Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Penang 100 Race Report (Part Three) : Deo Azrul

The final instalment of the Penang 100 race. When they say "climb", they really meant "crawl". Bukit Bendera Epic Ascent! Thanks Deo for sharing the trilogy of your Penang 100 race, we felt inspired (and tired) just reading. 

Finally, here is the final part of my ultra marathon journey in the recent Penang 100. You may read the previous part of the story here...

First 50km was done just under six hours and I got out from CP4 at 6:05, after a 15-minute break. It was around 3.10am, thank goodness that I didn't feel sleepy (yet), something that had kept me worried about this race. Maybe because I had Khairul as company. But, I'm all on my own from this point onward, after 'dumping' Khairul who took a longer break at CP4 (he told me he took 40 minutes of break and I wonder what did he actually do during that very long break...). However, I didn't 'dump' him without having some assurance that he would finish this race. Looking at his condition at CP4, no signs of cramps or blisters forming, still looking fresh and (I believe) still has lots of energy to spare, all hydration and gears plans went as planned and under control, I was confident that he would cross the finish line of his maiden 100km race. He looked comfortable with the race so far although we went quite hard in the first 50km - doing that distance under six hours. And what made me more confident to leave Khairul was the fact that we would have the luxury of time to complete the race - 12 hours spare before the cut off time. So on average, we need to cover 10km in two hours (something that is really, really doable) and still have two more spare hours as buffer. As for me, I had a stretch target of completing the race under 15 hours which means that I would have nine more hours to cover the second 50km of the race or equivalent to 1 hour and 45 minutes for every 10km on average. It sounds really doable too but I have to bear in mind that I couldn't take that luxury of time lightly as I have to deal with two more uphill sections - first, the 3.5km, 200m+ max elevation, Category 3 elevated road from Kg. Sungai Pinang to Teluk Bahang and secondly the dreaded 5km, 746m+ max elevation, Category 5 climb to the peak of Penang Hill (or Bukit Bendera). 

Right after I exited CP4, the climb over Lebuhraya Gelugor towards Teluk Bahang awaited me. Not to waste any energy unnecessarily, I walked all the way along the 3.5km climb. There few a couple of other runners overtook me at flatter sections of the climb and as much as I wanted to run too (talk about being kiasu not wanting people to overtake), I told myself to be patience as there will be downhill section where I could run. Nevertheless, I kept a close monitoring to my pace and continue doing brisk walking and that helped me to maintain my pace to under 10 minutes per km during the 3.5km uphill section. The stretch was winding and dark, only lighted up by our headlamps and the occasional vehicles that roam passed us along the route. I had two other competitors trailing behind me, a guy and the other one was a lady from Singapore who is the eventual 3rd place winner in women category. If not for the two who kept me on my toes and kept me moving consistently, I would take my sweet time during the uphill section. It felt like forever to reach the top and I had at times fooled by those flatter sections which I thought were the starts of the downhill section but they were not. Instead, further climbs followed. I had to check the elevation profile on my watch to see whether I was there yet or not. Finally, it was near the Tropical Fruit Farm that the downhill section awaited me. And I ran flawlessly going downhill, 6 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer. Cool 4am breeze accompanied me as I passed the Teluk Bahang Dam that was quite a sight to behold (what else can you see at that hours? :p) 
Arriving at CP5, feeling a little sleepy as it was already 5am.
[photo by ET Tey]
I was back to running on flat road not long after the Dam, and it was damn hard all over again to run continuously on flat surface. Resorted to walk break strategy again until I reached CP5 around KM63 at Dewan MPPP, Teluk Bahang. It was almost eight hours into the race which means I only covered about 13km in the past two hours. I saw quite a number of runners taking a longer break there, some were lying on their backs, some just sat there and had coffee - maybe to help them to keep awake. I had my routine stop, doing the routine stuffs and without waiting much longer, I exited the checkpoint and headed out from the Balik Pulau area towards town. But when I thought it was not too far from the town, I was wrong! I forgot about Batu Ferringhi stretch, blame me on my unfamiliarity with Penang geographical profile although I had been to this area few times in the past. It was really boring passing through Batu Ferringhi at that hours, with everything - shops, hotels - they were all still closed. I started to get sleepy too at this juncture as it was already 5am+. The route was not as flat as what was shown on elevation profile, it was rolling which I chose to walk at almost all uphill sections. After the uneventful and boring section of Batu Ferringhi (it was supposed to be a happening route if the race was done on daytime or early evening), I reached CP6 at KM73 in 9 hours and 25 minutes. It was there when two 50km runners, whom I think were the top two finishers in the category, dropped by at the water station and they stopped very briefedly.

Between CP6 and CP7 at Gurney Drive roundabout, which we finally got me out from Balik Pulau area towards the city center, I bumped into many other Penang runners doing the morning runs on the opposite direction. They were running from city towards Batu Ferringhi. And many of them cheered for me, given their shout outs and even a simple thumb up which kept my spirit high. It was just about eight kilometers between the two checkpoints that took me pass Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong. It was daylight again and the roads started to get busy on that Sunday morning. It was mostly flat but I had a strong urge to walk more and longer that I run. The Singaporean lady was still behind me but still within my sight. Anytime that I walked, she would close the gap with me. And I noticed that she was trying really hard to overtake me since CP4 and she even stopped very briefedly at the following checkpoints and got out ahead of me eventhough she arrived later than me. As much as (I think) she wanted to overtake me, I was in no mood to let that happen either (I take this as a healthy competition to keep me going haha...). 

Cooling off myself with iced sponge at CP7 before going for the monster climb up the Penang Hill
I was also thankful that at the flat stretch near Seri Tanjung Pinang (where I saw many runners and cyclist doing the run/ride there), I was approached by a stranger on a bicycle who rode next to me, slowing down his speed to match my slow pace. The Malay guy (Fauzi, if I can recall correctly), is someone who is in his 60s (but doesn't look like one and got me shocked when he told me that) paced me along the route right until I reached CP7. Although it was less than two kilometers, that helped me a lot that it kept me running all the way (and distanced myself further from the Singaporean lady :p). He asked me about this race, about running ultra marathons and in exchange, I asked him about Penang Hill, how is it like? He assured me that I would be fine and won't die climbing up the Hill which gave me a really peace of mind. He bade adieu to me as I reached CP7 (KM81+) as I took time to sit down on a chair before continuing my run to Penang Hill. The volunteers at CP7 cheered when I arrived and they applauded me for coming this far into the race. Shannon Ong, whom I met earlier at CP4, was there and he told me that even the first runner has not came back (from Penang Hill) to that checkpoint again. I couldn't believe that as it was already 10 hours and 30 minutes into the race with some 4km to go (from CP7 to finish line) and they hadn't seen the potential winner yet. So, I told myself that Penang Hill must be really nasty but when you have reached this point into the race, there were not much reasons to stop or turning back. With four and a half hours to go before my targeted 15 hours was up to cover Penang Hill and the last 4km to the finish line, I was really optimistic to finish the race.

I had never given any attention on the exact location of Penang Hill and even until that checkpoint, I still had no clue where it was? I thought it was not too far off from CP7 but I wrong, again! as we need to run for another 3km+ passing Youth Park before arriving at the foot or the entrance of Penang Hill. Saw the first runner of the 100km category going on home run not far from the entrance of Penang Hill. Five kilometers journey to the top started counting right at the entrance gate. I couldn't believe what I saw when I stood at the entrance - it was steep right from the beginning. As I tried to get use to the steep climb and getting my heart rate stabilized, I could not move more than... maybe 10-15 steps before I had to pause and take few deep breaths before continuing again. I passed and got passed by many other hikers along the climb. Few of them knew about the race and what was I doing there but they still shook their heads when I told them that I had been on my feet for the past 85km or so since 9pm yesterday, and was deprived of sleep. There were no sight of runners in front or behind me. So, some of the hikers walked by my side just to keep me company and keep me 'entertained' while I kept asking them whether it was still far away from the top (although there were distance markers clearly placed at the road side every 100m lol!). I also asked how long it would take to reach the top and I got different answers which wasn't helping me at all. 

This is really a bad ass, heartbreaker hill...
After only some 3km+ into the climb, then only I saw the second runner going down and I reckoned, that will be around 15-20 minutes behind the first place runner. Not long after that, the rest follow suit. I tried to count (partly to move my mind away from the mentally challenging climb) how many runners were already going back to the finish line (and ahead of me) but I lost count somewhere after 15th runner or so. Some of them were flying going downhill while there was one person said to me "panjat pun sakit, turun lagi sakit!" (it was even painful going downhill than the already-painful climb uphill). I could only smile to that remark as it was still quite a long way to go to the top for me. I knew I was moving really slowly, nothing could motivate me to move faster, the Singaporean lady wasn't in sight either, so I was just holding on to my 15-hour finishing target to keep going. Very slowly but surely, I reached the top of Penang Hill where there was this small pavilion flooded with public doing various activities. It was my first time there but I couldn't really enjoying the view of Penang as I was in hurry to go downhill to finish this race as soon as possible. CP8 was placed some 400m away from the pavilion which I had no idea why it was located there when the water and aid station was located at the pavilion? It was a waste of 800m to and fro the checkpoint, and that added up additional mileage (although small) to the already over-distance race. I reached the checkpoint in around 12 hours and 40 minutes and when I checked my position with the volunteer there, I saw my race number in 22nd position, which I thought was not bad at all since I managed to maintain that 20-ish position since CP2. 
Didn't stop long at the top of Penang Hill but it was enough for me to enjoy the coconut provided by the race organizer.
So, at the pavilion I refilled my water bottles again and had the juicy coconut to freshen up my throat. It was just too bad that the water station lacked of ice. Done with all those, it was the start of a steep 5km downhill section, before another 3km to CP7 at Gurney Drive roundabout again and the final 6km to the finish line in Esplanade. I think I had not much problems going downhill except that I felt some pain on the tips of my toes and was really scared that some of my toe nails would peel off, which I had never experienced before. Many times, I had to pause my run downhill, when I came across many familiar faces who were making their ways uphill. Nothing better that I could offer except some words of encouragement to keep their already-dampened spirit soar. Some asked me "how far/long to go..." which I could not lie and had to tell the truth that it would take quite some time to reach the top of Penang Hill but I assured them that they still have ample time to meet the race cut-off time of 18 hours. Met one runner after another on my way down, some of them were overtaken by me early in the race, but there was no sight of Khairul. It had me worried! The last thing I wanted to hear was that he DNF-ed and if he did, I would regret all my life for 'dumping' him at CP4. As I was about 2km from the main entrance, I tried to put up a smile on my face to other runners and kept encouraging them, my heart was beating furiously as Khairul hadn't 'appear' yet. But as I passed one bend, I saw the small statue moving uphill slowly and it was Khairul! I was relieved! I shouted his name, running towards him and as soon as he saw me, he laid on his butt, in the middle of the road. Such a drama! He didn't look that tired so I asked him what took him so long to reach at this point but I can't remember what his answer was. I told him what to expect from the climb and assured him that he was still very much in the race, well within the 18-hour cut-off and I asked him to take it easily so that he would make it to the finish line. We parted our ways and not long after that I reached the main entrance to Penang Hill and it was another just 9km or so to the finish line.
Going downhill in a brisk.
[photo by Yap Yue Teong]
I was so relieved to finally see Khairul again, knowing he was still 'alive' in the race...
I was back at CP7 in almost 14 hours and it was just some 6km or so with one hour before my target time of 15 hours. I remember one volunteer at CP7 said to me, "Good to have you back!" and it was one of the nicest thing to hear, knowing that I've conquered my fear of Penang Hill. It was a quick stop at CP7, refilling with just what I needed for the rest of the race. But it wasn't easy running the home run when the sun was already up in the sky (it was around 11am). I bumped into few 50km runners who were walking towards the finish line. I noticed some of them had problems walking - one appeared to be suffering from cramps while another was walking barefoot maybe due to blisters. I couldn't imagine how long have they been suffering and at the same time I was really thankful that my race has been all well - without problems such as cramps or blisters but just a little chaffing near the groin area. I walked more than I ran knowing the end is near and since I had ample time. But as I entered Lebuh Farquhar (where there is Penang Museum and Art Gallery), I braved myself to run all the way to the finish line (talk about finishing strong) and along the way I passed few more runners, one in the 100km category and the other three or four from the 50km category. It was not an easy ending altogether as we had to make a round around Fort Cornwallis and Esplanade Park before arriving at the finish line in front of the Penang Municipal Town Hall. That was easily 1km. Approaching the red carpet finish line, I heard people there (runners who arrived earlier, some people from general public and the volunteers) clapping as I inched closer to the finish line. Hands raised up, I completed the race in 14 hours, 46 minutes and 53 seconds (official time) in 20th position overall (18th Men). It was really satisfying and feeling accomplished after completing my eighth 100km race and although it wasn't the hardest race I've ever done, it was still hard in certain ways. 
Nothing beats the feeling of crossing the finish line of your race...
[photo by ET Tey]
Khairul came back about 2 hours and 15 minutes behind me but was well ahead of many other seasoned ultra marathoners and he accomplished his maiden 100km finish in a hard race where many had succumbed to the challenge. Well done buddy! and thank you for the training we had together and for the great pace in the first 50km.

From the official statistics released by the organizer, out of the total 227 who registered for the 100km challenge, only 86 finished and that is a lowly 37.8%. It proved how tough the race was or how not prepared the runners were, depends on how you interpret it. Overall, it was a very organized race - volunteers were great, friendly, helpful, hardworking; water/aid stations were superb and had all the necessary and useful stuffs - light foods, plenty of ice, bananas, instant noodles (although I didn't consume any), coffee, dates and lots of analgesic cream; great route - not all that easy but it was maybe once-in-a-lifetime experience to cover Penang Island on foot!; and the finisher's buckle was one-of-a-kind and maybe the first of such in ultra marathon events in this country. It was my personal highly-recommended event to all runners out there! and that shall wrap up my Penang 100km Challenge race report :-)

For full results of the 100km category, click here.
For my race details on Garmin Connect, click here.

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