Monday, July 13, 2015

1st Bulacan 360 60K Ultramaathon 2015

This year would be all about road races and as part of my training and preparation for Badwater 135, I decided to sign up this new race in Philippines!  Once again, I relied on a great friend's help - Cheryl kindly assisted me to make payment for the race and I was glad she could also accompany me for this trip and run the race.  (Interested runners had to deposit the race fees for most races in Philippines as the races do not offer online registration.  This was both good and bad - good due to the payment mode (I guessed), race fees were affordable but bad for overseas runners as you either had to get a local friend to help you register, or make a trip to remittance company like Western Union to transfer the race fees.)  Race fee for the 60km race was very affordable at PHP1,600 (S$50.80) or PHP1,800 (S$57.20) for late registration.  Cheryl also helped me to arrange the traveling to Bulacan and the accommodation there.  I couldn't imagine what it would have been like traveling alone and making my own arrangement.  Traveling in Philippines was in fact, very challenging and tedious, even for locals.  If I could recall, our journey from the airport in Manila, comprised of:

Airport Bus to City (PHP20 = S$0.65)
City Bus to Van Station (PHP30 = S$0.95)
Van Ride to Bulacan (PHP60 = S$1.90)

(Alternatively, you could take the MTR to and from the van station to take the Airport Bus which would cost PHP28 (S$0.90) instead of PHP30.)

It was about 9:30am when we eventually arrived in the city/town of Bulacan, after traveling for almost 3 hours from the airport.  Cheryl had arranged for a friend, Katrina, to pick us up at the mall, as we would be staying at Katrina's home.  Katrina was also an accomplished runner herself and she was more than happy to meet up with old friend and make new ones.  We went inside the mall when it opened at 10:00am to get the food and drinks for the race.  Once done, I decided to get something from my favourite fast food in the Philippines - Jollibee, for early lunch.  We then hopped onto a jeep (yes, all 3 of us) and the jeep brought us to the race start area to take a look e we would be starting the race at 10:00pm at night.  After a quick look around, we continued the journey and arrived at Katrina's home.  :)  She had 2 dogs - a big one and a tiny one.  And both loved to bark at me!

Left: Church Next To The Start; Top Right: In The Jeep; Bottom Right: Jollibee!

As I was extremely tired from taking the midnight flight, and didn't really sleep well on the plane, I decided to take a nap in Katrina's room.  In order to reach her room which was 2 levels up, I had to climb to another "dining area" a level up.  At this 2nd level, they "duplicate" another set of stove, fridge, etc just in case of flooding from heavy rain or typhoon, which happened previously.  I thought it was an ingenious idea to do so.  This meant that the family could prepare food if flooding really occurred.  Katrina's room was above this 2nd level.  Its wall was orange in color and she had a lot of movies posters, and figurines, etc.  :)  And of course, there were many finisher medals hanging on her wall as well.  I quickly changed and went straight to nap.  I woke up at about 6pm plus and have a light dinner with Cheryl.  Then I decided to go back to nap!  And so did Cheryl! :)  We eventually got out of bed at about 8pm.  Their other friend, Marie, who was also sharing the support car had arrived by then.

We changed and went downstairs to the car.  Katrina and her friend (the driver of the support car) were busy getting ready the things that we needed for the race.  I didn't know Cheryl actually arranged for a support car.  I had planned on running with my hydration belt and all the gels I need (about 5 - 1 gel after every 10km), while depending on the official race support points at every 10km mark.  I had done that previously during the Davao 50km so even though Bulacan was 10km longer, I should be fine.  Since Cheryl had arranged, I would keep that option open but a lot would depend on how the 3 of us run (if we were too far apart, it would be tough for them to support us).  However, I did deposit my sports drinks and spare gels, etc in the car.  :p  We reached the Start Line at around 9pm.  There were many runners already there.  Most of them Filipinos.  We proceeded to collect our race bibs.  At about 9:45pm (thereabout), the Race Director, Joseph Prince, gave a detailed briefing on the race.  Unfortunately, I could understand none of it as he delivered them in their local language.  Luckily, Cheryl, Marie and Katrina were there to share with me the pertinent points of the race.  At 10:00pm sharp, the RD promptly flagged us off.

 At The Start Of The 1st Bulacan 360 60km Ultramarathon!

The race started at 10:00pm so I would still run into the morning so I should be able to build some mileage towards Badwater.  My strategy for the race was simple: break up the race into manageable 10km segments so I had 6 segments to tackle in total.  The late start was both good and bad.  Good because I didn't need to drag myself out of the bed for the race start but bad because I had to run in the dark for at least 8 hours.  Nevertheless, with so many runners around me, and the road was illuminated up by the runners' headlamps and blinking lights, it felt like a party.  In fact, I did not even need to switch on my own headlamp!  The first segment was along this straight road.  I was amazed that at that hour, traffic was still pretty heavy.  So we had to be very careful.

Then, I noticed an ache on the bottom of my right foot.  I tried to focus on my surroundings and other runners instead, hoping that it would go away.  It did.  For a while.  And came back.  I reached the first aid station at around the 10km mark before midnight.  As I still had sports drink with me, I didn't fill up my bottle as they only had plain water.  But I took a gel with their plain water before I continued running.  Cheryl was ahead of me and probably way ahead, while Marie was further back but I couldn't see her.  I focused on my breathing and was always on the looked out for traffic.  By then, the runners were more spread out but I could still see some runners in front.  Before I reached the next aid station, I saw Katrina and the car!  I waved on to her to let her know I was good.  And they updated me of the change in plan.  Since we had the official aid station every 10km, they would meet up with us every 5km in between.  What a brilliant idea! I reached the second aid station at about 1pm plus.  I took another gel and continued running.

For the next 10km, the ache came and gone.  It was the same kind of ache that I felt during the Twilight Ultra Challenge.  Could it be due to standing and walking in heels for 2 half days?  It could well be the reason as I was someone who took great care of my body when training and racing (unless the pain was due to fall).  And the only reason why I had the ache was because I wore heels, which was bad for running.  But since I was still making forward movement, and the ache was still endurable, there was no reason for me to quit.  But I decided to take more walk breaks in between my running.  I met Katrina again and swapped a new bottle of ice cold Gatorade.  This period of the run was much quieter with lesser traffic.  But the runners were spread out by then.  I still had not seen Cheryl and reckoned she was running well and much ahead of me.  I was not surprised at all as she had the speed to run fast and endurance to run long.  I reached the third aid station slower than the previous 2 segments.  I took another gel with water.  It was about 4am in the morning.

I told myself that I had to cover at least 45km or even 50km before the sun rose up.  But I was perfectly fine if I had to run under the sun too.  This was the reason why I signed up for the race.  However, I knew that we still had to go back to shower, and travel back to Manila so that I could catch my flight back in the evening.  I saw Katrina again and swapped for another new bottle of Gatorade.  She told me that Cheryl was way ahead of me while Marie was some distance behind.  I guessed that could be the reason why she won't be able to find me at exactly the mid-way point between the official aid stations.  This was fine as supporting 3 runners of all different speed was both tiring and difficult.  I thanked them and continued.  This was the hardest segment as I wanted to sleep and I ended up "sleep-walking" the entire 10km before I finally reached the fourth aid station.  Day broke and the air was cool though I knew it won't be long before the sun rose!

It was past 6am and the traffic started to build-up again.  Running on the road in Philippines could be very challenging.  This was because they did not have proper pavement.  We ran on the road shoulders which could be dangerous if motorcycles decided to overtake from the right (Philippines was left-hand drive as with driving in the USA).  It happened to me before in Ocho Ocho last year but luckily, I had not met with such an incident for this race yet.  However, some of the shoulders were still under construction which meant that we had to run next to the road (when there was no traffic) or run on the under-construction shoulder, which had gravels all over the surface.  This made the running and walking painful especially with the ache underfoot.  Towards the next aid station, I also noticed that some part of the roads were under construction as well.  Hence there would be marshallers at the end of the road to direct the traffic since it was a one-lane, two-way traffic.  It was no fun at all.  So it was a step at a time to the next aid station.

By the time I reached the fifth and final aid station, the sun was shining full blast on the earth.  I didn't meet Katrina but it didn't matter as I still had my Gatorade and had replenished my gel when I last met her.  I was reduced to a walk (but more likely a death march as I was by then suffering).  Luckily, we were running in and out of the shades of trees.  Katrina eventually drove past and I was able to replenish my Gatorade.  Cheryl had done very well and had completed her race some time back!  (She was either 1st or 2nd Runners-up!)  :)  They had to go back to Marie as she was much further back.  I thanked them and told them to leave as I had everything I need to get to the finishing.  Traffic by then had gotten really heavy, especially when I was approaching the road crossing.  I wasn't sure if I would make it to the other side of the road as the traffic doesn't seem to stop.

Luckily, a police was there and stopped the traffic.  I thanked him and continued.  It was a few KMs later before I reached another road crossing!  The police again, helped stopped the traffic so I could cross safely.  He also told me that I was about 2KM away from the finishing line!  This was a huge relief as I thought I had walked for a long time!  (It was about 10:15am!)  My right foot felt terrible though painful was not the correct word.  Soon enough, I saw a runner crossing the road not far in front and entered a lane (or building).  I pushed on and saw a marshaller directed me to cross the road.  Right there, at the front of the building, was Joseph Prince, the RD!  I had finally completed the 1st Bulacan 360 60km run!  The RD presented me with a medal and trophy!  (Every finisher had a medal, trophy, a personalised finisher tee and a packet of food).  I was also happy to see Cheryl.  Katrina had also arrived and the plan was to drop off Katrina so that she could pace Marie to the end while Cheryl and me would head home for a shower.

Finisher Goodies!

Marie was in high spirit when we saw her!  We wished her well before leaving.  (Turned out that Marie was a very active ultra runner in the Philippines.  Though she was slow, she never gave up.  Cheryl and Katrina updated me that Marie completed the race eventually.)  As for me, I felt fine the next day although the ache remained whenever I stepped off my right foot.  I won't say this was a highly recommended race as we were running through the night and through the city.  There wasn't much scenery and it was boring.  Also, traveling to that area was a daunting prospect!  Nevertheless, the race fee was very affordable, considering the many finisher goodies given to the runners.  For those who wish to explore that part of Philippines, the race was a good option.  :)

Marie (left) and Katrina (right) Refueling before the Last Stretch!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Badwater Cape Fear 2015

I have decided at the start of the year, that I would want to take part in more US races this year.  So I signed up for the Badwater Cape Fear, Badwater Salton Sea and prayed very hard I would be selected again for Badwater 135.  No particular reason except to test myself against the races put on by RD Chris Kostman.  :)

Badwater Cape Fear @ Bald Head Island, NC - 21 March (Photo courtesy of Adventure CORPS, Inc)

Traveling and Accommodation
For an overseas runner, it was difficult to get to Bald Head Island where the race would be held.  You could choose to fly to one of the nearby airports (e.g. Myrtle Beach, SC or Fayetteville, NC, both of which were approximately 70 miles and 105 miles respectively from the Bald Head Island Ferry Terminal, Southport), or you could fly into Wilmington International Airport, which was still some 34 miles away.  Due to my indecisiveness in planning which airport to fly into, I ended up having to either pay a premium price of S$3,200/- (approximately US$2,300/-) for my air-ticket.  To get to the ferry terminal, I booked a 45-50 minutes taxi ride for US$70/- which was fairly reasonable.  After a flight delay which resulted in missing the connection flight to Wilmington on Thursday night (and had to spend the night at the airport), I eventually reached the ferry terminal on Friday morning, at 10:50am, just 10mins before the next ferry out to Bald Head Island!  Luckily all these while, Rodney, whom I would be sharing the accommodation on the island, updated me on the travel arrangement, weather, as well as cellphone coverage on the island.  After the 25min ferry ride, I reached the island and Rodney was there to welcome me!  We took a short walk to the golf cart, the most common transportation on the island, where Rodney drove to Ibis Rooster - the name of our rented house!  (As most houses required you to rent the whole house, it was very expensive for runners who went alone.  The cheapest house would cost me US$275/- per night for a minimum of 2 nights.  So I decided to share the accommodation with Rodney where I only paid US$105/- per night for 4 nights.  This still worked out cheaper than if I booked for a 2-night stay.  On top of that, I need not worry about getting lost on the island with Rodney around.)  :p

Top Left: Arrival @ Wilmington Airport; Bottom Left: Rodney & Golf Cart; Right: Iris Rooster!

Runners Check-in, Social Mixer, & Carbo-loading
I decided to sleep through lunch as I had a throbbing headache, probably due to the lack of proper sleep in the last 48 hours.  In between, I woke up to pack my drop-bag for the Fort Fisher location and passed it to Rodney (who was so kind to help send in my drop-bag).  Rodney had to take the ferry to go over to Hampton Inn Hotel on the main island to drop off the drop-bags.  He was back to Bald Head Island at about 3:30pm, and we went to collect our Race Packet (runners' check-in) at the Bald Head Island Conservancy.  I was not sure if the RD, Chris, could remember me.  But I guess he did.  After we gotten our "mugshot" taken by Chris for the webcast, we went back to the house to put our stuff before heading out to Coastal Urge for the social mixer.  The social mixer was like a party where pop music was played and runners mingled around and had beer (or plain water).  I looked around and saw the runners all looking so professional, so experienced, and so knowledgeable.  I felt intimidated and decided to just walk around on my own and take photos of them instead.  I bumped into a guy, Todd, who would be running his first Cape Fear.  Todd was very friendly and we chit chat for a while together with his father (or father-in-law who did last year's Cape Fear) and Rodney.  At about 6:00pm, we decided to pick up some stuff from the supermarket next door.  Once done, we headed towards the pier where Mojo Restaurant would serve bottomless pasta (as many plates of pasta as you could fill your stomach for the price of one) for the runners.  As I wasn't that hungry, I had just a plate of pasta.  Then, it was back home to prepare the race kit and rest early for the race.

 Runner Check-in @ Bald Head Island Conservancy!

Social Mixer @ Coastal Urge and Todd with Dad (Bottom Central)!

Carbo-loading Dinner @ Mojo's Restaurant, Next To The Pier!

Race Day
I woke up at 6:15am, had my breakfast and changed to get ready.  By 7:00am, we were both ready to go to the start, which was at the lighthouse.  It was a nice morning but it felt very cold.  After Rodney had parked the golf cart, we took a short walk to the starting line.  There, I met Sandra for the first time.  Rodney, Sandra and myself had teamed up to take part in the Badwater Salton Sea in May.  So it was nice to meet up before the actual race.  We chit-chat and posed for photos.  I noticed more runners had arrived in the early morning.  I tried looking out for the other two runners from Singapore but didn't see them.  At 7:51am, they sang the national anthem before Chris flagged us off!

 Old Baldy Light House (Left); Me, Sandra and Rodney (Right)!

Race Start - First 12 Miles
The first 12 miles of the race was on road, including a 1.5 miles in a trail.  Then the 50km runners would run an out-and-back loop of 20 miles on the beach while the 51.4 miles runners would run 2 out-and-back loops of 40 miles on the beach (or thereabout).  Although the cut-off for the 50km runners was 9 hours, runners running the 51.4 miles race must cleared the 50km within 8 hours so that they had sufficient time (6 hours to be exact) for the 2nd loop.  I didn't know why but I would find out soon.  Not wearing a watch for the race might not be the best idea but I knew I just had to make do with my iPhone since I left my Suunto Ambit 3 in the office.  :(  I set myself a target of 2hrs 30mins for the first 12 miles, and 5hrs for the first loop of 20 miles.  This would give me 6hrs 30mins to complete the second loop of 20 miles.  It was a frantic start and I found myself somewhere near the end of the pack.  Sandra and Rodney were running next to me but I lost them even before reaching the 2-Mile mark!

 Start Of the Badwater Cape Fear 2015! (Photos courtesy of Official Photographer)

And so, I just ran my usual race - a slow start but consistent pacing.  I was running all by myself along with 1~2 runners in front and another 1~2 runners behind.  However, I couldn't tell if they were running the 50km or 50-Miles event.  As I turned into Stede Bonnet Wynd (after 6 miles), I saw a few runners running towards my direction (after 9 miles) though I was not sure if they were the leaders.  Running on the roads of Bald Head Island was very safe as there were very few cars.  Whenever possible, I would run the tangent.  Just before reaching the mid-way point before the beach segment, I saw two volunteers standing at the entrance of a trail head.  They waved me into the trail and I was happily dodging low-lying branches, hopping over roots.  The trail segment didn't look like having a proper path so it was narrow.  I quickly caught up with a lady running the 50km and she politely let me passed her.  The trail segment was short so it wasn't long before I emerged out from it and completed the 12 miles in 2hrs 25mins!

First Out-And Back Loop - Next 20 Miles
After a quick pit-stop, I left the check-point, which was also the finishing point, for the beach.  Before the race, Rodney had told me the beach was as hard as the road.  I wasn't sure why was that as the beach I ran on (St John Island, Singapore) was soft, which made the running difficult as you need to expand more energy.  I found the beach harder than what I thought though not as easy as what Rodney had described.  Being a slow runner meant that I could check out the footprints left by earlier runners, though running on their footsteps wasn't a great idea unless you could plant your feet in exactly where their footsteps were.  The waves were coming in and out and it was a beautiful day.  Birds were also seen flying over the ocean and beach, while others even stood near the waves!  Before I reached the "mid-way point" on the outbound segment of the first loop, I saw a topless guy speeding past me!  He was followed by another 2-3 guys and a lady!

The "mid-way point" was 6 miles from the finishing which meant that I need to cover another 4 miles to reach Fort Fisher location - the mid-way point of the out-and-back loop.  I took a gel and made my way to Fort Fisher.  Before I reached Fort Fisher, I saw Sandra and further back was Rodney.  I asked the volunteers at Fort Fisher for a time-check when I eventually reached there and I was happy to be on target.  I was on a high for my return trip to complete the first my first loop.  I also find it extremely easy to run on the beach.  By then, it was low tight and runners were running where the water was previously.  I guessed the reason it was easier was due to the sand being made compact by the waves earlier in the morning.  I didn't even need any walk break on my way back though I did feel kind of demoralised when the front runners of the 51.4 Miles race complete their race even before I completed my first loop.  :(  I finished the first loop in 7hrs 2mins!

Second Out-And Back Loop - Next 20 Miles
By finishing the first 50km in 7hrs 2mins, it gave me close to 7 hours to cover the 2nd loop.  This meant I could take some photos as well.  Though I didn't like loop courses, it was bearable as there were no waves that looked the similar.  Also, there were also more kids playing near the beach although the same people were still patiently sitting near their fishing lines, waiting for their catch.  I noticed that the waves were beginning to come up higher onto the beach.  So the "hardened" beach path for running was getting narrower and narrower.  The last 2 miles was tough as I had to move higher up the beach with the tide coming in.  I managed to maintain the same pace as my 1st loop and completed the out-segment in approximately 2hrs 30mins.  I thanked the volunteers who helped me to refill my water bottle before heading home for the last 10 miles.  It was about 5:15pm and I had about 2hrs 30mins of daylight before night falls.

Aid Station At The Turn-Around Point, Fort Fisher!

The Beach Near Sunset!

As soon as I stepped back onto the beach, I knew why RD Chris had stipulated for runners to complete the 1st loop within 8 hours.  This was to allow them more time (6 hours) to complete the 2nd loop of 20 miles (thereabout).  More time was needed because the tide were coming in and runners had to run on the soft beaches, as compared to late morning and early afternoon, when the tide was low.  It was very difficult by then as I was tired.  I tried to run nearer to the water whenever possible.  But in doing so, I had to be mindful of the incoming tides and on a few occasions, when I wasn't alert enough to avoid the tide, or misjudged in how far the tide would be coming in, I found my feet soaked in the cold waves.  I was mostly walking by then but enjoying the brilliant sunset.  Night fell at around 7:45pm so I had to use my headlamp that I brought.  Near the end of the beach, the tide had come all the way into the bushes and I had to walk the short distance submerged in the waves till I exited the beach, onto the road and crossed the finishing line in 12hrs 34mins!

The Mid-Way Point of the Out-And-Back Stretch!

The Beach Before Last Light!

Overall Verdict - 9/10
It was another great race put on by RD Chris Kostman!  Difficult (for the slow runners) but with enough training and perseverance, one should still make the cut-off.  The last 10 miles of the race was really tough for the slow runners as the tide was coming in and it made running more difficult but fun.  For the last segment, it took me approximately 3hrs 5mins to complete, which was an hour slower than the same segment for the first loop.  Runners were blessed with great weather as the rain stopped on Friday.  Although the wind could be strong along the beach, once you were nicely warmed up, it was actually nice to run which could be why some of the top male runners were running topless.  The 3 aid stations had well-stocked food and drinks and they never ran out of food / drinks for slow runners.  All the volunteers were so encouraging and helpful and I hoped they had as much fun as us runners.  :)  Without the enthusiasm of RD Chris and his team of volunteers, as well as fellow runners, I would not have as much fun.  Then again, one must train sufficiently and prepare for rainy weather so you would not be fearful of Cape Fear!

At The Finishing Point With Rodney and RD Chris!

With Men's Champion, 51.4 Miles (Left); With Trasie and Rodney (Centre); Breakfast (Right)!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Davao 50km Ultramarathon 2015

It had been a while since I last raced in Philippines and I thought it was a good opportunity to run there over the CNY long weekend.  After some research, I found out that Blue was organising the Davao 50km Ultramarathon.  As the registration was closing soon, I quickly asked Cheryl if she wanted to do the same race when I came back from USA at the end of January.  Unfortunately Cheryl had a prior arrangement to pace a friend in another race and couldn't join me for this race.  Nonetheless, she assisted me to register for the race and to reserve a room at the Eagle Ridge Resort, which was where the race would start.

Pre-Race Activities
Traveling in Philippines was always a challenge to me.  So it was great when you know someone staying locally.  I chanced upon Hydee's reply in Davao 50 Facebook Page and asked her about transportation to Eagle Ridge Resort and where I could get supplies of water and food as I was told there was nothing in Eagle Ridge Resort.  Instead of giving me specific instructions, Hydee picked me up from the airport on Saturday morning, after she saw my message on Friday night!  She drove to Eagle Ridge Resort, waited for me to check-in, then drove to the SM Davao City Mall - a shopping complex where I could get my supplies.  As she had other race-related stuff to settle, Hydee left after I insisted on buying her a breakfast.  Before she left, I told her that she could come over to my room to stay for the night since there were 2 beds in the room.  She thanked me for the offer and said she would consider.  After she left, I went to buy my groceries from the supermarket.  Once done, I took a cab and went back to the Resort for a nap.

 Left: Arrival At Philippines' Most Beautiful City - Davao! Right: Breakfast With Hydee @ SM City Mall!

I slept for almost 3 hours till 5pm!  It was important as I had not had enough sleep taking the midnight flight.  When I stepped outside my room, I saw Blue and his merry men (2 of them) busy sorting the suppliers for the race.  Another runner stepped out of his room (next to mine) and Blue started sharing about tomorrow's race.  The race would be shorter than last year.  I.e. we won't need to run a further 2km to the top of the hill where the heli-pad was and back.  So we would be running 50km instead of last year's 54km.  From our conversation, I understood Blue's concern.  But he assured us we would be safe and he would provide a vehicle to track us.  This was due to the presence of the opposition (or was it rebel? - I couldn't recall) who were just a stone's throw away and carrying long arms (rifles).  I wasn't worry since I was an Asian and looked somewhat like a fellow Filipino.  :p  However, there were 3 Caucasians and one of them flew in from USA just for the race, while the other 2 were working locally in the Philippines.  Nevertheless, I was glad Blue had been meticulous in ensuring the safety of runners and that all should had a good race experience.

 At The Start Line: Eagles Ridge Resort With Race Director - Blue & His Volunteers!

After Blue had settled most of the things for the race, we went to Jolibee for dinner.  I didn't know why but I always loved Jolibee.  It was cheap (for me) and value-for-money.  I ordered 2 beef steaks (more like beef patties) with rice and a Coke.  It was yummy!  Once we are done with dinner, I tagged along with them to get ice for the race.  Then, it was back to the resort for an early night at 8pm  Before I slept, I managed to get my race bib from Blue!

 Dinner With RD Blue & His Volunteers!

Race Day
I woke up at about 11pm.  Took some water and went back to sleep again.  Suddenly, I heard someone knocking very loudly on the door!  It startled me for a while and I went out to open the door without wearing my glasses.  It was Hydee standing there and for a while, I thought the race was about to start!  But the time was 2:45am.  I thanked her for waking me up and went back to change even though I had set my alarm clock to ring at 3:00am.  I usually prepared my stuff the night before so it took me only 10mins to get ready.  I had my bread and went to the hall for a briefing session at 3:15am.  Blue covered the race in great details.  He informed us about the aid stations at the 10km, 20km, 30km mark.  Basically, they would only serve plain water at the 10km mark while the 20km and 30km mark had solid food (e.g. porridge) as well as sports drink, water. Once the briefing was over, runners were able to clarify any points pertaining to the race.  At 3:50am, we went to the start line and await the final countdown with rest of the runners!

 Briefing To All Runners Prior To The Race!

Back in my mind, I was busy calculating what time I must reach back at the Resort, so that I had sufficient time to wash-up, take a taxi to the airport for my flight check-in at 14:00pm.  (The flight leaving Davao was timed at 16:00pm).  The distance between the end point and start point at Eagles Ridge Resort was about 22km.  So the drive back would take about 30mins (depending on traffic).  Plus another 30mins for me to wash-up and pack, and another hour for the taxi ride to the airport, it meant I needed to complete the run at 12:00pm but preferably the earlier, the better.  This worked out to about 8 hours to complete the 50km road race which I thought was highly possible.  Nevertheless, I told myself to check my progress at every 10km, then at the turnaround point at 36km, and finally at the last water station about 8km to the finishing line.  At 4:00am (3:58am by my watch), Blue did the countdown and flagged us off.

 At The Start Line - All Ready!!! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

Elevation Chart For Davao 50km! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

Start Of Race
As I was standing in front at the start, I had a clear view of how many runners ran past me.  First, a bunch of fast guys blasted away!  Then, the first lady ran past me before I even reached the gate to the resort.  After I ran out onto the main road, another lady ran past me.  About 30mins more or so, a group of 3 ladies ran past me, wearing the same attire.  And then another one or two, and I lost count.  But not Hydee.  As the road was lighted up by the street lamps, I did not use my handheld lights.  Running in the night meant I could concentrate on my breathing and running instead of worrying about speed.  It wasn't cold nor was it humid, which was a little surprised.  There was also little traffic on the road.  I slowly got into my grove and didn't feel I was running uphill at all.  At approximately 5:13am, I reached the first aid station at the 10km mark.  I was surprised as this worked out to be about a 8km/hr speed (or 7:30mins/km pace).  As briefed by Blue, they only had water there.  So I took the opportunity to have a gel and wash it down with water.  I also filled up my handheld bottle with some water before I thanked the volunteers and moved on.

For the next 10km, I told myself to stay relax and maintain my effort, knowing that the first 20km was as flat as it could be.  Then I came towards 2 short segments of the road where there were no street lights on either side of the road.  I was glad that I had my handheld lamp with me.  I might have passed a lady as she passed me with her pacer.  I recognised her from the attire she wore.  She was running strong and steadily pulled away from me but I managed to catch up with her when she stopped with her pacer at the support bike to get some refuel.  I overtook her but not for long as she managed to pass me again when she was done.  I reminded myself to maintain my cadence and never push too hard.  Soon, the sky was getting brighter as the day broke.  And I could see another lady further up front.  Both of us past her soon after.  I was feeling great.  I noticed the traffic was getting heavier.  The 20km mark should be closed by as the water station was in the middle of the town.  I saw 2 men waving at us to make a left turn.  I made my move to past the lady.  Before long, I saw the 20km aid station and stopped to have a gel and water, took some sports drink and left.

A quick time-check confirmed that I was even faster than my first 10km: 6:22am!  I was pleased with my effort but knew that the hard part was coming.  After I left the water station, a right turn led runners up a gradual uphill.  I could also see runners further up - most walking.  Some runners were keen to put in the extra effort to past runners whenever they saw runners slightly ahead.  I preferred to run my own race.  Besides, I knew that running (or power walking) uphill was my specialty so I just had to bid my time.  Slowly, I past a fellow lady runner.  Then a couple of guys.  I learned from running in Comrades, that no matter how steep or how long the uphill was, one should never walk all the way up to the top.  So for gentler uphill, I would run a longer distance before I reward myself a walking break.  I managed to reel in a few more runners who were content to walk.  I approached a junction and saw the volunteers waving at me to turn left.  I also saw some runners taking a break at a road-side stall while I continued running and walking.  Before I reached the 30km water station, a guy flying past me on the other side of the road!  Traffic was lighter.  Then a car drove by slowly.  Blue popped his head out and shouted to me that I was the 3rd woman!

That was a complete surprise although I knew I had passed a few ladies.  It motivated me a bit.  Another 3~4 guys past me on their way back to the finish before I eventually reached the 30km aid station, including one who ran barefoot!  I had wanted to try the food provided at the aid station but it didn't look too appetizing.  So I opted to take another gel with plenty of water.  It was 8:00am and 4 hours of running.  I also asked if they had Gartorade.  A volunteer passed me a grape-flavoured Gartorade.  I thanked them and left, determined to catch the lady in front.  With 6km to go before turnaround, I jogged more and power-walked less.  There was another guy just ahead and we were trading passes every time one of us power-walked.  There was a support car waiting for their runner and asked if I needed anything.  I was grateful they had Coke with ice, which was refreshing after drinking Gartorade and water for the past 4 hours.  A guy on the opposite side then told me the turnaround was 2km away!  This was great news!  Then, I saw the leading lady running with grace while bombing down the descend!  I re-focused on my aim of catching the lady in front and extending my lead over the lady behind.  I saw the 2nd lady making her way back before I reached the turnaround.

It was around 9:00am at the turnaround.  I took some Coke before I made my way back.  It was a slight uphill before the actual descend.  By then, I was running and running fast in full flow!  The hill didn't feel as though it was all that steep when I was running and power walking up earlier!  I also knew that I would certainly finish the race well before my target of 12:00pm even though I still had 14km to go.  Instead of focusing to shorten the gap between myself and the lady in front, I thought a better option maybe to maintain or widen my lead over the lady behind.  I knew if I could run fast, she could certainly run fast after the turnaround as well.  I kept a look out for her while trying to run as fast as the gravity allowed me to run fast without having to push myself too hard.  The kms really flew past on my way down.  About 12mins after the turnaround, I saw the lady powering up the hill.  I kept running as though I was being chased by an invisible predator and I covered the 6km downhill in about 40mins.  I arrived at the 30km aid station (now 42km) at around 9:40am.  I saw the two guys helping Blue the previous night.  They told me the finishing was about 8km away.  :)

 Left: Along The Race Route; Right: At The Eagles Centre - The Finishing Point! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

I thanked them and continued running.  I noticed road markers at every km so I could estimate the remaining kilometers left.  The downhill also sort of level up.  A group of volunteers waved me to turn right at the junction and I was about 3km to the finishing.  I was running on the right side of the road and I wondered if I should cross.  Traffic was heavy so I decided to stay on the right.  I slowed down a little.  There was no runner in front nor behind.  I took out my iPhone and tried checking how far I was from the Eagle Centre, which was the finishing point.  Signal was bad and the map didn't load.  So I kept my iPhone and ran/walked.  I was feeling exhausted.  Few minutes later, the guys on the jeep wave frantically at me to cross over the other side of the road.  I waited for the traffic to clear before running across.  They left once I had crossed safely.  I knew I was near and continued running until I saw a volunteer standing at an entrance.  He signalled me to turn left into the road, which eventually led me to some uneven road.  There were cars on both side of the road before I eventually reached a barrier.  I crossed the barrier and followed a foot-path right to the finishing point!  Blue was there to greet and congratulate me and in fact, all the runners!  I was very happy to clock a 6:39:04 50km timing and this fear of not making the flight had earned me a rewarding 3rd place finish!  :)  After the race, runners were given a lunch box.  Unfortunately, my mind was thinking about getting back to Eagle Ridge than refueling for recovery.  Luckily, a Davao runner who would be driving past Eagle Ridge to get home, gave another runner and I a lift back to the Resort.  A superb and happy ending to an otherwise tiring trip indeed!

 Finishing The Davao 50km Ultramarathon In 6hrs 39mins 04secs! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

 Top Three Of The Women's Category!!!

Verdict: 8/10
Overall, the race was very well organised with enough water and sports drinks provided.  However, it would be great if the RD could put some of these information earlier on the event website.  Also, for overseas runners, it would be nice if we could have our own drop bag(s) to put the food that we normally eat.  Safety wise, I had not been thorough for this race as I didn't know that there was a mandatory gear list.  Hence, I didn't have the mandatory reflective vest or blinking lights.  It would be good if the RD could do a simple gear check prior to the race so that the runners could start the race with the required gear.  Luckily, traffic was light in most sections of the road except those that cut-through the main town and towards to late morning.  Also, the drivers were attentive when driving.  Last but not least, the effort by the RD to give out age-group winners no matter the size of participants, was an excellent way to encourage newcomers and promote ultra running to the wider running community.  With a race fee of only PhP1,550.00 (about S$48), it was certainly value-for-money and for those who have never visited Davao, go for it!

* Check-point timings yet to be rectified by RD.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Xinshe Sakura Marathon (新社賞樱馬拉松) 2015

Rosemary and I signed up for the Xinshe Sakura Marathon 2015 last year through our usual contact, Sam.  :)  It was a no-brainer to join the race as I had wanted to do another marathon during the sakura season since I completed the Nagano Marathon in April 2003 (unofficially).  We booked our flight and left everything else (from traveling from Taipei Airport to accommodation to traveling to/from race, etc) to Sam.  This meant that everything would be stress-free.  Well, almost.  Except the part about completing the race early so that I could catch the last ferry service provided by the race organisers from the race start/end point to the High Speed Rail Station, to catch my flight in Taipei.

The 2015 Xinshe Sakura Marathon!

Pre-Race Activities
So on 7 Feb, Rosemary and I took the midnight flight from Singapore and arrived at Taipei around 6:00am with 3 other runners (Cindy, Siew Ying and Teck Huan).  After we cleared custom, we met Nancy who flew with Scoot, at the Arrival Hall.  A van pick us up outside the Arrival Hall and drove us to the race start which was at the city of Tai Chung.  (Sam was running 2 marathons over Saturday and Sunday, so Nancy was the de facto "tour guide" for our trip to Tai Chung.)  We stopped in Taipei for breakfast.  I loved the breakfast in Taiwan - the traditional breakfast of 蛋饼 (egg pancake) and 豆浆 (soya bean drink).  There were many varieties of the 蛋饼 in Taiwan, just like our roti prata in Singapore.  I ordered a 肉丝 and a bacon 蛋饼, plus a cold 豆浆.  It was really delicious.

Taiwanese Breakfast - 蛋饼 and 豆浆!

The drive to Tai Chung was about 2 hours.  As there was nothing at the race start/end point, Sam arranged us to visit two local places along the way to Tai Chung.  The first one was the 龍腾斷橋 (the name of a broken bridge with a long history, damaged in an earthquake in 1935) and the other was the old 勝興車站 (old railway station in 勝興).  It was nice to experience the early spring season where the weather was cool.  After the visits, we had early lunch.  We ordered a few dishes to share and I loved the pig's blood as it was not available in Singapore.  After lunch, we stopped at a nearby Family Mart (something like our 7-Eleven) to get our supply of water and food (breakfast) before reaching the race start/end point around 1pm.  The race organiser brought us to the accommodation bunks where there were 5 double-decker beds for us.  Some of us decided to take a nap while waiting for Sam till dinner time as I did not have a good night sleep on the plane.  Sam arrived with Elaine, Gary, Ngah Ling and 邵老师 at around 6:45pm and we left for dinner at 7:00pm.  Dinner was "sponsored" by the race organiser for whatever reason I couldn't recall but it was a good 10-course dinner!  The boiled soup was especially delicious!

Sight-seeing Location 1: 龍腾斷橋!

Sight-seeing Location 2: The Old 勝興車站 - Railway Station !

Delicious Lunch!

Xinshe Sakura Marathon (新社賞樱馬拉松) 2015
I set the alarm to wake up at 5:15am as the accommodation block was less than 500 meters from the starting line.  But by 4:45am, alarm from the rest of the runners started buzzing and I reluctantly got up to change at 5:00am.  We brought all our belongings to check-in at the baggage deposit in the hall at about 5:45am.  Then we waited at the hall as it was cold outside.  Yes, even I felt cold as well as it was early morning and the sun was not out yet.  5 minutes before the start, we walked towards the starting line.  While waiting for the countdown, I met a guy who recognised me from last year's Sinyi Grape Marathon as I was wearing the same running outfit!  At 6:00am, we were off.

I warmed up nicely once I started running but compared to other marathons I ran in Taiwan previously, this was the coldest.  6:00am was still dark so I had to watch my step as I tend to fall easily.  I told myself to keep running since there was nothing much to see.  Back in my mind, I was hoping to finish within 6 hours, i.e. at 12:00pm, which would leave me with 45mins to bath and get ready for the last bus ride at 1:00pm.  Ideally, I should finish in 5hrs 30mins.  The sky slowly brightened but there was nothing much to see as we were running along streets next to shop houses and homes.  The first km marker I noticed was at the 6km mark.  There were also a few tress with full blossom of sakura!  I didn't stop to take any photos as I felt it wasn't nice enough.  I told myself I would only stop for photos during the 2nd half of the race.  But when I ran past a sakura park entrance just after the 8km mark, I stopped and whipped out my iPhone.  Then I saw Nancy and Celine running towards me!  We quickly helped each other to take photos before continuing our run.

 The Sakura Season!

Nancy and I paced each other after that, while Celine dropped off the pace.  I wasn't sure if I could keep up with Nancy as she was usually faster.  At every water station, we waited for each other although deep inside, I hoped she carried on running when I stopped for water so I won't need to put in so much effort to run up to her even if she had slowed down.  Nevertheless, our different drink intake pattern allowed us to stop and rest more.  The regular walk-breaks meant that I had to run hard in order to maintain my core temperature, else I would feel cold.  After the 19km mark, the half marathoners turned right and headed towards the finishing while the marathoners turned left.  Nancy and I managed to keep pace till the 22km mark.  Along the way, I saw food items I never seen before being served: carrot cake (菜頭粿), pancake (蛋饼), almond milk and liquor!  The liquor was especially good as it heated up our body.  After the 22km mark, we were on an upslope and I decided to jog-walk to the top.  I urged Nancy to keep up but she decided to walk instead.

From Top Left Clockwise Direction: 菜頭粿, Soup, 蛋饼, Almond Milk, Vegetables, Liquor!

And so, I continued to push myself as whenever I slowed down, I could feel the chilly wind.  I did saw Nancy again when she caught up with me at the water station after the 25km mark.  It was just minutes past 9:00am.  I waited for her to take a picture before I continued to push my pace.  At around the 28km mark, we joined back to the earlier route but running on the opposite side of the road, before making a left turn and merged with road leading to the park where we passed earlier.  By then, I knew I would need to run that part of the same route again.  More food were served along the route but as back of the pack runner (I thought I was already running quite fast), good stuff like the duck meat was almost gone.  Before I made the u-turn at the junction to make my way back, I saw Ngah Ling, Sam, 宝哥 and his entourage of runners.  宝哥 was running his 400th marathon and I wished I could accompany him for his journey.  Unfortunately, as I needed to catch the last ferry service, I passed 宝哥 and subsequently Ngah Ling and Sam.  The last 3km was the hardest as we had to run up a slope but once we summit, it was flat before going downslope.  I crossed the finish line in 5hrs 15mins (gun time) eventually, with Nancy about 2mins behind.

From Top Left Clockwise Direction: Toufu, 台湾啤酒 (Taiwan Beer), Beehoon and Duck Meat!

On The Wall: The Reminders On Environmental Issues After 40km Mark!

At the end of the race, I picked up my Finishing Certificate, a goodie bag containing water and a big towel (half marathoners got a smaller towel) , as well as a sumptuous lunch box.  The race organisers also provide hot showers but for those who were too slow like myself, we had to make do with cold showers instead.  I washed up, packed and managed to get ready by 12:30pm, after which Rosemary and I followed Nancy to look for the ferry service to bring us to Tai Chung High Speed Rail Station for the 40mins train ride to Taipei Airport High Speed Rail Station.  We made it!

Overall Verdict: 9/10
I was very pleased with my timing as I had not expected to maintain the 8km/hr pace (7:30min/km pace) at all.  This should be due to the cool weather in early February.  The marathon was very well organised with well-stocked water and food stations situated at regular intervals.  Runners were never left thirsty or hungry and in some instance, never left cold.  Although the route seemed pretty boring in the 2nd half with repeated sections, there were sufficient sakura found along the way for runners to admire.  This was indeed a great race to take part in!  :)

The Last Mile Of Xinshe Sakura Marathon!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 Coldwater Rumble 100 Miles Run

This was my first big race of the year as I wanted to complete a 100 miles race.  It was highly recommended by David, a friend whom I met a few years back in Lean Horse 100 and had since kept in touch, through Facebook and when David and Shannon came to Singapore to do the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon twice.  The Coldwater Rumble Trail Run was organised by the Aravaipa Running.  Last year, the 100M race comprised of running 5 x clockwise loops in the rugged and jagged Sierra Estrella mountain range in the Arizona dessert.  This year, while the route remained largely the same (there were several new miles due to the many trails being re-worked at the Estrella Mountain Regional Park recently), the loops were in washing-machine style.  I.e. Loop 1, 3 and 5 in clockwise direction while Loop 2 and 4 in anti-clockwise direction.  This allowed runners to meet each other face-to-face, several times.  The reason for the change was also to allow some variations in the otherwise, monotonous running of 5 exact loops.

The Coldwater Rumble 100 Miles Race Route

Prior to my flight to Phoenix, David gave me a lot of information on the race, as well as weather in Phoenix.  He also told me not to worry about bringing any food or supplies so that I won't need to bring along a big luggage.  He and Shannon also offered to accommodate my stay in their guestroom, as well as picking me and sending me to the airport since it was only about a 45mins drive.  On top of that, David also asked me what I would like for dinner the night before the race, as well as breakfast on race day, so that Shannon could prepare the food I need.  This was the most stress-free trip for an overseas ultramarathon.  Due to the few trips to USA this year, I decided to fly in on Friday, the day before the race!  David had assured me that the weather was really good and it almost never snowed in Phoenix, especially in the low altitude areas.  So it would be unlikely to have flight delay due to bad weather.  I took a gamble and the flight connections worked.  And I arrived at their place on Friday mid afternoon.

I immediately went to unpack my luggage and prepare my stuff for the race - like the headlamps, batteries, spare batteries, trail shoes, spare socks, gels and sports drinks like Red Bull and instant noodles that I had been using regularly in my ultramarathons.  David passed me my race packet which he and Shannon helped me to pick up the day before.  He also showed me the ice box which he had prepared and stocked up with chocolate milk, coconut drink, etc, less the ice.  I was really grateful to them for taking such good care of me.  I returned to my room to get ready my running attire and race bib.  By 6:00pm, I was all set and we waited for Shannon to pick up their son Elijah and come home to cook dinner.  Shannon was great in preparing the stuff for cooking.  She made everything looked so easy and simple.  Sometimes, you needed to have a lot of patient and it was something I lacked as I had no interest in cooking.  Dinner was served shortly and I enjoyed the home-cooked food, something I missed terribly these few years.  Then it was time for bed.

 The Coldwater Rumble Race Pack and Elijah - David and Shannon's Little Helper!

 Pasta, Chicken And Prawns For Carbo-Loading and Shannon, David & Me!

There were 6 races: 100 miles, 52 miles, 52km, 20 miles, 20km, and 4 miles, with each race being flagged off 30 minutes apart.  David was running the 20 miles race and his starting time was 8:30am - 1hr 30mins after I started my race.  David aimed to leave the house by 5:20am as it would take about 40~50mins to reach the parking lot.  So Shannon woke up before 5:00am to fix my breakfast.  :(  Breakfast included bacon, scrambled eggs, toasts, tomatoes and orange juice!  It was the best breakfast I had eaten for a long while!  I thanked Shannon before leaving with David.  When I stepped outside, it was cold.  So it was nice jumping into the car with the heater on.  We reached the parking lot at about 6:15am and we went to deposit our ice-box and my drop bag at the Coldwater Aid Station.  (We would be passing by the Coldwater Aid Station twice every loop so that was the only aid station where we could put our belongings).  David also assured me that the ice-box would be very safe as there were many volunteers and supporters hanging around the start/finish line where we put our belongings.  I went back to the car to keep warm until 10 minutes before start where I reluctantly went to join the rest at the starting line.  At 7:00am sharp, we were off!

What A Hearty Breakfast!

The air was cool but once I started running, I felt fine.  There were 4 segments in every loop: 3.4 miles, 7.9 miles, 4.2 miles and 4.5 miles to make up the 20 miles in a loop.  This was palatable as it meant that the most I need to run before I reach the next aid station would be 7.9 miles (around 12.7km) - unless I got lost.  The terrain was mostly rolling hills, something which I liked.  There we also a few hills but nothing too difficult.  At least, not in the morning where it was still bright.  I tried to keep pace with the runners in front of me so that I wouldn't get lost.  But slowly, the gap became bigger and bigger, while the front runners disappeared beyond the horizon.  I managed to reached the Coldwater Aid Station without any problem.  Unfortunately, our drop bags had not reached.  I asked the volunteers if I could leave my long-sleeve shirt on the chair as I didn't wish to carry any extra load.  They assured me that I could leave my stuff on any empty chair and they would safeguard them.  Besides, we were in the middle of the dessert.  :p  After thanking them, I left for the next check-point.

The next segment was mostly flat.  But there were sections of the route that were not clear as we need to descend into some kind of embankment, cross it, and go up to the other side.  On one such occasion, I went up and down the embankment for a couple of times before noticing the trail marking!  By then, the fast runners for the 52 miles race had started overtaking me.  Not long after, I saw a man sitting on the ground.  I asked if he was okie when I caught up with him.  He thanked me and warned me to be careful as there were many cactus around.  Apparently, he fell and got stuck by the cactus lying around him.  Ouch!  I left him and continued.  The sun was slowly coming out and I could feel the heat.  Running in the Estrella Mountain Regional Park was both fun and not so fun.  The fun part was about admiring the different type of cactus while the not so fun part was the constant changes in the trail footing which ranged from smooth trails (not for much), to sandy, soft trails, to small sections with small and big stones.  The guy who fell earlier soon caught up and passed me.  Before I reached the next check-point, ladies from the 50 miles race also passed me.  :(

After refueling my water, I aimed for the next check-point 4.2 miles away.  More and more runners overtook me including those in the 52km races.  It was rather depressing but I kept pressing on.  My initial target was to complete the first loop in 4hrs 30mins but I knew a more realistic target would be 5hrs flat.  I knew I had to try my best as I told Shannon that it would be great to say hi to them after my first loop.  Shannon and Elijah had registered for the 4 miles race starting at 9am and I wouldn't want to keep them waiting.  I reached the Coldwater Aid Station for the 2nd time and saw my long-sleeve shirt lying nicely on the same chair.  I went over to fold the shirt and put it into my drop bag which had since arrived at the Coldwater Air Station.  Then I continued the last segment of the run which was on undulating terrain, aka rolling hills.  I met many runners on their 2nd, anti-clockwise loop.  At just past noon, I finally emerged from the Estrella Mountain Regional Park and completed the 1st loop at 12:08pm!  I saw Shannon and Elijah who completed the 4 miles race about 15mins earlier.  After a short exchange of words, I bade them farewell and on my way for the 2nd loop.

The sun was very warm but with a low humidity, it was bearable.  The trail was not as crowded as earlier but it seemed harder on the anti-clockwise loop!  Either that was my imagination or it was really harder on the reverse loop.  After running 20mins into the park, I met David, who was running strong.  I told him that I met Shannon and Elijah when I completed my first loop.  Before we went different directions, he told me to text him should I need anything and he would see to it that I get what I need.  And if I wanted someone to pace, he would be more than happy to do that since he only ran 20 miles that morning.  I thanked him and continued to the Coldwater Aid Station.  If I found the first segment of the reverse loop hard, I had a shock for the second segment.  At one point, I was lost when I couldn't see any path or trail markings in front or behind me.  Having run it earlier, I thought I could recall the route but of course, running in the reverse meant everything looked different.  Just as I almost gave up, I found the trail where I was supposed to run on.  And so, I decided to take photos and not worry about the cut-off.  If I made it, excellent.  If not, it was fine.

At The Pedersen Aid Station - 2nd Loop!

For the next few miles, I jogged and walked while admiring the beauty of the vast dessert.  There were many cactus.  Some were very tall while others were short.  Some consist of a single stalk (okie I am not sure if I described it correctly) while others had numerous "branches" on the stalk.  Then there were shorter ones with a big head.  Once in a while, there would be runners passing me from behind and from the front.  I reached Pedersen Aid Station after 1hr 55mins (covering 8.7 miles).  I thanked the volunteers who had to stay in the dessert till noon the next day.  For the next 7.9 miles, I plodded along and whenever a runner overtook me, I would try my hardest to stay with him.  But most of the time, I succeeded only for a short distance before seeing the person disappeared into the distance.  It took me almost 3 hours to reach the Coldwater Aid Station!  Once there, I decided that I would stop once I completed 2 loops as I won't have enough time to complete the 3rd loop by 2:00am in the morning.  Instead of being stopped by the official after 3 loops, I rather stopped after 2 loops so that David could pick me up in the evening than in the early morning.

 The Vast Dessert With the Different Cactus!

At The Coldwater Aid Station - 2nd Loop!

I ate a small portion of hot noodle soup, grabbed my drop bag from the Coldwater Aid Station and left.  I jogged till the sun went completely down and took out my handheld lights.  There weren't many runners on the course as most have finished their respective races.  Those still running were attempting the 52 miles or 100 miles runners.  I text David to inform him of my decision to DNF.  :(  The last 3.4 miles seemed far.  No one had passed me since I left Coldwater Aid Station.  Nearer to the park exit, I saw lights coming from above but I couldn't recall having to run that high up earlier in the day.  There were 3 runners and I made way for them to pass.  While continuing my way up, I heard someone fell and was glad that I was ascending instead of descending, which was my weakest link.  I was both sad and relieved when I eventually crossed the Start/Finish line.  I went over to the race officials to inform them of my decision to stop.  Then I walked over to David, Shannon and Elijah who had all arrived.  Back at the Start/Finish area, volunteers were busy preparing food but I had no appetite, except to ask for a hot soup and also a bottle of coconut drink from the cooler.  After filling my stomach, we packed up everything and made our way home.

Race Start / End Area!

All in all, I enjoyed my trip to the State of Arizona.  The Coldwater Rumble was a great race and the race organiser had designed a course that's both challenging and refreshing.  The weather in January in Phoenix was just like in Singapore - hot and warm but in low humidity, although it was cold in the early morning and at night.  I had overestimated my ability for this race as running in the dessert was no easy task even though there were no mountain in this race.  I would definitely come back to take on the dessert challenge again next year but probably in the 52 miles or 52km race.  Once again, many thanks to David and Shannon who were such great hosts and had made my trip so stress-free.  :)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Yoma Yangon International Marathon 2015

I decided to sign up for the Yangon Marathon sometime in Oct last year after I received an email.  As I have not visited Myanmar before, I thought it was a good opportunity to do a race there.  The traveling to and from Yangon was favourable so there was no need for me to apply any leave.  Basically, it would be an "easy, fly-in, run and fly-back" kind of short trip.  :p  I wrote to the travel agencies provided by the race organiser to enquire about the cost and almost signed up for the cheapest package available until I learned that a friend, Berno, would be running in the race as well.  I decided to follow Berno and left him sort out the accommodation.  He booked a room for 3 pax at the highly recommended Four Rivers Hostel for 2 nights.  The damage?  A very affordable US$18 per pax, per day for a room with 3 beds that come with a common bathroom and free WiFi.  :)  Definitely cheaper than taking up the package which would have cost me about US$300 although it did come with personal pickup from/to airport, race start/finish and hotel accommodation.

eVISA Application
Before traveling to Myanmar, one had to apply for a visa.  But I wasn't sure if the visa application website provided in the official race website is genuine or not.  So I googled for the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore and booked successfully for an appointment date for in-person visa application.  After booking for a date, I saw a link in the website that linked to the same visa application website provided by the race organiser.  I decided to apply my eVISA instead.  However, there was a difference in cost: applying direct with the embassy would cost you a mere S$35.00 while applying through eVISA would cost you US$50.00.  It was more expensive but for those who were too busy to go down personally to apply in-person (take note that you have to physically send in the forms and photos, and go back later that day to pick up the Visa), applying the eVISA was a better option.  The visa would be valid for a one-time visit to Myanmar.

 The Official E-VISA Application Website!

Entering Myanmar
The currency used in Myanmar is the Myanmar Kyat (or Burmese Kyat).  As I couldn't find any money changer in Singapore that sells the Myanmar Kyat, I changed at the airport after arriving in Yangon.  I was told to bring Singapore or US currencies in good and clean condition.  Otherwise, they might not accept the notes.  The S$60 ensured I had a total of 45,000 Myanmar Kyat to spend for the 2-day trip.  With my newly exchanged notes, I booked a cab to Four Rivers Hostel at the airport taxi counter which cost me 8,000 Kyat.

I arrived at the Four Rivers Hostel after an hour ride.  Although the distance was only about 18km, traffic in the city was really bad.  Berno and Ailin were not in the room so I took a nap until the evening time when I went out to look for dinner.  I was very tempted to try the road side stalls but decided against it.  Then I saw a Yakun Kaya Toast Shop along the main road and decided to take a look what they offered.  Interestingly, they served chicken rice which cost 4,000 Kyat (about S$5.40), which I thought was expensive in such a place.  After I ordered, the waiter told me that the chicken rice come with a 50% discount so it only costs 2,000 Kyat (about S$2.70) which was okie since the Yakun is a fully-airconditioned outlet.  I also ordered a ice barley at 2,000 Kyat.  When the dish arrived, the chicken didn't look appetizing at all.  It was a little hard with little sauce.  Nevertheless, I finished everything as I was hungry.  Back at the hostel, Berno and Ailin came back at around 8pm plus and Berno handed my race pack which he helped me collected earlier.  We then pre-arranged for a taxi to come pick us up at 3:30am at a cost of 3,000 Kyat.

The Yangon Marathon 42.195km Race Route!

Left and Top Right: Chicken Rice at Yakun Kaya Toast; Bottom Right: Race Packet Goodies!

The drive from the hostel to the race start was about 20mins.  It was a small race with staggered start time for the different races, so there weren't many people.  After Berno and Ailin deposited their bags, we walked around.  Yangon was not particularly cold in January but we decided to stand next to a big pot of cooking soup to feel more comfortable.  The stall was selling local noodles which looked very delicious.  We couldn't resist the temptation and eventually, bought a bowl to share.  It was nice especially the hot soup.  The noodles cost only 800 Kyat (S$1.05).  After our second serving of breakfast (we each ate something at the hostel before arriving at the race start), it was time to walk to the starting line where I met a group of Singapore runners, including Helen.  The organiser flagged us off at 5:00am.

At The Start Of Yoma Yangon International Marathon!

Yoma Yangon International Marathon
The sky was still dark at 5:00am.  But there were street lights along the way so it wasn't that bad.  However, just turning right out from the stadium was a bridge!  While short and not that steep, I wasn't totally warmed up enough to run up.   :(  Instead, I jogged and walked the second half up the bridge.  Some portion of the road surfaces in Myanmar were not smooth so one had to pay attention while running.  The first water point was just after the 3km mark, as indicated in the guide book.  Local people were clapping along the course as runners ran past them, which was nice.  After the 6km mark, runners turned right and were now running along some ports storage area.  Again, there were people cheering us at major junctions.  But mainly, this section of the race was pretty boring, especially after we entered the "gantry", where the elite 21km runners started running past me.  I reached the 10km marker at approximately 1hr 16mins, which was approximately 8km/hr pace.  The sky were getting bright and workers started arriving to the port.  At around the 19km marker, we joined the main road.  The vehicles on the road were law abiding.  No one horned although one or two vehicles decided to make a u-turn.  I saw a group of children waving frantically at the runners and high five them as we ran past them.  There were also a few supporters handing out bottles of water and fruits.  I crossed the 20km marker at around 2hrs 32mis, which meant I was rather consistent in my pacing thus far.  :)

Between 7km~15km Marks On The Road Along The Port!

Top: Children Along The Course; Bottom: Crossing The 20km Marker!

The route was pretty flat since the first bridge I encountered near the start although there were a few slopes here and there.  The sun was up by then but the weather was still manageable.  So it was no surprised that I managed to cover 30km in 3hrs 52mins.  I was hopeful that I could complete the race within my set target of 5hrs 45mins.  After the water-cum-banana station at the 31km marker, we entered into some kind of a garden before exiting another gate about 3km further up.  Then, the route became a little undulating although nothing too difficult.  We were running against the traffic, but with one lane closed for the runners, it was still safe though the air quality wasn't good.  I knew I was approaching the Aung San Suu Kyi residence as indicated in the guide book but I wasn't sure exactly how it looked like.  Just around the 36km mark, we were directed onto a path on our left and I saw a beautiful lake in front of me.  "It should be somewhere around here", I wondered to myself.  With nothing that stood out, I snapped a few photos before continuing my race.  It was 10am plus and there were many people around the park enjoying the lake view.  It was also getting very warm. There was little shade in the last 4km. I also managed to catch a glimpse of Berno from a distance but no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't able to bridge the gap.  I reached the 40km marker at 10:19am (1hr 27mins for my 4th 10km segment, 11mins off pace) and decided to just take it easy since our pre-determined meeting time was 11:45am. The last 2.195 km was completed in a slow 20mins jog for a total nett time of 5hrs 34.51mins (gun time of 5hrs 35.11mins).

Water Stations Before And After The 30km Marker!

The Possible Sighting Of "Aung San Suu Kyi" Residence!

Finishing Of The Yoma Yangoon Marathon!

After I completed my race, the free massage service was already gone.  In fact, the workers are dismantling the tents used for the massage!  So 早起的鸟儿有虫吃 (early birds get to eat all the worms)!  I met up with Ailin (who had been waiting for more than an hour) and Berno (about 10mins in front of me) and took a cab back to the hostel.  This time round, we had some problem in communicating with the drivers as most of them did not understand English nor were they literate (which explained why they couldn't understand the address printed on the hostel business card).  We did eventually found one who knew the way back to the hostel and managed to negotiate the cab fee to 4,500 Kyat.  Back at the hostel, we were glad that they extended our time so that we could all wash up and check-out.  We then went to a nearby coffeeshop for cheap and quick recovery lunch before heading back to the airport.  Again, traffic in the city was terrible and only cleared up after we exited the city onto their motorway to airport.  It cost us only 7,000 Kyat.  :)

 Post Marathon Recovery Lunch In-Progress!

Overall, it was a great race experience.  The Myanmar people were very friendly and hospitable.  Obviously, most people in Myanmar lead a simple but difficult life so it was surprising to see some of them offering fruits, water to the runners and cheering for us.  As compared to the Sundown Marathon or the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, the Yangon Marathon had more support from the locals. who were ever so spontaneous and warm, from the start of the marathon even though it was still early morning.  At certain part of the route where we ran through the villages, the children would even run along side us for a short distance, and high-five us.  It really made me more motivated since road marathons were really boring and most of the Yangon Marathon had little scenery, with the exception of the Aung San Suu Kyi Residence somewhere after the 36km mark.  The water and food supply although limited in varieties, were sufficient and placed at regular intervals.  It was a race that I would definitely recommend to take part in.