Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Putrajaya Night Marathon 2016...

Event: Putrajaya Night Marathon 2016
Venue: Dataran Putrajaya
Date: 12 November 2016
Time: 8.00PM
Distance: 42.195KM (42.5KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7 RunShield
By Frank

My first marathon since my Comrades qualifier at last year's Istanbul Marathon, I was actually a little reluctant to register and run the Putrajaya Night Marathon (PNM) for I know it was just a week after BTS Ultra (Bromo Tengger Semeru). I registered pretty late too as I waited for the announcement of other marathons to be used as my Comrades qualifier for next year. However, to no avail, most marathon dates just didn't fit my schedule and with no other choice this was my only ticket to South Africa next year.

I ran the very first edition of PNM back in year 2010 and did not run it since then. But yet, I heard horror stories of cars being broken n year after year despite the run itself being well organised. And with that, I opt to arrive at the race site as early as at 4PM to secure a good parking spot and that I did, which was just opposite Dorsett Hotel just below a street lamp, hoping the lights will shine on my car throughout the night.

The Putrajaya Night Marathon race route.

As I waited in my car, I was glad I brought along some bread to munch on while waiting for the race start at 8PM. There were rain clouds all over Putrajaya with the forecasted rain to arrive at any time.At 6PM , the rain finally came. Though not heavy, it was enough to bring out the humidity of Purtrajaya and also to wet the race course. Eventually, I geared up and for a very long time since I really do not know when, I opt for shorts and t-shirt to run with this time. And knowing that my legs still has yet to recover from last week's adventure, I put on the CEP calf and quad sleeve as part of some preventive measures.

The Saucony Kinvara 7 RunShield for the forecasted wet marathon.

Proceeded to the race site and soon the rain got heavier as everyone seek shelter along the canopies and bus stops. Eventually, the starting pent were open as runners made their way in. I managed to secure a spot just behind the Afircan elites at the front. But knowing the condition I was in, I expected many runners to pass me as soon as the race got underway. I knew my legs were protesting and my body needed rest. But in my mind, I know I had to do this for there will not be another marathon for me as I headed towards next year's Comrades. I just needed a sub 5 hours finish time, and that I can do though I know it will be painful. Am not expecting an Istanbul nor an Amsterdam this time so legs, just behave and bring me home ya!

Someone built a very nice gantry.

The male emcee was really irritating me with his sarcastic jokes and I can't wait to start. Was glad the countdown of 10 started and at 8PM sharps, the marathon was started as I slowly find my pace. Not surprisingly, I was passed by many runners as I navigated through the slippery wet road before exiting into a much wider Lebuh Setia which lead to Lebuh Wadi Ehsan. With a mild climb ahead, I was surprise to see Selva zoom pass me. He was indeed going very fast, probably at a 5 minutes pace. I hope he knows it was still a long way to go. I've no intention of following him and besides, I still couldn't find my rhythm.

My legs were protesting right off the start earlier and my heart rate was spiking. My whole body felt heavy and was resisting to move. Indeed all signs of fatigue and perhaps under training too. It will be a long night for me and all I could do was just to hang on and do my very best. After all, a ticket to Comrades was at stake.

As I approach the climb, I could already see returning runners at the opposite side which includes Jeff whom we greeted each other with a thumbs up. And upon making my turn, the first refreshment station came into view ahead as I grabbed a cup of water to wet my throat before pushing forward. At 5KM, runners were to make a turn off towards the main highway in darkness. There were same minor construction here and not wanting to trip or fall over, I slowed down to make sure my path was clean. Organisers could have installed a temporary generator here to power some lights for safety sake.

I survived the darkness and entered into the Persiaran Selatan highway. I didn't recognise it at first, but after running a bit further, I soon noticed that it was the same highway where I ran through at Putrajaya 100KM from Taman Cabaran heading towards Taman Rimba Alam. A sneak preview of what lies ahead next week! Had almost all the lanes here to run for with one reserve for the vehicles.

The highway was a long affair of rolling up and down as we ran towards Persiaran Timur. The leaders most of them made up of African runners were already making their way back as I arrived at the 11KM mark. And as for me, I just continue to make my way forward and was glad nothing unfortunate happen, except for me slowing down as the distance grow. It's all about survival for me now for Comrades is at stake.

The u-turn point couldn't come sooner at 16KM near the turn off to Alamanda Shopping Centre and boy I was glad that runners need tot run up the overhead bridge to make the turn and instead, there was an opening in between the railings. Phew... And it was here that I pass Selva whose fiery start has taken its toll on him. And for the return leg, it was another affair of rolling up and down the highway back to where I came from. And by the halfway point, surprisingly, it was my right knee that started to hurt. I guess there was too much compensation on it after the knock on my left knee at both Cameron Ultra and Bromo. It was still manageable and I continued to push on till 25KM before I finally gave in, and started the walk run strategy.

With my heart rate still spiking, I knew my body was constantly utilising sugar as it's primary fuel and I begun taking isotonic drinks while pouring water over my head to cool myself down. I was loosing time as I approach the 30KM u-turn point in the dark. Yes, it was total darkness and even the volunteers there didn't have much lighting to light the area. Organisers should really look into this as portable battery powered lanterns are widely available nowadays at very reasonably price.

I was struggling to move and all I can just keep telling myself is to get to the next water station which is about 2.5KM to 3KM apart to get some drinks and also water to splash myself with. Pace was definitely not getting any faster as fatigue set in. But as of my other long distance races, I began to use markers such as street lamps, road reflectives or even bushes to help with my walk run strategy. It really help and soon I arrived at the 36KM mark back near the entrance to the Putrajaya core island with the convention center looking down on me.

At the 36KM mark water station, I gulp in plenty of water. I poured water from other cups into the only single cup I used hoping to save the environment. However, to my disgust, the volunteer threw all the cups away and just before I left, I politely told her that her actions wasn't acceptable. I only held the cups and did not even drink from it. She agreed with me and apologies for her actions which I gladly accepted. After all, it's all about educating and admitting to mistakes.

I saw the Putrajaya "3 sisters" and knew I was heading the right way. However, it soon appeared behind me and I wonder where was I heading towards as I saw faster runners running on the opposite side. There must be a u-turn ahead and it soon appeared near the 38KM point. Up the flyover and turning back down on the opposite side.

With the final 3KM or so to go, like Comrades, strength began to return as I huff and puff the final stretch of the highway before turning back into Lebuh Setia where it all started some close to 5 hours ago. And at the final Kilometer or so, I saw Mister "You know who I am" from The "H" maximalist shoe ambassador. And it was because of his very arrogant character, I told myself that I must at least zoom pass him, and that I did. Hahaha...

The final straight at Persiaran Perbandaran was a sense of relieve for me. The finish gantry was just ahead and I had 15 minutes to spare. And with that, I knew my Comrades slot for next year is secured as I completed the race in 4:46:20 hours, qualifying for a H seeding. YAY!

I didn't linger too long at the finish, only managing to catch up with Wind before making my way to my car. Cleaned up and changed into fresh clothing before another marathon back home, this time driving. Yes, it's a marathon 42KM distance from Putrajaya to home. Hahaha...

Overall, an expected results for me at Putrajaya Night Marathon. I wasn't sore about it despite one of my worst marathon timings in the past 3 years. I can only blame myself for the lack of training and also recent events at Bromo and also my tooth surgery. But all in all, I am still glad to complete it within 5 hours to secure my slot for next year's Comrades which I will once again start from the final pent. And with this, I have yet another visit to Putrajaya the next weekend for an even longer distance, an event organised by the friendly people of Team Pacat. And that, I look forward to!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra 2016...

Event: Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra 2016
Venue: Cemero Lawang, East Java, Indonesia
Date: 04 November 2016
Time: 11.30PM
Distance: 102.8KM
Shoe: Saucony Xodus 6
By Frank

I enjoyed the Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015 and was delighted when they announced that there will be the inaugural 100KM this year. However, with my trail friends deciding to make a trip to Bromo, Indonesia instead for the Bromo Tengger Semeru (BTS) Ultra, I opt for it too. Besides, it will be more fun together with them especially when the group is large this time round. And with no trip to Scotland during this time of the year, knowing that to visit a new place will be something to look forward to.

The smoking Mount Bromo with Mount Batok at the front and the majestic Mount Semeru at the back.

Air tickets was purchased way back in January 2016 as the fare was really cheap. And by a couple of weeks later, accommodation was all settled for. Even my shoe of choice was all settled immediately thanks to my friends at Saucony Malaysia for sponsoring me a pair of Saucony Xodus 6. However, despite hearing all the horror stories of the BTS Ultra, I kept my focus on Comrades and West Highland Way Race (WHWR). I don't deny that I was itching to participate for the 170KM distance but with no experience, I decided to leave it till I complete WHWR before making a decision. And just before leaving for South Africa, I was informed that our initial fligt to Surabaya had been cancelled. But was glad Piew and Yan Leng step in to help follow up with the case as I was away from home. And it was all sorted out by moving to the next flight which did in a way mess up our itinerary a little.

The elevation profile of the BTS Ultra 100KM course.

Despite knowing that the BTS Ultra was a very tough race of another kind, I did not actually study on it until I was back from WHWR. And knowing that I wanted to slow down a little and have a rest during that period of time to get some issues like my tooth sorted out, I  only listed to the stories by Piew and Yan Leng who ran the 70KM distance 2 years back. And by looking back at the finishing rates from previous years too, I made my mind that the 170KM wasn't for me yet and hence decided for 100KM instead. And when registration was opened in August 2016, as excited as I am to venture into a different type of running, it was also a holiday that I was looking forward to.

Race course map of the BTS Ultra 100KM.

Issues with my wisdom tooth mess up my running a little. Had not had the time to train as much as I would like to and with some knocks during Cameron Ultra just 3 weeks ago, I know I will be asking for trouble at BTS Ultra even knowing that I face a potential DNF (Did Not Finish). But I told myself that I wanted to give it a go especially with my friends and that I will never know if I never try. And with that mindset, the day arrived for the 9 of us, myself, Yan Leng, Piew, Richi, Leong, Jeannie, Angie, Deenee and Zoe to make ourselves to Bromo.

Hello Indonesia - Thursday, 3 November 2016
Our initial first flight out got cancelled and then rescheduled 3 times and then delayed for almost an hour. Things did not start well and we were all very tired having arrived at the airport as early as 6.30AM. "Thank you" Air Asia! But the positive is that the flight was smooth and that we landed safely at Juanda International Airport, Surabaya. Our nightmare continued when our arranged official transport tried to squeeze us into their bus. With the journey taking up to 4 hours, myself, Piew, Yan Leng and Jeannie refused to board the bus and asked for a Toyota Avanza instead which was then given.

On the way to Bromo in our little Toyota Avanza.

We arrived at Bromo Permai Hotel in chilly conditions ahead of others and waited for them and our luggage which arrived abuot half an hour later. Things got better here as we checked into our respective room which was decently comfortable before having our much anticipated dinner at the hotel. We were all so hungry and was glad the meal served was good enough.

First meal together at Bromo.

With dinner all down into our tummies, we made our way to Lava View Hotel at Cemero Lawang to check out the race village. Still setting up and with Mount Bromo and Mount Batok hidden in sheer darkness, we returned to our rooms to call it a night.

Race preparation - Friday, 4 November 2016
The group woke up as early as 5.30AM to visit Mount Bromo. Despite waking up myself, I decided to sleep back in to get additional rest for the race was scheduled to start at midnight later. I needed all the rest I can get knowing that my weakness in long distance running will always be my sleep.

Checking out Mount Bromo (left) and Mount Batok (right) from the distance.

Woke up a couple of hours later myself and walked around the surroundings with both the volcanoes Mount Bromo and Mount Batok looking majestically beautiful from the distance. With the tummy grumbling again, I went for breakfast while waiting for the rest to return before we headed out to the race village again to collect our race pack. Decently organised, we had a few photos taken before returning to our rooms to get our drop bags sorted out where we were greeted by last year's 30KM champion, Fadel who was a really nice chap. He was aiming to go 2 levels higher this time by attempting the 100KM distance and was aiming to complete it in 14 hours! Our jaws dropped upon hearing that!

100KM for the 4 of us. Maybe a relay was a better idea? LOLz...

With all the stories, quickly enough, it was already time for lunch as we headed out this time for a simple lunch just outside the hotel before returning to the room for a short rest. Couldn't rest much though and it was time to head back to race village to have our drop bags deposited, race briefing and also to send our good vibes for the 170KM runners who will start their race at 5.00PM.

My battle gear sorted out. Decided to leave the poles behind though.

Dinner together before the battle together.

Back to the room for another round of short rest before dinner at the hotel's cafe and then another round of short rest before gearing up for the midnight start. Didn't feel fully recharge but guess that will do. With the earlier rain during the 170KM start, conditions was chilly as I had my BV Spport base layer top and Uniqlo Heatteach long sleeve on. A quick mandatory gear check and we went into the cafe to hide from the cold. As more runners arrived including the 70KM distance which is to start together with, myself together with Yan Leng, Piew, Richi and Leong made our way to the start line hoping to get a clean start later. A few photos including silly video of us dancing followed by some last minutes reminder and instructions by the race director, we were ready.

Kindly do not laugh ya.

Ready to rock and roll!

Race day - Saturday, 5 November 2016
The race officially got underway at sharp 12AM midnight. A climb greeted us immediately after the start and with the entire race course above 2,000M above sea level, altitude will be a problem. Immediately, I could already feel the effect as runners started passing me. My strategy was to follow Piew and Yan Leng for as long as I could but instead, I lost them at the start, which includes Richi too, as I was huffing and puffing trying to get myself away from the race start.

It was after about half a Kilometer in that when we entered the trails that I managed to settle down a little. But with single file all the way, I had to play to the rules and stay safe by running in a straight line and soon, we started to descend into a huge open area filled with volcanic ash. And it was here that I caught back up with the trio of Piew, Yan Leng and Richi. Phew... All is not lost yet. We ran together and with my Buff covering my face, I arrived at the first mountain first, B29 and started climbing through the long bushes and big rocks. Reminds me of Mount Nuang back home.

I was sandwiched between 2 local runners as we made our way up B29. As it was technical and yet slippery, we took rest in between as I took the opportunity to look back where I witness a magnificent trail of runner's headlamp lighting the trail behind like a mighty dragon.

Without any mishaps, I got to the top of B29 where the first check point awaits at 7KM. Everything was fine as I was settling into the altitude a little and also the chilly conditions. Guess my experience at Scotland was helping with the latter. Knowing the rest are making their way up shortly, I waited for them before we continued on for the 11KM or so to Ranu Pane together into yet another single file trail, but this time only much tougher.

Continuing ahead, the trails were slowly desceding though not really noticeable. However, it was made tough by the "V" shape path made by the "Ojek"s (motorcycle). Not only that, certain areas was slippery due to the rain earlier. And at one bushy area, I was even smack right into my eyes by a branch who came swinging back but was lucky there weren't any thorns on it. But lots of team work here, as we waited for each other and whoever was leading the way signaled out the rest behind of incoming  obstacles such as water puddle, mud or branches. Great job!

We soon exited the trails into a village and on to the tarmac for some relieve and eventually arrived at the second check point at Ranu Pane located within a little cafe of some sort. 18KM into the race and we were at 4.00 hours! The time explains how tough is the course and the second half will be even tougher!

The check point here is well equipped with water to hot beverages and light snacks. Took a little time to "re-gear" ourselves while munching down some of the snacks we brought along. I had waffles though and once everyone was ready, we continued on for the next 10KM to Ranu Kumbolo.

What goes down, will go back up and this is how I describe the journey to Ranu Kumbolo. But it was a journey of magnificent view as sunrise awaits. The trail was rather run-able though the long bushes by the side did cover up certain parts. Not wanting to risk any mishaps, we ran when we could, and walk when we can't. And we waited for each other too. My headlamp started signaling for low battery and eventually went off. Was glad my pals was with me as they shone the lights on me while I changed for a new sets of batteries. But a little more longer, the dawn broke and the sky lighted in magnificent orange. And it was time for my GoPro to come out as we started taking some photo, some funny ones too. It did slow us down but it was really worth it.

And dawn breaks!

Just being silly and enjoying myself when I am still able to.

We utilised the huts on the way to regroup should some went ahead faster. But it was when all got to a junction pointing to "Semeru" where a climb was next that everyone got together with a couple of other runners. It was a steep climb but from the top, it was a drop to the lake at Ranu Kumbolo. Another fantastic view awaits as hikers and camps was seen next to the lake.

Heading towards the lake at Ranu Kumbolo.

6:20 hours was the elapsed time when we got here. A massive task was next as we needed to climb the short but yet steep Bukit Cinta. We bumped into Thomas here as we took our time to "re-gear" ourselves. As the temperature got a warmer, I removed my long sleeve top and felt the relieve immediately. We started our climb with same tiring faces along the way. Took us about 7 minutes to get to the top of this 300M mammoth before we dropped to the lavender field below, yet another magnificent view of the mountainous landscape here.

Climbing the short, deadly and steep Bukit Cinta.

Beautiful lavender field.

We could already see the majestic Mount Semeru awaiting us from the distance. However, being a mountain ahead will also mean that we will need to climb to get to it, well at least near to it at Kalimati, some 5KM away. And with that, altitude started taking effect on me too as I got slower as I struggled for oxygen. Richi was already way ahead with Piew and Yan Leng still within manageable distance.

On the way to Kalimati at the foot of Mount Semeru means more climbing. 
Altitude starts to get worse from Cemoro Kandang.

There were runners making their return to Ranu Kumbolo after turning back from Kalimati. Some were running the 70KM distance while others the 100KM distance including Fadel. Somere were informing of the time to get to arrive at Kalimati but what they didn't state was whether ro run or walk? I kept going despite feeling dizzy due to the altitude and also the rising temperature, but was glad to made it to the top at about 2,767M above sea level, which is almost the highest point of the entire race course, before another short descent to Kalimati with Mount Semeru overlooking us. The trio of Richi, Piew and Yan Leng was waiting for me as I received my first wrist band here.

Without any food or drinks here as it was just a u-turn point, we quickly made our way after I gave each of us a refreshing bio-water spray. Was still struggling with dizziness and a little discomfort on my left knee which suffered a couple of knocks back at Cameron Ultra, in a matters of minutes, the trio went ahead. But the many other runners and familiar faces making their way to Kalimati did help me divert my struggles away which includes Leong, Renee and Kim Song. And as I reached different areas on the way back to the Lavender field, the trio was still waiting for me and I felt thankful and grateful to them. We climbed back up Bukit Cinta before descending back down to Ranu Kumbolo for a slightly longer stop.

With 38KM covered in just slightly under 9 hours and with the next check point being the halfway point at Jemplang some 16KM away, we needed to fill ourselves up. I started munching on some cashew nuts and dried guavas that I had with me while washing it down with some isotonic drink and water. And when we were ready to go, we bid Ranu Kumbolo farewell departing from another trail onward heading to the savanna lookalike field under the hot sunny conditions.

The open savanna like field and we needed to climb that hill!

My headache was getting worst as we made our way along the open area before hitting the climbs again. It was an endless climb though not really technical, it was steep. I had to stop to catch my breath at times and also to relieve myself of the pain that was hitting me on my head. I was definitely struggling and my friends took note and asked if I need Paracetamol to help ease my discomfort. I was really reluctant to take it as most of you know how much I am against taking painkillers. I didn't even take it after my wisdom tooth extraction and lived through it. However, after much persuasion and considering that it may be too dangerous for me to carry on with the pain behind my head, I took 1 tablet of 650MG strength. And honestly speaking, I felt disgusted with my decision.

Climbing and more climbing and with a headache.

Mount Semeru in the distance shrouded in clouds.

Steps after steps forward and upward along the spectacular view, all 4 of us were just glad to made it to the top where a group of runners from both 70KM and 100KM distances were resting. Had fun joking with them before bidding them farewell with a group photo together. It's time to descend and with the trails being run-able again, I was glad that my headache has begun to subside.

70KM and 100KM runners unite!

A little drama from us.

A wefie with a cute village kid did brighten up my mood.

Eventually, we arrived at a village with cabbage, onion and potatoes farms surrounding it. Was a couple of Kilometers walk before we refueled ourselves again with some snacks before reentering the trails again. But the trails that greeted us next wasn't what I expected. We had to climb to the top and from there it was a very slippery descend down via loose soil where we need to us the ropes there. While Richi was already way at the bottom with only his voice echoing through the bushes, I took note that both Piew and Yan Leng was grabbing to the ropes and back tracking down. However for me, I found an easier way which is to squat and slide down with one hand grabbing the road. I felt more comfortable and confidence this way though my poor Saucony tights had to go through some abrasions while shielding my backside. But in the end, all of us got to the bottom safely with a magnificent view of potato farm greeting us.

Richi was already way ahead of us with Piew and Yan Leng just ahead of me. Was in no rush though, as some music occupied the surroundings. Apparently there was some musical show happening at the turn off exit to the road where we are heading towards. We got there with some locals cheering us on. It will be another couple of Kiometers climb upwards before reaching Jemplang. Was glad that there were 2 officials setting up an unofficial check point for runners to refill their hydration. Weather cooled a little with a little hint of rain clouds hovering among the mountains.

The climb was horrendously long. I was delighted when I saw an eatery by the roadside thinking that is the check point. To my disappointment, it wasn't and we had to move forward more. But was lucky that it wasn't really far away as we got there in just below 13 hours. However, to our horror, the halfway point Jemplang check point at 53KM was just a hut on a slope with some big construction roads by the side. And they just had to put our drop bags at the highest point where we had to retrieve it ourselves. I was missing the Cameron Ultra volunteers dearly at this point of time considering the service provided by the BTS volunteers was just no comments. The difference was just miles and miles apart.

Anyhow, I reorganised my gears, charged my phone and Suunto while having my snacks ad my all important coffee. A pretty lengthy stop as the cut off time here was at 14 hours where we had ample time. We asked Richi to go ahead but he insisted to wait on before we left together descending down towards Mount Bromo via the Sea of Sand.

The Sea of Sand is exactly how it sounds like, it's full of sand or rather volcanic ash. As the sky began to open up with some drizzles along the way, we stopped to put on our rain jacket. I was walking really slowly here as I began to tire and signaled to both Piew and Yan Leng to go ahead without me with Richi way ahead already. I was still glad to have made it this far with them as I began my lonely journey towards the volcano.

Getting nearer to the volcanoes with Mount Batok welcoming the runners first.

A mixture of volcanic ash and sulfur began to take over.

As I got nearer to Mount Bromo from the Sea of Sand, the terrain started to change from flat to canyon like too, with loose sand and ash shaping the dunes. It will take a lot of strength to find balance there but with tired and sore arms, legs and body, it will be a challenge. It started with walking through the canyons but soon it changed to ash dunes and hills which involves climbing up and down just to get to the opposite side. And the markers weren't actually showing the safest part to get through and hence some navigation is required.

The terrain started to change as we near the volcanoes.

I arrived at one point overlooking a deep long drop into the below. I did not know where to head to and wanted to to just head towards the marker. But then, a familiar voice echoed the surrounding. It was Piew who was calling out from the opposite with Yan Leng by his side. He signaled to me to use the longer right side around the canyon to get to where they were. I thanked them before they headed towards Mount Bromo while I took a little time off to re-pack my gear before continuing on to where they suggested.

The area where Piew called out to me. Try spotting him and Yan Leng in the picture.

The suggested route down the canyon was indeed more manageable. However, I got lost at the bottom trying to figure out the way out of it. And those who know that my navigation skills and judgement can be pretty bad, I again chose the wrong way, a judgement so bad that may have cost me my life. I opt to climb up a slope which was fully ash. It was steep and the ground was loose, reminding me Namib Desert. With every step up, I was sliding backwards as I struggled to push myself up. And suddenly, I lost grip and I began to fall. As I fell downwards and struggled to find back my grip hanging on to dear life using both my arms and legs not knowing if I will land on the ash or rock at the bottom of the canyon, many things return into my mind. The memories of my dear ones, friends, my pooch and my entire running career, came returning to me instantly like a blink of flash light in my head. I guess that was the feeling when we are on the verge of loosing the battle against the Angel of Death, in this case my second time. My previous encounter was when I was laying unconscious on the operating bed and did not know the feeling back then.

Needed to climb dunes like these. One of it nearly swallowed me.

With my stronger right arm and my entire right side of my body and whatever I could find left in me, and like Wolverine with his claws, in my case my fingers, I push myself against the ash and eventually slowed my sliding down before finally finding back grip. I managed to stop my fall and hung on just before hitting the end of the ridge. I was relieve as I let out a few breath. My right arm was bruised from the ordeal but what matters most was that I was lucky to be still alive. Sorry Angel of Death, I am just not ready yet.

Damage on right arm from the fall earlier. But glad to be still able to take this shot.

I realigned and recomposed myself as I studied the canyon while looking at the others making their way through the original path from the top. There was another path at the bottom, a longer one which requires some climbing too and I opt to try that out next once I came into terms with what had happened earlier. This was the correct path as it was much easier ad soon, I was making my way towards the foot of Mount Bromo with a bruised arm, body, a little of my ego but was lucky to be still continuing with this race.

Stairway to Bromo.

The sky opened up again as the clouds hover over the sun. It was getting cold as I arrived at the check point to receive my second wrist band. As I looked at the volcano ridge above, I spotted Piew starting to make his way around it. I needed to calm myself down after the earlier drama and was in no haste to chase him. Instead, I found a new friend, Rais if not mistaken, a local and we agreed to move together once I have put on my water proof Saucony EXO jacket.

Up close and personal with the Bromo crater.

The wind was getting stronger and the sun had already showed signs of setting. At that point of time, the idea of throwing in the towel came into my mind as knowing how clumsy I can get especially in dangerous conditions ahead and with my inexperience in this kind of races, there might just be another drama ahead awaiting for me. But I needed and wanted to move around the volcano and hence decided to at least give it a go and make the decision once I arrive at the next check point at the foot of Mount Batok, some 10KM away. For now, we had to move fast, at least to get away from the volcano crater before sun sets. I got to the top greeted by the magnificent view of the crater and the surrounding. I could see my hotel from the distance too! The majestic Bromo crater was emitting its roar in the form of some microwave echo. It was actually pretty pleasant to the ears but the strong sulfur smell was irritating my nose. After some quick photography, I push on with Rais leading the way.

Moving along the ridge with Rais ahead and the crater on the right.

With both left and right leading to a deep ravine and with my fears of heights, I looked straight and kept moving. Rais was not exactly fast, but what amazed me was that he kept moving. One small little step at a time to cover big grounds ahead. I like his style as it kept our momentum going and also our core temperatures in control under the cold conditions above the mountain.

We eventually exited the ridge area and into some grassy and bushy area. The grass was as high as my face with some over my head. Not only it was cutting through my apparels, it was also irritating some of the wounds inflicted during my fall earlier, especially the one on my left knee. The sun had already set as we turned on our headlamps. 2 other runners caught up with us from behind as we arrived at a campsite where we received our third wrist band. We pushed ahead upwards through the hills in a group of 4. At times, we were ascending and at times we were descending. But what lies ahead, we could see as the markers were all reflective as we cursed as we saw how difficult was it to just get there.

Though my headlamp was shining strong at 300 Lumens, what I saw ahead of me was just a blanket of white ash flying pass. I needed to be careful and baby steps was how I navigate through the hills for one wrong judgement, it was all down into the unknown ravine below. I followed the steps of Rais as he was really good and we soon arrived a climb which we needed to do. Remembering the drama earlier, I led the climb using both arms and legs, and waited for the rest at the top till everyone got there safely.

And fast forwarding ahead as there weren't' any mishaps, we soon arrive at the entrance into Bromo's canyon. It was rather a very dangerous steep downwards into it and I decided to just use the same technique to slide through the ash by squatting down. It was the safest and most confident way that I could personally use and was glad that I survived this part with the rest though the guy behind me just couldn't keep the distance away and knocked into me halfway which sent me knocking into Rais too. Was lucky it didn't send 3 of us tumbling away.

The Bromo canyon was a long miserable and dark affair with ladders to descent. I was told by Rais that it was only another Kilometer or so before we arrive at the foot of Mount Batok where the check point is. But little did we know, it was the longest Kilometer we had to endure. Rais's trekking pole which came in handy during the earlier stages was a clumsy set of tools here. He was rather careless while tackling the ladders with the poles and I urged him to keep them. But with more and more ladders along the way, I just told him to throw them down below and pick it up later which he gladly obliged. At times, I helped him carry it before passing it back to him when he safely touched down below as we helped each other by shining the ladders using our headlamps so that we did not miss a step.

It couldn't have come any sooner, but we eventually and finally arrived ath the check point at the foot of Mount Batok after covering 74KM or so on foot. I have thought much about it earlier along the way that I will throw in the towel here. Yes, I did reminded myself that I should not DNF (Did Not Finish) in another race yet again after my last DNF at Craze Ultra 2013, but I guess I have to accept the fact that this race was of totally another level for me. And with the lack of experience and also earlier drama of hanging on to dear life, this was the wisest decision at this point of time. Besides, I have a very important race next week at Putrajaya Night Marathon, my qualifier for Comrades Marathon next year, which is in fact more important than this one.

And with above, after 21:37:28 hours along the beautiful Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra, I threw in my towel for my third DNF of my running career, a decision I wish I had not have to but had to make. And no, I am totally not sore or regretful of this decision of mine. In fact, I was feeling relieve and grateful to have made it this far. I thanked Rais for his companionship the last 10KM or so and wish the best of luck on the remaining journey as I took my rest while sipping on hot Milo and Nescafe while awaiting for an Ojek (motorcycle) to bring me back. I checked with the volunteers if my friends had continued and apparently, Piew and Yan Leng had already DNF about half an hour earlier too. Richi on the other hand, carried our hopes and went on. Good for you! And while waiting, to much of my surprise, Thomas arrived at the checkpoint together with Alistair. He was supposed to be way ahead of me but due to misleading markers, he somehow circled back to Mount Bromo's crate for the second time.

And when I was just about to leave, the leader of the 170KM distance arrived. He created a small little scene here when he questioned and argued the need to have his name recorded at the check point instead of just his bib number. I stared at him while pointing my headlamp towards him, and he eventually gave it to the volunteer. Poor volunteer was just doing his job but instead got a sounding off. He wasn't the friendliest of the runners though I understand that temper may flare during long distance races such as this, it just takes a little step backwards to be humble and appreciative of the people around.

Then he came over to my place and asked for fruits and juices which sadly I had to agree, was not available. Then he asked me where was I headed to, and I replied that I have thrown in the towel and was heading back to the hotel. Shockingly, he replied in a very sarcastic manner in something like, "Yeah yeah. You DNF and get to head back to rest while the rest suffer. So what? Big deal". Hello, I don't think I know you that well and neither do you. And that to DNF isn't something I wish I had done for I understand my very own condition. Besides, it isn't a glamorous thing to do either so there isn't any much to boast about, and hence why the sarcastic reply! You may be a top notch runner, but character and personality wise, I think you $uck and that you bring disgrace to the running community! Oh and yes, I do not need to mention his name here since most of you know who he is cause eventually, he won the 170KM distance leading from the start till the finish. But yeah, you won, SO WHAT!

I was glad that my Ojek rider was ready to leave when the above happened for I can't stand his presence at the check point. Before leaving, I pass 2 of my warmers to Thomas who continued to rest there wishing him the very best should he decide to continue on later. I wish he did but sadly I found out he didn't. The Ojek had some difficulties in starting up and I was thinking if I had to endure a long painful walk back? LOLz... But it eventually started and I was on the way. The Ojek ride back to the hotel through the ash dunes was really an eye opener. Up and down, bumpy but sturdy, the Ojek was a powerful loud machine.

I was quoted 75,000 Rupiah for the ride earlier. but with no small change, I gave him 100,000 Rupiah instead and thanked him for the ride. To his delight, he sped off on his Ojek upon receiving the cash and probably ended up at one of the shops ahead having tea. But no big deal, as I was in fact pretty delighted to give him that amount too for people here are relatively poor but did an honest living (I hope).

As I near my room, I saw Piew, Yan Leng, Jeannie and Angie chilling out by the entrance and shouted to them I was back! I can't recall their facial expression upon seeing me but I was glad to be back as they offered me some cheers and also food and drinks. Thanks everyone. Took a little time to clean myself up before I called it a night for the next morning was to await for Richi's arrival!


Post race DNF - Sunday, 6 November 2016
I had a reasonable good rest. Felt sore and heavy but it was manageable. I was hungry but it was rather important for us to try catch Richi at the finishing line and hence all of us made our way there. As we are slowly walking towards there, I turned back and saw a familiar runner with a neon yellow headband. It was Richi. After a near to 30.5 hours, he was making his triumph return to the finish as we slowly walked with him while taking some photos. He eventually finish the race crossing the finish gantry with a victorious smile and we all are so proud of him. He was the only finisher within our group and this was his first 100KM finish after 2 attempts previously. Indeed patience and hard work will pay off. Well done Richi! Proud of you!

Richi on his victorious return!

We made our way back to the hotel for a much long awaited breakfast while catching up with some other runners. We also made new friends like with Jefferson from the Philippines who got directed towards the wrong direction while running the 70KM distance. After filling up our tummy and also with lots of Philippines "race poison", we made our way back to our respective room for packing up before catching our ride back at 1PM later.

Our chartered van back to Surabaya reminds me of the bus ride we had back in Vietnam last year. Though the space was acceptable, there was no air condition as I suffered with motion sickness throughout the journey. However, we safely arrived at our hotel Java Paragon at Surabaya after about 4 hours ride and was glad that the hotel was super comfy! Dinner was fantastic courtesy of Jeannie's friend, Mr. Chua who brought all of us for a scrumptious seafood dinner before a tour around Surabaya city center and back to our hotel for a night's rest. Many thanks, Mr. Chua.

Thank you Mr. Chua for a scrumptious dinner!

Goodbye Indonesia - Monday, 7 November 2016
Sleep was really good when the hotel's bed was so plush. Myself and Piew woke up the last as the rest was already enjoying the breakfast at the executive lounge. We joined them just in time and was glad that breakfast was good especially the waffles. Guess we were too hungry. Next on our itinerary before leaving for the airport was a short walk at the huge shopping mall next to it, the Ciputra World Surabaya.

After cleaning ourselves up and packing up, we checked out from the hotel and went nearby to the airport for nasi padang. However, the shop has decided to cease operations and quickly, we needed a diversion plan where Mr. Chua's driver drove us to a nearby restaurant for some grilled fish and other stuff which was just as good. We then hurried to the airport and managed to check in our baggage before to our horror minutes later, an announcement was made where our flight was delayed for 5 hours till 8PM! "Thank you" Air Asia!

With nothing much we can do, we made our way to Starbucks hanging there sipping coffee for as long as we could before finally heading towards immigration about less than a couple of hours before our scheduled flight. A quick bite at Burger King for the complimentary meal offered by Air Asia for the delay was just so not appetizing. But we departed on time later and touched down safely at Kuala Lumpur closed to midnight with all the heavy eyes among us. I took a cab back while others had their own plans in getting home.

The Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra is one heck of a race. It not only offers beautiful views of the surroundings of Bromo, but it also offers tough challenges with the terrain and elements. The race is not perfect, in fact it is far from it. The only improvement I hard of for this year is that that were other drinks other than plain water being served this time together with hot beverages and a little food. And the conditions were just slightly this time better due to the rain earlier which compacted the volcanic ash. However, the markers were poorly laid out with some really misleading. And there weren't volunteers at important junctions which send some of m friends like Thomas and Jefferson the wrong way. I understand that GPX files has been provided and that runners should do their very own homework, but I guess the organisers should have at least a back-up plan or something. Besides, volunteers weren't exactly the most helpful in this event, far far far difference from those at Cameron Ultra. But anyhow, since there are improvements this year, I hope that they will continue to improve further at the next edition after listening to feedback from runners. After all, accepting criticism is the way to improve.

All in all, it was a tiring but yet memorable trip. Though my race did not turn out very successful as expected and that I was upset that I broke the rules by having a tablet of Paracetamol, I was glad I gave it a go and was part of this group. This race which was another kind of me was certainly an eye opener as I battled not only with the harsh conditions, elements and with the Angel of Death during my fall at the canyon as it reminded me how fragile life is. But after all, it took me 2 attempts at Craze Ultra before I finally nailed it. For BTS Ultra, you may just never know that I will be back in trying another go at it. After all, like is more interesting when we try out new things. Just be bold and realistic about it. Till then, yes I DNF this time round but no big deal about it. And most important, SO WHAT!

Not the end yet.