I have been running many races around KL in the last two years. The good races had a good organization and a proper number of people at each water station, start, end, … However, when there are too many people running, things tend to be more anonymous. You have many volunteers that spend their time helping but don’t deserve the recognition for what they do. Most of the time in fact, you only see criticism on the manning of the water stations, the lack of fruits, the lack of medical supplies, … whereas this is more of an organizer type of issues: volunteers can only do as much with what they have been told and given…
Back in November when I started ultra races, I found that the volunteers were all very friendly and genuinely taking the time to help you, have few words with you when you rest, … motivate you and keep your mind up… it was a totally different experience than any of the other races I attended. And then back in April, I reached out to some of my friends organizing races to volunteer on their events. It was time as one of my friend volunteering often said “time to give back to the running community…”. After one failed attempt at MEAL run, due to family last minute issues, I went to volunteer for King of Kemensah Trail (KOKT) run.
King of Kemensah Trail, the King series and Team Pacat
KOKT is as the name mentions it a trail race in Kemensah (Kampung located just outside of Ampang, near Zoo Negara). The race is organized by Team Pacat (pronounce “pat-chat”, which means leeches in Bahasa Malayu). This is the organizer of Putrajaya P100, Watergate 16h, … In April 2014, they started the King Series: a serie of races happening around West Malaysia and showcasing the beautiful hills and places of Malaysia. They first starterd in April 2014 with King of Bukit Larut, in Taiping and in 2015 they expanded it to add two new races: King of Kemensah Trail (May 2015) and King of Sungai Lembing (August 2015). The distances are varying depending on the race:
- King of Bukit Larut: 10km, 20km, 26km –100% road
- King of Kemensah Trail: 10km, 21km – 20% road/80% trail
- King of Sungai Lembing: 10km, 21km, 50km – mix road/trail
Actually if you look at the distance for King of Sungai Lembing, it’s already an ultra trail race (albeit a short one). I’m currently deciding if I will run this one and if I do the 50km J I do like the fact that they offer various distances to bring more runners into trail, longer distance races and ultimately ultra marathon distances. Joining their races, you go to an event which brings people from diverse interests (new runners, experienced runners on short/medium/long distances) and get them together. It’s a great way to get people to meet longer distances folks, exchange with them and one day when they are ready jump the gun to try a longer distance race. And all of this in a fun environment, keeping the ultra community family type of feeling – a closer sense of community. Kudos to Arman and team for achieving this mix. Personally, I started with P100 and kept continuing because of this first impression that I had at P100. It was a fun community, encouraging folks to push further and try. It’s a very different feeling from the more common mainstream road races you see popping around Malaysia in 2014 and 2015. Most are either poor quality or just too overwhelming with a massive amount of runners and the feeling of being just a number (SCKLM here I think of you).
A day as volunteer in Kemensah…
I was told to arrive for the 5am volunteers briefing and to bring my headlight as we would have to leave between 6am and 6:30am into the hill, which would be dark. Unsure of where to go exactly, I woke up early at 4am, skipped my breakfast (I don’t run, no need to fuel up !), packed it into my backpack and left. Not knowing what to expect, I brought sunblock and mosquito repellent… the first one being useless but the second one saving the day for my CP buddies and I. The drive was easy and quick. I parked near the start of the race on the side of the road – the privilege of being that early!
I arrived at the start point at 4:45am. The guys were busy setting up and were surprised to see me early. I think one or two didn’t know I was a volunteer and asked me why I came so early for the race start, thinking I was going to run it J
We had the briefing by Zul with an introduction to the events, who were the different groups involved (medics, volunteers, organizers, …) and the assignments given to each of us. We go through various scenarios, situations, who does what, … It’s a very well prepared plan and the folks at Team Pacat have obviously quite a bit of experience. The reference is the white board game plan.
I was assigned captain for CP2 which was located 5km from the start. We were 3 volunteers to man the booth and we would be joined by 2 other persons to assist in case someone in injured and drive them back to start by KTM. We were given a medical kit for first aid, big black plastic bags to store any trash we had or found and the bracelets for the 10km race u-turn. One last picture and we would be on our way to the hill.
The water bottles were already onsite at the CP, delivered the day before via KTM using the local folks from the Kampung (great to involve them). The event is a strict Bring Your Own Bottle, the race kit contains (I think like P100) a foldable cup. In order to avoid rubbish on the trail, we were under strict guidelines to fill runners hydration bags/packs/bottles, let them drink on the CP spot but not to bring any bottles out of the CP. Runners who had no hydration packs/bottles were allowed to get a 500ml bottle at the start but had to bring a bottle back in order to get their medal and finisher goodies. I have to say, it was extremely effective. The runners were very cooperative but in the end, we left the trail cleaner than when we came.
By 6:30am, we were driven by Arman to the entrance of the trail sections (probably 2-2.5km of road from start). Then we started hiking to CP1 then CP2. The hike was easy and I had a good chat with Zack, who was also on CP2.
The first tough climb was just after CP1. I had fun climbing it, the KTM were quite impressive there and nearly lacking of power toward the end. Definitely this slope will make some damages among the runners !
At CP2, we got ready then had to wait for the runners. The first group to start was the 21km race. The first runner was the winner to be Mohd Puzi Dolah who led the race from start till end and finished later on in 1h37 ! Runners kept coming, all on the 21 km race then we saw the first runners on the 10km. They had to U-turn on our CP, get a white bracelet from us to prove they reached CP2 without cheating. They had to show us the green bracelet given to them at start, which proved they all started at the same time. Simple check but efficient. No comment here, cheating is just plain bad action… and anyway who are you fooling?
Things got calmer, the 21km runners were all past us toward the second part of the race. The flow of 10km runner was slow as the slope was taking its toll on them, so I decided the guys could handle the flow of runners, so I took my phone, my bare feet and went running toward CP3 to take photos of the runners and from the place. Kemensah is such a beautiful place.
It was a fun trail running time and to top it all Kenesah is a beautiful place. I don’t usually run barefoot often on the trails but I was introduced to that by Sifu Rich few months back. I didn’t get to practice but here the soil was soft and a little bit wet by times, so it was nice. Few sections between CP2 and CP3 with rocks but overall quite easy on the feet. I had many stops to take pictures of runners then I moved to take videos of the runners.
That would prove more useful as in the trail the light is not too strong and getting a non blur photo of a running person is challenging if you don’t have a proper SLR. Moreover I could take photos while doing the video. You can find the photos and videos at the following URLs:
The videos on Facebok were bad quality somehow but on Youtube they are in HD (if you have a good connection).The runners were all great and happy getting photographed… The magic of the camera: even someone tired and walking has a sudden regain of energy to start running then keeping it up after the photo. As they say, this is priceless J After a while on the trail and nearly reaching CP3, it was time to go back helping at CP2. I had to go back and overtake some of the runners I had photographed… I actually felt bad about that, they were tired and yet a guy coming is overtaking them… barefoot ! Hard for the morale if it was me running and tired. One runner had pain in the knees and was walking with difficulty, I helped him for few hundred meters carrying part of his weight on my shoulder, then told him I’ll meet him at CP2 where we have a medical kit.
Once at CP2, we took care of some runners, they were tired but with good mood and after all we were only 5km from the start mostly going downhill. The runner with knne pain decided to continue after we put him some cream on the knees to keep them cool and relieve the pain. That was the only runner we had to attend like this. Most of the runners were actually pretty strong, even if tired and they all had proper gears for trail running.
Once the last 2 runners came to our level, we started packing everything except the non opened bottles of water, which would later be brought down by the crew on the KTMs. We then started going downhill, chatting with other folks from CP1 and interections located downhill from us.
We had one big plastic bag for the trash that we might find left on the trail. It’s very important for us to leave the trail clean and with no traces of the event. We were tough with the runners in term of rules to follow and we had to do even better as volunteers. I’m quite happy to say that we did not find any recent rubbihs left by volunteers or runners on the trail. Kudos everyone ! In fact, we swiped the trail going down and filled another 2 big plastic bags with old bottles, gels, plastic bags we found on the trail. They were old ones as they were covered with soil and most of the time half buried.
So here’s the deal: we volunteers, runners and organizers were able to keep the trail clean and in fact make it cleaner when we left. Why other races are not able to do that ? I think it’s simply that they don’t care about nature much. There are things you need to make sure you are doing yourself and that you can’t outsource (especially without overseeing it). Runners play a key role too… it’s the duty of organizers and volunteers to educate the runners not to spoil the trail and to enforce the rules to keep it clean. It simply you care or you don’t… Yes it’s crazy to dirty the trail and leave it like that. This is my personal opinion and engage only myself.
On the way back down, once on the road, it was a bit long to walk back to the start, so I started running along with another volunteer. We had a good chat and fun running back to the start. The end of the event was close to 12:30pm, we had some Nasi Lemak provided by the organizers and a post race debriefing to officially close the event. And of course some photos taken with everyone.
Why you should do like me and join a race as volunteer ?
It’s was a great morning, very fulfilling and having more meaning that simply “just going racing”. It’s give and take. I “took a lot” in the last two years and was very happy to give back this time. I’m planning to do this again and would definitely recommend anyone to join the volunteers in any races and especially the ones from Team Pacat, the craziest and most funny team. Join their “V-army” son !
Organizing a quality race is not something easy that you can do alone and quickly. It requires a lot of work before, during and after the race. Many people are involved and work vry hard to make this happen as seamlessly and silently as possible. Believe me, the smoother and easier it looks, the hardest it was and the most work was put into it planning and executing it. There are lots of moving parts and coordinating them is no small feat.
Thank you Arman – the conductor for this trail symphony – for having me on the crew that Sunday and thank you to everyone else (Zul, Zack, Man, Lina, Suzi, Marlina, Renee, Lili, Cheah, …). Got “bitten” by Pacats, the nice ones 🙂 I had so much fun and a great time there. See you all soon !