I was dreadfully over optimistic when I signed up for the 100K category months ago. The intention was to make this my first 100K leading up to next year’s Comrades but a few factors beyond my control scuttled any such thoughts. Wrote in to the organizers to request a downgrade to the 52K category which was promptly given. Halfway through last Saturday’s race, I wished there was an even shorter distance!
Like Nick, I opted for simplicity which meant no compression gear, no additional food other than several Hammer Fizz tablets and 2 handhelds. Even though Putrajaya isn’t that far from home, I still had to wake up at 3:50am just to make sure I secure my parking before collection my race number. My chance I got a space next to Frank. As I feasted on my cup noodles and soy coffee, I had to make some adjustments to my race gear as the SpiBelt decided to snap there and then. It was fortunate then that I brought along the Inov8 Ultra Belt in which I could stash the electrolytes, arm sleeves for sun protection and phone.
Pre-race mood was typically laid back befitting of an ultra event, unlike shorter races. Camaraderie was strong as are many the presence of many familiar faces. I was hardly awake and really should still be napping in the car but I got caught up with catching up with my friends and the many photo ops. Even as the clocked ticked closer to the start time, indications were already clear that the day would be hot. After a short briefing my RD Arman, the insane 100 milers were released. The 52K category folks were let off with just a simple “Go!”
The plan was to run steady and get the training run over with as quickly as we could, this being the longest run this time of the year before Chiangmai and Newton to close off the year. The first few Ks were nothing out of the norm, the route was familiar and runners were still pretty much running in small clusters. Even so, we were somewhere up ahead amongst the 52K folks and were soon passing the 78K, 100K and 100 Milers who naturally had to take the pace down several notches. Much respect to these runners. Mentally I’m not anywhere close to their bravery, not at this gawd-awful spot called Putrajaya.
Everything was dandy and we checked into CP1 (10K) in excellent time. Things started to become drastically worse not long after CP1 when instead of heading straight under the bridge, a bunch of us went up the bridge to cross over to the other side where Herriot-Watt University and Maritime Center were located. There was a municipal truck which blocked the signage at the bottom of the bridge and we followed the only sign visible, which was up. After some deliberating at the top of the bridge between Nick and a few other runners, and spotting some already running along the path fronting the University, we decided that that would be the right way and off we went. Along the way, I asked one of the municipal worker if she saw any runners who had passed earlier and she replied in the affirmative. That assured us somewhat not knowing then that those folks also went the wrong way! It wasn’t until 3K later that a back-tracking runner from the 100K category directed us to head back.
Our hearts sank quicker than rocks in a pond. Every minuscule problem in an ultra is amplified – a wrong turn will cost you buckets in time and distance, not to mention unnecessary precious energy expended.There wasn’t anything else to do but double back the 3K (contributing in an extra 6K) we came from as quickly as possible. When we arrived back at the bridge, we debated if we should just proceed to CP2, bypassing the correct stretch, since we had covered that when we were lost. A handful of seconds were all that we spent on that question. There really wasn’t any other way. In an ultra, you deal with mistakes and problems, and do what’s right. Our conscience won’t allow it, so off we went to make up the missed portion of the route. Incidentally, that was the hardest stretch to run because of the unforgiving surface. Where possible, we ran and walked on the grassy sections. Shanaz pulled away midway through this section and Nick brought up the rear. By the time I got back to CP2, I reckon we had lost 1.5 hours. I was well and truly famished and dug into slices of bread and a cup noodles. Hunger won over the absurdity of eating hot cup noodles in the oven-like conditions. Nick then went off to collect his ice-cold drink from his loyal support crew while I wondered why I signed up . I thought if I should wait out the heat since I had plenty of time but wisely decided to get going and get the dang distance wrapped up.
From there I was pretty much on my own. I don’t analyse my thoughts during these tough moments in an ultra. Even when I was alone in unfamiliar territories in conditions much more miserable (e.g. TNF HK) than that afternoon in Putrajaya, my mind was mostly just set on one thing – keep moving forward and finishing the job. The other thing which helped tremendously then was channeling positive vibes to fellow stragglers and even joking with kids on their way to an Upin & Ipin concert. It’s wonderful what a simple nod, wave or “Keep going!” can do to a fellow runner and your own psyche. Some time later, I finally arrived at CP3. The area was cooling with plenty of trees, so a breather was in order before making the journey back. Because I was smarter by that time, I took a couple of shower breaks along the waterfront near the Pullman Hotel. There were taps at one of the beach and waterfront toilets and I made sure that my head and upper body were thoroughly soaked several times along the stretch. As a result, I was able to string together longer stretches of running and arrived at CP4 without encountering a Fukushima-scale meltdown. By that time it was already noon. I swallowed a few more slices of bread, ditched the smaller bottle and pushed off to cover the same terrible section again. I ran into Shanaz and Nick, both of whom were already on their way back to CP5 but I was quietly egging the skies to open up. Rain clouds were already blowing in in the distant and it was only a matter of time before it rained. When it did, and just like sea monkeys, it was so sweet. I’m one who’s always rejuvenated at the slightest contact with rainwater and when it rained that afternoon, I managed to put in a decent run to get back to CP5, the final one. Stopping just long enough to refill the bottles, I took off again, mostly walking. The brief shower had stopped but the conditions were much more tolerable since.
Fell into stride with Beau Helmi and we walked towards Wisma Putra before I picked up my pace further. I even managed to pass some friends with 5K to go, mainly by walking fast. With 2.5K to the finish, it was all running and quick shuffling. Just as I crossed the line, the watch died. I remembered seeing 56.3K but it didn’t matter. Time recorded was nearly twice that I’d targeted.
Despite the tough conditions, it was great to finish without any injuries, cramps and stomach discomfort. I could’ve eaten more but largely depended on keeping myself well hydrated at all stops except for the section where we went the wrong way. Surprisingly I didn’t find it too troublesome to run with 2 bottles for such a long time/distance. My hats off to all finishers especially those in the 100 miles and 100K categories. They’re from another planet, for sure.
In closing, my thanks go out to the PACat Adventure Team led by Arman, Zul and Zinov along with the merry band of crew. Everyone worked hard and this being a debut year, there were certainly areas for improvement. The event was run as a non-competitive one and depended largely on the integrity of runners. Due to that reason, some key sections weren’t manned which meant runners could run any which way, intentionally or otherwise while in a daze. There were so many photographers who covered P100 that we runners have many fond (and painful) memories to last us several days/weeks/months before many would yet again click on that damn registration button to bring on the next painful adventure!
Onward to the next race, then!