Thursday, September 11, 2014

Penang Ultra 100...

Event: Penang Ultra 100
Venue: Padang Kota, Penang
Date: 07 September 2014
Time: 9.00pm
Distance: 100KM (105.5KM by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Ride 7
By Frank

I initially registered for the 84KM distance for the Penang Ultra as the 100KM was already closed when I made up my mind. However, on one fine day, race director Andrew was at my work place and we chatted leisurely which resulted in my upgrade of distance to 100KM! Thanks Andrew! *grin* But before continuing, here's a marvelous video put up by Andrew and his team which describes this run.

After battling through Kuching Marathon which was a rather "hard" run for my body where recovery was a little slow, my aim for Penang Ultra was just to complete the run without any injuries or fatigue.  I even chose to wear the Saucony Ride 7, a higher profile more cushion shoe compared to my usual just to protect and pamper my legs. And this will also be my first implementation of the MAF method in an ultra distance after a very successful result at the marathon distance.

I journeyed up to Penang together with Jason and Yik Yee in the latter's brothers car on Friday noon arriving at Bukit Mertajam just in time for dinner with Jason's parents. Dinner was simple but yet awesome at the famous river fish stall. Highlight was when Uncle Tan ordered steam patin fish and when I am able to eat the fatty part, it will mean it's really FRESH! No fishy smell. Had a satisfying dinner before we returned to the hotel to rest. Instead, I watched Star Wars on the TV till it ended at midnight before I went sleep. Oops...

Had a reasonably good 9 hours of sleep. Could be better if the hotel's pillow isn't that high and firm though! Went across the street with Yik Yee for "wan tan" noodle breakfast as recommended by Jason's parents before we checked out from the hotel joining them for lunch at a nearby food court. Local favorites like char kuey teow, popiah, rojak and refreshing ambra juice was ordered. We then adjourned back to Jason's house to rest before heading over to the island at 3PM where we rendezvous with Dr Wong at Esplanade, Padang Kota. Collected our race kit and it's to City Bayview Hotel to rest while waiting for dinner time.

Dinner was a simple plate of fried rice at Padang Kota. It was then to check in  our halfway point essentials and to have ourselves registered in. However, due to lack of info, we left our race gear back at the hotel. Luckily, it was pretty near as we headed back. Fast forwarding, once everything is good to go, we hung around the start area to catch up with friends like CP, Ewegene, Zijill and some others.

With Zijill who will embark on her first ultra distance.

The race was schedule d to start at 9PM together with the 84KM distance, but however Chief Minister arrived only at 9PM.  The race only got underway about 10 minutes later after a short speech by him. The first task for the runners is to go through the busy street of Georgetown safely. Though the traffic police did a good job in manning the traffic flow, it was still up to the runners to navigate through safely. My blinkers were already turned on but not my headlamp was the area was brightly lighted. And once we arrive at the Jelutong Highway, we ran on the motor lanes before to the inner pavements.

I settled into a very comfortable pace, too comfortable for some I guess. It was just about average 145 beats per minute for my heart rate. It's a long distance to go and hence I thought of starting extremely comfortably to conserve energy and strength. Besides, this is my first time using the MAF method on this distance. I arrived comfortable at the first check point at Queensbay Mall. Took a gel here and refilled my bottle before I continued on to the second Penang Bridge via Batu Maung. A little scary here with constructions around and we had to run on the open road again. It was not until arriving at the industrial park that things got better.

I was till feeling comfortable here albeit rather lonely. I was thinking back about my run at Titi where I ran together with Susanah. We had each other for company and this time, I seriously miss it. I needed to think of something and the thoughts of those moments filled my mind as my legs moved. Somewhat of a motivational push.

Everything went well till the half marathon distance. The stretch here along the Batu Maung village is filled with construction sites and at certain stretches, there was no running lane. We just had to simply run hoping that vehicles will be able to see us and to move away. I was running my own pace when this runner caught up with me. He was following me so closely and fearing for his safety, I tried to move inwards only to kick the plastic barricade in the process. I came to a total stop as it hurt and this broke my running momentum. I continued walking trying to shake off the pain and slowly from there, I continued to run. And shortly after that incident, Zijill, Lai Ling and Vincent caught up. Together we, ran towards the second check point where David and Dr. Wong too caught up.

Andrew was there and I unwinded a little while having my first pack of jerky before resuming. It was run walk from now onward as legs began to feel stiff. Things began to become interesting at about 32KM as we attack the climbs there. It was so similar to the Inchanga climb at Comrades. And not only that, the road was leaning to one side. I literally walked up the climb together with Foo and had a great time chatting along with him before resuming my run at the top at Kampung Genting. From there, it was all downhill to the third check point in a school at Jalan Sungai Nipah.

With Foo climbing towards Kampung Genting.

Sean and Vivien was there supporting and snapping photos. I spent a little longer time here to have my legs stretch and massage. Siaw Hua was here too but she look battered. One after another, my friends like Yen Erl, Zhen Qi and Renee started arriving. I left the checkpoint walking while munching on my crackers. It was already 1AM plus and I was feeling sleepy. I needed to get to the next checkpoint for my can of Red Bull was there. But the problem was, this is the longest stretch at 15KM long. And not only that, it was dark, smelly and flat. I started alone but midway through, I was joined by Yen Erl and Zhen Qi. We did not run together until at about 45KM where we ran together till we finally arrived at the halfway point which is also the fourth check point at Jalan Sungai Rusa, once again in a school.

Our friends Jason, Zheng Yang and Alexa was there to help us out. Seng Heng who had called it a day was also there and he prepared a cup of noodles of me. Thank you so much Seng Heng! I had to eat and eat I did. Had some watermelon and cola too. The Red Bull energy drink I mentioned earlier was filled into my front bottle with some ice to keep it cold and diluted. It was a long rest and a moment of relieve for my swollen trapezius as I removed my backpack for the first time. I only resumed the journey when Yen Erl and Zhen Qi did. It was a long climb towards the Teluk Bahang dam and their company is much appreciated. We walked together in the darkness with only our head lamps and blinkers. Traffic was almost none and the only sound was dogs barking, our foot steps and sometimes the sound of water gushing. And fast forwarding to the top of the climb, we started our run descending to the dam. A few rain drops came but it did not help much. Zhen Qi was strong running downwards but as clumsy as I am, I took precautions. At one point, Yen Erl scream as she pulled a muscle. We stopped hoping it wasn't anything serious and was glad it wasn't, at least at that moment of time.

We finally arrived at the dam's jetty where a number of supporters and ambulance was there. We though it was the checkpoint but was told it wasn't. We were utterly disappointed that we had to run for another kilometer or so to reach there. Not having any choice, we continued on and soon got to the Teluk Bahang municipal hall.A quick refuel and off again we went, this time along the dangerous stretch of Batu Feringgi.

Dawn began to break and the morning traffic started. We had to share our running lane together with the traffic and it was the Rapid Penang bus that Jamie told me about that I fear most. I kept my blinkers on even though the sun is up. And surprisingly, like a solar panel absorbing the energy from the sun, I began to feel strong again. Both the girls asked me to go ahead and I did. But as the heat and dry wind came, my energy too subsided and both of them caught up again. I just wanted to get to the next check point then hence I pushed on and finally arrived. And here, I thought the organizers wanted to torture us as the checkpoint was located below a slope! Spent a little longer here than expected to relieve those sore muscles. My left trapezius was in no-man's land but I didn't want to know too much about it hence kept my back pack on.

I continued alone and the next task was to get to Gurney Drive. It was getting really warm and I started splashing myself with water from my front 2 bottles to keep my temperature down. At Tanjung Bungah, I spotted a drive-thru Starbucks and at that moment of time, I almost went in to get myself a frappucino but I did not. We were directed into Straits Quay and this was a nice place to run. However, this also increased the distance! I spotted a fellow runner name Pang sitting along the roadside. I told him to start walking and not just sit down for it's going to be even tougher to restart. He took my advice and started walking.

Exiting the Straits Quay area, I could see Gurney Drive and I pushed forward till arriving at the roundabout there. Seow Fung and Shannon was there to welcome me as this is the point of no return for the 100KM runners. From here, it;s the journey to the dreaded Penang Hill. Yes they are serving coconut drink up there but I told Shannon that even Gurney Drive has plenty of it! Hahaha...

I walked till Youth Park before resuming my run till the entrance to Penang Hill. Supporters and marshals were there as they welcome the runners. I ran up the first 100M or so before I realised that it is impossible to run. It was so STEEP that even by standing still, the body felt like tumbling backwards. Knowing it was impossible to run, I took out my second pack of crackers and started munching away. However, my taste buds were gone and it was so dry that I decided to ut them away. I met CP about 1KM into the climb and he reminded me it was a total 5KM climb. I've got another 4KM to go!

I climb and climb and climb and found a runner name Alan at the midway point. All his fingers were swollen probably due to blood flowing there. He wanted to quit and hence I flagged down a cyclist to ask him notify the volunteers below before I continued. Shorty later, a group of teenagers who are on their way up for picnic asked what was I doing. Told them about the race, and they gave me a bottle of isotonic drink. I was really grateful to them for I need something sweet at that time. This also helped me propel step after step as I caught up with Goh and Foo. And as we move closer to the top with about a kilometer or perhaps shorter to go, the terrain became slightly flatter and this is where I finally met Yik Yee. We were both so tired that we can only say "See you at the finish"! But as friends, this short conversation meant a lot to us.

I finally arrived at the viewing deck within the cut-off time. But the checkpoint wasn't there. Instead, its located 300M inwards! Another joke for the runners! Headed there, got our numbers check in before returning to the viewing deck for our well deserved coconut drink. As there is no cut-off time from here onwards with the exception of the final 18 hours, I took the opportunity to rest long here as I have about 3 hours to complete the remaining 15KM or so. It was doable! 

And just when I wanted to restart my journey down, Hailwa called out to me! I was really surprise to see her. She was a customer who then became a friend back at Titi this year. She apparently was there for holiday and what a surprise for the both of us indeed. We chatted a little before I restarted my journey alone. As I am pretty clumsy while descending, I was caught up by Alan who wanted to quit earlier. Was pretty surprise he continued though but welcome his company as we chatted and walked together. Soon Yen Erl caught up too and this is where both of us kept each other company. We arrived at the foot of the hill safely and spotted Zhen Qi ahead. We caught up with her at Youth Park and all 3 of us, reunited again push till Gurney Drive only to be broken up again by the traffic light. Zhen Qi went ahead while Yen Erl and myself was stuck while waiting for the lights to turn green.

Painful descend.

At the final stretch with Yen Erl.

At the final check point at Gurney Drive, it was about 5KM that stands in our way. We had about 2 hours and it was certainly more than enough. With Yen Erl and Poh Chye, we walked the entire Gurney Drive till Poh Chye decided to run along from the Northam Towers. Myself and Yen Erl only decided to start running from Citibank onwards. And we did just that till seeing the finish line at Esplanade.  Vivien and other supporters were there but we could not get to the finish although we can see it. We had to run around the field which is about another 400M to 500M or so! We walked around it with Chee Kin only to resume running at the final stretch. Holding hands, we ran the finishing chute and completed the run side by side in 17:31:26 hours!

Finishing it together with Chee Kin and Yen Erl!

One for the album with Yen Erl, Chee Kin and Zhen Qi.

Hung out at the race site to rest the tired body and legs while catching up with the others. Poor Yik Yee hurt his right knee and had difficulties walking. And when everyone has left, Jason drove us back to his house at Bukit Mertajam where his parent help Yik Yee out. Although I am proud of his achievement, it was certainly not a nice scene to witness a friend in pain.A light snack to replenish the energy and off we started our journey back to KL.

A very tough 100KM and frankly, I underestimated it. I even thought I am able to complete it in 15 hours or so! The route profile with the exception of Penang HIll was a little misleading. There were actually lots of hidden small climbs along the way. Coupled with a very humid weather, it made things even tougher. It was a lonely run especially the first half of the run as my mind was set elsewhere. The MAF method only lasted till the half marathon distance before the rest is up to my own survival mode. But I was glad to complete this very tough race without any injuries and met new friends along the way. And to Zhen Qi and Yen Erl, my grateful thanks for the company. And congratulations to Zijill for completing her maiden ultra distance!

A nice touch. Finisher's belt buckle.

The inaugural Penang Ultra despite being well organised is not without its flaws. And to list them down will be:

- The lack of information on both event site and Facebook
- Information on race day itself were not clear cut
- Long queue to have our mandatory gears check
- Lack of toilets at the race venue
- Food served at check points not really suitable.
- Checkpoints were under man powered and some volunteers were not entirely friendly.Was given a weird look by one of them when I asked him to refill my bottle which he asked me to do it my own.

But on the positive side:

- The team of Andrew, Seow Fung and Shannon has put up a relentless work to make this happen and they certainly deserves praises for it
- Good job by the traffic police in trying their best in manning the traffic flow
- Volunteers and marshals along the way for manning the checkpoints and critical junctions
- Strict check on mandatory gear and cut-off

And before ending this entry, my sincere thanks to the following:

- My parents for helping out back at work while I traveled or this run
- Jason, Zheng Yang, Alexa, Seng Heng for the support and care given 
- Jason's parent for their simple but yet awesome hospitality
- Yik Yee for the companionship and for borrowing his brother's car
- Dr Wong for allowing us to use his room at City Bayview to rest 
- Roy and Susanah back in KL, Chee Kong at Aberdeen and Junie at Vienna for their kind morale support  
- My friends, CP, Foo, Goh, David, Hong Lan, Renee, Lai Ling, Zijill and many more whom I met along the way. 
- Andrew, Seow Fung, Shannon and the entire team for a job well done!

* All photos here credited to the respective photographers. Many thanks to them.

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