Monday, 29 September 2014

Penang 100 Race Report (Part Two) : Deo Azrul

Sweating yet? This is Part 2 of Deo's Report. An Ultra Run deserves an Ultra Report. What say you?

This is the second from three parts of my ultra marathon journey in the recent Penang 100. I thought I just want to keep it in two parts but I got carried away and it turned out to be a long entry just for the first 50km of the race, so there'll be part three :p 

You may read the first part of the story here... 

As mentioned earlier, everyone (I think) was in joyful mood when the race was flagged off. But still there were signs of nervousness shown on the face of some of the competitors. I was also nervous but at the same time was eager to take on the race and cover each kilometer of it as fast as possible. The start of the race was easy for me and I felt great. The night was a little cooling except the early part of the race when it was really humid from the carbon monoxide gas emitted from the vehicles when we maneuvered our ways out from the city. We ran from Esplanade towards Queensbay Mall via a busy streets of Georgetown into Lebuhraya Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu, the familiar route for previous Penang Bridge Marathon. Luckily we didn’t have to run on the elevated highway with rolling elevation. Instead, we went on the walk- and bicycle-path that also runs underneath Penang Bridge. So it was all flat for this first section. At the beginning, while I was tempted to run ahead of the crowded pack of runners, I was still mindful with Khairul. I don't want to run too fast and lose him from sight at the very early stage of the race and at the same time I can't move too slow as I knew this will bored him as he was already a faster runner. At the beginning I had to lookout where he was and slowed down a little to wait for him to catch up but it was not for long as he got into his rhythm soon enough to run side by side with me at our comfortable pace. And most of the time, it was him running in front of me which I had to caution him to slow down a little as it was still a long journey to go and we were still on track with our target. We arrived at CP1 (KM12.8) near the Queensbay Mall in around 1 hour and 20 minutes, 5 minutes ahead of our target. While many runners were seen making a really fast stop at CP1 (and some didn’t even stop), I took my time to refill my hydration bottle, and study the pace target for the next section. Then, we took off, continuing with our pace from the first section.
Early in the race when we went on the walker/biker path that runs underneath Penang Bridge. Khairul was pacing me strongly.
The second section of the race took us from Queensbay Mall to Bayan Lepas via Batu Maung. Right after Queensbay Mall was the sea-side road in the Bayan Lepas Industrial Area, which was the first section of the previous Penang Bridge Marathon route. We overtook quite a number of runners (mix of 84km and 100km runners) along this stretch and soon found out that there were hardly many people in front and at the back of us. I told myself, we couldn't be among the front runners as we hadn't overtook the likes of Seow Kong, Ewegene Tan, Munintaran, Aliakbar and some others. I also wondered how many runners actually started the race as it shouldn't be this lonely early into the race. Anyway, it was not too lonely in the end as I still have Khairul (although we hardly talk to each other) and we occasionally exchanged places with a group of three or four runners around us. While I kept ensuring that we keep our pace to the intended timing, I got confused with where I was that time. For example, I thought we had passed the airport long time ago but later, we arrived again at the side of the airport runway fence. I thought we had passed Bayan Lepas much earlier, only to realize that we were still in Bayan Lepas, before gradually moved into Batu Maung and Damar Laut area. I was a lot in disorientation mode of my location and whereabout. The only clear to me was how long I was from the next water station, the intended ETA at the water station and my current timing, which was still within target. CP2 at around KM25 arrived in 2 hours and 42 minutes, giving us an 8-minute buffer. We took a little longer break here as it was not crowded with runners when we arrived. We got the attention from the volunteers who personally asked us what we would like to have and help us with refilling our hydration bottles and more. I was also glad that we had already covered one-fourth of the race, which I think we ran quite hard (to ultra marathon standard) at 6:43-minute pace on average.
Third section of the race, from Kampung Bukit in Bayan Lepas to Kampung Genting (in the Sg Nipah/Balik Pulau area) via Teluk Kumbar, was around some small towns and housing area. It was still alright, there were still people out on the streets doing their chores so that kept me awake and alive! We were still running strongly until we arrived at the elevated Lebuhraya Gelugor. Prior to the race, when I looked at the elevation profile, this hilly route didn't look that difficult to deal with. It is just 135m maximum elevation. But, when you've actually ran this route and have been running for 30km or so, running up this 135m elevated highway was like running up Mount Kinabalu to me. So, I told Khairul to run if he could but I would stick to just walk the uphill section. We got few runners overtook us during the uphill but I don't give a damn. All in my mind was to ensure that I don't waste a lot of my energy during this uphill section. After about three kilometers going uphill, it was time to run downhill and we did that briskly and recovered the lost time during the uphill section earlier. Soon after the downhill run, we arrived at the CP3 around KM35 at SK Genting, a bigger CP with all the facilities a school can offer (especially toilets) are in one place. We arrived at the CP3 in about 3 hours and 55 minutes, 5 minutes off than what we targeted. I knew I underestimated the Lebuhraya Gelugor climb when I planned for our target. 
Sleep-running? Naaahhh... just enjoying the night breeze...
[photo by Orange Photography]
As in other checkpoints, there were many essentials being served/prepared at each checkpoint. I turned out to have a routine things to do at every checkpoint (except for the mid-way CP of KM50), where I would first refill my hydration bottles with plain water in one bottle and with Endurolyte Fizz mixed with water in the other bottle, then I would either consume a banana or two pieces of dates, and finally I would apply a slab of Perskindol gel (hot) onto my legs which was really helpful to re-start my runs after each break at checkpoints. It kind of injected fresh energy to my leg muscles which would last for the next four to five kilometers, which was good enough as it was already halfway to the next checkpoint. I checked the runners check-in sheet from one of the volunteers and found out that Khairul and I were in the 20-ish positions (including 84km runners) so I thought that was something to cheer about (and to work hard on, in order to keep to that position!). We got out of CP3 without me realizing it was also the start venue for 50km runners. I got to know from some of the 84km and 100km runners who arrived later at CP3 that the place got a little crowded with 50km runners flocking the place where their race will start at 3am. 

The fourth section of the race was the most bored, dreaded section with dead straight, dead long and dead flat stretch. It got really boring and hard to run when it came to flat route. Not even a hump or some small inclines at the beginning of this section that we could gain some momentum to keep us going. It was all up to the legs to do the job. We had to resort to walk-break strategy and I got a little frustrated at this point. However, I was still thankful that it was still dark when we ran this stretch. If this stretch was done on daylight, it will very mentally challenging. Khairul was still looking strong but he needs to train how to walk faster as he often trailed behind when we walked but caught up with me when we started running again. Not long after we passed this long stretch and two Muslim cemetery sites, I noticed Khairul became restless following my slower pace so I told him to go ahead but don't lose too much energy. I told him to wait for me at CP5/KM50 but if it took me too long to arrive there, I asked him to just continue his race without me. Like an eager puppy been unleashed, he sped off and soon he was gone from my sight. Again, I didn't know where I was but from the Garmin Connect I checked later, we ran somewhere that passed Kampung Perlis, Kampung Sungai Burung, Kampung Bagan Air Hitam, Kampung Permatang Pasir, Kampung Sungai Rusa, and Kampung Sungai Pinang. Slightly under 50km, I arrived at CP4 in 5 hours and 50 minutes. It was almost 3am.
At CP5 (half way, drop bag check point), I was geared up and ready to go for the second half of the race.
[photo by Orange Photography]
I was greeted by Shannon Ong when I entered CP4 located at another school compound. Khairul has already arrived but had some bad luck as the volunteers couldn't locate his drop bag. He looks a little frustrated while kept looking for his bag. Fortunately he found it shortly after browsing each bag there and they couldn't locate it earlier as the number tag inside the plastic bag provided has flipped face down and the volunteers couldn't identify the bag actually belongs to which race number. Maybe the organizer could provide a sticker-type baggage tag or the hard card-type which you attach to a string and tie it around the baggage, for clear visibility. By the time Khairul found his bag, I was already in the middle of what I was supposed/planned to do at CP5 - recharging my Garmin watch, my phone, my headlamp, refilling my hydration, refilling my Hammer nutritions, bathe a little to cool off my head and my body, change my top, stuffing all the daylight/morning gear into my hydration vest for later usage. I told Khairul that I would get out of this place very soon as I wanted to keep this break to just 15 minutes. I ate a little of the foods served there - a bowl of delicious, hot porridge, bananas and had a cup of coffee, which I knew would be able to keep me full until around noon. Jason Tan was also there volunteering at CP4. He was very helpful and attentive to what I needed until I had to tell him few times to not worry about me and I could get whatever I want by myself. When I was about to take off, I gave some advice to Khairul. I told him to keep going, don't go too fast and watch his pace carefully. I told him there was still a lot of time and if he could catch up with me, we'll see each other again. He looks clueless like something in his head telling "Oh no! I'm all on my own now..." but deep inside me, I knew he would finish it off as he had not just survived the first 50km but he did it very well and strongly, stronger than many other seasoned ultra marathoners that night.

50km done, 50km to go with two bad ass hills to deal with, and I was all alone... 

to be continued... 

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