Trail running has been in my blood since I was a school boy running cross-country for my secondary school. The Victoria School boys cross-country team was and still is famous for consistently being one of the top teams. I had the privilege of running for and being part of the team that won the national school championships 3 years in a row. A big shout out has to go to our coach Mr Ho Kiat Chong, who is the one who gave me the love for the sport. He taught us discipline and endurance through distance running, and I treasure these precious lessons till today. Thank you Mr Ho!
Fast forward 20 years: I am still loving the sport, but this time cranking up the distance. I have completed two full road marathons and two trail 50km races, but I was searching for something more challenging. My ultimate goal is to race the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) but at 100 miles, over very challenging and vertical terrain, it is still some way more till i can get there. So the plan is to get more race experience over longer distances and also more varied terrain.
As part of this journey, I entered the Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon (BUTM) two weeks after completing 52.5km at the MR25 Trail Ultramarathon in December last year. I guess you could say I signed up on a runner's high!
After the MR25 race, I allowed some time for rest and recovery before resuming training in February 2016. My mileage was not as high as I would have liked due to work commitments but I did the best I could. The key was to always head out enjoying my runs , which is vital to running such long distances. Another crucial thing that helped me during the race was doing the back-to-back long runs on the weekend. So I would typically head out for a 3 hour run on Saturday and then do a 2hr+ run on Sunday. This served to let my body and mind get accustomed to working when I was tired. As traditional ultra training wisdom says, it is the time on your feet that matters. I also worked on the stairs (30 storeys x 5 times) just to get used to the amount of climbing we would be doing in the BUTM. I would have liked to have done longer runs and more vert training, but work, travel and illness took away the better part of the training period. I also was very disciplined about foam rolling and stretching, which helped me stay injury free throughout.
|BUTM 2016 Start area, Tamparuli Valley (Kota Kinabalu)|
|Keeping warm at the start|
|The main tent where all race organization takes place. I am amazed at the grassroots nature of this race and throughly enjoy this simple yet well-organised event. Kudos to the organising team!|
|50km Course Profile (this is not the latest map we used, i couldn't seem to find it but the only difference was the naming of the water stations after WS 2)|
The 50km course would prove to be a fun but tough one, and by the end of it runners would have climbed a total of more than 2000m. For a Singaporean with no mountains to train on, this is by no means an easy task.
The race started well but things started to go wrong after our group of around 12-15 runners missed a route marker and went the wrong way after leaving WS1. We ended up having to bash through the jungle, desperately trying to head straight towards the nearest 4x4 vehicle main track. By using my compass and map, and also the altimeter readings from another runner's Suunto, we eventually reaching the main 4x4 dirt road in between WS2 and WS3.
|Strong pace coming out of WS1|
|Jungle bashing along rubber tapper tracks|
|Crossing streams with refreshing water helped us keep our sanity in our push to get out of the jungle|
We were so thrilled to meet a lady tapping rubber in her plantation, and she told us which direction to head towards WS2. By this time we were more than an hour delayed and around 4km off course. We had to make the mind numbing run backwards to WS2 in order to check in there, otherwise we would be disqualified. We all eventually made it back to WS2 after 30mins of hard running along a mainly upslope journey. After quickly filling up our now depleted water supplies (it is compulsory for all runners to be able to carry a minimum of 1.5litres of water) I was finally back in the race proper.
The rest of race was spent digging deep and reminding myself that I have trained hard for this and this sure beat being cooped up at work back home! I found the steep downslopes tough on my quads and this is something that I need to work on in future training. There was a point when I was actually scared of losing control of my legs when negotiating a steep, muddy slope in the middle of a huge downpour. The slope had literally turned to flowing sheets of mud and gravel, and sustaining grip on such a surface was a painful affair.
|Me managing a smile after the toughest climb of the race: 50 degrees straight up a forested slope to reach this clearing.|
|Typical trail during the race.|
|Typical suspension bridge|
The final 20km were the hardest but fastest kms during my race, partly due to the relatively smaller climbs but also because i was running with a fellow racer who i made friends with. we both were in the group that got lost and we kept each other going for most of the race. We cracked jokes about how we were wearing the same grey Uniqlo running top , and i started calling him Uniqlo. Found out his name, and now Ahmad and I follow each other on Strava!
|Typical climbs during the race.|
|Done! pardon the blurry photo taken by iPhone 4.|
What an amazing race and even more amazing opportunity to have experienced Borneo this way. This race has taught me not to give up and I was happy that i remained in control all the time, even after having had to run extra distance due to getting lost. Here's to more ultras in the future !
[Check out the race stats and follow me on my Strava account]