Monday, February 28, 2011

Bataan Death March 160km Ultra Marathon

I registered my interested for the Bataan Death March (BDM) 151km road race back in May 2010.  I was wondering at that time why didn't the RD make it a 100 Mile (160km) race instead.  He must have heard my plea and decided to make BDM the first ever 100 Mile race in Philippines (and probably in the whole of Asia)!!!  :)  I was thrilled as I could use this as one of the qualifying race for the Badwater Ultramarathon, yet at the same time terrified.  To me, to actually want to do a 100 Mile race took a lot of courage and even more insanity, then running the 100 Mile race itself.  Will I make it to the start?  What kind of mileage should I deposit into my mileage bank before I'm sufficiently prepare?  What about food, hydration, clothing?  Will I finish it within the cut-off time?  There were soooooooo many questions I had in my head.  Luckily, I had time to prepare - 8 months, to be exact.  :)

Preparation for 100 Mile Race
This would be my 3rd attempt at a 100 Mile race but the first one on the road.  My previous failed attempts were in the Addo Elephant 100 Mile Race in South Africa and the Lean Horse 100 Mile race in South Dakota, United States.  I attempted both races in 2008 but DNFed.  For the Addo Elephant 100 Mile Race, I was out of the race at approximately the 107km mark after running, walking for about 21 hours.  This was due to my failure to meet the cut-off time for one of the check-points.  The RDs were very kind and gracious to present those of us who DNFed in the 100 Mile race a 50 Mile race token.  :)   After Addo, I decided to choose a flatter course and hence Lean Horse 100 Mile.  Unfortunately, although the weather cool in the summer and the humidity low, the heat from the sun was unrelentingly harsh.  I made the mistake of wearing just a singlet, without applying any sun block protection.  By 40km, I was feeling so hot and nausea.  I attempted to cool myself by pouring water over my arms - another big mistake as it only helped for that moment.  Eventually, I decided to stop at one of the CP after covering about 56km.  :(  I decided to attempt some 100km races, gained more experience running 100km, before attempting another 100 mile race.  Successful completion of the Comrades Marathon ~ the world's most famous ultramarathon in South Africa, in 2009 and 2010 gave me some of that confidence as one needs to complete the hilly and arduous 90km within a gun-time of 12 hours.

In Oct 2010, I was prepared to look at the races for 2011 and what I had to prepare myself in order to complete what I had planned.  I reckoned that I would start building up my base and fitness in Nov and maintaining it by running 6 days a week once my "race" season started.  By Jan 2011, I had registered a race every month until Aug 2011!  Because of my low mileage, I could sustain my training without any injury, although I took longer time to recover from my strains and aches.  But I was still very unsure if I could complete all within the cut-off.  I decided not to be too hard on myself and reckoned I should accept a few DNFs as long as I tried my best and had fun during the race.  For the BDM 100 Mile race, I didn't clock serious mileage, the max being 12km inside the Bukit Timah trails.  However, if I could count the Vibram Hong Kong 100km Trail Ultra I did in Jan 2011 as part of the training, then I should be sufficiently prepared.  Other than running, I also did strength training for my quads, abductors, adductors, and hamstrings.

Pre-Race Preparation
I was happy to be able to link up with Titanium Runner, aka Blas Ople Tiangco, a local runner from Philippines.  We shared the support vehicle for BDM 102km last year and the support crew took care of everything I needed.  Blas was a hardworking runner.  And he was also hard at work sharing his thoughts on running, his training, the races he participated and the type of running gears he used.  I arrived on Friday early morning around 5.30am and took a cab to his place at Veteran's Village.  By the time I reached his place, it was almost 7am.  After settling in, I told him that I needed to sleep for the day and only to wake up for lunch.  Weather was hot in the Philippines.  Luckily, Blas was so kind as to give up his room with the aircon.  :)  So I had a good rest to make up for the sleepless night spent on the airplane.  Just after noon, I woke up and we went over to the mall SM North Edsa, which was near his home, for lunch.  We then went shopping for our remaining essential items required for the run.

After shopping, I went back to sleep again.  And this time I slept until about 10pm at night and in the process, missing my dinner!  Then, I was awaken by people talking in the living room but I was too lazy to get up.  I lazed around until almost midnight before I dragged myself up, changed and get ready my stuff.  I then went down to say hello.  I remembered Blas' mum.  She looked just the same and very enthusiastic about us running BDM.  Blas' nephews and brother-in-law were also coming to support us.  Blas then whipped up a plate of pasta for me!  It was just the right time to fuel.  After eating, we gathered our stuff to meet our driver.  On top of the cartons of Gatorade drinks, Blas also prepared trays of sandwiches and potatos for the race!  Just before we left, Estan, our team's "official" photographer arrived!  We were all set to go!

 Our Support Vehicle and our Food & Drinks...

The journey to the start was about 2 hours plus.  The drive was smooth as there wasn't much traffic.  So I was able to get some more rest along the journey.  :p  By the time we reached, it was around 4am plus.  The start was getting lively as more and more runners and supporters arrived.  The traffic was also getting more congested as dawn broke and people woke up for work.  I was a nervous wreck but somehow, it didn't show on my face!  The runners were busy checking their bibs, gear and taking photos.  I also saw John, Paulina and Wee, the other runners from Singapore and I wished them good luck for the race.  I tried to calm myself by mingling around other runners, taking photos, trying to look cool and soaking in the atmosphere.  I saw other familiar faces but couldn't really remember where did I met them.  The race was supposed to commence at 5am but there was some kind of delay.  About 10mins before 5.30am, Bald Runner - the race director gathered all the runners.  Someone led the singing of the anthem and prayer.  We had another good piece of news, which was the extension of the cut-off time from 28 hours to 30 hours. Then Bald Runner flagged off the race at approximately 5.30am.

 Blas and his Team, Rest of Runners @ Start

 Runners from the Singapore Contingent: John, Paulina, Wee, Kelly

Commencement of BDM 160km
I started off at my usual easy pace as I would normally take a while to warm up.  Weather that morning was great.  In fact, it was much much better than when I did the BDM 102km last year, when the temperature was a sizzling 41°C high!  My arrangement with my support team was to stop at every 8km so that I could refill my water bottle and get any food to eat.  And since the route was marked every km, it was easy for my support team to know where to stop, and for me to look forward to the km marker.  By doing so, I was also counting down the number of stops I would make in the entire run - 20 stops and the last one was also the finishing line.  :)  Hence, this leap-frogging method served us well, especially so because Blas was running slightly in front of me.  The first 30km or so, the terrain was undulating, which was good because I could then walked the uphills and run the downhills (which weren't that many) and flats.  Then after the 33km mark, disaster struck!

Blas and me at early part of the Race...

I had a habit of tripping during races.  The first time was in 2007 when I fell inside McRitchie while doing the MR25 Ultramarathon.  I fell twice actually.  Both in the 4th loop.  I also fell at around the 36km mark in last year's Comrades Marathon.  This time, I fell at around the 34km mark.  I didn't pay much attention to the rocks underneath my running shoes and so I tripped over.  OUCH!  It was also the first time I fell while running on a road surface!  'Shaking head'...  Luckily for me, another runner was just behind me and he lent me a helping hand.  A fellow support crew was also nearby and although we did not know each other, they helped me to clean up my wounds and apply antiseptic cream on it.  I was very grateful for their kind act and I was able to continue although inside my heart, I was very low morale.  Soon, my support crew drove past and I decided to continue running without the plaster as the antiseptic cream was wet which made the plaster difficult to stay in-place.

Disaster struck after 33km Marker!

And so at every 8km pit stop, besides refilling my water bottle, I also had to clean up my wound and apply more antiseptic cream.  This continued to the 72km marker when I decided to seek help from another support crew as mine had not arrived.  I also managed to buy a packet of chocolate milk and went to the toilet of a family staying nearby.  When I was done, my support crew happened to pass by the spot where I crossed the road over to the drink stall.  I was thus able to refill my water bottle before I continued.  By then, I was also worried about Blas whom I know was struggling a bit though he was not far off from where I was.  I told them to encourage Blas the next time they saw him and if they didn't see me, they shouldn't be worried about me.  I should have also retrieve my headlamp but I didn't want to burden myself carry something which I did not need now - which was a mistake!

At Noon...

Jonel (left in yellow) & Blas (right with cap)...

I didn't see my support vehicle until 90 something km.  By then, it was pitch dark.  I managed to tag on to fellow runners running with a headlamp or the street lights at some part of the route.  I felt strong as the weather was cooler.  By then, I was running 200 steps and walking 100 steps consistently.  Still, I was able to pass a few runners along the way.  I was so happy when I saw Estan and the support vehicle.  I quickly changed to a new running top and powdered both feet.  I could feel blisters forming but I didn't dare to look at them.  I decided not to pop the blisters.  Instead, I change to a dry pair of socks and shoes, before I set off.  I was able to reach the 102km in about 16 hours 20 minutes, which was almost 39 minutes faster than what I took to complete the BDM 102km last year.

Some runners had pacers with them for the remaining 58km.  I didn't.  I was worried about getting lost especially in the initial route until we reached the main road.  Luckily there were other runners around and I also recognized the vehicles of support crews, which had the official big banner carrying the BDM 160km race logo!  I saw Estan and my support crew and they updated me that Blas had reached the 102km within the check-point cut-off time of 18hours.  However, he was having some problem. I told them not to worry about me.  Just stopped the vehicle when they next passed me.  I pressed on from that point.  When I was feeling good, I would run 500 steps and walk 100~200 steps.  Otherwise, I would run and walk 100 steps each.  After midnight, I was exhausted and I slowed to a walk.  My eyes could hardly opened but I could still push myself to cover 1km in 12mins.  But other times, I was so slow that I need 15mins to cover 1km.  I also lost track of the distance covered.  It wasn't important to me by then.  I just wanted to finish the run earlier so that I could get a good sleep.

It was about 5am plus, after running for 24 hours, that I next saw Estan and my support vehicle.  Estan told me that Blas had to DNF due to his knee problem and was sleeping in the support vehicle.  So they would be supporting me till I finish the race.  I was happy but worried.  This was because I usually excel when I was alone fighting my own monster.  However, when I knew help was round the corner, I would become dependent on them.  I was right.  I couldn't help but requested Estan to stop for every 2km instead of the 8km and they obliged.  I had lost my desire to be self-sufficient.  By day break, Blas had also awoken.  As he had run the last 58km route before (it was some kind of a test run), he gave me precise information on the distance and what to expect.

The last 8km of the route was the most brutal as it passed by the entrance to the finishing line.  It was demoralising.  Temperature was much higher than the previous day and the terrain was undulating.  By then, more and more runners overtook me while I limped closer to the finishing line.  Estan and Blas stopped at every km to give me more drinks to cool myself.  Just before I turned into the entrance to the finishing line, they drove passed me.  The last 300m was like 3km.  Estan appeared with his camera.  I shouted to him to get my Singapore flag which was in the support vehicle.  He rushed to retrieve the flag while I waited.  Once I got hold of the flag, I pushed myself for the final few steps and staggered across the finishing line, into the arm of Bald Runner and a volunteer.  I got my deserving Finishing Hug from the race director!  Other volunteers brought me a stool to sit down while I received my Finishing Medal which showed that I was the 29th runner who completed the run, my Finishing Polo-tee, my Finishing Buckle and my Finishing Trophy!  This had to be the best race that I had ever run and in a time of 28 hours 54 minutes!

She did it!  Finishing Line of Bataan Death March 160km!

Recovery and After Thoughts
This was the hardest race that I had ever attempted and it was also the most fulfilling race completed.  I was limping for almost a week due to the huge blisters that formed on both my feet.  In fact, I was limping so badly that I had to go to the Emergency at CGH once I reached Singapore.  After examining my condition, the doctor gave me 3 days of Home Sick Leave and various painkillers although I only took 2 days to rest, as I could not really walk.  A short walk to the hawker centre, which was 1km away, to get my meals would take me more than half an hour.  Luckily, psychologically, I felt great and satisfied about finishing my first ever 100 miler.  Especially so when you earned yourself a finishing medal with your position printed on the reverse of the medal, a finishing buckle, a finishing polo-tee and a finishing trophy!  For good measure, as I was also the 2nd lady who completed the race, I earned a 1st Runner-up trophy for my effort!  It was really 滿載而歸 !!!  After resting 2 weeks and doing nothing physical, I was raring to run again.  I had to, since my next race would be in Mar, the Twilight Ultra Challenge, a 16-hour run from dusk to dawn in Singapore.

My BDM Medal, Finisher Buckle, Finisher Trophy, and 1st Runner Up Trophy!!!

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