Penang 100 km Ultra Challenge – 2014

The Penang 100 Km Ultra Challenge was the most satisfying run of my adult-onset running career. My hometown of Penang jumped into the ultra scene this year with its first ever 100 km ultramarathon. Having run “The Most Beautiful Thing” 100 km ultra trail race in Borneo last year (24’11” finishing time), I was looking forward to seeing how I would perform in a road 100k. The Penang 100 km Ultra Challenge fit the bill perfectly. It is on familiar territory. I have run the route numerous times — I know just what to expect and which curves are followed by an incline or decline. To earn the “Challenge” part of the race’s title, they threw in a trek up Penang Hill at the 83 km point. Penang Hill consists of a 5 km road snaking up from sea level to 746 meters (2,447 feet) with inclines so steep they will only allow 4 wheel drive vehicles to use the road. This would surely separate the sheep from the goats coming at the end of a long night’s run circumnavigating the island.

I have trained well over past few months, raising my game a notch. In April, I took part in the Sabah Adventure Challenge – a 3 day multi-stage endurance event with roughly a marathon distance on trail and farm roads each of the first two days, and a steep hike and orienteering running task the final day to log a total of about 100 km over a weekend. This summer, we were in North Carolina and I took advantage of the unusually cool weather to increase my mid-week runs to 15 km and weekend LSDs to 42-50 km. I hit 100 km in weekly training totals a couple of times in July. I found a 22 story office building downtown where I snuck in and ran several laps in their stairwell each week. I’ve put in satisfying training over the past few months in preparation for my Fall race calender.
– Sept. 6 – Penang 100 Km Ultra Challenge
– Oct. 19 – Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon – Summit Race (extremely tight cut-off times)
– Nov. 16 – Penang Bridge International Marathon
– Dec. 20 – Trails & Twilight 12 hour – 7k loop run (trail & road)

The Penang 100 Km Ultra Challenge start time was at 9:00 pm.  By 7:30 pm, Debbie Chinn and I arrived at the Esplanade to check-in, hand off our 50k drop bags and count down to START time for the big dance. Malaysia’s ultra running legend, Seow Kong Ng, announced the newly formed Malaysian Ultra Runners’ Association. Seow Kong has run well over 100 marathon and ultra marathon events, spanning 7 continents and including most of the toughest courses in the world, including Badwater 135 this year. He is a gentle and gracious guy in his mid-fifties who makes everyone feel right at ease talking with him. I took the pre-race opportunity to pose for a photo:

Me, Debbie, & Seow Kong

Me, Debbie, & Seow Kong

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At 9:00 PM sharp, Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, flagged the race off. No bursting out the gates like a half or full marathon, but a nice level of excitement and camaraderie in the air as 435 runners of the 100k and 84k runs made their way around the Esplanade field and Fort Cornwallis to head south toward the new 2nd Penang bridge. I fell into pace beside Seow Kong who was running at my goal pace of a 6 minute kilometer. This helped me avoid the rookie mistake of going out too fast. (He was using this as a training run for his upcoming 246 km Spartathlon in Greece in 2 weeks time.)

Starting line

Starting line

P100k - beginning

We are off.

Debbie eased on ahead of us, slowly at first, then she was out of sight by 5 km. The beginning was a rather unpleasant snarl of running and dodging Saturday night traffic along the jetty road with exhaust fumes permeating the air, but sooner than I anticipated, the route turned off on pleasant walkways – undoubtedly, a part of Greener Penang’s budding infrastucture. At about the 12 km point, a bystander called out that I was in 25th place as we rounded a corner on the walking path. I was cruising along comfortably at this pace, but my heart rate kept creeping up.

Early on

Running comfortably early on.

Through Dr. Phil Maffetone’s training books, I’ve determined my aerobic heart rate to be 138 hbm. I was now into the low 140’s — but heck, this was race day, one had to push oneself on the big event. By 16-18 km, my HR was pushing 150. When Seow Kong stopped to get gravel out of his minimalist shoes, I took a short walk break. It felt good, but then I ran again when he caught up. Within a couple more kilometers, I was not feeling so great. Had I eaten too much pre-race and digestion was sapping some of the bloodflow and causing my HR to rise? I walked again . . . and again. I found a dark corner of grass to evacuate some unneeded weight from my bowels. I thought I needed to take a gel, but at the first taste, it made me nauseous, so I held off. More walking, running, shuffling, then another bowel evacuation stop.

I felt a bit better, but was still on the verge of a bonk! How so?! This was a simple, easy LSD training distance – 20 km in 2 hours. I felt awful! How is it possible that I was running a 42 km LSD this summer in 4:25 and still felt great at the end, but here I was in the big event and was crashing out before it even got started. By the second water station at the 25 km point, I was spent and nearly three hours had past. I sat in a chair guzzling water and was finally able to get down a gel. I texted my wife, “Changed strategy from race mode to survival mode.” The next 25 km was a drudgery of running and walking. I looked forward to the 3 km long incline where I could recover by walking up. A number of runners passed me on the way up, but I think I passed everyone of them on the way down. (Rookie ultra mistake – conserve on the uphill, and run the downhill.)

I continued to take in some gels, but didn’t feel like eating anything else and otherwise my body and stomach felt fine. About 4 km out from the 50 km checkpoint and drop bag zone, a local runner named Roger caught up to me during a walk break and offered a word of encouragement, “Come on, brother, lets run this in together.” Having just taken a gel, I was ready and so kicked back into running gear. As my pace quickened, I soon found myself out on my own again.

The 50 km checkpoint, located in a school open-air cafeteria, was ideally suited for the drop bag zone. They were quick to locate and hand me my bag. I had trekking poles in my bag and had already determined I would take them out and use them to help me up the two major hill climbs in the second half — I didn’t care that Debbie thought it would be wimpy to use trekking pole in a road race – I was in survival mode! I had all kinds of food and snacks in my bag, but I was not particularly hungry and nothing looked appealing. I downed a thermos of coffee, then a can of tomato juice. They served a bowl of white rice & chicken porridge which tasted good. I downed an ice cold bottle of Revive and dunked my shirt in the ice cooler to put over my head and body to cool down as there was no ice sponge bath available. Even though we were running through the night, the heat and humidity (75%) at sea level on the equator is a significant factor with which to contend. I think the ice cold shirt did as much to revive me as anything else. I lay down briefly on the bench, raising my feet and legs in the air to drain the blood flow from my feet. Hmm . . . actually, I began to feel pretty good. I wanted to make the transition out of the 50 km checkpoint as quickly as possible, but was probably there 20 minutes or more. I quickly stuffed things back into my drop bag, grabbed another handful of gels, and decided against the trekking poles. I forgot to get my iPod out before tossing my drop bag in the back of the truck which would take the bags back to the finish line.

Immediately out of the checkpoint, the road starts up a 5 km climb over the 208 m. elevation pass toward the Teluk Bahang resevoir. I had run a 1/2 marathon and a few training runs over this very route, so I knew the terrain well. I started out walking while texting and updating Facebook and munching on pretzels. After the steepest initial part, I felt good and started to jog along the incline. It is a gentle and quite runnable incline, slow and steady. Red blinking lights and headlamps of runners sporadically dotted the road ahead and I steadily reeled them in and passed runners, maybe 8-10 before the 5th checkpoint. The 7 km downhill on the other side was equally gentle. I picked up speed, but remained conscious that downhills have a reputation for trashing the quads, and I knew I had to save my legs for the death march up Penang Hill late in the race. I cruised into CP5 feeling good. A quick refill of my hydration pack, an ice cold Revive, a little ice under my hat and I was out within five minutes.

Coming out of CP5, with Adeline and Andrew Loh (Race Director)

Coming out of CP5, with Adeline and Andrew Loh (Race Director)

Now I was on very familiar territory going into Batu Ferringgi. This is the route I have run dozens of times on weekend LSD trainings. It is a beautiful windy coastal road, but at five something in the morning it was still dark so the spectacular views of the ocean were muted. I continued to feel good as I clicked along at a 6:30 minute per kilometer pace, with a couple of brief walk breaks on the uphills. Check point 6 was just before the floating mosque and the far edge of my suburb, Tanjung Bungah. Now I was on roads I have run hundreds of times, easy and mostly flat, just 8 km to the next checkpoint. Time for a body assessment: all systems still feeling good, but definitely feeling my quads and possible cramps coming on. I needed to go slow and conserve my energy for Penang Hill. I took a gel and planned to take another at the Youth Park, just 1 km before the start of Penang Hill. At 79 km, less than a kilometer to go before CP7, I was cruising along the sidewalk in front of Miami Green Apartments, next thing I knew – Boom! I was spread eagle on the ground. I apparently caught my toe on a metal plate covering a drainage hole and it sent me sailing horizontally onto the sidewalk. I must have landed evenly across my whole body, because I barely had a scrape on each hand and no other abrasions or bruises. I popped back up and continued on — tired legs are unsteady legs.

I sat down at CP7 with another ice cold Revive and soaked my shirt in ice water. I heard a familiar voice asking one of the volunteers, “Have the 100 km runners come by here yet?” I looked up to see Patricia and Hans Combrink. They had stopped by on their morning training run to cheer me on. It was nice to see familiar faces.

Patricia and Han Combrink encouraging me on at CP7

Patricia and Hans Combrink encouraging me on at CP7

As they were heading home, they ran with me the next couple of kilometers. I passed the Youth Park, downed a GU gel which actually tasted good this time (Chocolate/Peanut Butter). Just I was starting up Penang Hill, the lead runners were arriving at the bottom of the hill, with police motorcycles escorting them. They had a good 2 hour lead on me. I buckled down and attacked the steep hill in a hunched over stance, hands on knees.  This is a technique I learned from watching Mt. Kinabalu porters fly past me during the climbathon. It seems to keep the muscle fibers in the quads from having to fully elongate compared to a standing upright position, so not as taxing on the quads.  Debbie and I have run this hill many times. I know every turn and where each steep incline is going to be. It is a tough climb up in the best of conditions (46 minutes is my record), but I had no idea how I would fare on the climb after 84 km of running. Mentally, I was looking forward to the hill climb and a chance to use different muscle groups and to see just how fit I am. (I’ve signed up for the Mt. Kinabalu Summit race next month, which will be extremely challenging to beat the summit cut-off time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.)

I felt great and had good energy. I had hardly taken in any food or nutrition besides gels for the entire run. I had Hammer Perpetuem tabs, raisins, chia seeds, ginger chews, and a Hammer nutrition bar in my pack, but none of it sounded appealing to me. I knew I needed to try to consume 250 calories per hour to try to offset the 600+ calories my body was burning each hour to avoid another bonk, but I continued to feel great and was afraid something more would throw my system off. I took a few Salt Stick capsules, but nowhere close to one per hour as recommended — the latest research is indicating the blood electrolyte levels change very little during endurance events, so even though one sweats out quite a bit of electolytes, consuming capsules is not likely to make a significant difference, though they can’t hurt. I had greatly reduced electrolyte intake during training runs and found this to be true — I felt no better or worse without them. Read this iRunFar article for yourself: http://www.irunfar.com/2013/07/cramping-my-style.html

I was able to power hike up Penang Hill at a steady fast pace, my energy level felt good. At 2.3 km up, I met Debbie coming down. I asked how she was doing. “I’m in bad shape, I can’t stop or I’ll not be able to start back” was all I got as she stiff-leggedly hobbled down past me. Her gait was showing distress, but her face still looked strong and positive. She was the lead female runner by a wide margin. I reached the top of Penang Hill in 1 hour 10 minutes only to find the race director had added a 400 meter jaunt along the ridge top road to the CP8. This provided a beautiful view of Georgetown and Penang below, but I’d seen it dozens of times, so didn’t stop to take a photo — I was back in race mode! Just before starting down the hill, they offered runners a fresh coconut, banana, chocolate, and Revive. I sucked down the coconut water quickly, forwent the other offerings and headed down. I felt great! My legs felt great, so I ran down Penang Hill about as fast as I’ve ever run it on a training run. I did turn around and take the steep inclines going backwards to ease the stress on the legs and feet, but wherever possible, I was running – small, quick baby steps, like Kilian Jornet (or so I thought in my head). Midway down I passed CP Tan, one of Malaysia’s well known barefoot ultra runners. He was wearing his Luna sandals for this 100k event. I didn’t know what place I was in, but I knew from the uphill climb there were not many runners ahead of me to catch. I hit the bottom of Penang Hill exactly 2 hours from when I started up. Just 8 km to the finish line! Could I make it in under 14 hours?

Three kilometers back to the Gurney circle roundabout and water station 9. After a quick stop in the porta-potty, I grabbed a cold Revive and was off on the final 5 km to the Esplanade. I was tired, but I felt good. I could still run, so that is what I did. I had been reading Scott Jurek’s book, “Eat & Run” where he details his ultra running career of glory and some of his insider mental conversations that pushed him to the winner’s circle, even with torn ligaments in his ankle or a broken toe. He talks about having to dig deep, embracing the pain, and pushing the body beyond what feels comfortable — there is always a hidden reserve. I was nowhere near contention for a spot on the podium, but I was feeling good and was going to give this race everything I had. Scores of 84 km runners were merely walking these last few kilometers to the finish line, but I ran them with all I had left — clocking 6+ minute kilometers which had done me in during the first 20 km, but now I felt great. I was reveling in my new found freedom as a bonified ultra runner. I had RUN this ultra for all it was worth. I may have bonked in the first quarter, but the second 50 was the most challenging and most rewarding run I have ever run – I felt great and I ran great! And my body was cooperating with the effort.

It would be tight, but there was a possibility I could come in under 14 hours and for some reason at that point in time, that seemed like a worthy goal. I went all out my last 2-3 kilometers. The Combrink family was there at the road in front of the Esplanade cheering me on, “Go, Eddy, Go! You got this!”

800 meters to go! Almost there.

800 meters to go! Almost there.

Still 800 meters to around the clock tower, past Fort Cornwallis, and run into the finish line from the ocean side. I was racing no one but myself and the clock, but I dug down and pushed out a 5:53 km for that last kilometer.

The final stretch to the finish line!

The final stretch to the finish line!

I crossed the finish line with exhillaration. I had run this thing and conquered it in 14:01:45. Best of all, I felt great at the end! I was the 11th overall finisher out of 227 who started the 100 km Ultra Challenge.

Pure exhilaration on finishing my first road 100k feeling strong!

Pure exhilaration on finishing my first road 100k feeling strong!

There are two essential components in ultra running – mindset and conditioning. With healthy doses of both, anyone can do this. My training partner, Debbie Chinn, crossed the finish line exactly one hour ahead of me, easily taking 1st place for the women and 5th overall finisher.

Penang 100km ultramarathon winners.  Munitaran Sundram 11:55:37 and Debbie Chinn 13:00:11

Penang 100km ultramarathon winners. Munitaran Sundram 11:55:37 and Debbie Chinn 13:00:11

One day I hope to be able to hang with her for an entire race. She is an inspiration to all would-be-runners. Like me, she is in her late 40’s, and she took up running the same year I did in 2008. She is a mother of 5 (one set of twins) and full-time high school English teacher, but she carves out the time to train and has progressed with dedication to become a regular podium finisher in Malaysia. They say this event will be repeated next year sometime in September, so plenty of time to train and build up conditioning for an even better run next year. I must give acknowledgements to my friend, fellow distance runner, and race director, Andrew Loh, for this well organized and well executed inaugural event which puts Penang on the ultra running map. Water stations and checkpoints were well staffed with friendly volunteers and road crossings were well patrolled by police. Drop bags were quickly retrieved. I could not have asked for any better conditions for my first 100 km road run.  Come join in September 2015!

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. It is 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. 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.