Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The North Face 100 Thailand Race Report Part 1 : Deo

"The North Face 100 Thailand" by Deo. Enough said, where do I sign up? The second part of the report will be ready soon. Meanwhile, enjoy Part Suffering 1.

The North Face 100 Thailand Race Report Part 1 : Deo

Wow! As much as I was and am excited to write (type) this report, it is quite difficult to put it down so that this report would not be the same like my previous three TNF100 Thailand reports. I will try, will try to make it sounds different than the previous three editions and I will try to make you wanna do and sign up for the race next year!

TNF100 Thailand 2015 was the 4th ever edition of the race, having the first edition in a different place in (Amphawa) before the race was moved to Khao Yai in the second edition until today. It was also my 4th TNF100 Thailand, haven't missed a beat of the race. It was also my 9th 100km ultramarathon since my first one in 2012 which I did in Amphawa. So, TNF100 Thailand is my anniversary 100km ultramarathon, I would like to see it that way. As the unofficial results show and what I have recorded with my Garmin, I finished the race in 14 hours 35 minutes and 40 seconds. It was the best timing I ever had of all the four TNF100 Thailand editions. Although it was not much faster than the 14:36'06" I did in 2013, the 2013 route was a lot easier than this year, one section that was not in the 2013 edition was the hilly climb or I called it 'The Lord of the Rings Hill' that goes up to maximum elevation of almost 600 meters. My timing this year, however, was more than 40 minutes faster than what I did last year on a similar (about 90-95%) route. The marked difference between this year's and last year's race was the weather. It was all hot and bright and dry and energy-sapping, oven-like weather from 9am to 5pm last year (read my report here but this year, the weather was almost perfect - raining the night before the race, temperature in the teens at the start, the sun came out during the normal hours around noon for about 3 hours, and even when the sun was bright up in the sky, it remained windy throughout the race before it got cold again after sunset. I can saya that although I'm hearing some runners complaining about the hot weather in Khao Yai this year, I think they were a lot lucky with the weather this year! Just to recap, the inaugural edition in 2012 remains the easiest of all with relatively flat route all the way.

Actually, I had a slight ambition to run this race under 14 hours. I even told my traveling buddies, Ezam and Eijoy, that I would be really happy if I can do 13:59'59" but it didn't turn out as planned. As early as at around KM10 that I knew it was not achievable as I could not go any faster early on for some reasons. But in ultramarathon, the race is too long to finish that a lot of things can happen during the race that could hamper your plan or goal.
The official race course map for this year's race with minimal changes to last year's. I believe the 'Lord of the Rings Hills will be a mainstay of the race, as long as the race remains in Khao Yai.

However easy the race sounds to you, it was not spared from drama, of course...

Preparation-wise. I admit that I didn't prepare as hard as how I prepared for Penang 100. After Osaka Marathon in October last year, my training mileage took a dip, especially in November when I just recorded 170km before I realized that I need to pick it up again for this race. December mileage went up again to 301km despite the holiday and off-season for most runners. I continued with high mileage in January, clocking about 250km heading into the race. While I think the two-month mileage was sufficient for me to finish the race, I failed to do any 50km training run (which I'd always do before any of my 100km race) in the two months. The longest training runs I did was a marathon distance at the Cyberjaya Marathon in December and the two-loop of Padang Merbuk to Hartamas and back that was almost 40km long. And that kept me worried. I got really nervous when Ezam acknowledged my lack of training when he compared to how I trained for Penang 100. In the end, the experience and familiarity of the race, especially the weather and route, had helped me even with the little lack of preparation. I also didn't pack my stuff until the very night before my early morning flight. Without the checklist that I would've normally prepared, I thought I've packed everything I need but at the end, I realized I left the country without perskindol cool/hot spray that helped me to last throughout last year's race or perskindol cool gel that I had used a lot (and helped me a lot, too) during Penang 100. And I didn't bother to look for them in Bangkok, just praying that I would be ok without them.

Waiting for the big tuk-tuk to depart from Pakchong town to our resort in Khao Yai. It was a nervous journey altogether with the daredevil van driver from Bangkok and the slow-mo driver from Pakchong to Khao Yai as we were running late for the race briefing.
[photo by Ezamizudin]
This year, I traveled to Bangkok alone but met a group of runners from Melaka at the airport and we boarded the same flight. I sat next to a newly-found friend, Paul Lee, in the flight and we talked about the race a bit (it was his first time doing TNF100). At one point, he mentioned that he read from a blog about the race, the accommodation, etc. without realizing that I am actually the author of the blog that he read and was quite stunned when I told him that. Ezam and Eijoy, who flew earlier, waited for me at the Don Mueng Airport before we went for some window shopping at the Siam Paragon area, had lunch and went to the Victory Monument to board the public van to Khao Yai. As usual, it was a long drive to Khao Yai, about 200km to the north of Bangkok, on a busy highway. We would not arrive earlier if the van driver was not a daredevil like the one we had, zigzagging around the vehicles on the highway and flying on the fast lane *sigh!* The van stopped at Pakchong town and as this was my first time taking public transport, I didn't know that it would take another almost one hour (including waiting time) via a large tuk-tuk from Pakchong town to Khao Yai. The tuk-tuk stopped in front of the Khao Yai Garden Lodge, where the three of us stayed. We met two other Malaysians, Foo and his lady friend (sorry forgot her name; but both of them finished the 100km race very strongly!) in the tuk-tuk and later traveled to Simalin Resort for the race briefing and race pack collection.
The race briefing that was held outdoor this year.
The briefing was held outdoor this year, which I think is a more suitable, and the sight of the start/finish venue and gantry relived my memories (and the agonies) from last year's race. It was all too familiar and it felt like it was just a day before that I went through the hard time finishing the race and was really relieved to be able to cross the finish line in more than 15 hours but was a little heartbreaking knowing many friends did not finish the race, being victims to the torturous weather. Ezam was the most excited, expressing his disbelief to be able to be at the 'TNF100' race site and to compete in the race the next day. I was happy to have the two chaps together, to see the expression and the anticipation from a fresh perspective. Pictures taken, race pack collected and we arrived back at our resort when it was already dark. Dinner followed suit, then shopping for race essentials at the 7-Eleven next door where I met Emil Soderlund again. The funny part was that I did not remember his name but remembered him as 'the guy who wore the blue UTMB t-shirt last year' and he acknowledged that lol! He finished in fourth place this year. Next, in the room, prep all the gears and attire before lights off. It was a very short deep sleep for me before waking up again around 3am. The resort was kind enough to pack sandwiches for us as breakfast and I just had that before the race.
At the race site while waiting to be called to the start line. I wasn't feeling too excited for the race but more nervous as so many questions were playing in the mind, top up to the drama early in the morning before leaving the resort, all those...
[photo by Ezamizudin]
The drama begun even before we headed to the race site. I left the room confidently and boarded the tuk-tuk to the race venue at Simalin Resort. When we were about to leave the resort, I realized that my hydration bag was without the two water bottles! Damn it I had to rush back to the room and there they were next to the sofa. A good adrenaline rush to kick start my day on a cold morning, I guess. Last year, I forgotten to bring along my cap to the race and raced all the way with just buff to shed my head from the notorious sun. In the tuk-tuk met a group of Singaporean who also happened to read this blog. Luckily it was dark in the tuk-tuk, otherwise everyone could see how blush my face was! Arrived not long after that at Simalin Resort and the venue was still quiet and calm with about one hour to go to the flag-off. Runners started to flock the race site from time to time, as I was sitting at the empty race expo tent quietly looking at all the happenings - people taking photos around, exchanging well wishes, some were doing their stretching and warm-ups and, all too familiar! About 15 minutes from the flag-off, we headed into the start area after checks on our phones and headlights. I stayed at the middle of the pack of the 100km and 50km runners while trying to keep calm. Although it was already my fourth TNF100 Thailand, I still feel nervous, not knowing how the day would turn out to be, whether my training was enough to carry me through the race, whether my body could cooperate with me, all those questions. Some speeches were made, a blessing by the monks, countdown and off we went at 5am sharp. The temperature shown on the race clock was around 17-degree Celcius and it was quite chilling that morning.
We think we're ready so let's go! With Ezam and Eijoy, my traveling buddies this year.
[photo by Pongsak Sarapukdee]
It was a cautious start but after about 50 meters from the start line, before we headed into the sealed road, I tripped on something, and fell on my face, kissing the ground. I was shocked, my head spinning as Ezam tried to get me up on my feet. My palm were covered with sand, I could taste sand on my lips and both my knees hurt. As I heard, some people asking "are you ok?", I asked Ezam whether my lips were bleeding? Luckily it was not but both my knees were quite badly bruised and bleeding while my palms were in pain with some pinhole scars from the contact with the ground. Although I was in shock from the fall, I still managed to ensure that I did not drop any of the mandatory items, the water bottles and the headlight. Ezam was there at my side, kind enough to wait for me, and kept me in check. And I was just lucky that i didn't get stampeded by the charging runners who started behind me. After ensuring that all are in place, I continued running side-by-side with Ezam but I had the thought in my mind about "DNF". I was not sure how the bruises on the knees (and maybe the shaken head) from the fall would affect my race as there will be another 15 hours or so that I had to endure. But I told myself to keep going and see how long I would last in the race. Not long after it got stabilized again, I had to move to the roadside to pee and told Ezam to go ahead and I would try to catch up with him later. It was a long pee, strangely, although I've peed twice since arrived at the race site that morning and many runners overtook me during my pee-stop.
Going downhill as we exited the LOTR Hills. Ezam (in blue t-shirt) was seen here leading me going downhill.
[official photo of TNF100 Thailand]
I continued my run and not long after the pee-stop, we got into the trail section where I could overtake some of the runners again but I could not continue doing so as we moved into a slightly-uphill, single trail section when runners in front of me either slowed down or walked. I had to keep calm and be patience as there will be more opportunities to overtake them later. It was a slightly different route from last year until we got to the CP1 at around KM7 where we had to move into a trail section, do a loop inside and headed out on the same route. I could only catch up with Ezam as we headed into the loop-section and everything seems ok for me by then, although I could still fell the pain from the bruises, I could still run at a decent pace. Ran into the loop with Ezam but lost him somewhere. As we headed out from the loop, we cross-path with oncoming runners but I could hardly recognize anybody as it was dark and the glare from the headlights weren't helping either. Right after CP1, like last year, where we headed into the uphill, single trail section all the way up to the peak of the 'Lord of the Rings Hill'. It was still dark and along the way to the peak, the day started to break. For the first timers here, it was an awesome sight but for me, all I cared was to finish this climb. It was a slow hike up and it was quite congested with runners moving on single file cautiously not to trip or fall off the cliff. The grass there seems to have grown taller, as tall as I am and some were thorny that I got scratches on my arms and calves as souvenirs. At times when those grass slapped my knees and touched the bruises points on my two knees, it felt so painful that I wanted to scream really loud. It was quite a torturous section for me. Moving downhill wasn't easier either as I couldn't set my own pace, afraid of bumping/crashing into runners in front of me who moved a little slowly downhill. By that time, Ezam caught up with me, as we headed into the open brown-sandy (or dusty) route, that surely will change the color of your shoes. It was a rolling section and I lost Ezam and never seen him again until the finish line some 15 hours later.

I was practically alone from there onward, nothing unusual for me, carefully moving myself with a sustainable pace, not to aggressively take on the uphill while going downhill in a defensive run mode (not too fast and not over-striding), taking quick but ample stops at each water stations to drink up one or two cups of iced water and the flavored energy drinks. At the same time and throughout the race, I ensured that I was disciplined enough to consume a pack of Hammer gel, two caps of Hammer electrolytes and two caps of Hammer Anti Fatigue Caps for every 10km. It worked well for me especially with the Hammer gel, when I got a feel of energy boost after every pack consumed that lasted for between 2-4km. However, for the Endurolytes, I wasn't sure why I still got cramp signs coming as early as 40km into the race despite the consumptions and consistent consumption of water throughout the race. After a while after the race, I think the cramps were due to the lack of water intake in the week before the race, especially on Friday the traveling day. On top of that, I was still taking coffee in office (as works are piling up) during the week prior to the race as normally I would quit taking caffeinated drinks a week before a race. Yes, as mentioned I had to deal with the cramps since KM40 of the race. It came attacking behind of my left then right thigh, and then attacking the front, then my calves. And how I dealt with them, to ignore them, stretched once a while, and not to over-stride especially going downhill. The cramps were notorious this time they even attacked when I slowly walking up the uphill sections.
Running alone during an ultramarathon has never been a problem to me, I have been trained in such way since my very first 100km ultramarathon, also in TNF100 Thailand, back in 2012. I believe this photo was taken with less than 10km from the halfway point of KM50 back in Simalin Resort.
[photo by]

So from the point I lost Ezam, the route went from tarmac into sandy, open trails, bushy, rocky (that I many times accidentally kicked those rocks followed by cramp-pinching moment duh!), forever rolling uphill and downhill sections, that you couldn't afford to get a loooonnggg flat or downhill section to run but instead, once you managed to run at a nice pace, you'll have uphill section to deal with not long after that. KM20 to KM40 was the same like last year, with a minor turns, probably, in one of those trail loops that we need to go through. I caught up with Eijoy around KM30 and it was nice to have someone to talk to again (although most of the times, it was drop dead silence between us). Running with Eijoy was kind of mix between bless and stress. It was stressful when he followed me close from behind that I could hear his foot steps - one of his foot step equals to two (or maybe three) of mine and it was a blessing as it caused me to move on a faster cadence to cope with his long strides (of his long legs). As much as I wished Eijoy could accompany me at least until we were back to Simalin Resort (KM50), I lost him somehow at CP4 (KM40) and I was alone again for the last 10km of the first loop.

This entry has gone too long, I guess. So, let's have the rest of the story in the next one. Stay tuned!

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