Saturday, April 28, 2012

Of Exams and Runs

Two days of study/ exam leave this week, and another paper next week. But never mind, run first, think later. Or else I'd be so distracted throughout the entire day and won't be able to focus on the books!

So after Sunday's hot run, I ran another 2h on Monday. I was trying on a pair of new Salomons. Ran on the MTB trail, round the Wallace trail, then to Zhenghua and did 3x the small-ish loop, and retraced my route.

Then I fell ill on Tues, the night before my paper. I was shivering and slept early, with blind faith that I had read all that there was for the exam. Alber got me some medicine and I was in between drinking it and going to the loo.

Thankfully was all up and alert the next day for the exam. The fever and body aches had dissipated and gone! Good, focus. Finished exam, 3h, 7 questions. *whew* Ran another 2h in the evening, had to head out of the trail before sunset.

And that was it... feasted an entire table of live seafood and good cakes tonight. Goodness, too full! Would need to run tmrw and burn off some crabs and shells! Then books again. :(

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Post-Jeju Struggles-to-Run

We had such a good time feasting in Jeju and Seoul, I was most reluctant to get back into running mode. Random did a smattering of runs, short ones in the mornings, extremely lazy. And obviously not enough to burn off all the excess Korean calories that have been deposited on my butt.

Attempted the MTB trail once, but got caught in ankle-deep loose mud near Rifle Range road. My shoes sank in and nearly lost one that got stuck in the mud. Yucks. So then I switched to running on the Rifle Range tarmac. Hit the end of the road and u-turned. It was a very short route, just about 52min in the mornings.

On the first weekend post-Jeju, I ran my usual trail route to MR. Met up with W, KH and group and did three-quarters of the MR loop with them, and ran home. Was "chiu" on the way back. Age is upon me, the legs are not recovering fast enough. :(

This week was the same, a couple of random runs in the mornings and evenings. It was "study week" and there were no classes. So I could go to Safra for an evening run. Alber took me along the new Labrador boardwalk and we ran into Reflections and the newly done-up Keppel Bay area. Very scenic, it reminded me of the Vancouver waterfront.

I managed to get Alber to join me this morning for the long run. It was the same arrangement as last week, ran to MR and met up with friends for the MR loop, and ran home. It was very hot on the way back and we were melting. Alas, the run did nothing to reduce my water-retention or weight, I felt like an elephant on the run this morning. Sigh.

Back to my revisions. Studying and assignments are so detrimental to the waistline...! Too much sitting around and snacking!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jeju Ultra-marathon 2012

My friends and I signed up for the Jeju ultra-marathon, lured by the free race registration as well as 1 night of free accomodation in Jeju. The race had a road category of 50, 100, and 200km, as well as a trail of 50mi (80km). Both the 100km and 50mi had the same cut-off time of 15h. We chose the latter (but on hindsight, might have been a better choice to pick the road 100km instead). Jeju island was about 73km lengthwise, and 64km in width. We started from the northern point. The trail race route was to go south, traverse Mt Halla and a second mountain, before ending at the World Cup Stadium at its southern end. The 200km road runners were expected to run one loop around the perimeter of Jeju island (some 175km) within 34h. 

Breakfast was ready at 4am. The race organiser put us up at a hotel just across the race start point, and we were flagged off at 6am. I was not expecting to be running 20.5km on the road right from the start. Even though a Swiss runner kindly shared the race map and tips with us, I guess it did not register - a half-marathon before we hit the trail. And a 100% upslope at that. It was mind-boggling how there could be a distance that long which was only upward going. Along the way, we saw white sakura trees lining a short section of the road. Alber and I had the foresight to use the toilet at the last petrol kiosk because there was nothing but endless winding road thereafter.

The first check-point (CP) was at 10.5km. Time check: 1:36h. We were the last to arrive. It was literally a mobile CP - it was delivered by a race organiser providing race support from the trunk of his car....! There was only water, Pocari Sweat and bananas.

We literally ran from sea level (where hotel was) towards and into the mountains. Along the way, we caught up with WH, Jo, KL and Sarge. That segment took us almost 3h(!) to get to the 2nd CP at 20.5km (1:16h). We arrived at Seongpanak, a very popular tourist spot where many Koreans go to start their trek up Halla-san (Mt Halla). The race volunteer advised us to 'accelerate' as we were close to the cut-off times.

Alas, the trek was chok-full with leisure hikers, elderly aunties and uncles on a day-hike. They were all decked in fancy colourful gear, backpacks, proper shoes and trekking poles, gorgeous looking shells and apparel. Their aim, like ours, was the summit of Mt Halla at 1,950m. We tried to overtake where possible, and nimbly skipped our way up. Then I heard loud breathing close behind me, someone was not letting up on the pace. Turning around, I realised that WH had caught up with us very quickly and within a blink of an eye, far overtook us.

Our 'nimbleness' was short-lived. We soon hit snow and slush. Yes, the race director did warn about bringing cleats to attach to our running shoes (the fact that my group of four did not get that notification email while my other group of friends did was another puzzlement) but none of us had the proper equipment. I had only a pair of trekking poles with me. So we slid and skidded our way through the slush and occasional ice. It was hard work going up and trying not to slide backwards. We were also overtaken by friends from behind. All the while, there were no signages nor support points. Even if one were to give up, it was either upwards or downwards to civilisation.

With great effort, we made it to the summit. It was an exposed section and very windy. The locals were happily seated, picnic mats and all, and tucking into their bento lunch boxes and soju with great gusto. We, on the other hand, were munching on snickers bars. We took a couple of pictures, and made our way down.

The descent was even more painful because of the slippery slush. I was bad on ice and snow, and worse without proper equipment. Alber took to it like a child's play, skipping and hopping his way down, while I was frozen to the spot (pun intended). A couple of times, he had to come back up to get me down. Part of the reason was also because my Salomon shoes were worn out and had no treads on the soles. I had zero grip on the snow unless it was very rough or slushed up. Needless to say, we lost a tremendous amount of time on the descent. The snow was interspersed with wooden steps and bridges. After a while, even friends who had the cleats gave up putting them on and taking them off repeatedly.

Once we cleared the snow section, we tried to run and catch up. But there was also a limit to how fast we could run while descending on giant rocks and steps. Sarge described them as 'melon-like rocks'. One had to be careful not to mis-step and wedge the foot in between them. There was a cut-off time of 2:30pm at the next check-point and we were all rushing to meet it. I finally got there at 2:40pm, but luckily the officials did not enforce the cut-off. CP3 was about 38km, and it too me a total of 5:43h to clear the distance between CP2 and 3 (~8km)! This CP was a restaurant rest-stop and we had freshly made rice-roll each. It was a thick uncut sushi roll, but it was limited to 1 roll per runner. By then, we had gone for about 8plus hours with no proper food. We walked and ate the roll at the same time, it was such comfort food.

We managed to run a little after that, trying to make up for lost time. We had gone up, over and down one mountain, and were running on the road towards a second mountain. So it was the same story again, running from a low base upwards to the foot of the mountain. At some point, we hit the path to Eorimok trailhead. It was a ruthless 10% incline up - the road signs said so. We walked the entire 4km of 10% incline and got to CP4, the 50km point. Time check: 2:14h for the lap, and 10:40h total.

Unfortunately, the race official cut us off then as they did not want runners to be stuck in the dark on the descent of the second mountain - said to be tougher and more technical than the first. Or so I heard, the first 7km of the next mountain would be straightup stairs. The whole lot of us (6 Singaporeans) stopped at CP4 and had kimchi instant ramen while waiting for transport to get us to the finish point. I was not too hung up about being stopped because it was already a decent effort and experience just getting to that point. We found out that 2 other friends had gone on an earlier car to the end-point, leaving only Melvin and WH still running in the trail. We were somewhat worried if they might be caught ill-prepared or get lost in the dark.

The ride back to the end-point took another 25-30km. We saw a steady stream of 100km and 200km runners as we neared the Jeju World Cup Stadium (end-point). They all looked very seasoned, some even dressed simply in T-shirt and shorts/ tights, as if they were just on another daily run. The road runners apparently had better aid stations. We half-joked that we should return next year but opt for the 100km road category instead.

At the finishing tent, volunteers served hot (but tasteless) beef noodles soup, rice and kimchi. We rested a while and took the first shuttle bus back to the hotel. It took us almost an hour by bus to drive from the southern to northern end of the island. We left messages for Melvin and WH but there was no reply. Finally at 10plus pm, Melvin got back to the hotel. He was the only Singaporean to finish the race in 14:23h, within the time limit, and received a finisher medal for his effort. Meanwhile, WH was still somewhere out there. We found out the next day that he finished the trail but made wrong detours as there were no directions to the end-point. He only got back to the hotel at 1:30am! So then I was secretly glad that I was pulled out of the race.

Terrain-wise, I felt that it was tougher than HK Vibram 100k. The 15h cut-off was also very tight. In terms of organisation, there was very little race support or signages. Most participants were Koreans and obviously knew how to get around and where to run.

It was an eye-opener. I did not expect snow and ice, but it made the experience all the more exciting.Would we return in 2013? Perhaps, but perhaps not the trail category again.