Monday, October 24, 2016

Cameron Ultra-Trail 2016...

Event: Cameron Ultra-Trail 2016
Venue: Padang Awam Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Pahang
Date: 08 October 2016
Time: 4.00AM
Distance: 100KM (102.9KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 6
By Frank

Despite slowing down since my adventure at the West Highland Way Race 2016, I have begun to opt for new challenges especially at newer or never done before events. The inaugural Cameron Ultra-Trail 2016 (CUltra16) is the first on my list and also my first race since my wisdom tooth extraction and other tooth related surgery a month ago. With almost no training except for a Trans Nuang trip, I knew I was going to suffer. But what I didn't knew was that the word suffer should be in caps, SUFFER! And after all, CUltra16's tagline was "Be Prepared, Be Very Prepared:. *gulps...

Route profile for the first half.
Route profile for the return second half.

With Yan Leng, Piew and Leong, we set off from Empire Damansara on a very early 5.30AM wet Thursday morning. Leong offered to drive as most was not confident to do so especially on the return trip after our run. Selin was greatly miss here as she despite registering for this race, had already returned to Switzerland a week earlier.

The rain stopped as we got onto the highway. As we all woke up earlier, all 3 of us nap in the car leaving poor Leong to the drive till we got to Tapah town for breakfast. Glad the traffic was smooth though. Breakfast was simple and delicious as I had soy sauce noodles with some, actually a lot of "yong tau foo". After a satisfying meal, we started our winding ascent to the highlands. Was glad I took the front seat as I am prompt to car motion sickness on winding road.

A short stop near halfway at the Lata Iskandar waterfall. I remembered this place during my first visit as a kid when I was just about 10 years old. I had some fruits here that time and threw up shortly after in the coach from car motion sickness. Fast forwarding to present more than 20 years from then, it's only my second trip here! We continued on with another road side stop ahead hoping to have some mountain durians but sadly it was only for wholesale.

Stopping by Lata Iskandar, midway up to the highlands.

First town was Ringlet as we stop to buy some food for use in our race drop bags. Nice little town I must say with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale here. And just before hitting Tanah Rata, we stopped by for tea at Cameron Valley Tea House. Absolutely not worth it though was not only it was expensive, it was nothing impressive, except for the scenery.

We finally arrived at Tanah Rata only to be greeted by a 1KM traffic crawl due to the Nine Emperor Gods Festival procession. Not moving anywhere, Yan Leng and myself decided to walk ahead into town to check out the procession, bought some Starbucks VIA coffee for our drop bags before was joined by Piew where we walked towards our hotel at Century Pines Resort which was just ahead for registration. All this in 1 hour and Leong had not arrive yet. But he did shortly later.

Our hotel at Century Pines Resort.

As we are not able to check into our rooms, we decided to collect our race pack after undergoing a mandatory gear check. The process was pretty strict which I have to applaud the organiser for runner's safety in the trails and mountain are utmost important. However, the process wasn't very standard as different counters have different checking procedures, for example, some will get away by not testing out their headlamp operation. I had to power on my headlamp in front of the volunteer which was a hassle as I left the battery in the car earlier, but to think of it, it was the right thing to do. Well done to both the volunteer attending to me!

Scones, pies, French toast, lassi and tea at Lord Scone's Cafe.

Lord Scone's Cafe was next for another round of tea and meeting up with a new friend Wooi Keat. Back at the hotel at 2PM, only Yan Leng's room was ready and we all headed there to prepare our drop bag. The guys room was ready about half an hour later and timing was just right as we headed out to the open field next to the hotel which was the race start and finish point to deposit our drop bag. The sky had already open up with droplets of rain slowly greeting the runners as we headed back to the hotel for pre-race briefing at 5PM.

My gear all ready!

Runners was welcomed by Adele and the pre-race briefing delivered by Arman and Jimmy which was spot on. However, some silly questions was asked by runners like running under another's name (smack head!) and returning to the race village upon completing the race (start and finish is the same place!). OMG! These people just don't bother to read the guidebook and instructions that were sent out!

Pre-race briefing in progress.

Was feeling a little tired but we all needed dinner. A nearby cafe call Hill Station is where we ended up at and a simple vegetarian pattaya rice was it for me before heading back for shower and it was lights off just before 9AM.

Runners flooded Century Pines Resort's lobby.

Race day
I was awake at 1.45AM but waited till 2AM before getting off bed for my usual pre-race rituals. It didn't go very smooth though and was hoping breakfast later will help. We agreed to have breakfast at 2.45AM and everyone was punctual. A simple breakfast at the hotel's cafe of plain porridge, french toast and black coffee was enough to trigger the tummy. From there, everything went as plan and by 3.45AM, we were all out at the starting point lingering with other runners awaiting the start. Was only in a short sleeve compression top and a short tights as weather was cool after yesterday's rain but there was a forecast of rain in the next 5 hours time. And so far, the forecast has been correct. Gulps... 2 more top layers was stuffed in my backpack including the waterproof Saucony Exo jacket just in case.

One for the album before the start.

At a countdown of 10 and at 4AM sharp, 222 runners from the 100KM category started the journey to traverse across the highest peak at Cameron Highland into the tea plantations and back. Although myself, Yan Leng, Piew and Wooi Keat started from the front pack, we were soon passed by other runners despite that we actually had to climb out from the hotel and town to get to the trails which was about a mile ahead. Not exactly a steep climb, but there is still a long way and day to go. We stood at our pace and soon arrived at the trail's entrance where it is mostly single file.

And we are off!

The game started immediately from here not only that we began to climb, but was also greeted by wet trails filled with roots, rocks, mud, moss and loose ground making it extremely technical. We really had to tackle it carefully as I turned by headlamp in full power mode at 350 lumens. The jungle trails here are at least a hundred years old I guess, making it extremely thick and dense. And after a while, I was already sweating a lot and feeling sticky as the humidity sets in.

With the first peak at Mount Jasar awaiting at about 1,684M above sea level at just 3.2KM, my heart rate which was monitored by my trustworthy Suunto Ambit 3 was hovering just above 150 beats per minute and it wasn't an easy task in trying to bring it down. And the best part was, I was not going fast, but instead was climbing and climbing and hiking all the way upwards following other runners at the front. There wasn't any space to pass but safety first as we needed to be patient till we arrive at somewhere more open.

Most of the scenes around us was mostly the same in darkness with only our headlamps shining on it. And if you need some imagination, it's somehow like Gunung Nuang minus the wall scaling part (not just yet). More like the Kem Pacat there. We soon arrived at some telco tower which was an open space. Some stopped over for photography giving chance to some others like myself to pass them and continue into the trails in trying to reach the peak.

I arrived at Mount Jasar's peak without noticing it even till today as there was no indication of it. I just continue on, passing a couple of tree trunks blocking the trails which we have to climb over and yours truly got stuck on one huge one! Then as we are just about to exit the trails, your truly slip and fell bum first on the mud at the cabbage farm leaving a brown patch on my bum that looks like ... During the process, I also suffered a cut on my right palm with some others including a cross on my upper right wrist which came from no where. Clumsy runner on the loose!

Arriving on the road, it was time to speed things up a little as the 4 of us who started together from the start are still together, ran down into the first check point at Villa Dahlia. While they refilled their hydration, I took some time to relax my legs a little before resuming together with Wai Hong joining into the group as we headed towards the second mountain, and the highest one in Cameron Highlands. Mount Berembun awaits at 1,825M.

I really have no idea on what I was doing after exiting Mount Jasar. Macarena maybe?

Before Mount Berembun, there was a nameless mountain that stood between it and Mount Jasar at about 1,610M. And after running around the road for about a mile or so passing some housing area and resorts around Brinchang town, we arrived at the trail entrance again where a Buddhist Temple call Sam Poh Temple stood where I prayed for all our safety before continuing. From here, we discovered that the trails earlier at Mount Jasar was just the appetiser as it got really technical in trying to get to and up Mount Berembun which now includes using our arms to climb. Time to get really dirty and for more cuts and bruises.

Climb and climb we did as we eventually got to the top without noticing before exiting the trails into some town. Walked across some slippery pavements before we arrived at the second check point at Sungai Pauh Campsite, 13KM into the race. Took in some fluids and a Snicker bar before we continue on our assault to the peak. Wai Hong had already sped off earlier but it was good to meet up with some other familiar faces from the 50KM category like Zhen Qi.

It's just about 2 miles or so to the peak but trust me, it's one of the toughest climb I have ever experienced. But on the positive side, dawn began to break as the surroundings brighten up. Was joined by Rino halfway up as he guided the way and I was surprised to see some faster runners passing us. Apparently they got lost and looped around the mountain twice. I sense their frustration especially in a tough race like this.

At the peak of Mount Berembun.

I can't say much about the climb to the summit except for the word TOUGH in caps. But eventually, myself with Yan Leng, Piew and Wooi Keat got to the top together without any unwanted mishaps. A quick photo together and we started our descent to the check point located 2KM ahead. The descent run-able at certain stretch but requires some climbing at a few was just as tough. And as I near the exit, I knocked my left knee on a large hidden tree broken tree trunk. I was stunned for a moment as blood started oozing out as I continue to limp forward trying to shake off the pain. Eventually, I got to the third check point at Robinson Falls with Yan Leng and Piew slightly ahead. Wooi Keat began to slow down but not far behind though. Took in more fluids this time as the climb earlier took a lot out of me. But the great news was, the forecasted rain did not come and we are hoping that it will stay this way. I kept my headlamp which relieved my head as I was feeling a bit dizzy earlier probably due to the tightness from it.

Quick shot with Wooi Keat at Robinsons Falls only to noticed we got photobombed. Hahaha...

On the way out from Robinsons Falls with Wooi Keat following me from behind.

Once ready and with the pain subsided, I was let loose like a free bird as the path here was runable. I was eager to run and I did just that with a quick stop upon the view of Robinsons Falls and had a quick photo taken with Wooi Keat before continuing on. Eventually, I slowed down ahead as there were some fallen tree and slippery rocks that runners had to get through. And during that process, a familiar face close in from behind. It was Siaw Hua as we made our exit from the trails into the farms together. And from here, it was a climb on the road as I caught up with Yan Leng and Piew, and eventually got the the fourth check point at Boh Guard House.

The sun began to rise.

Caught up with Siaw Hua.

Took a longer rest here as everyone needed to refuel. Though I did have a drop bag here, I did not pick it up and decided to use it for the return leg. Instead, I ate some cookies, some isotonic drink and water before lingering around with friends. When the 3 of us was ready, Wooi Keat arrived and we quickly took a photo together before parting ways.

Just about to leave CP4 for the tea plantation.

Into the Boh Tea plantation, the route here was very run-able with dirt paths covered with small rocks and short grass over it. Only problem is that it was a roller coaster ride with mild to tough ascents and descents. All 3 of us stood with each other, walking and running together when we can and couldn't. And was glad, that it didn't take us very long to exit this short trail section here before arriving back on the road where Benjamin greeted me from his vehicle!

Reentered the plantation and the view was in spectacular green. Enjoying so much that we eventually arrived at the fifth check point at Boh Cafe as tasty sweet oranges awaited us. Not sure how of them the 3 of us took though. Piew made a quick toilet break as we waited before continuing together deeper into the plantation. And by defining deeper means more up and downhills! It was much more of down here as our pace got really fast, at time below 5 minutes. I did have fun here though as besides running this pace, I got to see the farmers pluck the tea leaves and also enjoy the highlands beautiful scenery. The return trip later might be a different story later though.

Damn tasty sweet oranges!

We arrived at the sixth check point at Fairlie Quarters together but I asked Yan Leng and Piew to continue ahead first as I needed to have some instant noodles here and it requires some time to cook. I believe it was a good time to eat as I still had my appetite and beside, it has been 7:27:08 hours I had been on the trails. And it's only 37KM here! Don't know to cry or not? Hahaha...

Rino who had guided lots of runners out from Mount Berembun earlier.

I couldn't wait for my noodles to be fully cooked and hence started eating once it was half done and the texture was like yee mee! Only took half of it as a whole cup may be too heavy. I resume my journey by walking before slowly jogging into pace and then finally running. I was descending into the plantation and I know that both Yan Leng and Piew will be way ahead here since it was their favourite downhill. I only finally managed to catch up with them upon arriving at a cross junction which involves some uphill. and I caught up with them just in the nick of time as both of them was heading the wrong direction. No damage was done here though as I quickly diverted them back. Phew...

Running downhill with Piew and Yan Leng at the tea plantation can only mean SPEED!

Went through some winding trails and roads within the plantation before arriving at a junction where the seventh check point was. Just a quick one here as the next was not far away. And just before leaving, a friendly volunteered joked if we needed to sleep as I replied that I was looking forward to a mattress here upon returning later before thanking them and zooming off.

Didn't really enjoy the start of the section here as the path was covered in grass. Though run-able, I was worry that there might be hidden holes or uneven terrain that I may trip or fall over. I made it through this section safely before another winding rocky section where I caught up with Azlan and Azrul before arriving at the eight check point at an open filed for another quick stop for the next check point will be the largest with plenty of food and drinks there. The halfway point awaits!

With Azlan and Azrul just before check point 8.

A steep long downhill on the tarmac greeted us. Yan Leng "flew" down while I tackled it slowly with Piew. I didn't want to risk any hard pounding on my quads at this stage as the return leg later especially the 2 peaks will be tough. Better for some reserve here. At the bottom, we re-entered shortly into the tea plantation before into the woods again and eventually into a village located within a valley call Kampung Panggen where we were greeted by very friendly volunteers of the ninth check point. 9:36:43 hours for 51KM. Not too shabby I guess considering how tough and congested the earlier section was.

Had to cross a little stream before making our way to the hut above where our drop bags are located with food and drinks served. I wanted to take a dump at the toilet here but was turned off upon seeing the condition of it and with one male runner in it showering himself. Luckily I am able to hold on at this time as it was not a major call.

Anyway at the hut above, scene of volunteers serving the runners with some others cooking rice and frying eggs which includes a makcik cooking curry chicken was just an eye opener. With runners from all sort of races and nationality, this brought out the spirit of long distance running and also Malaysia, and I am proud to be part of this Anyway, while others had rice and curry chicken, I decided to be safe and ate from what I had in my drop bag of some waffles, dry fruits and a can of black coffee. Was served some fresh apples though from a very friendly volunteer who not only brought us fruits, but bread, rice, fried eggs, drinks and even fulfilled to our request. I didn't get her name but she was a young Malay lass. Superb beyond 5 star service from here and the 3 of us are very grateful and thankful for your assistance.

Shine and Wai Hong who got lost at Mount Berembun was here too. Shine took off first while Wai Hong continued with me after we filled ourselves up. I had my Suunto removed from my wrist and inserted into my back pack as I needed to charge it and hence will not have any reference to my heart rate and other info, at least for a few hours. I gave away all of my remaining waffles to the kids here and I can see how happy they were receiving it. A tiny waffle certainly goes a long way. A big thank you to all the volunteers here before we continued our journey out upon witnessing a disgusted drama where a runner was asking lots of question on the reason of having to perform a timing check-out. It was part of the rules and it was also for the organisers to know if one did start their return leg. Poor volunteer had to go through the rumblings on an old man there. Sigh...

As for myself, the volunteers had forgotten to manually check me in earlier but I was sure they did it on my timing device. But no drama from me ya as I continued on my return leg. The game changed here as Yan Leng and Piew went ahead as I decided to stick with Wai Hong. Tummy was a little heavy after the meal, but it was a great time to walk it off as we needed to climb out of the valley here.

There was still lots of runners behind making their way to the u-turn with some familiar faces including Ben, Renee and Cikgu Syed. Cheered for almost everyone as we eventually arrived back at the eight check point by just walking. Yan Leng and Piew was already no where to be seen. My legs was starting to stiffen up as Wai Hong was experiencing discomfort on his plantar. Continue we must before further damage is done from sitting too long. We managed to run walk for a few sections as more familiar faces came from the opposite direction. Some included Gan, Yik Yee, Siti and Hazel as I caught a quick glimpse of Siaw Hua, Yan Leng and Piew from a distance.

Nice shot with Cikgu Syed.

With temperature rising, it made things just a tad tougher. But with Wai Hong's company, the journey from each check point to the next was made easier as we chatted and also gossiped our way. We didn't manage to catch up with the trio ahead though as we arrived back at the seventh check point where I jokingly asked for my mattress I asked for earlier! Hehehe... I don't remember refueling here as I quickly removed debris from within my shoes before continuing.

Knowing from the earlier journey, I know it was going to be a long tough one back to check point 6 at Fairlie Quarters. It will involved lots of long up hills but before that, we made a short winding downhill first. But on the positive side, besides the soreness setting into our legs, both of us was still feeling rather positive, at least mentally. We managed to run when we can especially on the downhill and flat sections, and walk when we can't. I stop when Wai Hong did, and he did the same when I did. Superb team work I must say as check point six finally came into view.

I had instant noodles here during my visit earlier and this time it was Wai Hong's turn. I gladly waited for him and took the opportunity to clear my shoes of debris and also to give both my poor foot a good old fashion self massage while chatting away with the friendly volunteers here. A few other runners were around and one of them was Ewegene. Once ready, we made our way to the check point that I was looking ahead of, the fifth where sweet oranges awaits. However, I also know that it will be a long and uphill battle before we get ourselves there.

It' almost 5PM now which means we are almost 13 hours into the race. The temperature felt better now as we slowly made our winding uphill walk through the tea plantations. No one was ahead of us except for some of the foreign workers packing their tea harvest. Behind us at a distance was Ewegene and a couple of other runners. Myself and Wai Hong continued chatting when we can hoping that we will arrive at Boh Cafe without having think so much and that time will swiftly pass by. And just before exiting the plantation, Wooi Keat came running from behind with new found strength, probably from the Arcoxia he taken earlier.

Rain clouds were seen hovering above us as we arrived at the fifth check point. I needed to visit the loo to make my deposit here and told Wai Hong to go ahead but he decided to wait on. I felt better after the loo visit, and started downing the sweet oranges here till Ben arrive and left ahead of us. I was still munching on the oranges as I prepared my headlamp for action once again as the sun began to set. The rain did not come though. Once ready and after countless oranges, a big thank you to the volunteers here and we both continued on into the evening.

As the sun began to set, the plantation turned a little orangy adding a different dimension to the already beautiful scenery. But not too long after we left the earlier check point, we arrived at a cross road with a kind of misleading marker. Ewegene who was behind us shouted to us to make a right turn and we obliged. A very friendly dog had begun to follow us as Wai Hong gave him a piece of jerky which he enjoyed so much. The dog slowed us down a little allowing a few other runners to pass us but the slowing down was actually a blessing in disguise and I believe the dog came for a reason. It was about almost a Kilometer into the direction here when a Malay runner behind us noticed that we were off course. A quick check on Wai Hong's Suunto Ambit 3 and my phone's GPX viewer showed that we were indeed heading the wrong direction. We shouted to the runners ahead but they decided to continue with their own. The 3 of us, turned back and headed the opposite direction at the cross road where we were earlier and soon, a directional marker appeared indicating we were on the right track. Ewegene and the other runners earlier also caught back up.

Back on the winding road with an uphill climb before re-entering the trails in darkness before the final part of the tea plantation which was a long straight down to the bottom where the Boh Guard House stood. The fourth check point, we are back after almost 16 hours after the start and in darkness except for the lights from our headlamp and those from the canopies.

Nasi impit (rice cake) and hot soto soup was being served here but I opt for my own snacks instead as I collected my drop bag. Made myself a bottle of Starbucks VIA ice coffee and gulp it down with some dry fruits while removing heavy items from my backpack and deposit it into the drop bag as I wanted to go light for the final half marathon distance or so which will be tough. And finally, I had my Suunto Ambit 3 back on my wrist after being fully charged since the halfway point.

Refueling in the darkness at the fourth check point.

Some familiar faces like William Kow, Jerry and their friends were here to lend their support. We chatted and joked for quite a while before we continued on. And just when we are about to exit the guard house by the corner, a lady runner appeared from the opposite direction. Apparently we guess that she must had turned the wrong way at the earlier junction where we got lost too. But was glad it was a big loop and that she still made it here.

Just after restarting our journey on the road besides the farms, I decided that I should put on another layer before hitting the trails later on.It's not really cold yet but I guess it's better to do so now. And out came my Uniqlo Heattech short sleeve top, which was not an overkill for the current temperature. We made our journey to the bottom, into the darkness except for some green house lighting the hills above. We eventually got to the cabbage farm where we exited earlier and walk up the slope arriving at the entrance to the trail. It was time to get dirty again.

Just before entering the trails heading towards Robinsons Falls. Love the lighting at the background.

As I re-entered the trail heading towards the third check point at Robinsons Falls, my condition started to deteriorate. Felt rather uneasy on my chest with pressure slowly building up in there as I recalled that I may have drank the earlier coffee at check point 4 too fast. But continue on I must as i tackled some fallen trees here by going under and sometimes over it. And during one of my climb over a huge tree trunk, I slip and fell chest first resulting some cramping sensation on my left shin. I was left stun, while Wai Hong waited for me to recover. There was nothing he can do as it was a pretty tricky area. But I was glad that he was there at that time and I thanked him for that as I slowly stood up and continued on after washing my mud covered arms at a stream nearby.

The sound of Robinsons Falls soon greeted us and soon we saw some lights just around the corner above. We are back at check point 3 and my condition deteriorated further. I filled up my soft flask as the next section will be tough up to the peak of Mount Berembun. After doing so, I sat down at the side trying to throw up but to no avail. The worried volunteer asked if I was all right and I replied that I was except for bloating. A slightly longer than expected rest before I knew that I had to move.

As I made my way to the peak through he very technical section consisting of up and downs, branches roots and loose earth, I really do not know how many times I stopped together with Wai Hong in trying to catch our breath. I still trying to throw up but nothing was coming out except for air and saliva. And this continued on till we eventually arrived at the highest point. There was a camp here and I really wanted to rest and take short nap in it. Azlan, Azrul and Cikgu Syed caught up here and they left before we did as I needed a longer time. Soon, a personnel from the local Bomba (fire and safety) department came from the direction we are heading to. I asked if I could rest in the camp but he adviced me to continue on for another 1.3KM or so as there was a hut ahead down below which was more suitable. Although I know that 1.3KM will take about 20 minutes or so to reach at this treacherous part of the trail, I just had to continue on.

Arriving at the hut passed a camp where the Bomba personnel was stationed at, I quickly exchanged for a fresh new set of batteries for my headlamp before removing my backpack and just laid down hoping for a 10 minutes powernap. And all out of sudden, memories of West Highland Way Race returned where I had the same experience. Wai Hong once again waited as my intended 10 minutes nap became 20 minutes. Feeling a little better but with a much sore leg now, we resumed with our journey.

Some runners passed us while I was asleep as we are able to see the lights emitting from their headlamp.The continuation part involves some more technical up and downs and though the distance to the trail exit at isn't exactly far away, it took us rather long to get there before finally arriving the second final check point at Sungai Pauh campsite, 21:26:39 hours after the start.

I was feeling much better as a familiar face appeared at the check point. It was the race director Arman and it was certainly great to see him. A responsible race director checking on the runner's welfare by moving around, we chatted about some aspects of the race and eventually joked on it too. I also found out that the volunteers were able to boil some hot water here too and was asked if I needed any hot beverage. A hot tea will be perfect and that is what they got! I had 3 cups of them slowly sipping on it as it warm my body. Another long stop before we eventually continued on to assault on the unknown mountain that stood between Mount Berembun and Mount Jasar. The only bonus here was, the return trip here was a little shorter at 5.4KM compared to the earlier 7.2KM as per on paper.

It's been a while since myself and Wai Hong ran. But I don't think we both had the intention too as we climb the roads ahead to re-enter the trails. Got a little lost as we went in a small circle in search of the markers going through some branches and climbing over trees. We eventually found the correct path as the marker was pretty hidden and facing the opposite side. No damage done here except for turning around.

The mission now is to hike up this nameless mountain and get ourselves to Sam Poh Temple safely. More technical ups and downs were in our way, but despite our weakened state, both of us were determined to get there, cursing along the way especially when we needed to climb. Eventually a signage indicating 0.89KM to get to the temple. I was really happy to see that. However, that distance isn't exactly near as it took us almost a good 15 minutes or so to get there which involves some slippery descent. But all in all, we arrived there safely together with another fellow runner and rested for a moment there trying to figure out the direction.

We continued down the flight of stairs while the other runner rested longer. And at the bottom, a trio of volunteers resting in their sleeping bag was on standby to welcome us and also to take our timing. Although I pity them, I salute them for holding dear to their responsibility being out on duty in this cool night. Thank you!

A Kilometer on the road with Mount Jasar looking down from the above right, we were cheered by the Makcik in the passenger's seat of a van who was earlier at the u-turn point preparing the curry chicken. They had finish their task at hand and am on their way back to the race village. We finally arrive at the final check point at Villa Dahlia. Arman somehow "teleported" here and was sitting silently watching the both of us. Hahaha... Hot tea once again was served before I noticed Wai Hong being covered up in blanket shivering a little while sipping on his cup of tea. The temperature was dipping further and that we are stopping for too long. We needed to move and we continued after listening to a story from Arman as he shared with us that the view of apartments from the opposite direction was actually used to be Mount Jasar's twin mountain. Development had caused what Cameron Highlands became today and it was a sad story to hear.

Arman, we shall see you at the finish, and off both of us push on for the final 5.4KM with Mount Jasar standing in our way. It won't be easy but knowing that we are closing on the distance to the finish, it gave us the push. Push we did, but again, we dd not run and slowly made our way to re-enter the trail near the power generator. And as expected, the trail condition wasn't great as the cabbage farm where I fell earlier greeted us. Loose and slippery ground was expected and with our weakened condition and our tired self, we had to be careful with our every step. Wai Hong's Suunto Ambit 3 battery has gone flat but what is more interesting was that his headlamp was running low on battery and had to run on the lowest settings. Mine was still at full power lighting the way and hence I turned back at times to help him tackle some technical parts. Was feeling rather hungry here as I was worry that gastric might act up. With only some dry fruits with me and chocolates from Wai Hong, I decided just to take small sips of water along the way and hope that my gut will hold on. And it did just that.

We huff and puff, and eventually got to the top without realising as there was no indication. Next was to get to a pylon overlooking Tanah Rata which will mean that the trail exit will be near. Took us a while to get there, before some turns around the trails and eventually and finally, we were out in a garden of sort. We made a wrong turn and went around the park before eventually joining back at the correct path and soon, we were out on the main road.

A mile or so to the finish, but both of us were already feeling relieved and happy to have gotten so far. And no, we did not restart our run but instead walked towards the final 300M or so before we finally ran, and ran we did to where we started some 26 hours ago at Padang Awam Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands. There, some volunteers signaled to the others of 2 incoming runners as myself and Wai Hong, after 26:00:31 hours in position 56 and 57 out of 222 starters, crossed the finish gantry with a smile on our face and a sense of achievement and friendship within us.

Completing the super tough Cameron Ultra-Trail 2016 with Wai Hong.

Glad to have Wai Hong with me. Thank you lad!

Our arrival caught Hong Lan by surprise as she quickly ran over to have our photos taken. Thanks a lot Hong Lan for some memorable shots. The 3 of us chatted for a while before Wai Hong left the site for breakfast while I rested for a moment near the race village here. Took a half boil egg and a pack of warm Milo before thanking Arman who was again here for the wonderful well coordinated inaugural Cameron Ultra-Trail before I slowly hobbled back to hotel. And I was glad it was just next to the field.

My splits.

Piew was already back in the room as I quickly cleaned myself up and caught a 2 hours nap before returning to the race site for Yan Leng's prize presentation as she managed to run herself on to the podium. I also needed to collect my drop bag and upon doing so, I returned back to the room for a much deserved rest before Leong returned for his first finish of a 100KM event. Well done! The rest of the trip will then involved dinner at Brinchang later, follow by some rest and recovery the next morning before leaving for Bidor for lunch and then back home. And that was it, a very enjoyable (plus suffering) trip for the inaugural Cameron Ultra-Trail.

Tea leaf shaped finisher medal plus some battle scars.

The Cameron Ultra-Trail 2016 is actually only my second 100KM trail race after my first last year at the Hong Kong 100 and I was glad to have complete it without any injuries. As expected, it wasn't a smooth race for me due to lack of training and after my tooth surgery. Besides, the usual sleep problem returned to haunt me together with the uneasiness I experienced during the return leg.  But I was glad to have able to run and complete it with my fellow friends Yan Leng, Piew and Wai Hong for different parts of the race in a very scenic Cameron Highlands. For now, I do not have plans to return for this the following year as I think the trails at Cameron Highlands will need some time to "repair" itself from over development here. Perhaps a few years down the road later.

Following the success of the first edition of the Cameron Ultra-Trail, I would like to take this opportunity to CONGRATULATE and THANK Arman, Zul, Mikael, Team Pacat, CyclicSport and the volunteers and marshals for a job well done. Most of the organisation was spot on and the treatment the runners received from all of the above was just FIRST CLASS. Some of the worth mentioning included:

- Strict mandatory gear checking and race briefing. Well done on this!
- GPX file being shared to runners
- Sufficient hydration plus light snacks at all check points
- Race director was on the move to check out runner's and organising committee's welfare.
- Directional markers being installed throughout the route
- Limiting the number of runners. Important for the trail's general condition and welfare.
- Mandatory use of portable cups, bowl and spoon to minimise wastage.

If I were to mention about flaws, it will be probably just minor issues which includes the following:

- Spicy food being served at the 100KM u-turn point. Being an international event, international runners may not be use to curry chicken.
- Directional marker installed a little too high from the running path.
- Hot or warm water for the return leg as the night temperature began to dip. Portable stove for open area while USB boiler for enclosed forest area.
- Finishing area lacking of food and drink.
- Information arriving a little too late prior to race.

And one final and special mention to Wai Hong before I end this entry. Many thanks for the companionship from the half way point till the finish. You waited while I was clearing my shoe of debris, in the toilet relieving myself, trying to throw up, trying to catch my breath, asleep and struggling with everything. But yet, you didn't complain at all and that you could have completed the race way ahead and earlier. But you chose to tag on to me. I don't think THANK YOU is an enough word to show my appreciation for the actions that you have shown. But again, I had to say it again, THANK YOU for embracing the spirit of long distance running.

* Photos here credited to Rany, Hong Lan and respective photographers. Many thanks!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Go West...

By Frank

Since 2015, the word “West” has played a part in my running career. The decision to enter myself into the West Highland Way Race 2016 and missing the opportunity to qualify for the world prestigious and oldest 100 mile trail race, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (WS100) by 5 minutes 8 seconds at HK100. A couple of weeks back, the word returned into my head in trying to persuade me to “Go West” again, and thus, there has been a little brainstorming for me since then as I found out that through the West Highland Way Race 2016, I have finally qualified myself for WS100.

Regarded by many runners as the “Must” run or their bucket list run, I don’t deny that I would really like to run it myself though it isn’t on my to do list. In fact, all the runs that I wanted to run has now been ran and that I have nothing left for. From road to trail and mountain, the marathon distance, to 100KM to 160KM, Comrades Marathon and the West Highland Way Race, I am happy with what I have achieved myself and where I am today. In fact, I have slowed down a lot since returning from Scotland this year and have just gained that little weight in me as I took some time off from running.

I knew that the WS100 is always held in the month of June meaning that it will be really close to Comrades Marathon. The concern isn’t about being able to run it or not after the demanding Comrades as I have done it this year with the West Highland Way Race which was 3 weeks apart, but rather the hassle in travelling to the United States since there is a need of Visa application for Malaysian passport holders and also the logistics for the entire travel itinerary.

Then of course, the West Highland Way Race which falls on the same exact date as WS100 next year. Yes, I have successfully done it but that doesn’t mean that I will not be making a return (*hint hint) for a second time as Scotland is just so worth my time. My friends, the highlands, loch, food, etc…, they are all worth it. Nuff said. Besides, the goblet is feeling lonely and may be a good idea to find it a companion.

And so yes, it’s not a difficult decision after all as I decided not to enter myself into WS100, at least for now. Yes, it may be a chance wasted but again, it’s not exactly important to me. And of course, Scotland is just too way hard to resist and I rather be there surrounded with good vibes (not midges).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back 2 Endurance 2016...

Event: Back 2 Endurance 2016
Venue: Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur
Date: 04 September 2016
Time: 6.30AM
Distance: 2.3KM per loop. To run as many in 12 hours.
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

The 4th edition of Back 2 Endurance, my third since I missed the first 3 years back saw a shift of month from the usual June to September this time round due to the fasting period and probably risk of haze. I was quite happy to learn about this cause if it remained in the month of June, I will have probably missed it since I probably be still at Scotland back then.

Despite being a tough event, it's one that I do enjoy as a looping race brings together the running community. And being my third in a row, Jeff, the race director told me that I had a shot to be included into their "Hall of Fame" should I managed a gold award again by running at least 37 loops which will total up to 85.1KM in distance. Though I wasn't in pursuit for that famed title or race positions, I had my own goal in running 39 loops which will total up to the Comrades "Down" distance of 89.7KM. This I had done the previous 2 years with last year a loop less due to the "Up" run being shorter. And it will be a “sending off “ run for my Comrades race shoe each year and this time will be my Kinvara 7.

My third year in a row Back 2 Endurance.

With triple issues of a bad shoulder blade, tummy and tooth gum the past few days, I got to bed pretty early the night before hoping to get at least 6 hours of quality sleep. However, that did not happen as my phone's LED was flashing with WhatsApp messages despite putting it on silent mode. WhatsApp can be useful but at the same time damn irritating too. Anyhow, I managed about 4 hours sleep and woke up at 2AM to prepare myself. Everything went smoothly and by 5.00AM, I arrived at Perdana Botanical Gardens to find some runners had already arrived! I wanted to arrive early to secure a good parking spot near the race site as there had been issues with car break ins there. And I managed just that, parking next to Roy, which was just beside the race site.

With my left gum near my wisdom tooth was still irritating me, I rested in the car for a while before realising that I needed some activity to distract me from the pain. Therefore, I geared up and headed to the race site to mingle with the crowd when suddenly, a lady name Carolyn Hare came to me and asked about my Scottish Saltire Buff. By asking, I instantly knew that she was a Scot and not only that, she was a support runner at this year's West Highland Way Race!

Fast forwarding ahead, it was a shot briefing by Jason and at 6.30AM sharp, the event started. I started in mid pack and went off slowly, slowly bringing up my core temperature and settle into my pace. Knowing that my fitness level and strength has dropped a lot since 2 months back, it will take some effort this time in trying to hit my desired distance. Once settled into pace, I was averaging my heart rate at around 135 beats per minute which was very comfortable. But what surprised me was that I was still managing a 6 minutes pace with that heart rate. Definitely am very happy with that but the question is, how long will I last as the heat will soon rise and my legs will soon tire. Not wanting to think too much about that, I continue on with my aim.

Nothing much happened on my first 5 loops or so and everything went well without much distraction. Most of the faster runners were already way ahead with the rest settling into their own rhythm, some of them just wanting to have fun while others challenging themselves to try hit a new personal distance. I only started my hydration on my 6 loop drinking from a provided polycarbonate mug from the organisers. A pretty good green gesture from them to reduce wastage but I question the reason behind the plastic and papers cups that was used as a backup. I personally think that the rules should be firm on this when it was already stated down clearly and runners should not take advantage of this especially when the runners here don’t seem to learn.

Anyway, the half marathon distance was achieved without much unfortunate events. Legs were fine and heart rate was still stable. However I began to felt hungry and was craving for some fruits especially watermelons. However to my horror, all the food served was pretty dry like biscuits (not crackers) and cakes. Way too sugary for me as I starred at the volunteers in charge of this which of no surprise, it wasn’t their first time. There were lots of watermelons and oranges being unloaded before the start and what was the reason behind not serving them? Temperature not hot enough? Not time yet? Forgotten? I was lazy to argue or even to ask and kept going hoping that it will be served upon completing the next loop.

A mental game of going through loops over 12 hours.

Loops after loops, no fruits were served as my heart rate began to spike as the temperature sets in. And it was still not noon yet. I kept my tri top’s zipper down to allow maximum airflow and also began to pour water over my head to keep my temperature down. It slowed me down a little as after pouring, I had to refill my mug with ice for it to cool when I return the next loop. However, I had a trick which was that I left a spare bottle on the next table which allowed me to save a little time as I can grab that and run with it. And by saving that little time, means saving my legs from “stiffening” during my stops.

Yew Khuay who was ahead of me by 1 loop caught up with me and we did a few loops together. Great to have him for company again as we continuously push each other, like the experience we had back at last year’s Putrajaya 100. The difference this time is that he had his phone with him and he was hunting Pokemon! With him, I hit the marathon distance just 3 minutes below 5 hours. Legs were feeling sore and tired, with some pain coming from the top of my left foot, I took the opportunity rest and to have my lunch which was being served. A variety of fried rice and noodles were served but what important was that the fruits were finally out now!

15 minutes was used for lunch as I had an enjoyable time chatting with Jason and Wai Hong at the same time too. And when I resume, I had to walk 2 loops to digest off my lunch. That wasn’t in my plans but it had to be done.  My left foot felt a little better but the afternoon heat has arrived and I was really surprised to see Carolyn for the first time since the start and that she was handling the heat pretty well. We did a few loops together and found out that she has been staying at Brunei for the past few years. That explains the reason. She was a strong runner and I had a good time chatting with her everything Scottish related before I myself had a shocked when she told me that she had my book!

Pushing through in the heat with Carolyn.

Carolyn’s was a “touch and go” runner and she didn’t stop very long at the end of each loop. And that was when I lost touch with her as I kept cooling myself down by pouring water over my head. Apparently she was handling the heat better than this Malaysian! Although it was hot, the humidity was acceptable as I kept shouldering on, one loop at a time, and soon it was 6 hours and we changed direction.

When things started to get really tough for me, I started with a new strategy which was to walk the first 300M stretch from the start of the loop which was of pavement before running till the end of the lake. Walking the short stretch around the lake before running all the way to complete the loop. It worked pretty well as it gave my legs some time to recover but as my pace wasn’t there, I was slowly losing time to complete my desired distance. Realistically still able to hit 37 loops and hence with that, I downgraded my expectations.

I began to think about my first attempt at this event 2 years back where I had Susanah paced me during the fourth quarter of the run. She helped me achieved the Comrades distance that year with a further push from Wai Hong for the final loop. It’s those memories that give me some motivational push and strength as I slowly dig deeper into myself.

With some new found strength, I managed to cut back a little deficit and made up some time. And realistically now, I am able to push for 38 loops which will give me the Comrades “Up” run distance of 87KM. It won’t be easy but I will definitely give it a go. I reduced my stops as I grab and ran with my bottle drinking and pouring water over myself with it. The momentum swung back to me and with 37 loops down, I just had 1 more to go.

Slightly less than 40 minutes left before the 12 hours cut off. Realistically, 90KM can be done, but the risk will be high. Not wanting to risk any injuries, my mind was set to do 1 final loop to achieve 87KM. And that final loop, I had the privilege to run it together with Yew Khuay and we made it back safely with 19 minutes to go. It was certainly enough to do 1 more loop but enough was enough. I am happy with 87KM and after all, it’s still a Comrades distance, a “Up” run distance and all done in 11:40:10 crawling back from position 20, 14 to 11, 8 and finally 7.

Completing my final loop with Yew Khuay. 
Not posing but rather pointing to Yew Khuay as a mark of respect.

Chilling out with Yew Khuay and Kelvin.

I stayed back to rest up while cheering for other runners. And one runner that I was cheering for was no other than Carolyn who was out doing her final 39 loop. And when she returned, I notice that she was running barefoot as her shoe’s midsole had come undone.  But the important thing I noticed was that she had her Scottish Saltire Buff on, the same as mine as I welcomed her “home” as champion of the women’s category. AYE!

A WeFie with the women's champion, Carolyn from Scotland! AYE!

Generally speaking, this was my poorest performance of my 3 runs at Back 2 Endurance. But looking at how things went after deciding to slow down after West Highland Way Race, I was happy after all. I knew at the start that it was going to be tough, but as the Comrades saying goes, “Hard is what makes it great” and I am glad I decided to give it a go after all.

Got toasted under the sun.

Overall, another well done to Jeff and Jason for yet another event especially when Jeff just returned from UTMB a few days ago. Despite some similar hiccups like the serving of fruits mentioned earlier, it was still an enjoyable no frills event. Will I be back the next year? If the event date is right, I might just will, but don’t think there will be any more pressure in trying to hit that Comrades distance. 3 times is already enough and with this done, I need to get some dental issue done over with and it will be an extremely painful one. Gulps…

* All photos here credited to the respective photographers. Thank you.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Saucony Peregrine 6...

By Frank

Like the Saucony Kinvara 7 (K7) which was my “To Go” road shoe, I had the opportunity to get both my feet on my “To Go” trail shoe, the Saucony Peregrine 6 (P6) way before it was available in the market thanks to the people at Saucony Malaysia. However, I kept a low profile on it and only tested the shoe when I was all out at the trails by myself leading up my race at West Highland Way Race 2016 where the P6 was my chosen race shoe.

The Saucony Peregrine 6.

The Peregrines, from 4, 5 and now 6.

After successfully racing the West Highland Way Race 2016 in the P6 which is where this review is entirely based on, it’s now time to recap and put it into words. Built under Saucony’s RunAnyWhere line-up of trail shoes, I remember how surprised and at the same time delighted I was when I saw the P6 for its very first time about a year ago. Having trained and raced with both the Peregrine 4 and 5, I was surprised that Saucony took the risk and plunge to change its core design after 5 generations and delighted at the same time too that they did and for the better for the P6 finally “matured” into a sleek, aggressive and fast “Peregrine” (referring to the falcon). Completed redesigned from scratch, the P6 not only spots a totally new upper, but a new midsole and a totally redesigned outsole.

Lateral view of the Saucony Peregrine 6.

Medial view of the Saucony Peregrine 6.

After having spot the same last for the past 5 generations, the P6 arrived as a fresh new design. The upper now utilizes a new engineered stretch mesh which offers a smoother feel and look compared to the previous ones used which was more traditional looking. Smooth to the touch, it still retains the excellent ventilation as found in previous generations, if not an improvement over it. Being a stretchy material, one can expect a very forgiving toe box where my toes were splayed throughout my entire 28 hours out at the highlands. No hot spots, no blisters, no chaffing and very quick drying was what I can say about it. And to hold up the shoe’s upper by giving it a little structure without compromising on durability was the usage of FlexFilm, a thin but strong layer of synthetic material which offers fewer layers on the upper for a seamless and flexible feel.

A completely new engineered stretch mesh with a 
reinforced toe cap to withstand any accidental kicks..

The external heel counter has a semi rigid but yet flexible plastic cupping built into it to give better stability to the ankle. Cosmetically and personally, I find it very good looking with not only the Peregrine insignia on it, but a set of coordinates which if you are interested, will bring you the banks of Saucony Creek at Kuztown where the Saucony was first founded. The collar is then rounded off with the RunDry lining to keep sweat out of the shoe while giving a plush feel.

External heel counter with coordinates.

Padded RunDry collar.

The toe cap is reinforced by a durable and rugged looking rubber piece. Despite having trip over some rocks and also kicking my foot over it, the toe cap does it job very well, that’s it to shield and protect my toes. And not only that, it held up very well too. No chipping off or rubber coming undone especially with much exposure to different elements such as heat, water crossing and yes, even cow dung too (who wants to steal my shoe better think twice now).

With a gusseted tongue, any unwanted debris that may find its way into the shoe is minimized. And not only that, it gave a much better fit as it wraps around the feet nicely and snugly. Not as plush as the ISOFit found in the Zealot, but it does its job well here. And with a gaiter clip found at the front, a secondary protection can be added, especially when one is running through dirty terrains where debris may enter through the collar area. And the laces, unlike previous generations has been shorten which now fits better. And yes, it’s still made of the same durable material and it stays put to its place without coming undone easily. No worries about stepping over it.

The gusseted tongue.

The gaiter clip and the awesome lace.

The midsole saw some minor changes especially on the heel insert. Gone is the PowerGrid foam there being replaced with a new continuous cushioning foam call EVERUN which offers 83% energy return and 3 times the durability. It started off pretty firm but after a few runs, the foam will be “broken in” and I could feel a slight difference. Honestly speaking, not a huge world of difference compared to the already good PowerGrid in the “Feel” department, but I believe it’s for the better as Saucony continue to evolve it. Besides, I could see it holding up pretty well despite my shoe having gone through over 300KM in distance in various conditions. That’s really 2 thumbs and 2 big toes up for me!

Breakthrough in cushioning where EVERUN replaces 
PowerGrid at the heel insert of the Peregrine 6.

Most previous Peregrine users had asked for a higher stack height and Saucony had listened and responded for the next midsole upgrade saw an additional 1MM of stack height bringing the P6 up to 21.5MM on the heel and 17.5MM on the forefoot and hence still retaining the sweet 4MM offset. Although thicker now to try numb any ground feel, the P6’s ride is still pretty low to ground and hence one can still feel very stable in it.

Over at the forefoot encased within Saucony’s SSL (Saucony Super Lite) EVA is the EBO (External Bedrock Outsole), a protective rockplate made of flexible but yet strong nylon fiber to shield and protect from sharp rocks or rugged terrains. It’s generally lighter in weight compared to traditional thick rubber and more versatile compared to carbon fiber.

The EBO rockplate as seen in grey/black "zebra" line embedded into the midsole at the front.

For those who remember the outsole design of previous Peregrines where it utilizes multi directional lugs and 2 different rubber compounds to achieve excellent traction in both rocky and muddy conditions, the P6’s new outsole, achieved not only what it predecessor’s did but improves over it. Now with a 1 piece design and new carbon rubber compound call PWRTRAC offering an even tackier ride and 3 times more durable compared to traditional carbon rubber, it together with a newly redesigned multi directional thread with deep angled lugs that resembles mini falcon talons, gives the P6 an exceptional comfortable and confident ride.

The multi directional lugs of the new PWRTRAC outsole.

That’s all the positive for the P6 but what amazes me is that despite all the changes and upgrades from the above, the P6 still weighs in at 266 Grams for a men’s size US9.0. And that’s 6 Grams shaved off from the P5! Well done Saucony!

There’s many to like about the P6, but like all shoes, gadgets, accessories and others, there will be a few dislikes as none is perfect. First, the ventilation despite being top notch, the upper like P5 still allows super fine debris like sand and ash to enter the shoe. Not really a big deal in this part of the world, but I do hope that Saucony can come up with a cross between ventilation and debris protection for this part of the shoe. But do note that there is a FlexShell version of the P6 releasing soon, where it offers water repellency with a close top upper where it will solved the debris issue at the expense of a few grams and ventilation.

Next will be the EVERUN heel insert. It seems that being only inserted on the heel area, not much difference can be felt. A full length EVERUN insert will be more preferable and hopefully, this can help with impact absorption and also toe-off as footing and landing zones on trails differs much from road.

And finally, at 266 Grams, the P6 is already very light for a trail she of this class. But I believe it can go even lighter with the semi rigid plastic on the heel counter be replaced with some other lighter materials such as those found in the Kinvaras.

Outsole wear and tear of the Peregrine 5 (left) after 468KM and Peregrine 6 after 321KM (right).

I've started wearing the Saucony Peregrines since the fourth generations. It got better at the fifth but the sixth has set a new standards in my very own opinion on trail shoes. The Saucony Peregrine 6 has won numerous awards worldwide but 2 awards stands out most which is the coveted Runners World Editor’s ChoiceAward and OUTSIDE Gear of the Year 2016. Awards are definitely able to market the shoe well, but what most important is the feel and ride from the individual’s wear experience. And after more than 300KM worth of trail adventures especially in the rugged West Highland Way, all I can say here, it truly deserves its awards!

The Saucony Peregrine 6 with it's cousin, the Kinvara 7 together with the Comrades Marathon medal and the West Highland Way Race goblet. 2 amazing shoes, 2 amazing races.

The Saucony Peregrine 6 is now available at a recommended selling price of RM429.00 at all Saucony authorized dealers nationwide such as Saucony Concept Store (Queensbay Mall, Penang), Running Lab (Tropicana City Mall, Selangor), Top Man World (Kulai, Johor), Stadium and selected Royal Sport House stores.

This pair of Saucony Peregrine 6 is kindly provided by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, the sole authorised distributor of Saucony in Malaysia for test and review purposes and all opinions are based solely on personal takes.