Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Pusat Akuatik Negeri Kedah

Just in case you are considering to acclimatize in Alor Setar prior to Langkawi International Ironman Triathlon, the option to swim in an Olympic sized swimming pool is really limited. Commonly, the locals would suggest the Olympic Sized swimming pool at Jalan Stadium near the Football Stadium and next to Hotel Seri Malaysia. The water is murky; too many kids and adults go there to dip instead of swim, the toilet provided is also “average” I’d rate. If an Ironman Triathlete swims 4km (80laps), I believe he/she will spend half of the laps diverting from the lane to avoid kids. It will be a great workout to test your mass swim start navigation though. 

There is another pool with 50m length near the Sultan Abdul Halim Airport, but does not comply to FINA’s Olympic Sized measurement. The pool has diving platform but the gap between lanes is very narrow (about two arms’ length). Weird! This pool located at the Kepala Batas Air Force base, so I doubt anybody would come in.

I found another Aquatic Center 3 months ago somewhere Gunung Keriang but didn’t have the time to test it. I drove from Kepala Batas airport to the Pusat Akuatik (Aquatic Center), the brown signage is all over the places whether I came from Jitra or Kepala Batas. The entrance gates are rusty and empty car parks indicates that this is place is abandoned, I thought nobody swims here.

As I walked inside upon paying RM3 entrance fees (for adult), I was impressed with the facilities inside! They have no less than 10 toilets and 10 shower cubicles, doping control room, physiotherapy room, prayers room, medical room and the lists go on and on. However, most of the rooms are not properly maintained. Back to my main concern, the pool! This massive indoor swimming pool has a 9 lanes 50m pool and a diving platform at another separated 5m deep pool. 

I love indoor pools for the flexibility to swim no matter what the weather condition is. The 50m x 25m sized swimming pool is deeper than I thought! 

From one end to another, the depth is around 2m I believe because I could not step on the floor with my height. I prefer this 2m depth because only serious swimmers will come to swim, the kids will only hold on to the pool side so I had the whole pool for myself. I swam 2.2km yesterday, the one and only swimmer who swam lap after laps. The water is cool but not as cold as Bukit Jalil and the floor is sandy at the middle section. None of that matters to me because the water is crystal clear! I did not feel my hair sticky nor smell very strong chlorine too. I was told that this pool intended to prepare for the past SUKMA, that’s why the facilities are good. In my opinion, this pool is underutilized for its capacity. They provide scuba diving lessons too at the diving pool at the cost of RM1600 to get a PADI license. 

So, anyone living up north who would like to have a more peaceful swimming environment can try out this underutilized pool near Gunung Keriang. Happy Training. 


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Hike Mount Jerai with Garmin GPS

Team athlete Lt Chan hiked up Mount Jerai literally unguided with his military friends. Thanks to Garmin 920xt's navigation feature, the group of virgin Mount Jerai hikers managed to navigate in the thick rainforest safely to the peak. Every year there will be hikers missing cases and casualty in Mount Jerai, this write up will help new hikers to understand what to expect and how to prepare for their Mount Jerai expedition. 
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The majestic Mount Jerai erects 3854feet is known as the Kedah’s peak, is one of the tourist attraction of my hometown. It is believed to be an island called Pulau Serai before water level gradually gets lower over the years and formed a mountain. I am also attracted to the history of Lembah Bujang where a lot of artefacts, relics and temples were excavated and kept inside the museum. The foothill is where the Hindu Buddhist era ancient temples restructured. I wish I had visited this place before I sat for my PMR Sejarah. My course mates suggested that we climb Mount Jerai before our semester break. However, none of them have been to Mount Jerai except me, so I did the whole planning. The last time I came here was to race Mount Jerai Challenge, everything was prepared by the race organizer so I came here just to race. This time around, I have to prepare everything.

The plan was to hike Jerai from the Southern side. 

Mount Jerai has a lot cases where trekkers got lost in the mountain, it happens almost every year. Some were never found until today. I’ve also heard stories about Orang Bunian, the murder of Raja Bersiung, Batu Kapal and an old lady lingering around the jungle area. I checked the weather forecast throughout the week until the very last day, list out all necessary gears and food and also look for Mount Jerai trail GPS map. Sadly, not many GPS trail is available on the website. To reach the peak, there are many ways but I plan to hike from Lembah Bujang Archaeology Museum, Merbok. Based on previous climbers (I read on website), they took 10 hours up and down the same trail. I will enter the trail 15 minutes after sunrise (around 0703H) to get more time in hand, estimated time to hit the peak in 5 hours’ time, and descend in 5 hours’ time before the sun sets. Although the weather forecast says it is not likely to rain on the 8 Aug 15, our preparations were done to face the weather.

List of gears : Hiking Bag with chest and waist strap for stability, Rain Jacket, 10 000mAh Powerbank with cables and chargers, JVC Adixxion XA2, Nikon D90, safety light, Garmin 910xt with charger (spare GPS), Garmin 920xt with charger (main GPS), knife, macro clip on lens, head lamp, Dettol to clean leech bites, Hammer Endurolytes Fizz (electrolytes), Hammer Perpetuem Solid, Lifeline ID, cash and ID, plastic bags for rubbish, 5 bottles of water (1.5L in total), wet tissues, 10 cloud9 chocolate as snacks, and a set of clothes sealed in plastics just in case we have to camp. 

*my group of 7 hikers also carried 3 whole bird of black pepper chicken for our lunch.

Garmin Connect data transferred to MapMyRun Android apps.

Since not everyone owns a Garmin, I plotted the course in Garmin Connect before transferring it to MapMyRun Android apps. I insisted everyone to get it installed and make sure the map is in their phone. 0500H in the morning; once everyone confirmed that all GPSs are working and all gears ready, we pushed off from Kepala Batas Airport to Lembah Bujang Archaeology Museum. Our team stopped at R&R Gurun for my muslim friends to perform Subuh prayers, then arrived at Lembah Bujang 0655H. Parking was pretty convenient and safe with CCTV monitoring, it is located few hundred meters from the trail entrance. 
Subuh prayers at R&R Gurun.

Arrived early to get everything ready.

We geared up, warmed up and prayed before entering the trail around 0715H as the trail gets brighter. My Garmin locked pretty fast with GLONASS, so I walked across the waterfall towards the old wooden house confidently. The double storey house was abandoned since I came here 2 years ago, I have no idea how long it has been there. At the back of the house, there is a junction where you can use the left or the right trail; either way will lead to the same trail later (left trail is shorter and is marked with an orange arrow). 

The old house after the first waterfall.

We turned right after the old house. 

A few minutes later we reached a junction and we made a right turn just as what was set in my Garmin. Along the way there were plenty of boar digging signs, perhaps because it is near to water source and rhizomes. Then we heard wild boar's sound in the bush and saw a juvenile ran past us, stopped for a moment to let them pass. We reached the second waterfall in 13 minutes’ time since started. 

At this junction, turn right.

Dug out by wild boars.

Crossing the second waterfall.

The orange direction marker and red-white tapes were very useful to us. However, most of it were damaged by weather and fallen trees. I came across many confusing trails during the first 2 kilometers, I have decided to put 100% trust on my Garmin GPS even when I didn’t see any trail ahead. The jungle changes every night so does the trail, always bring your Garmin. 
The orange markers along the way.

“If you’re an aviator disorientated in the cloud, you have to trust your instruments.” 
*The sun has always been on our right side after the waterfall (useful guide for direction)*

After seeing “Ke Puncak Jerai 6km (6km to Mount Jerai)”, we hiked up the rocky slope using the ropes. Then we reached Hutan Terbakar (Burned Forest) at 2.68km (Lap1 in my Garmin 920xt). 2 years ago when I raced here, the ground was all black and burned trees fell everywhere. As for this time, the fern leaves flourish and I just noticed what an awesome view of the shoreline from this point! The 4 islands opposite Mount Jerai could be seen so clearly, it compelled us to stop for a photography break=p

Hike up the rocky slope.

The burned patch at Hutan Terbakar.

A must-have photo at Hutan Terbakar.

Group photo with the team=) Sport Camera JVC Adixxion XA2.

The leeches along the way were everywhere, every 200m there will be one following you. They erect from the ground waiting for passerby, hop on, poke through the socks and suck the blood out. Also, I noticed that the leech could not penetrate compression wear. I would highly recommend hikers to wear calf guards and compression wear underneath. Inevitably, spider webs covered all over my body as I was the one walking in front. Thank God I had a cap and wore my spec.
Next time I'll come with long sleeve. =p
We hiked up another slope with rocky steps (Lap3 in my Garmin 920xt), I called it the Sisik Naga (Dragon Scale) because there’s a stainless steel signboard explaining about a type of plant called the Sisik Naga. At this area, I saw a lot of crystal looking rocks similar to the one at Gunung Keriang. Some of the stones here look like shinny glass, when it shatters on the ground it does look like scales. May be this is how the legend about Dragon Scale started (I am not sure).
My team mate 2nd Lt Anam accidentally stepped on this scorpion but luckily the tail only poked his shoes' outsole. Imagine if he came barefooted. 

Climbed up the rocky steps at Sisik Naga.

The shinny rock. I did not bring any rocks back. 
Took nothing but photographs, left nothing but footprints.

The journey continued to Kepala Angin, our next pit stop. The trails gets chilly, I start to see air plants and moss, no more 20m high trees on top of our head, we could see the sky better now. Arrived at Kepala Angin in 3 hours since we started. Kepala Angin and Hutan Terbakar has the same view, just that Kepala Angin is higher.

Centipedes at Kepala Angin.

Breath taking view at Kepala Angin. 

Pitcher plant could be seen everywhere.

The exotic air plant (Tilllandsia), does not require any soil to grow.

We took around 45 minutes from Kepala Angin all the way up until we reached the tar road to proceed higher heading to the TM Tower (Lap4 in my Garmin 920xt). Non military personnel are not allowed to proceed towards the military post guarding the TM Tower. Up to this location, 3 hours 51 minutes. 1 hour ahead of my planned time!

No trespassing for non military personnel. Lt Izlan and I were the only Navy Officers in the group.

We dropped by Padang Tok Sheikh (Lap5 in my Garmin 920xt) for sight seeing, very awesome view! Then we decided to descend down to The Regency Jerai Hill Resort. Descended halfway, it was too far for us so we turned back. We rested on the road, took out our black pepper chicken and rehydrated ourselves. 

Junction to Padang Tok Sheikh.


High protein meal, just enough to fuel our tummy before descending. We packed up our rubbish to be brought down and kept the jungle clean.

Optionally, we could descend via Tangga Kenari and end up at Yan (Northen Side of the Mountain) or go to the Resort and charter a van down to Yan. Since our car was parked at Merbok (Southern Side of the Mountain), we descended the same way we came up, only with much higher pace. The tree roots and ropes were very helpful on the descend. We moved in a group and took turn to be the guide trekker. 

Skechers GoSpeed3 descending Mount Jerai. I just love the responsiveness!

Although we had 2 Garmin GPS watches and 7 smartphones with maps; theoretically impossible to get lost, we remained cautious and respect the nature as mother nature is the big boss. From time to time we’ll stop to remove leeches, our socks were stained with blood. My chest, my armpit, my neck and my ankles have so many “love bites” now. What an amazing blood sucking creature!

Blood sucking leech, your biggest clingy fan all the way. 

To save time, we did not stop much to take photos. Each break was less than 2 minutes, we only stopped the longest at Hutan Terbakar to enjoy the view for one last time. My initial plan was to get out of the trail latest by 6pm because dark trails could be misleading. From the peak descend down to Lembah Bujang, time taken 2 hours 54 minutes. My water left a few sips only, I’d suggest to carry more than 1.5L in future. We quickly shower at the waterfall after a short break to visit a few more places before going home. Contradict to the weather forecast, heavy rain came pouring at 1730H! I felt relieved to be blessed with good weather along the way and everyone came back safely. 

One last stop at Hutan Terbakar.

Lembah Bujang Archeology Museum area. All my relics and statues pictures inside the museum went missing a day later. Not very sure why and how.

Maharaja Derbar Raja II (descendant of Merong Mahawangsa) was named Makam Sultan Al Mudzaffar Shah 1136-1179. He is the first Kedah’s Sultan who embraced Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. The grave is located at Kampung Pengkalan Langgar.

The course I did was longer due to exploration of a few places other than the peak. You can utilize the GPS coordinate to plot your own course. If you are a smart phone user, some areas are covered with thick canopy so the coverage is pretty bad, the apps would stop working. I'd suggest you to invest in a good GPS Garmin watch with navigation feature, because the watch does not require mobile signal. Better still, my Garmin Forerunner 920xt ran with Global Navigation Satellite System which explains how I had full bar of GPS signal at all time. For those who intend to hike up Gunung Jerai, here is the link to the GPS coordinate:

To sum it all, Mount Jerai is worth going. The overall expenditure incurred was around RM23 per person for all the food and gears, plus RM10 for car pooling, and lastly RM25 for a wholesome seafood dinner at Jitra. Only RM58 needed to climb a mountain, but of course some level of fitness is required to make sure everyone come home safely. Should you have any problem, do send me an email and I will try my best to answer you. My main intention of writing a comprehensive report is to assist future trekkers and give everyone a better idea of what to expect when hiking the legendary Mount Jerai. Good Luck =)

Friday, 4 September 2015

Marathon Running : Tips For The Big Day

Training Program. Checked. - Race gears. Checked. - Hydration and Nutrition needs. Checked.
You are now at the final stretch of your first Marathon journey and you are well prepared and eager to toe the start line. However, bear in mind that even the best prepared, can underperform on race day. So, what are the little nitty-gritty factors that can derail the efforts and preparation and all that hard work that you have put in? Team 2ndskin have finished many races and events and have made all the little mistakes that many first-timers and event experienced runners do. Take a cue and etch these little details into your brain to ease your way through your first Marathon. Ready? 
Let’s turn the clock back to one week before race day. The last few days leading up to your first Marathon is crucial to get your body (and mind) primed for the race. Remember to constantly hydrate daily and to take your vitamins and supplements regularly. It is a good practice to tune your toilet routine to match what your race day program would look like, and that means going to the toilet early in the morning before you leave home on race day to avoid any unnecessary stomach trouble during the race. You will need a couple of days to get into that routine, so start changing your toilet patterns a few days before race day. It is also imperative that you do not turn up at the starting line with tight or strained muscles, so please increase the amount of foam rolling, stretching and muscle maintenance in the last week leading up to race day. 

Stretch out your legs and body and don’t forget your upper back and shoulders as well as a marathon is a full body workout.
Do read and understand the briefing and notes in the race day booklet or information package provided by the organizer. Specific details to get to know include the road closures, parking arrangements, water station locations and distance, route and elevation and emergency contact numbers. Having these information at hand allows you to plan your hydration and nutrition strategy accordingly, get to the race site with ample time for warmup and calming your nerves as well as gives you peace of mind knowing that in any situation, you have the right contact number to get in touch with. You will not believe how many runners do not study the road closures and parking arrangements and arrive late to the race site just before (or even after!) flag-off and are mentally and physically stressed before even running their first kilometer!

RnR, part of the plan
Stress is a silent killer, and being your first Marathon, you may be subjected to mental and physiological stresses that affect your well-being, without you even realizing it. It is good to calm your nerves by doing things that allow your mind to rest and to avoid the “what-if” thoughts that always cloud a person before an important event like an interview, a public speech, or a marathon. Do what works for you; listen to music, meditate or read a book. The important thing is to get your mind off of negative thoughts that may cause you unnecessary emotions. Try it, starting a few nights before your race and hopefully it will help you get some good sleep the night before the race as well.

On the morning of race day, do not try anything new. That means, stick to your tried and tested breakfast or food and drinks that you have consumed before in the mornings of your long run training. If you don’t drink coffee, do not consume that even though many runners say it will give you a kick. Anything that you have not tried prior may cause you discomfort or problems later and that’s exactly what needs to be avoided. The same goes for your racing gear where you shouldn’t wear anything new and untested. Do not have that thought of keeping a new running shirt to commemorate race day and then you find that a bit of uneven stitching causes you chafing at kilometer 15 and you have to bear with the pain for the next few hours. Race in the gears you have been training in for your long distance runs and you should be fine.

Try to get to the race site early. Have ample time to perform some dynamic warmup to get your heart rate up. Some light jogging around the race site for approximately 5 mins about 20 – 30 mins before the race start would be good. Try to seek out friends who are also running the marathon to have a chat or socialise to calm your nerves. At the starting line, whilst all the runners and yourself are crowding, take deep breaths as you wait for the start gun to go off. Remember to start your watch timer or GPS as you step across the start line! Now you’re off!

At the start of the marathon, you may find many runners passing you by. You may feel that you are going too slow in comparison to other runners. Don’t worry, don’t fret. Keep to your pace. Many runners make the mistake of going out too fast too soon and blowing up early in the run. Don’t get sucked into the atmosphere and make the same mistake. Run your own race and pace.

Make it a point to stop at every water station to get your little walk break. Walk through the water station, and grab some drinks if you need to. Take your time to consume your drink as you walk and start picking up the pace again once you’re done with your drink as you move away from the water station. It is also a good idea to consume your energy gels just prior to reaching the next water station as you could then dispose of your gel wrapper at the water station bins instead of holding on to them for long. It is only good race etiquette not to simply dispose of your gel wrappers and other small rubbish along the race route, but only at designated stops and water stations.

A marathon is not only a physical challenge, but also a mental one as well. There will be many instances throughout the race that your mind will tell you to wave the white flag, to give up, and that this is way too tough and you can always try again. Don’t give in to your demons. Find ways to think about the positives, like “I’ve run 28km already, I can do this!”, instead of “I’ve got 14km to go, how can I finish this?!”
Think about a motivational quote or race mantra that you like and repeat it to yourself when your will weakens. A few quotes like “Tough times don’t last, tough people do” and “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” will help pull you through when times are bad.

Remember to give your biggest smile when you reach the finishing line. There will be many race photographers around and you should commemorate your brilliant effort with a beautiful smile, simply because you have earned it. You have earned the right to call yourself a marathoner!