TMBT 2013 — The 100 Km CHALLENGE!

Bus horns pierced the dawn in the heart of Kota Kinabalu at 5:00 am sharp, signaling the movement of a caravan of busses and vans transporting the 800+ TMBT participants to the starting point two hours away. To get from the road to the starting point, all the participants had to pass over a long swinging suspension bridge. We were limited to five people at a time on the bridge, so it took quite a while just to get everyone checked-in for the race!

Crossing the suspension bridge from the bus drop off to the Start area.  Only 5 people allowed on the bridge at a time.

Crossing the suspension bridge from the bus drop off to the Start area. Only 5 people allowed on the bridge at a time.

As expected, the 7:00 am flag off was delayed until just after 8:00 am, once the last runner finally got across the bridge and checked in. It was shaping up to be excellent weather for running, a nice partly cloudy day. Debbie Chinn, my training partner from Penang, and I steadily made our way to the front of the starting line to be ahead of the pack. Jiri Vjistein from Czech Republic, podium finisher in the first 2 TMBTs, and Jimmy Tee, last year’s winner, along with a band of other gnarly young professional looking runners were already there. Any pipe dreams of a podium finish are quickly dispelled.

Lined up at the START with my training partner, Debbie Chinn (1st place winner for women's 100 km)

Lined up at the START with my training partner, Debbie Chinn (1st place winner for women’s 100 km)

From the course description, we know we will face two to three suspension bridges and a river crossing all before the first 4.4 km water station. Our strategy is to head out fast to make it to the first bridge at the front of the pack.

When the gun goes off, there is the usual surge of runners pushing forward. Obviously, the guy with his walking sticks out blocking my way did not heed the race director’s plea to line up according to one’s projected pace and finish time. The course started out on an old tar road with some immediate small hills. Debbie and I had passed up the majority of runners by the time we arrived at the first suspension bridge at the 1.5 km mark. We only have a couple minutes delay in crossing as we wait for those before us to cross, five at a time. I can only imagine how long it took for the last runner to get across this bridge. The course was marked with dangling lengths of 1” red plastic construction ribbon tied to branches, fence posts, and what-have-you. However, when arriving at a junction in the path, the direction of the course was often not immediately clear. Sometimes we benefitted from others’ mistakes; sometimes we found ourselves on the wrong trail. Soon, we reached the first river crossing. We plunged in and made our way across.

Crossing the first river with Debbie Chinn.  All smiles at the beginning.

Crossing the first river with Debbie Chinn. All smiles at the beginning.


Strategically located event photographers snapped some great shots. Our crossing was smooth and uneventful . . . unlike that of some others!
Crossing the river is not always easy.

Crossing the river is not always easy.

Crossing the river - the hard way.

Crossing the river – the hard way.


The lead pack was well ahead of us, but between km 5 and km 10, a small group of runners were within sight of each other. I glanced down at my Garmin to see my heart rate was alarmingly around 153, well above my target aerobic heart rate of 138. The wisdom of more experienced ultra runners rang in my ears, “start slow and go slower.” Adrenalin surging, I had been caught up in the excitement of the race. I just couldn’t slow down and lose the lead I had already built up . . . So I pushed on, trying to hang with Debbie and others. (On training runs, Debbie and I were near dead even in speed and endurance levels.) Between 10-15 km, I started feeling the ghastly twinge of potential cramps coming on in my calves. I felt hot. My heart rate was still high. I quickly reassessed. Barely past 1/10th of the race distance and my legs were telling me this was not going to be the day for any records. With potential cramping coming on so early and already feeling overheated, I began to doubt if my body would cooperate for the full 100 km run. The first 25 km on the elevation chart had looked to be the easiest section of the whole run. Looks were definitely deceiving! I caught up to Debbie to let her know I was slowing down. I told her to run her own race. I was fine; I just needed to slow down (or so I hoped!).

I began to feel better, but I was still baffled. I’d run many training runs more challenging than this, but today I was feeling exhausted and depleted. Soon, we hit the hills leading up to the pineapple ridge. I was able to keep going as long as I went slower. I stopped at the top of the hill to grab some nutrition and fluid from the back of my pack. A couple of runners passed me, but few were in sight behind me. The day was turning out to be picture perfect and the scenery was indeed spectacular. I grabbed my video camera and snapped some shots.

Running in the scenic padi fields along beside the river.

Running in the scenic padi fields along beside the river.

The beauty of the TMBT route.

The beauty of the TMBT route.

Pineapple ridge, 18 km into the TMBT.

Pineapple ridge, 18 km into the TMBT.


By the 19 km point, we had started on a loop which would take us up to Miki Camp jungle trail where we would cross a couple of small streams. Not even to the 20 km point yet and this race was already a bear! The loop had a kilometer section of two-way traffic, which I only became aware of when a few of the lead runners barreled toward me on a narrow ledge. I hugged the hill and let them pass in stride.
Jimmy Tee on the return from Miki Camp trail.  2nd place finisher in 100 km.

Jimmy Tee on the return from Miki Camp trail. 2nd place finisher in 100 km.


On the Miki Camp trail I ran out of water and twice filled my water bottle in the stream, popping in an iodine tablet for purification. I could not afford to get dehydrated at this early stage. Finally, I completed the loop and hit the two-way traffic section. I made it to water station 3 at the 25 km point. On the sign in sheet, I was number 21. Debbie was 14th. I sat in a chair and began filling my water bottles and hydration bladder. Three young and seemingly fit international runners were pulling out of the race – DNF at 25 km – foot injury, stomach problems, etc. I didn’t feel great, but I was nowhere near throwing in the towel. With three DNFs, I was now 18th. I headed out for the next leg as dark clouds began to roll in. I made it down a set of rough concrete steps, just before the rain hit, and just before the steps became mossy and slippery from the rain. I would later find out that the rain was heavy across the ridge at Miki Camp and that the knee-deep streams I easily crossed had become impassable, raging torrents.
Miki Camp raging stream after a quick moving storm dumped its contents.

Miki Camp raging stream after a quick moving storm dumped its contents.


When I hit a T-junction with the blacktop road there were no markers in sight in either direction, but up to the right I saw 3 runners heading toward me. They had gone the wrong direction and were now backtracking. Thankful for their timely return, I started down to the left, and after a short while, began to see markers. The rain had now reached me and it felt good. It was cooling me down. The next few km were up hill walking, on paved and gravel roads. The path was too steep to run, but my training had prepared me well for walking up hill. It was a good place to be during the rain. As the elevation increased, I seemed to walk right into the clouds. The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle. It was becoming increasingly difficult to spot the markers.
Rain and clouds roll in as the afternoon wears on, making it hard to spot the trail markers.

Rain and clouds roll in as the afternoon wears on, making it hard to spot the trail markers.


I caught up to another runner and we chatted for a while. He was a local guy from Sabah who was keeping a pretty good pace. He was one of the three runners I had seen coming toward me. He thought he was in 7th place in the 50 km category, but before his three km detour, he had been in 4th place. After a while we noticed, we had not seen markers for a while so we backtracked, and sure enough, the trail had headed off from a hairpin turn onto a grassy jungle slope. We trudged single file, shoes sloshing through mud, while the rain continued to pelt us.

We hit the main highway where we had a three km stretch of uphill walking on the shoulder of the road. Monotony along this section led me to think about the students RIEI has assisted with scholarships: Nugroho, Ruddi, and Syaweli were the first 3 boys to study in America. Three schools in America had bought into RIEI’s vision and mission and had provided RIEI with full tuition scholarships for our chosen students. Mila, Tikka, and Hesty followed in successive years at Darlington School. Septi, orphaned by an earthquake in Sumatra, is now in her final year of midwifery school in Indonesia. Each of these students had overcome hard life circumstances to succeed and excel in school. Nugroho, with a degree in accounting, now has a job with an oil company in Indonesia. Ruddi, who graduated as an art major, is now on the creative design team of a private TV station and working on the set of the “Indonesian Dr. Oz Show.” Last month, I attended Syaweli’s graduation from the prestigious University of Indonesia with a degree in Public Health. This year, Hesty is starting in the Business & Management School of the University of Indonesia after earning one of a scant 35 spots available after the nationwide exam. Over 4,500 students applied, all hoping to attend this Business & Management School. Hesty’s achievement is impressive. The economic poverty of Hesty’s family qualified her for the highest possible government subsidy for her university education, but she would still have to come up with the $150 semester fee plus books, room & board. Enter RIEI, making Hesty’s dream of a university degree possible.

As I continued trudging uphill through the rain on the side of a highway in Borneo some 40 km into my day, I asked myself was this really that HARD? Does choosing to sign up for an ultra-trail marathon . . . training on the beautiful trails of Penang . . . decking out in full ultra gear . . . purchasing loads of Hammer nutrition . . . running in the beauty of nature really qualify as a HARD thing? How can this compare to losing one’s family in landslides triggered by a massive earthquake? How does it stack up against the bleak possibilities for a university education when your mother cooks all day to sell meals on the front porch for fifty cents each to make ends meet and your father can hardly find a job as a day laborer? How does this 100 km trail run compare to the HARD lives of some of our students? I was reminded of Syaweli’s every present warm smile and upbeat attitude. Though his house was a simple board house with no running water, he was immensely proud of his home.

Syaweli's house in a small village in West Sumatra.

Syaweli’s house in a small village in West Sumatra.


Life has not been easy for these RIEI scholarship students, but often it is those who have had to overcome adversity, that develop a sense of understanding and appreciation for the opportunities they do have. RIEI provided Syaweli with the stepping-stones necessary to achieve his highest academic potential. RIEI students broaden their views and understanding of the world and learn to make friendships across religious and ethnic lines as they attend school in the US and interact with American and international students.

At this point in the run, I started thinking this 100 km ultra-trail marathon is a CHALLENGING thing more than a HARD thing. I signed up for the CHALLENGE, I trained for the CHALLENGE and here I am almost half way through my CHALLENGE. The HARD path trudged by our RIEI students did not end at a 100 KM checkpoint. I’m starting to feel better, a bit revived.

I follow the trail through some farm areas, then a gravel road leading up to the main road, which I recognize from my previous trip to Mt. Kinabalu. The rain is easing up and the fog is lifting as I approach the home stretch to the 50 km drop bag point. As I’m heading up the final hill, a lady asks to snap my photo with Mt. Kinabalu behind me, and of course, I oblige. When she asks how to send it to me, I give her my race number, which she immediately recognizes as she turns out to be our friend, Ellen Goh, who had just talked to Cindy by phone a few minutes prior to meeting me on the trail.

Finishing the first 50 km at 5:30 pm, Mt. Kinabalu is just becoming visible after the rain.

Finishing the first 50 km at 5:30 pm, Mt. Kinabalu is just becoming visible after the rain.


I sign in at 5:26 pm, quickly find my drop bag, and head into the men’s changing tent. I’m the only one there. I down two small cans of tomato juice (high in potassium), some beef jerky, and other nutrition packs. I change into dry clothes and instantly feel better. I fish out my walking poles, which I wished I’d had for the past 25 km. I hear Debbie outside and find that she is just departing from the 50 km checkpoint, but I am nowhere near ready to leave. I need rest and food. In all, I spend just over an hour at the checkpoint. When I head out, I’m wearing my headlight and carrying an orange, some crackers and beef jerky for a progressive supper. As I start down the trail, I’m still in 21st place.

Walking along the grassy farm road, eating my supper as I go, I step into a rut hidden beneath the grass and slightly twist my left ankle. Yikes! It is not too bad, but I had better be more careful. After a few km, I meet a small tar road. A Japanese runner catches up to me, and together, we search for the correct direction. Finally, I get out my course instructions and learn that we are to turn left and go down the hill. We cross the main highway and then head up the slopes of Kinabalu on a hard surface road that soon deteriorates into a muddy, rocky roadbed, but it keeps heading up at a good slope. Walking is the only option. Soon a young British guy joins us. The three of us stay together most of the way, but I fall back toward the end before arriving at water station 8. From there, we will head out for one final 10 km trail loop through a cabbage farm, and then will arrive back at this same water station point. I feel good, so I don’t stop long, although they have chairs and hot coffee available. Just as I am about to head out on the loop, Justin, my seatmate from the bus arrives. His feet are killing him as his Salomons were not the right sole for rocky terrain and he is forced to DNF at this point. (The airline lost his luggage, which had his drop bag and his second pair of shoes in it.)

The lead female runner was back and about ready to head down. She was complaining about how poorly marked the trail was through the cabbage patch. She got lost several times, waiting 20 minutes at one point for a rescue after calling the race organizer hotline. In preparation, I pulled my phone out of my pack and carried it in a more accessible place. I texted my wife at this point, 10:15 pm, 64 km down, 36 km to go. A British runner caught up to me as I was texting and we walked together for a good distance. The cabbage farm trail was one laborious journey through deep, sticky mud, and foot high road ruts with large rocks randomly scattered throughout the roadbed. Any thought of keeping our shoes dry was quickly deemed impossible. We just had to embrace the mud and carry on. However, perhaps because we were going slower and had been forewarned, as long as we kept looking up toward the path in front of us, we were able to spot reflective markers clearly marking the way. I never got lost on this section. At 11:03 pm, I reached the highest elevation point on the course. My internal batteries were starting to wind down just as those in my Garmin were showing half power.

Garmin reading at the highest elevation point of the TMBT.  (I'm running on half battery power too!)

Garmin reading at the highest elevation point of the TMBT. (I’m running on half battery power too!)


As I slowed down to dig out some nutrition from my pack, my British companion continued on at his brisk pace. I did not try to keep up. “Run your own race” was my mantra, I just want to finish strong, and I found when I tried to keep up to someone else’s pace, it took too much out of me, though it was nice to chat with fellow participants along the way.

Back to water station 8 on the loop, now water station 9, I refilled my water bottles and hydration bladder. I sat down for a few minutes and had a cup of coffee. I still felt reasonably good, so I soon headed down the long mountain road to the final water station at the base of the hill – 13 km away. It was 1:15 am and I was now in 25th place. Thankfully, the night was clear with a few stars peeking out from behind the clouds, despite the near full moon. If it had rained during this night section, it would have made things VERY miserable. The first part of this section was two-way traffic, with the last of the runners making their way up the hill. It was energizing to be passing them, as I was able to run down part of the asphalt road where it was not too steep.

Again, I found myself alone for the bulk of this downhill slog. Overall, I’m guessing I ran 70% of the race solo. As the hours wore on, I felt myself bonking. I felt overheated, so I stopped and took off my shirt and hat. I took in more gel, electrolytes, nuts, anything I could find in my pack. I leaned on my trekking poles going downhill as my legs got more and more tired of the constant downward slog. The poles helped provide stability so I was able to avoid slipping on muddy sections. A runner scurried past me and was soon out of sight. I recall looking at my Garmin at one point and it read 80 km. Only 20 to go! A LONG while later, I looked at it again – 80.8 km. Only 19.2 to go . . . how much further to the bottom of this relentless hill?!!! Two more runners passed me.

I finally made it down to water station 10 at 5:00 am. I was hoping to take my pack off and lay on the floor for a while, but there was only a tarp tent beside the road with a little table. The attendants offered me a chair, which I gladly took while refueling and refilling water supplies. I enjoyed joking with the ladies in Malay. After finding out how long it took to get down that last section, they asked if I had stopped to sleep somewhere. My response was, “Tidur sambil jalan” (sleeping while walking). We could see for miles back up the dark hill and there was not a headlight in sight. Just 12 km more to get to the finish line.

I crossed the main highway and was able to run a bit down the isolated road, which soon turned into a gravel roadbed as it begin its assent toward the Finish Point. Midway up, dawn crept across the dark sky at 6:20 am. The climb was constant and steady, but not terribly steep, and at this point, my legs felt better going uphill than downhill. Finally, I crested the hill, and just across a valley, I could see the hotel marking the finish point. It looked quite close, but my Garmin told me I still had 5 km to go. “The road must wind around the hill at a gentle incline,” I thought. Finally, the worst is over! But no, the race director had a “nastier route” in mind. Rather than skirting around the hill, he decided to make us go over top of the hill. More steep and rugged climbs, but amazingly, I was feeling pretty good at this point and I was enjoying the crisp mountain air. As I rounded a corner just about a kilometer from the finish line, Mt. Kinabalu loomed directly in front of me – taking my breath away!

Majestic Mount Kinabalu greeted me at 8:00 am on my final kilometer of 100 km.

Majestic Mount Kinabalu greeted me at 8:00 am on my final kilometer of 100 km.


Yes, this truly was The Most Beautiful Thing. Mount Kinabalu was especially radiant at 8:00 am, 99 km into running my first ultra-trail marathon. I rounded the turn and made my way up the last 300-meter stretch to the finish line. Suddenly, I was engulfed by the sound of loud applause and cheers from onlookers as well as those who had finished the race before me. I had not expected that, but indeed it felt celebratory to be completing my first ever ultra event on the course of what can rightfully be billed as Asia’s toughest ultra-trail course.
Almost to the finish line and my batteries are red-lining!

Almost to the finish line and my batteries are red-lining!

I finished right at 24 hours; by my estimation, the 31st finisher out of 330 who started the day on the 100 km course.
Arriving at the finish line of the 100 km at 8:06 am, 24 hours on my feet and still feeling good.

Arriving at the finish line of the 100 km at 8:06 am, 24 hours on my feet and still feeling good.


This was indeed a HARD thing, but the word CHALLENGING now seems to describe it better. I completed my 100 km CHALLENGE and now I CHALLENGE you to make this truly THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING by donating $1/trail km I completed to help further the education of deserving, but impoverished students. Together, we can pave the way for these students to a future empowered by education. Take the CHALLENGE. I am glad I did.

Donations can be sent to:
RIEI
P.O. Box 1036
Rome, GA 30162
U.S.A.

Please make checks payable to RIEI (Ruble International Education Initiative). RIEI is a registered 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization. EIN #26-1525304 [RIEI has no paid staff, 100% of funds go directly to scholarship expenses.]

Or you can make a contribution via PayPal:
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TMBT 100 km Ultra-Trail Marathon Finishers medal.

TMBT 100 km Ultra-Trail Marathon Finishers medal.


Syaweli graduating in Public Health from the University of Indonesia.  Education bring smiles and a bright future!

Syaweli graduating in Public Health from the University of Indonesia. Education bring smiles and a bright future!

HARD Things

On September 14th, I am attempting a 100 km (62 mi.) ultra-trail marathon.  The event has a cut off time of 30 hours and a cumulative elevation gain of 5,200 meters (17,060 ft.) crisscrossing cabbage & pineapple farms, remote villages, mountain rivers, and then moves up into higher elevations of rugged jungle slopes and valleys at the base of majestic Mount Kinabalu in the heart of Borneo. The race is called, “The Most Beautiful Thing” and to understand why, you need to watch this promo video:

My first ultra event will be a HARD thing!  I am doing this to raise money for students who have had a HARD life, but despite life circumstances have demonstrated high academic potential.  Without help, the poverty of these students would keep them from reaching their academic potential.  Septiani is one of these students – her parents and siblings were all killed by landslides in a 7.8 earthquake in 2009.  View details on her story in this Cooperative Baptist Fellowship video:

Syaweli Saputra is another scholarship student who was given the opportunity through the Ruble International Education Initiative (RIEI) to study at Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, USA for his senior year.  When he returned to Indonesia, he scored high enough on the national university entrance exam to earn a coveted seat at the prestigious University of Indonesia.  He has just completed his course work in Public Health and graduated on August 30th. image Syaweli and his family are highlighted in the following CBF video at the midway point:

In this video, you are introduced to Jan Williams, the founder of Ruble International Education Initiative. RIEI is our partner in facilitating the education of impoverished students. RIEI is the charity for which I am raising funds on this HARD 100 km ultra-trail marathon.

JOURNEY TO RUNNING
Dec. 26, 2004 is permanently etched in my memory – that was the day of the 9.1 earthquake and massive tsunami which struck off the coast of the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. The engulfing Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 260,000 people, leveled homes, businesses and everything in its path; reaching Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. It was a very HARD day. My work as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel quickly refocused from education to the relief and recovery effort in Aceh, the province on the northern most tip of Sumatra, almost 1,000 km from our home in central Sumatra. This was challenging work, both physically and emotionally, and it took its toll on everyone who responded to the disaster. No one can walk through hell and come out unscathed.

image
In March of 2007, we were shaken out of our house by 6.1 and 6.3 magnitude earthquakes two hours apart, directly underneath our mountain town in West Sumatra. This was followed by months of aftershocks as the next 500 km section of the Sumatra fault line began to release the tension built up over the past 200 years. Geologists anticipate a 9+ earthquake off the coast of West Sumatra in the near future. After seven months of unstable ground shaking, we made the decision to relocate to Penang, Malaysia for our family’s mental and physical health. It was a HARD decision as we had lived in Bukittinggi for nine years. I regularly return to Indonesia to facilitate and monitor projects in Sumatra. Living in Malaysia has allowed us to expand the scope of our work beyond education, community development, and disaster relief. Cindy now partners with regional NGOs in Malaysia to be an active force in anti-trafficking work, to promote human rights, and to prevent the domestic and sexual abuse of women and children. It has been a good move, though it was HARD to leave our home in Indonesia.

A few months after moving to Penang in 2007, I realized I needed to get in shape, get my cholesterol down, and live a healthier lifestyle. Running was a logical choice. I had run long distance track in high school with mediocre success. I can recall my early running route in Penang – a 4 km distance. At first, I struggled to make it to the 2 km turn-around point in 14 minutes, but with continued practice, I became a stronger runner. I ran my first marathon in Singapore in 2009 and completed it in 4:02:13. Not bad, but cramping around km 35 reduced me to walking and hobbling the last stretch.

The following year I ran the Singapore marathon again, but this time my training was interrupted by disaster response work for a 7.8 earthquake off the coast of Padang, West Sumatra, near where we previously lived (See Septiani’s video story above). The cramping started earlier this year and my finish time was a disappointing 4:32:01. More marathons, more cramping, but finally I achieved a sub 4 hour marathon.

RUNNING WITH A PURPOSE
In December I registered for The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT). I signed up for what I know will be the HARDEST run/climb/walk of my life.Kinabalu - Mesilau trail-sm I immediately embarked on nine months of HARD training. In April 2013, I ran a non-competitive Langkawi Island Ocean Marathon over a quite hilly course and for the first time completed a marathon strong, with no cramping!Eddy - Island Ocean Marathon 4 hr - 2
This summer, I shifted my training from road miles to trekking up and down the jungle hills of Penang each week. Steadily, I have gotten to be a stronger and more confident trail runner. Now I love the trails far more than road runs.  They are refreshing and relaxing, near meditative. My weekly long run the past six weeks has been a 31 km (20 mi.) run/hike/run passing over the 2,500 ft. summit of Penang Hill. It takes me 5 to 6 hours to complete the route, but now I feel strong at the end. This is only 1/3 of the TMBT distance. Will my training be enough come event day? Will I be able to master the hydration and nutrition intake on my first ultra event to keep my body running for 20+ hours? Will my feet hold up, no crippling blisters? Those questions can only be answered on race day, but I am resolved to cross the finish line! An avid, but aging competitor, my goal is to be near the front of the pack. You can follow this blog for more details on my training and updates as the start date approaches on September 14th.

MY CHALLENGE TO YOU
As I do this HARD thing, would you to consider making a donation of $1 (or an amount of your choosing), to Ruble International Education Initiative for each trail kilometer I complete on The Most Beautiful Thing? Together we can enable bright students with HARD lives, who have demonstrated their ability to work HARD in school, to reach their educational potential. Education empowers! Education is the best way to empower communities to break the cycle of poverty and protect families from the financial lures of human traffickers. It is a win-win endeavor. Join me in the HARD work of empowering students through education to gain the skills needed to help their families and their communities in this developing region. I ask you to reflect and graciously consider making a donation to RIEI. Stretch yourself to empower an impoverished student and together we can transform The Most Beautiful Run into the most beautiful gift of education and a future for talented, bright, young people living HARD lives.

Should you accept this challenge, donations can be sent to:
RIEI
P.O. Box 1036
Rome, GA 30162
U.S.A.

Please make checks payable to RIEI*

Or you can make a contribution via PayPal
PayPal Donate Button

* RIEI is a registered 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization. EIN #26-1525304
For more information, please write to riei.exchange@gmail.com or call (706) 802-8307

The Gear Is Here!

This weekend I laid all my gear out to show what I’ll be wearing and carrying for the TMBT 100 km ultra-trail marathon.

Gear and fuel for the TMBT 100 km Ultra-Trail Marathon

Gear and fuel for the TMBT 100 km Ultra-Trail Marathon

My wife returned from her summer trip to America with a sizable portion of her suitcase allocated to my ultra running gear. Woohoo! After the race director’s July update, I decided I really ought to invest in a new pair of trail shoes. The worn lugs and hole in one toe of my trusty Montrail’s had me worried. My foot is wide, so it is quite a challenge to find a good fitting shoe, especially here in Malaysia. So after hours of internet research, I finally selected New Balance’s new ultra trail shoe, the Leadville 1210 in a size 10.5 4E.

New Balance Leadville 1210

New Balance Leadville 1210

They were designed for ultra running, so have good cushioning, and an expanding upper to accommodate the foot as it swells on average of 7% during a long ultra run. The tread is not quite as rugged as I would prefer for Malaysian jungle (particularly if it is wet), but it is not bad and being made by Vibram, should be long lasting. Best of all, they fit great and are supper comfortable. I’ve worn them on two 6 hour road/trail/road training outings and I couldn’t be more pleased, especially for a shoe purchased sight unseen over the internet.

The reviews on the Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Signature Series ultra running vest are numerous, so I will not go into great detail. Overall, it fits great and feels great running. No complaints on the fit or feel.

Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek hydration vest

Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek hydration vest

Back view

Back view

However, after seeing it in person, I was a disappointed by just how small the 9 liter storage capacity is, especially once you add a 1.5 liter bladder. I was also disappointed that the side pockets under the arms are really barely accessible while on the go — and I’m a pretty limber and lean 67 kg runner. It is light and airy, but I have serious doubt about how well the nice stretch mesh and even the cuben fiber will fair against the stout claw-like thorns of the rattan vines which frequently dangle over the jungle trails. Once they snag flesh or fabric, if you continue moving forward they will stubbornly dig in deeper, only releasing if you back up and delicately pull them back in the direction opposite their thorn-hooks. So far I have been able to keep it from getting snagged, but it is just a matter of time before the tropical jungle will duel with Colorado design. I also find that the cuben fiber, which Ultimate Direction markets as being “nearly waterproof,” gets soaked through with sweat in jungle treks at a much higher rate than I would imagine it does in the dry and crisp Colorado mountain air! I’m happy with the vest, it is comfortable and will be great for the TMBT, but if I had it to do over again I would purchase something a bit more durable and a bit larger. Now I wish I had gone for the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest with it’s 12 liter capacity and slight variations, making it sit lower on the back, thus the side pockets would be more practical for actual use during a run. Live and learn.

Thinking I’ll need all the help I can get by 50 km drop-bag point on the relentless 5,200 meter elevation climbs, I splurged and purchased a pair of Black Diamond Distance FL Z-Poles. These collapse into 3 short sections rather than telescoping down and they are adjustable from 120 – 140 cm. I’ve never used trekking poles before, but can see how they could be beneficial at night for greater balance and to let the arms take some of the effort in the uphill climbs. They are quite light, weighing in at only 1 lb. They fit nicely into the back-side pocket of my Ultimate Direction hydration pack.

The Injinji trail toe socks were quite comfortable in my roomy New Balance Leadville’s. I’ll definitely be wearing them on race day. Knock on wood, I have not had any problem with blisters so far, so hope these will help keep it that way for 20 hours on the trail. I really like the Gutr silicone sweatband! It keeps the sweat from pouring down my face and glasses and because it is literally a mini silicone gutter, I never have to take it off and wring it out like I needed to do with my Halo headband. The CEP UV protection arm bands are light and comfortable, but I need to test them more on a mid-day run. I’m trying to cover up as much as I can rather than depend on sunscreen. I’ve got prescription sun glasses, so I’m fine on that (the Gutr headband also keeps them tightly tucked in and sitting firmly). I already have a good medium weight rain jacket with hood, it is 400 grams.

Then there is fuel, hydration and nutrition. I’m leaning heavily on Hammer products. After the advice of an 2 time Badwater ultra finisher, I’ve tried the Anti-Fatigue caps and I’m now a true believer! The first time I used them, I ran the same 31 km, 6 hour route I did 2 weeks previously, but with the Anti-Fatigue caps I felt like after a quick breakfast I could have gone out and completed the route again. I’m also planning to use Hammer Heed for liquid refueling and electrolyte replacement, along with Perpetuem tablets for protein/calorie/fuel every hour. S-Caps for electrolyte replacement. Then of course a variety of Hammer and Gu gels. My goal for the next two weeks of training before I start my taper, is to organize my pack like I want it on race day, to be able to access things quickly and know just where they are. I’ll also concentrate on consuming 300 calories per hour to make sure I have that regiment down. One month until race day. I am feeling good about the past 9 months of training and I am looking forward to September 14th like a school boy longing for the first day of summer!

TMBT 100 km Ultra-Trail Marathon Elevation Profile

TMBT 100 km Ultra-Trail Marathon Elevation Profile

TMBT 100 km ultra training — Going Solo

The past 2 weeks have been great training. I’ve gotten in my mileage and best of all, I’ve felt great. July 7th, I ran the 2nd series of the Penang Run — a half marathon on the backside of the island. For some reason, my handheld Garmin Oregon refused to connect to the satellite, so I resolved to just run my heart rate, keeping a steady pace of about 90% max (154 bpm). Despite the long 3 km hill near the beginning, I ran well and felt good the whole race. I placed 7th in the International Men’s Open category, just missing a podium finish of 5th place by less than a minute. Considering I’m training for distance and not speed, I am quite happy with the results — finishing time 1:44:50.

This kicked off a strong training week where I got in 108 km in 8 days! The most ever for me. 18 of those were trail (hill) miles. I ended the week with 3 back-to-back runs of 16 km, 15.5 (trail), and 34 km. It was good to know I could completely recover from an all out effort in the half marathon the previous Sunday and still feel great. This week I did a 12 km run with 3 long hill sprints in the middle, then the rest of the week was mostly on trails. Patricia, a fellow TMBTer from Singapore, was in town and got connected with me through a mutual acquaintance as she wanted to take advantage of Penang’s hills to get in some trail training. She ran with me on the Bukit Jambul trails for 2 hours (8 km) on Saturday. Our highest elevation was 340 m. Patricia informed me that the highest point in Singapore is 162 meters. This morning I set out on a challenging route I did a few months ago with Debbie Chinn: 14 km road run from Tanjung Bungah (home) up to Teluk Bahang, then 6.25 up the trail at Taman Rimba until it joins up with Jeep road running along the top of Penang Hill and then another 4.7 km to get to the Cliff Cafe food court. After a heavenly “Ice Mixed Fruit” and fresh coconut, then 4 km down Penang Hill and 4 km across the ridge by trail to my house. This whole

Steep trail leading up from Taman Rimba.

Steep trail leading up from Taman Rimba.

run I tried to keep my heart-rate near my aerobic max of 138, so I train my body to burn fat for fuel. (See Phil Maffetone’s article.) This also ensures that I don’t push myself too much on the long runs which could cause undue fatigue during the run and then require longer recovery time post-run. As Debbie is off in England, and I only confirmed my planned route last night, I ran solo this morning. While I like running with others and in groups — the competitor in me wants to stay with the lead runners or keep up to someone else’s pace. Today I ran my own pace based on my heart rate. I also enjoyed the 6 hours of being alone with the road and trail.
Running Solo - peak of Taman Rimba trail.

Running Solo – peak of Taman Rimba trail.


The good news is that I did it in about the same time as I did with Debbie back in December, but I was not nearly as exhausted as I was then. It is hard to compare times exactly because at one point near the end of the hike, I discovered I was no longer wearing my hat. Dang, I must have left it on the ground at my last water break/sweat mopping stop. It has an attachable sun protector neck flap which I need for the TMBT so I had no choice but to backtrack and retrieve it. This tells me I’m improving in my conditioning. This was nearly a third of the TMBT distance and with the highest elevation point being 780 meters, it mirrors the type of terrain I can expect from 50-100 km come September 14th! My total mileage this week was only 60 km, but 21.5 km were trail miles. My running time total was 10+ hours which was almost the same amount of running time as my 87 km the previous week. Best of all, I’m feeling good, strong, and revving to go 100 km in 8 weeks.
I set off from home at 5:24 am, so it took 4.5 hrs to get to this point, then another hour home.

I set off from home at 5:24 am, so it took 4.5 hrs to get to this point, then another hour home.

The GRIND

My foot injury is healing, only a slight bother now on road LSDs and virtually undetectable while on trails. I’m reminded of the increased likelihood for repetitive motion injuries when putting in high mileage on roads where there is almost no variation – just thousands of identical foot strikes on the pavement. I like trail running better anyway. While Penang has plenty of trails, most which are easily accessible are more compatible with hiking than distance running. Occasionally there will be a 1 – 3 km stretch where one can get in a steady running pace. This is followed by either a steep uphill or downhill grade which reduces one to a brisk hiking pace. These uphill root steps are great training as well and should be quite similar to the type of terrain we can expect on the TMBT, particularly the second 50 km, so I’m not complaining. I have to remember the fact that trail miles, especially steep trails, are much slower than road miles when looking at my weekly mileage totals. When my totals are not as high as I’d like, I’m reminded that training is also measured by hours on the feet rather than just total distance covered.

I’ve recently discovered a new set of more runnable/power hiking trails where I have started taking my son to tennis lessons 3 times a week in Bukit Jambul. This gives me a great opportunity to get in a couple hour run either on the hilly roads, trails, or most often a combination of both. There is a good 300 meter elevation gain on the trails with some flat ground in between the two peaks. With just over 2 months of training time remaining, I need to put in some long weekend back-to-back runs. Today I put in a decent half marathon effort in the second series of the Penang Run, clocking in at 1:44. Not too bad considering there was a long 3 km hill near the beginning and I forgot to bring along my headlight for the dark sections along the village roads of Balik Pulau. I placed 7th in the International Men’s Open category, but well behind the 1:12 blistering pace of the Kenyan first place runner. (Yep, I better hang onto my day job.) A 30 km run tomorrow would be ideal training on these depleted legs.

Recently I’ve purchased a lot of cool new equipment for the TMBT and just about have my kit complete.
1) A Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction ultra hydration vest
2) Black Diamond Distance FL Z-Trekking Poles (I’ve never used poles before)
3) A new pair of Newton Distance running shoes (for road training only)
4) A bunch of nutrition products from Hammer Nutrition that should keep me fueled for the 100 km distance.
5) Nebo CSI Edge 35 lumen back up flashlight (single AA battery, with hat clip) for the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp I already have. (I love it and its 100 lumen is rated for 80 meter visibility, waterproof too, so meets TMBT specs.)
6) CEP Arm sleeves for sun protection.
7) Injinji trail socks
8) Halo II Headband to replace the one I’ve worn out after 4 years of constant use. This is great for keeping the sweat from dripping down on my glasses, but it does get saturated after more than an hour. So I also purchased the Gutr Headband to give it a try for heavy sweating. My sister is an avid biker and highly recommended this product.
9) I sent my Garmin Forerunner 305 back to Garmin for replacement after all the rubber buttons completely deteriorated and wore off rendering it unusable. (They still charge $79.99 for the replacement).
– I already own a pair of CW-X Ventilator Compression full length tights which I am quite pleased with. In addition to the benefits of the compression, I find much more sweat evaporates as it travels down toward my shoes, so it is much longer before my shoes become totally soaked and squishy.

Unfortunately I will not have access to these until the end of July when my wife returns from a trip to the U.S. That will truly be a Christmas in July for an enthusiastic first time ultra runner! I’m especially looking forward to the SJ Ultimate Direction vest to replace my cheap department store hydration pack. Now I should have more time for running after finalizing all these selections from hours of research on the internet, carefully seeking out the items I think will best fit my needs and then finding the most afordable price. Now it is to the GRIND of hitting the road and trails, to up my mileage from 50-60 km to 75-100 km over the final two months of training!

(I would highly recommend BackcountryEdge.com as an excellent site for outdoor equipment. They have great customer service, very helpful video demonstrations, and 1 year unconditional returns with free exchanges and free shipping in the U.S.)

TMBT 100 km ultra training – OMG!

I do most of my running in the early mornings. Its a bit cooler and the adrenaline rush after a run and 15-20 minutes of core work is a great way to start the day. Long runs during the weekend in an urban area are definitely best in the wee morning hours while most motorists are still sleeping and the blazing ball of fire in the sky is only beginning to glow. However, TMBT will be an all day and all night event and they say temps can reach 37 degrees Celsius. So Debbie Chinn and I decided we needed to get in some mid-day trail training.

The Penang State National Park on the northern tip of the island provides the perfect place for our LHD (Long Hot Distance) training. Eddy &  Debbie From the park entrance to Turtle Beach is 3.25 km across the peninsula. The trail is wide and quite runable in most parts. At the highest point, the trail rises to 150 meter elevation. There are a few ups and downs and low stairs in the steeper parts to keep the path from eroding. We set out at 10:00 am, not too hot yet, but it was a clear and sunny day, conditions were just as we had hoped. Along the one old logging chunnel where the path cuts through the hill like a mini canyon, we roused a meter long monitor lizard who had nowhere to go but up to the top of the chunnel. We gave him space and as soon as the sides widened, he skirted up and into the jungle. Too bad I didn’t think to whip out the camera on my Garmin in time to get a shot of him. Right at 30 minutes, we made it to the suspension bridge at the mesmeric lake (a unique blend of salt and fresh water) where Turtle Beach starts. Eddy - Turtle Beach Back again and a sprint along the 500 meter paved sidewalk to the park entrance and our round trip was right at 1 hour. A quick drink and bathroom break, then repeat. Second time around was again right at an hour, but the steps and hills were steeper on this second round. Two hours of hard trail running and we had covered a mere 13 km. Trail miles are definitely not the same as road miles.

To add some variety to our training, we decided to head to the old Muka Head Lighthouse on the northern most tip of the island, knowing it would give us a bit of climbing as it has an elevation of 242 m. The lighthouse is 5 km from the park entrance. The trail skirts around the coast, so it was a bit more gnarly and tangled with tree roots, boulders, and such, so was not nearly as runable. About 3.5 km along the way, we came to Monkey Beach. I was starting to feel the cumulative effects of the day. We stopped for a drink at a little food stall along the beach. No 100 Plus, so I settled for a Sprite. At this point I’ll take whatever sugary drink I can get to give me some energy for the final uphill kilometer to the lighthouse.

At the end of the beach we find the trail starting up the jungle. It doesn’t appear to gets much use. The lower portion of the concrete steps have a mossy glaze on them, so it requires a bit of attention to foot placement. Debbie, the gazelle, bounds up the stairs effortlessly while I struggle to keep up and maintain the appearance of being in condition for this. Debbie - Lighthouse trail We finally reach the top and are fortunate to find the gate open, even though not a soul is in sight. I collapse leaning on a rest hut platform and scour my bag for any nutrition. I find a tub of Perpetuem and choke down a chalky tablet, not what I want, but surely I need some protein after 4 hours of mid-day trail running. I’m regretting having left my honey/salt/magnesium fueling mixture in the refrigerator at home. Ah, a bag of Jellybeans — sugar! I suck my hydration bladder dry — dang, you never know how much you have left until that last sputter of fluid.

“Eddy, the view from up here is wonderful, you have got to come up here.” Debbie is obviously not suffering from the exhaustion I feel. She has explored the grounds and found an open door to the stairway up the lighthouse. I make my way over, remove my shoes as the sign politely requests, and navigate the small spiral staircase up the 14 meter colonial era light house. Indeed the views are spectacular and once again we are rewarded with the spectacle of God’s creation and our perseverance to get out in nature and enjoy it! Eddy - Lighthouse 2 (2)

Down the step trail we return to Monkey Beach. Mercifully, Debbie suggests we take a boat back from there rather than hiking along the tedious trail another 3.5 km. Unfortunately a tourist boat is just heading out into the bay as we arrive, but we negotiate with a local beach boy to give us a ride on a jet ski back to the park entrance. We arrive back at the car at 3:30 pm, having covered a total of just under 21 km in 5 hours and 30 minutes. OMG, what have I gotten myself into? This was a marathon effort and we have only covered 1/5th of the TMBT distance. Words of wisdom from more experienced ultra runner friends start to soak in, “Start slow and then go slower.” Lesson number two from the day – I need to train harder with more trails and hills.

TMBT 100 Ultra training — Recovery mode

By signing up for the TMBT 100 km ultra marathon, purchasing flight and hotel accommodations 9 months in advance, I solidified a goal for myself. No backing out! I am excited by the challenge and I’m looking forward to the experience. But from the testimonies of those who do such things, I’m likely to come face-to-face with some deep soul searching while ascending some unmerciful ravine slope somewhere around 1:00 or 2:00 am after having been on my feet for the past 17 hours. They say you learn things about yourself you never new existed. While I’ve run a few marathons, I don’t know much about ultra training, so I’ve tried to read up on and research as many resources as I can. I’ve joined several Facebook pages: iRunFar.com, Ultra Running, and Ultra-Running Singapore. I joined Runners Connect for weekly running tips and interesting podcast interviews. After attending Malaysia's most renowned ultra runner, Seow Kong Ng's barefoot running clinic in Penang, I've followed his ultra exploits which reads like an ultimate running world travelogue – Mt. Fuji 100, Inca Trail marathon to Machu Picchu, Chiang Mai 24 hr run, Sakura Michi International Nature Run 250 km. During last weekend's LSD I was entertained by the details of a local running friend's recounting of his previous week's 87 km adventure at Comrades in South Africa.http://francisyeng.blogspot.com/ In my mind, I’m ready to be on the starting line of Badwater, Mount Everest Marathon, or the creme-de-la-creme, Marathon de Sables – a 6 day 250 km trek across the Sahara.

Yea, I’m there, ready to burst into the ultra running world and never look back. I’ve got this! I’m going to tour the world’s most fascinating destinations via ultra and adventure running. I’ve discovered my new passion in life.

Then reality sets in. I’m 47. I have a wife, 2 kids, a dog, a day job, and limited financial resources. Unfortunately I don’t seem to be blessed with an unusually high percentage of long-fiber/slow twitch muscle tissue, so there is no chance of winning prize money or a sponsor. From what I read, ultra training is measured in years not months. Training is more than just time and miles on your feet. There is recovery, nutrition, sleep, essential vitamins and minerals needed to keep the body fit and muscles rejuvenating. Then there is the most dreaded inevitability of INJURY which can wreak havoc with training and mental preparation. Yes, this last one is what hit me recently, though only a minor inflamed tendon issue in my right forefoot, it is enough of a pain and annoyance to cut back significantly on my LSDs the past 2 weeks. I would rather rest now and let it heal than aggravate it and make a small issue into something big. So the past couple of weeks I have put in fewer hours of training and more time on recovery.

Did you know beet juice has been shown to increase endurance by 18%? How could I go wrong with the addition of a cup of this dark earthy root nectar?

Beet Juice -- even more healthy than the morning cup of Java.

Beet Juice — even more healthy than the morning cup of Java.


I have also added Chai seeds to my diet for their Omega 3 and other nutrients, as well as the hydration benefits for long runs with their gel pockets. (They are great with yogurt and fruit.) Magnesium supplements are also a necessity. Most athletes are not getting enough magnesium and it acts as the lubricant to getting all the other vitamins and nutrients to the muscles fibers and is most essential for reducing muscle cramping. Magnesium
Of course there is the obligatory whey-protein shake 15 minutes post hard workout to help muscles repair more quickly, and a good healthy meal to follow.
Spinach and green leafy vegetables are increased to add iron and natural vitamins.
I’m experimenting with a spoon of coconut oil a couple of times a day, Manuka honey, and squeezing an extra lime in my morning cup of orange juice for increased vitamin C. I’ve also started taking a Yoga class to help learn deep diaphragm breathing and to improve core strength and flexibility in addition to its meditative relaxation qualities.
I never knew Yoga could be so completely exhausting of a workout.

I never knew Yoga could be so completely exhausting of a workout.

Even if I don’t make it to the starting line of Badwater or the Mt. Everest Marathon, ultra running training is already transforming me into a more holistically healthy person. These little things will aid in recovery and keep the body at optimal performance level, but the key to success will be quality training time on the road, hills, and trails!