Saturday, April 16, 2016

Route 68 Challenge 2016...

Event: Route 68 Challenge 2016
Venue: Dewan Serbaguna Komuniti Orang Asli, Gombak, Kuala Lumpur
Date: 10 April 2016
Time: 6.00AM
Distance: 70KM (70.3KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

My last super long run as part of my training, I am really excited to be able to run Route 68 Challenge (R68) this year after missing it last year due to race date being too near to Comrades. I was only introduced to R68, the name of the road late last year by my "mountain friends" when we had one of our runs there. Though I only ran part of it till the telco tower at 11KM, I really like it very much due to the climbs there and knew it will fit very well into my training. The only 2 problems, it was too far away and really dark with plenty of blind spots which is really dangerous considering there are many reckless drivers these days. But I guess with approximately 800 participants for this year's edition, there will be at least some safety elements put into place though there will be no road closure.

I chose to wear the Kinvara 7 over Ride 8 as the Kinvara 7 will be the shoe I will be wearing for Comrades next month. With 48 days to go, I thought it will be nice to have the legs ready with the "feel" of the shoe. I did not wear the actual pair but instead the pair that I wore for Istanbul last year. With the shoe already seasoned, it has the "feel good" ride in it. However, I had to hold back as this was suppose to be an easy long run with a plan of averaging 6.45 minutes per Kilometer for the first half before reducing it to walk run pace at the return leg. If everything goes to the plan, I should be able to complete the distance below 9 hours, I hope.

The starting point located in the very sleepy Orang Asli (natives) village in Gombak is about 40KM drive away from my place. Knowing it will be tough to secure  a car park spot, my idea was to arrive there at about 4AM, 2 hours before the race start. The night before, though managed to arrive back home early from work, I had a tough time trying to get myself to sleep. I was still awake though my eyes were starting to close at 1AM, I knew there was nothing much I can do and hence started preparing myself. Everything went smoothly and I was feeling strong. Was on my way at 3.15AM making a detour to McDonalds for a filet o' fish and black coffee. Arriving 15 minutes later than my actual interned time, the place was already swarmed with people. I managed to secure a spot for my car which isn't far away and rested in there having my breakfast before gearing up and proceeding to the tentage area.

Friendly familiar faces to be with.

It was good to meet up with some regular faces like Kim Song, Amanda, Keng Koon and Dr. Wong. And just before the 70KM distance start, there was a short briefing by Jason followed by reflective vest, headlamp and blinkers check. And at 6AM, the siren to signal the start woke the sleepy village up and off we went. I started from behind with Dr. Wong and took me close to minute to cross the the start gantry.

With 253 runners for the 70KM distance, it was a little tough trying to find space to cut through as safety was a concern in the very dark environment. The last thing we want is a speeding car appearing out of nowhere and knocking someone over as there were lots of blind spots due to the winding road. But after a Kilometer or so into the distance, with runners breaking free, I managed to find space and hence "officially" started my run. With the start already a climb though not steep, I knew it was a long one. It will slowly sap away the energy and strength if not managed well and hence I took it easy.

I was familiar with the first 11KM or so till the telco tower. It was dark with winding roads but the environment was cooling due to the very dense tress there. The first check point situated at the Indian temple some 5KM into the run appeared pretty quickly but I skipped it and proceeded on to the next at 10KM with ease. Upon arrival with dawn breaking, Wai Hong was there to greet the runners as the supervisor there. Visited the loo quickly, grabbed a few watermelons and off I went.

The next following areas will be stepping into the unknown for me. I  heard from friend that the next 5KM will involve some steep climbs before dropping into the valley at Genting Sempah and hence dropping a "gear" there. But as I continued on, I felt that the climb was still manageable. Didn't want to get carried away, I stood with my pace and eventually got to the top, with a rewarding view overseeing Karak Highway.

Overseeing Karak Highway.

Feeling "Scotland" with the mist.

And from there onward, it was about a Kilometer drop with spectacular misty view of the hillside, and not to mention cooling too, into the third check point at Genting Sempah where Hong Lan and Seng Heng supervising. Suzie was there too. Upon arriving there in 8 minutes under 2 hours, I took off my reflective vest and headlamp, stuffing it into my hydration vest. Readjusted my phone in there too which has been irritating my lower back since the start before grabbing some watermelons and it's off I went again.

Happening third checkpoint.

With supervisor ala 200KM finisher Seng Heng as I was munching on watermelons!

It was the start of the descend to the u-turn point which is another 18KM away. Though it's only a very mild downhill, I still played it safe causing many other runners to pass me here.. Despite leaving the third check point with Azlan, it was not long before he went ahead of me. The fourth check point situated near the turning to Janda Baik was supervised by Barkley. Great to see another familiar face but the same routine here with some watermelons plus a gummy candy here before I continued on.

Leaving check point 3 with Azlan.

Despite the weather getting warmer, I was still feeling good. I took small sips of water and sometimes gurgling it to keep my throat wet. Winding roads with blind spots was an issue for safety here, while another was that the downhill got a little tougher. The thighs were starting to feel some impact from the earlier descent though not as bad as I kept reminding myself to managed myself.

A word of caution to the drivers.

After 2:47 hours, I finally arrived at the fifth check point, supervised by Kelvin and Kavien (their name rhythms!). I managed to joked with Kelvin about the steam chicken and roast goose, a prank I made with him back at the Gunung Nuang Ultra a month ago. Was certainly delightful to be able to still joke at this stage of the run.

The next sector was pretty scenic with some view of rivers and a waterfall along the hillside. However, the nagging problem of my phone rubbing against my lower back was still there and I had to stop a few times to readjust it, allowing Razif and Gilbert to pass me. Despite a couple of tries, the discomfort was still there and I literary gave up trying to readjust it during my run. I just have to bring myself to the next check point and do it properly there.

A small waterfall out of nowhere!

Check point number 6 was supervised by Jason Thai. I have to apologies to him here as I rejected most of the food and drinks he offered me. Sorry my friend, but I just needed water as I am worried other food especially sugary ones might cause some tummy issues. However, many thanks for helping me with my phone as I finally settled the very irritating "phone rubbing my lower back" issue. Watermelons and it's off to the u-turn point near the Bentong hot springs.

Towards the hot springs.

The u-turn point was just under 5KM away but I could already see the front runners making their return. One of them was Ben who was filming with his action camera. During my journey, Jason Tan called out to me as he was driving towards Bentong. Hazel too was making her way there on a pick up truck! Eventually after passing a struggling Gilbert, I arrived there too, just 8 minutes under 4 hours.

I was pretty happy with myself at this stage as I ran all the way here without much issues. Rested a while here as I wasn't in a rush to make my way back. But a mistake I made was the amount of watermelons I had here. Too much and I had trouble restarting. But that was fine as my plan was to start my run walk strategy from here till the finish.

Suzie was here too as she handed me an ice cold assam popsicle before I restarted. Thank you Suzie! As I was enjoying it, I noticed a few lucky runners to receive the same too throwing the plastic wrapper away by the roadside. No names are going to be mentioned here at least for this entry but what I can disclose is one of them was my friend wearing a orange top. Shame on you! The race course isn't exactly clean with much rubbish along the way and by throwing even just a single energy gel wrapper or just even the tip make things worse! Runners were made to run with a hydration vest or even a belt, so if one is able to carry their snacks with them, it is no excuse that one can simply just hold on to it after consuming it while waiting for a rubbish bin to appear later. It's not a tough task.

Anyway, back to my return journey, I basically had to walk about 2KM before the watermelons settled in my tummy. By the time it did, I was only left with less than 3KM to arrive back at where Jason Thai was. More watermelons here (oops...) as I refilled my bottle with water as I needed it to splash myself with to keep my core temperature in control along the way later.

A super helpful supervisor, Jason Thai.

The weather was indeed warmer as more runners seek shelter below trees. But as the journey now is of an uphill direction, it works to my strength. All I had to do was to keep my heart rate and my core temperature in range. It was all about control and control I did as I made it back to where Kelvin and Kavien was in 5:24 hours. Sam Sam was there too helping out and what I didn't know that time was that she had already threw in her towel for the 50KM distance. Managed a quick laughter with them before I went on again.

The ascend to Janda Baik was next on the list and I managed my pace very well here powering up the hills with ease. During the journey, I managed to catch up with both Phand and Razif and managed a quick conversation with them before continuing on and arriving at the check point where Barkley was. Refilled my tumbler with water again, a sip of Root Beer and off I went for the final 5KM or so climb before the drop.

The next check point at Genting Sempah and I remember Hong Lan mentioned earlier that she will pass me can of ice cold coffee. That was certainly my motivation to get there. Despite a few walks in between my runs, I managed to pull ahead of Razif. But knowing he was strong at the descend, I know he will eventually catch up later.

Hills, hills and more hills as I literary grin as I made myself up. Nope, it wasn't steep and that was the reason I could still grin. Hahaha... Met lots of 50KM distance runners and suddenly, the race course became more crowded. Soon a concrete bridge came into view followed by a white structure and I knew what lies ahead. I am almost to the top and coffee awaits there.

6:42 hours was how long it took me to arrive back here, some 54KM into the race. Hong Lan quickly passed me the can of coffee as promised as I gulped it down instantly. It was refreshing indeed as I quickly continued on as the check point was really busy and I didn't want to hold Hong Lan up for too long too.

A 1KM steep climb was what stands next before the 15KM drop. Like the Polly Shortts of Comrades, I decided to walk the entire of it to conserve some leg strength and energy for the drop. Besides, it will be a good idea to let the coffee settle down in my tummy too. Arriving at the top, I was offered either a can of Red Bull or Livita by some prominent figure of some running "club", but had to decline. I had long stopped drinking those energy drinks for it's really bad for the body especially during intense exercise like these.

Successfully conquering the climbs, it was time for the final 15KM drop. I resume my run, saving at least "2 gears" to protect my legs. It was important that I did for it's a critical time now. And as expected, Razif caught up. He asked me to follow him which I did albeit only for a while as he was pushing the downhill. To follow him will be to fire my next "gear" and risk an injury. I had no intention to do so and hence, he disappeared slowly into the distance.

Took my time with my descend not only paying attention on my foot strike but also the traffic as it was getting busy along the winding road. the second last check point with 11KM to go till the finish soon appeared. Wai Hong was busy cutting the watermelons for we still had time for a little chat, particularly about the watch we are using, Suunto. I also took a little time to sit down as I spotted a chair before resuming.

The next sector to the final check point at the Indian temple can be considered a homestretch. Though the downhill wasn't very steep, I still had to be careful albeit I don't deny I went a little faster. As I approach one of the big corners near the telco tower, there were lots of people surrounding it with police. There was also the police line which indicated some sort of accident or crime that had happened. I didn't see anything and didn't want to be a nosy parker and hence carried on, only to find out later that a corpse was spotted at the ravine below. Yikes!

As the hills becomes more manageable, I also arrived at the final check point. That should be another 5KM or so till the finish. Took small sips of water and I continued on as I began emptying the bottles on my hydration pack to lighten my burden. I didn't run any faster though as I wanted to enjoy the final sector. And besides, traffic was really heavy as the finish nears.

Final 300M or so.

Happy to complete 70KM.

As the traffic got heavier, I knew I was getting nearer too. With the sights of cars being park by the roadside and with Tey snapping photos along the final straight, I finally saw the white tentage and some other buildings. I was "home" and with one final left turn into the field, I managed to complete the 70KM distance in a of 8:43:48 (nett time), a new best for me!

YES! A personal best!

My splits.

Collected my entitlements and hung around with my friends for a while before heading off to cheer for the other runners. As I begun feeling sleepy, I decided to leave at 4PM, the cut off time for the 50KM distance and that was before cheering the runners from my car. I could see the many faces of determination as the clock started ticking down for them. Most made it, while some did not. But most important, accept defeat gracefully and try again.

Another best for the Kinvara 7.

Overall, it was a very productive run and at the same time I really enjoyed the Route 68 Challenge. I managed to stick with my plan and held back for the entire course, thus managing to save the legs from any potential damage leading into the final month of training.. I felt good and strong throughout the entire run and the same too upon completing it, without having to limp or walk awkwardly the next few days. It was indeed a confident booster for me and I really felt I am ready for my big race soon.

Many thanks to Jeff and Jason Tan for a very successful second edition of Route 68 Challenge. And of course not forgetting to the team whether official or unofficial behind it from Alexa, Hazel, Hong Lan, Barkley, Seng Heng, Wai Hong, Kavien, Sam Sam, Kelvin, Maxon, Raymond, Jason Thai, Suzie, Maui, Tey and many others for helping out. Till the next edition!

My reward the next day. Main reward was a different kind though.

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