that runners had been flagged off (we could see the Start Line from where we were seated). Ok, here we go!

My first loop was essentially a catch up. Not knowing how many minutes we lagged behind the flag-off, I just had to keep going and try to first catch the main pack, and second figure out where I was relative to other runners. The rain was actually a bonus as it cooled the weather tremendously, mud puddles aside. Heck, it was even kinda fun stomping into the dirt and pools (decided it took too much effort to skip around them, rather futile anyway). Alber was slightly ahead and I followed his pace. I saw a couple of familiar faces and friends. Spirits were high all round, people seemed cheerful. Afterall it was the first round. [Loop 1 - 1:08h.]

The second loop is typically a runner's high for me. That is the loop where one is sufficiently warmed up but not cramped up, where strides are fluid and confident. I managed to pass a couple of female runners, but still had no sense who were ahead of me. The rain had stopped by now, and along the golf course link, I spied the sun peeking from behind the clouds. Not a good sign, the weather was going to warm up soon. Better get as much run/ speed in as possible before the heat returned. Alber slowed down after the Boardwalk section due to a knee injury and I maintained the pace and went ahead. Shortly after, I bumped into KP and we ran a short distance together. The support station after the Ranger Station/ before Northern Trail was a delight, and I was surprised that the Pocari Sweat drinks were still quite chilled. [Loop 2 - 1:06h]

By then, I figured that I had started 2min after flag-off. The giant timer clock at the Start Line reminded me so each time I passed it. Going into my third loop, I could feel my legs tightening and fatigue setting in. Obviously so since I was going faster than my normal take-it-easy pace. The reverse loop direction was easier, with more downslopes than if one were to go the other way. It was nice to 'let go' and fly down the slopes, although that could be cramp inducing too. Made a 4-min trip to the toilet at the Ranger Station, and hurried on. Towards the end of Northern Trail, I saw a lady running ahead. I closed the gap and ran behind her before passing her. As expected, she soon sped up and zoomed off. But that little spate of catching up almost had my ankles cramping up, so I decided to hold back and go at a more comfortable pace. However, I did not see her at the fourth round, so she could have been a relay runner. [Loop 3 - 1:13h]

Fourth loop. Happy to start on the fourth one. Alber was resting at the start point and decided (attempted) to pace me for another stretch. I was consciously trying to avoid speeding up and avert cramps. It was better to slow down and still run somewhat than to cramp up and walk. Alas, Alber's knee was still bad so he pulled back and I continued on with the last half loop. There was another female runner closing in, which spurred me to press on and maintain a distance between us. My right sole/ foot cramped a couple of times, but I managed to run it off repeatedly. I decided to brisk walk all the upslopes. By the last section of the Northern Trail (ending very soon!), I felt like my legs were obedient once more, and I could finish strong. So I went for it. It felt good to cross the Start/ Finish Line! [Loop 4 - 1:13h]

Total (nett time): 4:41h
Gun time: 4:43h
Placing: 4th Women's Open (for which I got a trophy, a Salomon product voucher, and 1 dozen of Pocari Sweat drinks (!!))

Happy. :)
Will be overdosed on Pocari Sweat...