Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Xterra Championship Trail Run Race Report - Eugene Teoh

It has been a while since I last wrote a race report, so I thought I would put my thoughts down with regards to the Xterra Championship Trail Run that I took part in before the experience starts to fade away.

I signed up for this event late last year, before I had a chance to think things through. 2014 is the year I decided to go back to basics and start running with proper form and posture and to work on my speed over shorter distances. The past few years have been a myriad of events where I had just ambled through and completed them all without actually pushing myself in each one. I always had the mentality that I was to train hard, so that I could race easy. Races were always the opportunity to gather with friends and had some fun instead of going all out and seeing what I was capable of. I decided 2014 would change that and I have opted to sign up for runs that were no more than 10 – 12km and work more on my pace and form. So in all honesty, this 22km trail run (which in terms of intensity would equate to about 25km on road?) was a bit long for my goals this year. If I had the opportunity again, I would probably have just signed up for the half distance, which was 11km trail. Anyway, moving on with the race details…..

I’ll skip the boring race kit collection details as I only picked up my race kit on Saturday afternoon after all the hooha had finished in the morning. 95% of the triathletes who competed in the morning had gone home and the race venue was a hive of inactivity. Fast forward to race morning.
I woke up at 4am with a bit of a tight bum. My glute muscles on my right was feeling some strain, probably from the hillwork session I did a day earlier. I made it a point to foam roll it before I left for the race. An easy and light breakfast of a slice of bread and a hard-boiled egg downed with a cup of coffee, and I was off for the race from home at 5:15am. Arrived at about 6am and the venue was still quiet, 1 hour to race start. It felt like a bit of a letdown, as I had expected more of an experience in an event of this “magnitude”. I guess most of the participants signed up for the championship triathlon race on Saturday. I took my own sweet time getting ready in the car and finishing off a half bottle of Hammer Perpetuem mix, put on my Skechers GoBionic Trail and I walked to the race site from the parking area.

I had decided to go “light” for this race and opted to leave my hydration pack at home, and only carrying a 240ml water bottle on my race belt. With 3 water stations as per the race information, I felt I should have adequate hydration for this. Only drawback is I would spend some time at water stations refilling my water bottle instead of just moving on if I had a hydration backpack. 6 capsules Endurolytes and 3 caps Anti-Fatigue together with 2 Hammer energy gels completed my hydration/refuel strategy for this race. As usual I was in my Kraftfit compression shorts and the 2014 Team 2ndskin Vaporlite shirt.

Met up with Andrew (of Moving on AC) as I was walking to the race site and he told me some stuff about the race route as he had done the Teaser event sometime earlier in the year. One thing he mentioned stayed in my mind, and that was the fact there would be congestion early in the race as runners would have to wait for the front ones to get over obstacles before they could follow suit as the trail was narrow. I decided then that I had to be part of the front running group at the start so that I wouldn’t be caught in the “traffic jam”.

Photo credit Lina Kamaruddin. Taken from her FB page, tagging me
Before race start, I had a good chat with Man, his wife Lina who was also signed up for the 22km, Ezam a fellow Shah Alam-ite and MTB-er, Atley and Razman who were down for the 11km trail and met up with Celine who was doing her (first?) trail race. Photo opportunities galore and a very brief race briefing by RD Dave. The flag-off was rather low-key and there were only 203 runners in the 22km category. I pushed a bit harder at the beginning and was running a 5:00 – 5:15/km pace for the first 2 km. Now, this race route was pretty interesting as it had a myriad of conditions. At the start, we were running on single track along the lake edge, where if you were not careful, you’d be diving into the water. After that, we hit some open dirt before there was a slight cliff where the organizers created an obstacle course with fallen rubber trees. It was about 100m of climbing over fallen trees, trying to crawl under and making our way over and it was very hands on in this case.

Although I was planning on running this race hard, and I actually set myself a target timing of 2:15 to complete the race (without knowing upfront the route conditions), at the back of my mind, I was very wary of running the downhill sections and the areas with low visibility. Why? 2 little things held me back. Back in March at Gunung Nuang Ultra, I twisted my ankle twice in the same race and had to have some rehabilitation as I had pain when flexing my ankle after the race. A weakened ankle joint and the fact that I had a scheduled family trip overseas in 4 days told me that I should “race safe” or I would be hobbling along on holiday.

At the first downhill section, Ezam passed me by and I never saw him again until the end of the race. Strong showing bro! My race strategy was simple – run the flats or relative flats, jog or walk the uphills and climbs and gingerly make my way downhill. On average I was faster on the flats throughout the race (everytime I looked at my Fenix, I was doing 5:30 – 5:40/km) than on the downhills. The route was not to say too tough, but there were definitely sections that taxed you physically and mentally. I remember a rolling section of tarmac through a kampong  where I walked the gradients and ran the downhills; there was a section of packed dirt that looked like it was made for a BMX race; there were downhill sections that looked like steep drops where you had no choice but to jump, which I did but not before I said a prayer to save my ankles!

Bushes and tall grass that were waist high and some as tall as me lined the single tracks which in some instances were only wide enough for me to cross. I had minor cuts and scratches on my arms and legs from traversing the undergrowth and thorny branches as well. The sun came up strong early that day, and by 8-ish, I was feeling the heat, especially at the open areas where there was no shade. My hydration and refuel plan worked well enough for me and I never felt inadequate or experienced any energy loss or dehydration throughout. The only glitch was a cramping shin near the end of the race, at about the 18th km which slowed me down considerably. Throughout the race though, maybe because of the nature of the run or the limited no of participants, I was always running alone, and most of the time the runner in front of me or behind me would be >500m away. I’d look infront and see a small figure, and I’d look back and not see anybody. It was also a challenge for the mind as you are you own motivation. At times, I felt like I was the first runner leading the pack, or I was the last runner trying to play catch up.

There was no marshalls or volunteers to guide you on the right path, save at the water stations and check points. Inside the trail, we had to follow the signage and markers so with nobody around me most of the time, I had to really keep an eye out for the markers and to read the directions properly. Generally though, the organizers did a great job with the trail marking and at no time at all was I in confusion on which path to take.

Right at the end, there was an ankle deep muddy patch that gave my GoBionic Trail a real mudbath, and letting Xterra live up to its tagline of “A Dirty Weekend”. 2 hours and 24 mins after I crossed the start line, I crossed the finishing arch from the opposite direction and completing my first Xterra Championship Trail Race. 
Soaked wet
Received a finishers medal and finishers shirt at the end and an almost instantaneous printout of my timing and results which was a nice touch. Only grouse for me was that there was no food provided after the race, which was a minus point in my opinion.

Top 10. Woohoo!
I didn’t stay around after my race was over as I had some family appointments to attend to. EV was at the finish line taking photos whilst waiting for the family event to start which he was doing with his wife, Aileen and kids. They had loads of fun in that, I was told. 

Part of the plan
After a bit of chit-chat and photo taking, I cleaned up and left for home. Looking back at the race format and route conditions, for one to do well at this race, it was not only about speed and running fitness, but also about agility, dexterity and upper body strength. Would I do this again next year? I may, as I honestly had fun out there, but it also depends on what I want to achieve in my running goals in 2015.

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