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. 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. 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. 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!
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.