PART 3: The Most Brutal Thing (TMBT) 100k
Posted on October 09 2015
The last episode of the trilogy. My journey from WS7 to the finish line.
WS7 to WS8
Distance: 9.0km, Elevation gain: 280m, Elevation loss: 500m, Cut off time: N/A.
Before leaving, I made sure to study the section profile carefully. Runners would have to descend the same gruelling stretch that we climbed to the get to WS7, then continued to descend further down, a short climb, another descent, another short climb, before a steep descent to the next water station.
I told Sham that I had no desire left to continue and would just walk to the next water station.
Upon descending, I saw a blip of light further up in front. It was unusual because it deviated from the course. I knew somebody was lost. I shouted telling him he was heading the wrong direction. Fortunately, he heard me.
I saw few more runners nearing WS7 as I made my descent. Just like myself almost an hour ago, they kept asking me how much further before WS7. Fortunately for them, I always kept tab of the distance. So instead of being ignored (like what happened to me when I was climbing up) or giving false distance, thus hope, I pinpointed the exact distance to the water station.
I walked until the bottom of the descent, and when it was time to climb, somehow I became rejuvenated. I was alone. Then I passed another village and a school. There, I passed a runner and asked him how far ahead were the front runners. According to him, he did not see one. They could not be that far ahead.
But I was completely wrong. I did not see anyone until the next water station. Apart from the runners that were going to WS7 and the guy that I met at the village, I ran the entire section to WS8 all by myself.
It was not a wise decision to run alone particularly along this section. After the village, there was no sign of civilisation at all. The course passed through thick and dense plantation. I was not sure exactly what the villagers planted there since it was so dark, but my guess would be rubber trees. It was so dark, dense and thick, the moonlight did not shine. It was full moon. I blasted my headlamp at maximum lumens but the visibility was still very obscure.
I was frightened by the lack of light, lack of noise, and most importantly, lack of soul. I refrained myself from looking to the sides and back. But sometimes, I could not help myself. Once in a while, I looked to the sides and back, especially when my headlamp illuminated leaves. It gave me false sense that the light was from someone behind.
To make things worse, the markers were surprisingly sparse. So I had to search left and right for the markers. When I did not see one, I had to look behind. There were also two intersections where I had to guess the right direction due to lack of markers. Both times, luckily, I made the right decisions.
As I was cautiously making my way through the thick plantation, out of blue, I saw six shining orbs darting towards me.
The orbs closing in fast. I was petrified. The shining little orbs were inching closer before my headlamp could illuminate them whole. They were actually three cows, the bull, the cow, and their calf
I seriously thought I had seen ghosts for the first time. Thank god I did not piss in my pants. Strangely, when it all happened, I was feelingless. Now I understood why do people say ‘scared shitless’.
I counted my blessing and continued gingerly in the hope of bumping into some runners before the next water station. I was not in luck.
I arrived at an intersection where I saw runners to my right, and none to my left. As I was about to turn right, a marshal woke up from his slumber, just in time, and told me that I had to check in at WS8 which was further down to the left.
Few runners were taking a much needed nap and sleep at WS8. I met Ina from Indorunners, who I had met earlier at WS4. He was with Alistair who was sleeping. She offered me to join them to the next water station. I timed the last runners that left the water station. They had left 6 minutes before. In order to catch up with them, I had to immediately moved on. But I needed some rest and I surely did not want to run by myself. So, I quickly accepted Ina’s invitation.
We waited for Alistair to wake up. I took the opportunity to replenish and regroup. I was starting to feel tired and a little bit sleepy.
WS8 to WS9
Distance: 11.7km, Elevation gain: 300m, Elevation loss: 655m, Cut off time: 26 hours.
When Alistair was finally awoken, we made our way to WS9. We were also joined by Harald. So there were four of us. Ina assured me that they would only power hike. It was fine with me. Few minutes after leaving WS8, the pain on my sole were getting unbearable. I had been carrying the pain after changing my socks at WS4. The socks were so thin that sand, gravel and other small particles that had been deposited in my shoes during the run, pierced through my socks and my sole. Every step I took was grimacing.
I was keeping up with the group in pain before we passed another group of three. This other group was my insurance. So I decided to drop off and joined the group that we had just passed. I knew it would be in vain, but I stopped and took off both of my shoes and socks to remove the sand anyway. The pain did not subside, and the group had been separated. Two of them were having some sort of difficulty and stopped. So I was left with a slightly older lady of the group. Mutually, but not verbally, we stuck together. She commented that I power-hiked inclinations faster than her, so she would run any downhill and flat stretch to keep up.
After a while, the course turned fairly flat with a little downhill. I was not sure what happened here, but I was separated from her. I was again by myself in the middle of the dense woods, but I was not as scared as before as I knew there were runners close by.
After the slight drop of altitude, the course continued with another climb. As I was approaching the foot of the climb, under the blurry beam of my headlamp, I saw somebody crouching in the middle of the track while ransacking what I believed to be his bag. As I was closing nearer, to my relief, it was another runner. But he did not have any blinker and headlamp on. I guessed he was running out of battery. I asked him whether he was okay or not while running past him, and he just hummed.
Few metres into the climb, I stumbled upon few more runners either in pairs or small groups. They were all lying down on the track with their bodies covered in their blankets or jackets. It was full moon. We were free from the canopy of the woods and the full moon shined brightly unobstructed. There was a slight breeze and it was so cosy. It was almost 4 AM and I understood why many fell victim to the beautiful night. It did not take me long before I stopped and embraced the slightly chilly and bright night. I took some snacks and fluid before taking out my sleeping mask from my bag and lying down on the track. I was lost deep in the abyss of crickets’ lullabies, free from worldly noises. It was therapeutically calming, beautiful.
When I woke up from my slumber, I saw another runner who succumbed to the temptation of the drowsy night nearby. I looked up to the sky and to the cliff on my side, I thought of werewolves. If werewolves were real, tonight was their perfect night. I packed my stuff and continued my journey to the next water station. Few hundreds metres later, I stumbled upon the group of three that I briefly stuck to earlier. All three of them were covered in their jackets on the forest floor falling victim to the drowsy night. I was again by myself but underneath the moonlight, I thought I saw the runner without blinker on few hundred metres to the front. I hoped it was him.
I knew it was not long before the course turned abruptly downhill, about 500 metres of elevation loss in the span of 4 kilometres or so. I was dreading this steep downhill section. My knees and quads would be murdered. As I was making my way down the hill, I saw two runners with very bright headlamps in front of me. I soon passed them. The downhill was getting steeper while the forest was getting denser. Only a small portion of the bright moonlight managed to penetrated the canopy. I tried to descend the downhill slowly so that the two runners behind me would catch up with me. But it turned out they were slower than me. I looked back and I could not see them.
Out of nowhere, there was a signboard that you would only see at a T-juction. Strangely, there was no actual junction. I glimpsed to my left and I saw a slightly wide trail with a big log blocking the trail across. From the look of it, it seemed that the log had been there for quite a while, with thick bushes growing on the trail. Nobody or nothing had been treading the trail for a long while, while the signboard looked new. It was not only strange, it was freaky. A lot of things were going through my mind but I kept my composure and jogged on. I tried not to think.
Few minutes later, I saw a spot of light racing fast behind me. I thought it was the two runners that were behind me before. I was wrong. It was a girl that I saw at the previous water station. She was passing me fast while mentioning that we would be in Top 100 if we passed two more runners.
Top 100? It did not sound appealing, did it? It was not like Top 10 or something. I was not lured by the exclusivity of being in Top 100, but I started to run to keep up with her. The freakishly strange signboard certainly debilitated my courage. I ran because I was afraid. While we were running, the girl was startled by a black body on the floor. It was the guy without blinker and headlamp. The girl scolded him to have some reflective element on him.
We caught up with two more runners. The girl continued running with one of the runners. She was now in Top 100, good on her, while I jogged along with another.
Soon after, I bumped into Wanteng who was sitting on the side trail by himself. He was complaining about his shoes that were hurting his feet going downhill.
I thought the steepest section was in the past, but I was wrong. The gradient became extremely steeper. I left Wanteng knowing that we would be reunited at the next water station which was nearby. I was descending gingerly but the gravity pulled me down. I took the risk and let gravity do its work. I passed few others and to my surprise I saw Ina. From my calculation, she and the other two guys should have been farther to the front.
I arrived at WS9 together with the lady that I ran with after I dropped out from Ina, Alistair and Harald’s pact. She was again separated from her two friends. We chatted a bit and I made a remark that I was familiar with last few kilometres of the race and the cut off time at WS10 was a bit too lenient. On paper, it looked easy to run the last 7 kilometres in 1.5 hours. I had run the stretch before and I knew it would be tough to do it in 1.5 hours especially after more than 90 kilometres of running.
The cut off time at WS9 was 26 hours and we were more than 4 hours early. But she was panicking because of what I had just said. As soon as we checked in, she wanted to continue. I told her that I wanted to rest or maybe get some sleep. I was assuring her that she had plenty of time but she was still freaking out.
WS9 to WS10
Distance: 10.5 km, Elevation gain: 635 m, Elevation loss: 570 m, Cut off time: 28.5 hours.
They were serving breakfast but I found it hard to shove the vermicelli, fried chicken and fried egg down my throat. They were so oily. Soon after, Wanteng arrived. I took my spot on the floor to get some sleep. I tried, but I could not sleep. The floor was too cold, the light was too bright, and it was too noisy. I set my alarm anyway. I woke up from my ‘sleep’ 1.5 hours later and the day was getting brighter. I had much better rest underneath the moonlight. After Fajr prayer, I bid adieu to the timekeeper. I spent almost 2 hours at WS9.
Before leaving, my GPS watch memory was full. I was worried about the battery, so this caught me by surprise. In the modern day of enthusiasts running, if you do not have the GPS data, your runs mean nothing. You are better off staying at home. Non-runners or non-cyclists may not understand this, but admittedly, I was upset with this little glitch.
How do I want to let the world know that I have run 100 kilometres when my watch stops recording prematurely at KM 87?
After a night packed with drama, I was contented with a mundane morning. It was cold but refreshing. I was not entirely energised but I was chirpy. The course continued uphill for 5 kilometres before another long steep downhill. There was a little checkpoint at the top of the climb.
At the top, I looked down the descent. Oh boy, this one was another killer. It was littered with gravel which made it ten times more difficult. Before descending, I waited in order to give way to a four wheel drive to drive up. The engine was revving loudly. Even a four wheel drive struggled. That was telling.
While descending, few gravels managed to get into my shoes and my already hurt sole became more hurtful. A guy was closing behind me and I stepped aside to make way for him. He was descending the downhill for breakfast and my respect was heightened due to the fact that he was in full suit of Salomon gears from head to toe. Vest, top, bottom, shoes, and even socks, all were by Salomon. For those who do not know, Salomon is the Nike of trail running. He looked like a Salomon sponsored athlete.
I stopped and removed the tiny gravels that got into my shoes and ate some nuts. Somehow, I was a breath of fresh air. Coincidentally, the downhill got a bit less steep. I changed the way I descended and my confidence was growing. Now it was my turn to have the downhill for breakfast. I passed the Salomon guy who was now slowing down and few other runners. At the bottom of the descent, I was reunited with Wanteng. We hiked the uphill to WS10 together. It was all familiar now. I had run this route twice in 2014 Hasuu Tasu and Hasuu Tasu Night Trail Run 2015.
WS10 to FINISH
Distance: 6.6 km, Elevation gain: 665 m, Elevation loss: 35 m, Cut off time: 30 hours.
I was expecting more of WS10 but they only had water. It was already hot and muggy. I had suffered from cramps on the trail up to the finish line both times I ran it. Wanteng had extra salt so I made sure I took some. I did not want history to repeat.
It was the longest 6.6 kilometres of my life. The inclination was insane but it was nothing compared to the searing heat. We stopped a lot of time to hide from the menacing sun. We were joined by many who were suffering from the heat. It was only around 10 AM and it was this hot. Those who would be racing the cut off time would pass the same stretch sometime around noon. I could not imagine how hot would it be.
To paint a picture how muggy the morning was, I emptied my entire water supply within 4 kilometres after leaving WS10. Luckily Wanteng and I were running with somebody who knew the place well. There was a big black water tank next to a house. It was for public and the best part was, the water was treated and drinkable. It was like finding an oasis in the middle of a barren desert.
The finish line was just around the corner. I could not believe that I was actually finishing it soon. I started to think of the emotion when I finally crossed the finish line. People say, once you cross the finish line, you will feel like a newborn. Elation, ecstasy, relief, joy, euphoria. I tried to conjure up the feelings. My eyes started to well up. It happened twice.
There was another long climb before reaching a stretch of 1 kilometre of undulating countryside road to the finish line. If memory served me right, the last kilometre would only be speed bumps. But memory could betray. The heat might be playing trick with my eyes, but the ‘speed bumps’ of the last kilometre were more like mini climbs on steroid. The last kilometre was just as tough.
We could now see the left turn up to the finish line. Boojae was waiting for us at the junction. Both of us started to run towards the finish line. People say, finish strong. Indeed we did finish strong, albeit in the last 100 metres or so. It was all for the crowds and cameras.
27 hours 48 minutes and 100.4 kilometres (my GPS watch was showing 104 kilometres) later, I crossed the finish line.
What was my feeling completing a very tough race?
I am sorry to disappoint, I felt nothing.
Elation, ecstasy, relief, joy, euphoria?
They were not there. Maybe sadness, sad that the race was over.
In the cafeteria, I stared blankly for few minutes. I tried to conjure up the feeling. I tried to soak up the emotion. But I failed. Wanteng was sitting across the table, he was also staring blankly. Perhaps, this was what people mean by ‘let the feeling to sink in’. It would not come immediately, it needed time.
I look back and it was indeed the journey, not the destination. Crossing the finish line was trivial. What mattered was what happened to reach the finish line. I certainly would forget how did it feel to cross the finish line (well, it is easy since I felt nothing). But I would definitely remember the 28 hours emotional rollercoaster ride.
I echo what Wanteng was saying. Physical and mind were tested. But the ultimate test was on our souls.
Physically, the race was not as tough as my maiden FM at Kuching Marathon. But I realise it is unfair to say that. I gave my all for Kuching Marathon. For TMBT, I set a goal to complete, not to compete. It is like running an 8-hour full marathon. Everybody can do it. If I can, you definitely can. Do not be afraid. Do not live with regrets.
For those who asked, I have one key tip to prepare for a race of this magnitude. Training, nutrition are important. But what I found most valuable was, expectation. Manage your expectations well. Race course and information are your best friends. Study them. Even though you have never run the course before, do not know exactly what the terrain is like, try to visualise. Do not see the race as a whole. Break down the race into parts. I find it useful.
That was how I managed my race. I knew exactly where and when I wanted to be during the race. I broke it down into few milestones. I was never in a rush. When I reached a checkpoint earlier than I had anticipated, it meant I had more time to fool around. In total, I was stationary either at the water stations/checkpoints or taking a breather underneath a tree for more than 6 hours.
Once I crossed the finish line and lasted for a week or two after the completion of the race, I vowed not to run this race or any ultra marathons in the near future due to other personal running goals. Since, the registration is opened in two weeks and I am itching to run. I know I should not, but I want. The Force is strong with this one but I shall resist. I will come back in later years probably running with my kids.
It is once in a lifetime experience. You have to experience it. I have a friend who run the 50k with his wife. He said it was the best 15 hours spent with his wife. The odds of you competing in The Amazing race is 1 million to 1. This is the next best thing. Trust me.
Congratulation and special thanks to the Trailblazerz troop, Wanteng, Alan, Zaki, Ezra, Bux who all completed 100k race.
Strava and Movescount data of the race can be found in the links below.
To those who read up till this line, thank you. I surely took my own time to finish this up, more than two months after the completion of the race. Thank you for reading.