Quick introduction to Back 2 Endurance
Back 2 Endurance (B2E) is an ultra-marathon race organised by Malaysia Ultra Running every year at Taman Tasik Perdana (the “Lake Garden”). This year, the race was held on June 14, 2015. It was the 3rd edition of the race.The format of the race is extremely similar from one year to the next one: start at 6:30am and run for 6 hours or 12 hours (depending on the race duration you chose). You have to run a loop around the lake, which is about 2.3 km long. Last year I was told that the runners had to change the direction of the loop every 3 hours. This year, this was not the case and we kept running in the same direction for 12 hours.
The race is quite popular with local runners who want to have a challenge, yet not be bothered by complex logistic of dropped bags, the stress of a point to point race, … You have a lot of regular ultra-runners, runners who runs usually half marathon or marathons races and want to push to 50km. I also noticed there were a lot of barefoot runners, probably for two reasons: Lake Garden is very barefoot friendly and the Facebook group Bare with Me, at the initiative of Sifu Rich Cai had a competition with prices for barefoot runners finishing the 12 hours of race.
Worth mentioning, the race has no fancy electronic ranking, … a good old bib and a puncher used at every lap. A board is used to give you the timing (number of laps) done by the first 10 runners. It got to be simple and effective. And it just works 🙂
Before the race
I registered to B2E mid february, with the idea of trying what was a loop format race. Since then I focussed on Gunung Nuang Ultra and Route 68 Challenge ultra for my training. After Route 68, as I was not putting much pressure on my B2E participation (it would be a first one, therefore wait and see) I decided to spend the 6 weeks to the race focussing on improving my barefoot running. And thus, I went running regularly barefoot in the evening around my place on a loop of 500m bringing me through smooth hard tiles, abrasive cement surface and bad road tar. The idea was that I need to improve my feet resistance to bad terrain, increase my maximum mileage (which was at 10km at that time). On the week end, circumstances made it that I had no opportunities for doing LSD… I did trail running, barefoot running, being a volunteer (at Kemensah), … but no long LSD. I did not realise at that time I would suffer from it later ! Doing loops on a small loops had a big advantage: it makes a 2.3km loop with a nice view pleasurable compared to that 500m loop around a condominium !
By the end of the barefoot training, I could run 15km barefoot non stop on a bad surface. In planning for a longer distance, I ran 15km with the Lunas Sandals, but after 13km I felt some slight pain in between the big toe and the next one. Looking closely it seems I need to adjust the strap to be lying flat on the skin, similarly to the left foot. I left it there and forgot to do more adjustment.. big mistake, I would face the same issue later on. When we say train with the gears you will use during the race, it means more than once !
Coming to the day before the race… no stress ! I prepared my bag and was not sure which shoes I would be wearing. In the end I brought: the Luna Sandals, the Merrell Road Glove 2 and the Merrell Bare Access 3. OK call me nuts, I only have minimalists shoes. The Bare Access 3 is the pair with 8mm cushioning that I used on Route 68 along with the Luna Sandals. The Road Glove 2 are my go to chose for distances below 25km. I was unsure of which shoes to use, only knowing I would like to do maybe 15km barefoot…
My first loop based endurance race
On race day, I woke up at 5am. Got a short breakfast with some oats and almond milk, drank one green juice then finished packing my almonds in my bag and 2 juices (1 for the middle of the race, 1 for the end of the race). I brought 3 T-Shirts and 1 long sleeve one (in case the sun is blazing hot), the stick to prevent chaffing, a cap, some small towels, my belt with 2 flasks for water. That’s a lot as I was unsure of what to bring… and honestly I did not ask anyone for advice ! When I left my place it was raining hard (“oh shit !”). I arrived at 6am, parked my car. It was still raining… I wore my Puma rain jacket and went to collect my bib (I missed the collection 2 weeks earlier). I met Jason there giving me my bib. There were already so many runners most of them hidden under the two built structure protecting from the rain… I then went to the toilet and I wondered if I had to bring money or not, tried my luck and actually realised that they were letting us go to the toilet for free with our race bib. The organiser had arranged that with the park management… well thought and planned. Plus point for the organisation !
After that I dropped my bag then had to decide what shoes (or none) I should wear to start. It was still dark, raining so I decided not to start barefoot as it would be hard to see what’s ahead of me. I would then move barefoot for 15km once light would be sufficient… As per the belt with the 2 flasks, I decided to leave them in the bag: after all it’s a 2.3km loop, I don’t need to drink during the loop and can always wait for the next check point. Hence I started running with the Merrel Road Glove 2 as it would likely be only for few kilometres…
Strategy wise, I had decided to start with a slow LSD pace running between 7mn/km and 8mn/km… That should bring me to a decent distance after 12 hours. I decided to take this as an exercise of patience to force me to run VERY slow. Whatever the outcome, if I can run that slow I should be able to sustain a long effort as it would not be too demanding on the body…
Start of the race
The race started at 6:30am. I’m not sure how many runners there were, maybe 200 at the start. The running path is not that large, hence the pack of runners became very quickly elongated. When the start was given, I was not in the pack and started I think toward the end. It was raining quite well at that time. I don’t know why but I had left my rain jacket with the bag. I ran one loop then saw the rain was not going to stop so I stopped briefly to wear back my rain jacket.
The running path was getting quite wet with ponds by places. Without good light and with people running around it’s hard to avoid them ! It was also slippery at couple of places: after the start when you have to go down and before the end of the loop at the playground there are curves to follow and it’s quite slippery if you have to overtake people and are barefoot.
I ran 2 loops at the target pace then realised it was too slow. I increased the pace to be at 6:45mn/km average and ended up doing 11km like this. My pace was varying between 6:15mn/km on the first half of the loop and 6:45mn/km on the second half. After 11km, my shoes and socks were relatively wet with the rain. Light from the sun was there despite the cloudy weather and rain, so I decided that I would start running barefoot now. My plan was to run 15km then maybe move to the Lunas for another 15km and finish with the Bare Access.
Running barefoot was great. I actually got slightly faster because running barefoot forces you to increase your cadence. I kept. I kept running loop after loop. I overtook many people that were ahead of me, took some laps to couple of people while at the same time keeping a relatively low heart rate. The fact that lake gardens is a nearly flat place helps a lot ! I reached 15km barefoot and was feeling good (feet wise… no sign of blisters, no tiredness, …) that’s the time I decided I would continue barefoot longer until I start feeling any of these signs. I ended up doing 30km, finishing barefoot at km 40.
I started to feel some very slight pain on the right feet (very mild, more like a warming point) which usually is the sign of an early redness leading to blister if nothing is done). I decided to stop and put the surgical tape I have, that I put on blisters or redness to allow me to run the next day. Well good intentions, failed results: my feet were wet as the course is still wet by places and to cool my feet down, I was making a point a running in the water every time I could… it worked and extended my barefoot distance but my feet were too wet to tape anything on them, even after trying to dry them… damn me ! At that point, I knew my barefoot time was coming to an end as at 40km I still had at least 10km and in my hope more than that…
I decided to wear the Luna Sandals… knowing that I was not satisfied with the right foot sandal fit on my foot. Bingo, after 300m I felt the same pain as in the last training session with the Luna: that would not cut it for me, so I tried to adjust, run 50m, stop, readjust, same thing then decided to remove them. I would now end up finishing that lap barefoot. New barefoot record for me anyhow: I was satisfied and happy with that. At the end of the loop, I went back to my shoes and as I was feeling good, I decided to wear again the Road Glove 2. These shoes are very light and have a very good fit on my feet. That is important as it helps prevent movement in the shoe and therefore reduce the risk of blisters.
After that I kept running laps after laps. I took too much time sometimes at the CP drinking mostly water. Jeff told me one time I was drinking too much (no he is not stingy 🙂 he cares for your performance ! Later on I would hear the same thing from Siaw Hui though I will have already cut down on my water consumption. Around 11am, the guys started to setup the lunch (rice, meet, …same stuff as on Route 68). Honestly not very appetizing for me but on an ultra I would eat pretty much anything. I decided to push one more lap before stopping for lunch. Until now I had consumed only the bananas, oranges from the organizers and my favourite raw almonds. When I left the CP, I saw the team Pacat folks coming to support the race. I had already seen Lina and Man, Marlina and her family (Lina and Marlina were both running). Armand told me they brought Nasi Lemak… it made me so happy and I was looking at stopping for the Nasi Lemak 😀 After the loop, done deal I stopped and got my Nasi Lemak… Suzi proposed me some sweets made by a friend of her but I declined: I was happy enough with my rice 😀 I sat down, started eating then felt bad for stopping long and I decided it would be better to actually walk while eating. The Nasi Lemak was as usual coming in the paper wrap which was perfect as opposed to the plastic plates and so I went walking eating my rice. I’m telling you everyone looked at me as if I was a crazy guy ! Nevertheless this rice gave me a boost of energy and it only took one lap running after the lap walking/eating to be up to speed and not bloated. I was a bit afraid of that as it’s a pretty big chunk of rice !
Reaching 50km and the rest of the race
I decided that at 50km I would take a good break to have some rest. I went to my car pick up my bottle of green juice from La Juiceria. After 50km, a cold fresh juice was heaven ! However I stayed close to 20mn there. I would say it was necessary but in the whole game of ultra running, you need to find the balance and shave as much as you can from those non moving time. Actually if possible, it’s better to walk I think…
I reached 50km already wearing the Road Glove 2 shoes and I was feeling good with them, so I continued with them as opposed to changing to the 8mm cushioning ones. I ran the next 15km more painfully I have to say, but with reasonable walk time. I ran 6 laps after that but as I was reaching 60km the motivation and interest slowly vanished. Not that I was very tired, not at all but I was starting to think: what’s the point of doing say 70km or 75km as I’m in the silver category already and to reach the gold… I needed to reach 85km which at my pace was an unattainable goal… I had a big discrepancy between my GPS and the number of laps/distanced calculated, so I pushed myself to reach the next milestone post 60km… then I stopped. My watch was showing 64.7km… and when I went to see Jason to stop, we both counted and I had done… one more loop than I thought… i.e. 28 laps, 64.4km. My GPS was right ! In my head I was thinking: what’s the point of doing 3 more hours running/walking, being very tired the next day when I could just go home and spend time with my kids before they go to bed. I finished running at 6:30pm and considering the time to rest, go back home, change both my kids would be sleeping… so I decided it was better to go home earlier.
After that, I rested a bit, changed clothes then went to thank the volunteers and organisers, take couple of pictures to have some remembrance of it (and for this blog post too !).
My stats on Garmin…
Here is an overview of the entire race:
Worth having a look at these in details. I can help understand how your race went and plan better for the next time. Below some extracts and couple of interesting facts…
The pace graph is hard to read on a long race… you need to drill down into specific areas. However globally an average of 8:13mn/km is higher than what I was targeting. I’ve been faster than that but did not manage well my stops. They bring the average pace down. Heart rate wise, it was a giant LSD… I stayed below 145 bpm nearly all the time, really no difficulties here with such a flat terrain. Cadence wise, it gets higher when I’m barefoot. When I’m with the shoes, I maintain a decent cadence but struggles to keep it as high as barefoot. In short, I need to consistently focus on that to keep it high 🙁
Interestingly the Garmin HR belt gives additional metrics related to your ground contact time, vertical oscillation. I find these useful to correlate with the cadence. My experience is that cadence is the most important metric you need to look at and the easiest (well not that easily) to work on and find improvements…
So when my cadence increase (middle of the graph, transition from green to blue), the vertical oscillation decreases and the ground contact time is also reduced. Honestly that’s the only thing I can get out of that. Garmin says many studies have shown that you need to have short and regular ground contact time, vertical oscillation. I guess new metrics satisfy data geeks… it looks more colourful to me !
Running barefoot and cadence
Running with minimalist shoes or barefoot requires you to have higher cadence to utilise fully the natural cushioning of your tendons and articulations. The ideal cadence is 180 bpm, but what is the difference between a 4mm cushioning and no cushioning ? Well apart from having to be careful, it makes you even more aware of your running form. And on my side, my cadence naturally goes up. See for yourself: the green is with the Road Glove 2, the increase in cadence is after I switch to barefoot and get comfortable running barefoot with the track. It transitions to blue once my feet are “warmed up”. After I put back my shoes, despite focussing on the cadence, you can notice a drop in cadence. Higher cadence is more natural barefoot, it does not require your brain or muscles to be focussed at keeping the cadence (at least for me).
A GPS watch with barometric function – impact on the altitude
Having the altitude (calculated based on barometric pressure measurements) is a great feature ? Yes… but don’t be over dependant on it. In Lake garden of course no one cares but elsewhere you need to know what to expect from your watch. During the race, the weather changed a lot from rain (low barometric pressure) to cloudy yet sunny weather (higher barometric pressure). The watch calculates the altitude based on that… I kept running a nearly flat loop, yet my GPS says otherwise. Have a look for yourself:
I enjoyed this race for many reasons but the main ones are that it’s convenient yet challenging, there were many friends running/volunteering and running acquaintances that you keep seeing during the whole day (as opposed to a point to point race where you only see the few in front of you).
I’m a little bit disappointed post race not to have had the motivation to finish it… but at the same time I took a big risk running so much barefoot. I could have DNF before 50km if things turned bad… It’s a big milestone for my barefoot running, even though Lake Garden is probably the easiest place to run barefoot. I’m disappointed with my short stint with the Lunas and I have some adjustments to do and mostly a lot of training with the Lunas to get comfortable with them.
It’s a good fun race that I will for sure do again next year. It’s my 3rd race from Malaysia Ultra Running (Gunung Nuang, Route 68, B2E) and it’s always well organised. There is also a great mix of superb and fun volunteers, which make things even more fun. Well done Jeff and team ! Like many others you’re contributing to building the Malaysian ultra running scene, which is fantastic to see how it grew over the past year. One thing is sure: do register next year for B2E, it’s a great event and talking to Jeff, they’re working hard at improving it 🙂 The leading runners are just insanely good both in men and women !
Personally, I still have a lot of learning to do to improve… next race is King of Sungai Lembing organised by Team Pacat in august. It’s an ultra trail, so I need to get back to do LSD and train with the trail running shoes. I’ll run the MARDI MAEPS as a training ground before Sungai Lembing. Later in the year, I’ll have Bukit Cinta ultra (loop based in UM, tougher landscape !), SCKLM Full Marathon, Putrajaya P100 and other races popping up that I might be interested in…
In disorder, thanks to all who were there and have friendly words, chat, support:
- Tey for the photos (and the other photographers I do not know)
- Renee and the LYN gang volunteering 🙂
- Jeff for organizing this race, for the advice during the race when I was so thirsty
- Jason for the fun moment on the loudspeaker and during the race
- Siaw Hui for the quick chats at the water stations and reminding me not to drink too much
- Friends who were running: Victor, Elaine, Lina, Marlina, Kevin, Fujii, Lili, Rich, Odef, Sam, Kavien, Yaya, …
- Friends who dropped by: Daniel, Seow Kong, Nelson, Teck Wai, Elvin, Evelyn, Man, Arman and Suzi, …
Special mention to those who came to support their friends and pace them. I had a great time for one lap running with Marlina and Evelyn. Evelyn, I should have listened to you and continue running 🙂 For those not mentioned, please accept my apologies, it’s been a week from the race as I write this and my memory takes time to come back ! Please do forgive me lah 🙂