Race Report: Twilight Ultra Challenge
While last weekend’s TUC, my 15th marathon, reaffirms my believe that ultra runners are one of the nicest folks (the camaraderie enjoyed between this set of runners are “mo tak teng” (unrivalled) on the planet, it also taught me several things.
- One need not log insanely huge mileage to survive an ultra. Weekly totals of 70K should be sufficient. But, and a large caveat at that, expect a painful and tough going experience. Which leads to the next point.
- An ultra is all about enduring. However your techniques, training, strategies are, you’ve to accept that pain is the common denominator. Whether you disassociate or the type to meditate on the painful sensation coursing through your feet and legs, an ultra runner needs to be able to get along with pain. I wouldn’t say that you need to be a masochist or pain junkie but you need to be comfortable in dealing with it.
- I realize that I need to accept the fact that until I embrace fact No. 2 above, I’ll probably won’t be able to hit the 50-mile (80K) mark, the accepted minimal distance in the ultra circle. During the course of the run, I went through everything in the ultra textbook, from boredom, elation, deep focus, despair (when I realized that I’m still not up to the mark) to the hills and valleys of emotions. Never have I been on an emotional rollercoaster ride such as this since last year’s North Face.
- The breaks should be kept in check. Ideally kept to 10 minutes, I observed that what separated the performers from the the non-performers were the amount of time spent sitting down. We’re of course allowed to rest but the key is to minimize the downtime and keep moving however slow that may be.
- “Fast” and “Ultrarunning” do mix. There are indeed many ultrarunners that night who were literally hammering the loops. I’m until now, amazed as I recollect the sight of these machines at work.
- One can’t be too gung-ho when tackling an ultra. I overestimated myself by doing a commando on this event. There wasn’t much allowance in terms of rest and pre-race preparedness. Arriving a day before would be ideal.
When it comes down to it I have to concede that for the lack of running the last 2 weeks, the below par (nutritionally speaking) lunch and “Walk-of-the-Lost” to Marina Square from Raffles MRT station, and the caution of avoiding injury in view of commencement of Gold Coast Marathon training, the reality is I wasn’t strong enough mentally to tackle the ultra beast. It was the same situation as I faced for my first few marathons. But unlike the marathon, where technical mistakes can be rectified quite easily, my shortcoming for the ultra is more intrinsic. It’s about my mental preparedness.
The start of the event was rather frantic for me having got to the race site with hardly 20 minutes left to the 5pm start. Luckily I’d changed into my running tights beforehand and could do away with public stripping. Only the provision of my urine sample for a sports study detoured me to the loo nearby. Thanks to Mohan, my luggage were stowed away and I deposited my special needs shoebag with the volunteers. There wasn’t a need for special bottles for me as I was carrying my UD10 bottle. In my haste, I only managed to stash a bag of Powergel chews, my iPod shuffle, a Clif Bar and the Lumix in my pouch. The race site was well laid out and the 200 plus crowd were fantastic. Spirits were high and things were really lighthearted.
I stuck to my plan of walking 2.5K for every 10K covered for 20K. I ditched any attempts to keep stock of timing after that and went by feeling. The weather has been cooperative even though it was predictably humid, overcast and breezy. The large crowd of kids, adults (in bikinis and most are with more coverage ), dogs, bikers, skateboarders, and campers at the beach-fronting park contributed to the runners’ hectic weaving in and out. Other that the crowd issue and the concrete surface, it was a nice place to run.
The volunteers were fantastic. I was informed that many of them are secondary schoolers who get to earn volunteer-credits for their contribution, an excellent initiative by the Singapore schools. As the runners’ names are printed quite large on the bib, my name was cheered as much as when I was running the NYC marathon! That and the statements made on my BV tights! The boys and girls who made up the course volunteers were just awesome throughout the night, especially the groups near the restaurants and skating rink.
We were served some pretty good stuff throughout the night. Free flow of the pleasant tasting HEED electrolyte drink from Hammer meant that I needn’t consume my own electrolyte tabs. There were plenty of bananas too, while some super supportive folks brought chocs, sandwich and many other foodstuff to help runners maintain their carb intake. David Ong aka Happyfeet (thanks bro!) even distributed ultra refreshing “ho liao” (tasty) red bean ice lollies to many of us! But after several bouts of personal battle with feet pain, I limped to the nearby Burger King with Lynette (thanks Lynette for your stupendous support, care and treat!) and Frank to load up with the real stuff. I knew I had to eat even though the beef patty tasted like sand. I’m sure it wasn’t but my tastebuds were screwed then.
But the beef and mushroom burger washed down with Coke did the trick as I sought to progress from the meager 35K logged. At that juncture, there was a need for me to further breakdown the chunks from 5K to 2.5K, with the westward leg the toughest and loneliest. I rationalized that my running leg has to be brisk and quick so that I didn’t prolong the pain, so I made sure that for every 2.5K walk I did, I scooted the next. The same BK and a can of Naughty G ensured that I had my best running stretch in the late stages of my run. I passed more runners at that later stage than when the race started.
After calling it a day (or night) at 50K in around 9 hours, I was disappointed with my mental resolve in seeing the pain through. It wasn’t the lack of stamina. My mental endurance was clearly lacking. I questioned if I was even ready to tackle races exceeding the marathon distance even before my marathon goals are achieved. Maybe I’m not meant to run the ultra, which isn’t a shame really because I’ve always maintained that the ultra is a deeply personal journey. It may merely mean that I’m not ready to make that journey now. Lots of questions to be sure, but just like my past experiences on the marathon, I think there just might be a road ultra attempt in the future, quite possibly the 2012 Twilight (so Ben, you better keep this race going!).
Finally, despite the dissatisfaction of my run, I had fun. There were moments of sheer hilarity and fun as the lot of us went about tackling our inner demons. If there wasn’t any fun, I would’ve outright declared that there will no longer be any future outings for me! For now, I’ll just concentrate on my immediate goal of doing well in Gold Coast. And on top of my compliments to Ben and his team for doing such a great job, congratulations go out to my fellow travellers and runners who were part of the inaugural race. Yim, Victor, Shine, TPC are all now Centurions with 100K under their belts while Karen, Cynthia, Zack, KA, Pui San, Alexis, Paul did very very well too. Good job, guys! Thank you also goes to Frank who was like my travel agent
Sidebar: The world is indeed a very small place. On my hopover to Singapore, I managed to bump into my ex-boss at the Raffles MRT station while still lugging my bag from the airport. Then while waiting to board the flight home from Changi Airport, I ate at the same eatery as another colleague of mine. If that didn’t nail the serendipitous nature of these meetings, my ex-boss walked into the same Sky Train car back in KLIA.