Few months ago, I got to know about King of Sungai Lembing right after attending King of Kemensah Trail race, where I was volunteering with Team Pacat (you can read the report here). I was thinking about doing that race but actually had no clue where Sungai Lembing was, … then I decided that I just try it and would register for the 50km. I had run few times more than 50km in ultra races in the last 6 months, so it should be within reach. I registered on May 31, that meant I had a little bit more than 2 months to ramp up for that distance on trail. I was registered for another ultra during that period: Back to Endurance (race report here) and I decided that as part of the training I would do the MARDI MAEPS (18km, with 16km trail and quite a bit of elevation for KL). That would be a reality check. I did it last year and It would be a great way of benchmarking my progress and get ready for the 30km of trail of KOSL….
Preparation toward the race
My preparation was not ideal but essentially centered around:
- Usual road training (tempo, hill, …)
- Barefoot running for strength
- More trail running in FRIM, MARDI, Kiara
- Usual LSDs
It didn’t go too well in the sense I didn’t run too much trail and had very few LSD sessions… See below for yourself:
The longest trail I ran was a 18km LSD organised by MURA in FRIM in July. That was the monthly MURA LSD in view of helping runners prepare for King of Sungai Lembing. Then MARDI MAEPS which was a good race test. Not ideal for sure !
Going to Sungai Lembing, finding an accommodation for 2 nights
I stupidly did not look for accommodation to sleep there immediately. Big mistake, with more than 300 runners coming into town over one weekend, everything was fully booked. Some folks I know had to stay out of town closer to Kuantan or even in Kuantan ! I ended up booking a bed in the town dormitory called T-Box (http://tboxsungailembing.com). It was a decent bargain as there was a discount for the race participants: 32 RM per night. At that price, you have shared toilets/showers (like in a camping) and you share one shipping container refurbished into dormitory with up to 7 other folks. You have your own private small section and a decent bed, thick enough. It’s clean, with a locked and 2 500ml bottles of water…
Not everyone will like that… but people were friendly. My daughter would love the look and feel of the containers with their cool paintings on them ! Not sure that would be fun to bring her outside in the middle of the night to go pee though…
After arriving at the “docks”, I went to get my BIB at the race start. There was a regular inflow of people. There I bumped into Jeff Ooi, Jason Tan. We then all walked though the town in search for one of a famous Tofu shop. We actually ended up walking quite a bit, probably 3-4km, passing in front of T-Box (how ironic !), the famous old suspended bridge then back in town. The Tofu shop was there. It was good for sure after a long walk in the sun !
On the way back to the T-Box, I passed by the race start point and chatted a bit with few folks. Marlina had free entrances for the Sungai Lembing museum, gave me on, s on the way to the TBox I stopped by there. It recounts the history of the town, how tin was mined and processed, … interesting. I had no time to go to the mining tunnel by that time. Back to my shipping container, I sorted my stuff, started preparing my race back and drop bag then decided to go out enjoy the view. This is from a bench in the garden of T-Box… certainly Sungai Lembing is a beautiful resting place !
Evening was early chinese food dinner with friends (Yew Kwai, Renee, HL, …), bumped into other folks (Lai Fong Sang, Carol, Fujii, …). After dinner, I bought water for the night and filling my race pack in the morning then headed back to the TBox… That was without counting Sungai Lembing is so small that I passed in front of the Team Pacat accommodation. I stopped there to have a chat with Arman and the team. I got few advices on the race for the next day and… ate raw Petai. I knew what Petai was (I actually eat regularly some with sambal for lunch). The folks were very surprised I eat that. Lina took 2 videos (yes two !) hoping to catch a funny face while I was eating the petal… well no luck. It’s actually ok ! I was told to drink a lot of water after that then left. The rest of the evening was finalising my race pack, drinking water, going toilet 😀 then sleep.
I walked up around 5am slowly. The race site is just 1km from the TBox. I was planning to leave at 6am to walk there.
I ate a small and crap breakfast. I had forgotten the bananas I wanted to bring at home, settled on a pre-packaged marble cake bought the evening before in a hurry. Definitely not the best for fueling before the race… Mistake on my side. Usually I would eat some oats and fruits with a juice (La Juiceria !) which would keep me fuelled until kilometre 10-15 on a race type of effort. Luckily I had brought enough almonds and cranberries for the race, I’ll have late to start eating them before race start ! I left TBox, walked in the dark to the race start with some volunteers. Just before reaching I heard my name. On the only mamak opened, Seow Kong, his wife and Jun (first time I met him at that time) were there. We chatted a bit then CP Tan passed by and we all went to the race site. There were lots of people there, I understand how the town got taken over by runners during that week end ! Couple of photos, chit chat with folks, toilet break for the big job (it’s always better just before the race than during the race !).
Around 6:45am there was a briefing by Arman the race director. It rained heavily the night before, so far the river crossing sections are ok but if more rain comes and the rivers become bigger, they might have to cut some sections from the race and force an early u-turn. This again is for runners safety, not to cheat them on the distance.
Following this, we had a minute of silence for Zack, who passed away exactly 6 days before the race. Zack was a passionate ultra-runner and most of all a very good person. He is leaving a wife and 4 kids behind. This race is dedicated to him. The Malaysian national anthem was sang (traditional in the Kind series) then at 7:01am, the race started.
The race – 50k of shades ?
It actually started fast. I forced myself to go relatively slow at a 6mn/km pace. Many people were much ahead and much faster however the first climb would come soon to “sort out” those in for a short stint or for finishing the race. The bridge came then the cemetery and the climb arrived. I knew this was coming from looking at the race profile and also the day before I drove the first few road kilometres of the race and the road part after the trail to see what I had to expect. Once up the trail, we reached the first water station. I didn’t stop there, I was carrying enough water with me anyway. The trail was not difficult from what I remember, rolling hills before we reached some kind of flatter section. There I was running between 5:45 and 6mn/km. I knew that was pretty good for me on trail and I could sustain it for a while. I started overtaking some folks who were slower.
Then I reached the first river crossing. Damn, no way I can avoid wetting my socks. I was worried about having wet socks for a while because of the possibilities of blisters later on. Early in the game, it would be a problem. My shoes are draining very quickly (Merrell Bare Access Trail) however the socks take more time. About 1km after the crossing, I took a stop to remove my socks, press and drain them before putting them back. I lost time there, some of the folks I overtook passed me. I ran then faster than most of the folks that had wet shoes/socks, overtook these folks again. Then few kilometres later on, I started to feel serious hungriness and I knew I had to eat. Damn Camelback backpack and myself ! I had packed the almonds in a zipped pocket with no way to access it. I had to walk, move the backpack, get the food, … At that time, I think I decided to keep my almonds bag in my right hand while running. Lesson learned, I need to eat well before race, and have my food easily reachable on the run without stopping or walking. That camelback is not good for running ultra… I wanted to buy the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab but didn’t buy… waiting for a good price. Damn me. I need to get that fixed next time.
I ran quite well, eating regularly, drinking my water and refilling every 2 water stations. No point running with a full load of water if you don’t consume it. The weather was nice with mist and fog at first then some cloud. Not too much heat yet. The river crossing came (2 of them), small ones. One of them, I preferred removing shoes and socks, go barefoot. The last one I crossed it on the rocks on the side. Then I started seeing front runners having done their U-turn. I probably was still few km from there. One indian looking folks was heading then I saw (randomly), Yew Khuay, Seow Kong, Jeff, Fujii (first woman with quite a lead). I finally reached the U-turn point, got my bib marked, refilled water, eat some almonds. Sounds a lot but I didn’t stay much. At that time I was still reasonably fast (for myself). I was OK in term of tiredness, though I was reaching my longest distance on trail.
Around km 26, i.e. 3 hours into the race (10am), the temperature started going up. The cool weather was gone and now the day heat was coming. The sun was not blazing hot yet, still some clouds but that would change soon. At the various water station I didn’t stop or not very long just to refill water. I was battling with 2-3 guys in aim, passing them while they were stopping, then being passed, … On the river crossings, I didn’t even wet my shoes by using rocks on the side to cross. My pace started slowly to decrease over that period. Though the trail is relatively easy, I started to feel more tired. The last river crossing came. I ran through it, then went on the slightly more deep section to wet my legs and quads. It felt so good ! I wish I could have stayed but no, I had to go. I didn’t dry the socks knowing that CP2 was nearby. I had a bag drop with new shoes and socks. Funnily, with the heat being quite strong already, the shoes and socks dried quickly.
I arrived at CP2, saw familiar faces. It was 4 hours into the run, exactly 1 hour before cutoff. First goal achieved. I had a quick chat while getting my bag, people were friendly. I sat, changed my shoes and socks. I changed to my Merrell Road Glove 2, which are for road. That would be handy later on. Also at that time, quick check on the feet, no blisters or sign of blisters coming. That’s good considering the distance and trail. I changed shirt also, put the arm sleeves (it was starting to be very sunny), a little bit of sunblock on face and hands. I ate a bit (watermelon), drank then went back running. I probably stayed 10-12mn max there. Considering all, it’s not too bad. On previous ultras, I spent too much time on the CPs, so I knew I had to be as fast as I can.
The first kilometres were still trail !!! Art, I was running with road shoes – minimalist ones – so I had to be slow and careful with the rocks (it was quite rocky there). Then I reached the road. After that it was better with the road shoes, but still you can feel the tiredness. I was running slow already but keeping consistent. Over the next 8 kilometres (from 32 to 40), I ran with few folks. I couldn’t follow some of them but it helped pace me for a while and run more than walk. Alternating walking/running was the only thing I could realistically do. I wanted to keep some energy for next stages of the race. It was hot, the sun was high and temperature also. At some point, I stopped to pee. I had very little pee, it was dark yellow (very dark yellow). I walked then drank more water. I’ll have to see at the next time. No pain in the back, nothing at kidney level. To be monitored but ok.
I reach the next water station.There was a volunteer in the middle of the road telling us to go left toward the river to come back to the water station. There was a bib marking at the river. I found that weird, like a way of artificially making up for the distance (I do that in Kiara sometimes when I lack of few hundreds meters on a run, …). I stopped a bit more at that water station – maybe 5mn – took a handful of watermelon (it’s good to water you and complement the almonds). Then I restarted. I alternated walk and run until the main road then forced myself to run. I overtook few folks there. It was actually nice, many kids were biking and doing high 5 with us to cheer us up 🙂 I then arrived to the water station. They had water and ice. I drank some ice with revive, put ice in my backpack then headed onto the cycling road. I was surprised to see cars driving there. There is barely space for 2 bikes crossing each other… It was nice, in the shades. I was running slowly then I heard cheering, claps, … that was the folks at the bottom of the stairs going up Bukit Panorama !
I started climbing. I knew roughly the height from the race profile but I didn’t go there the day before like some folks. I basically had no idea of how tough it would be apart from knowing it would be tough ! I was climbing ok, not fast (some runners were overtaking me). I wanted to pee. I stopped on one side, went behind bushes as much as I got, checked – only guys passing, no ladies – then.. horror… barely no pee coming despite really feeling like peeing… then couple of drops… coca cola colour… first time I saw that. In Gunung Nuang I missed one water station and had to do one full climb in the afternoon with 1/3 of my water, I had to ration it and ended up with very dark yellow pee, little pee and small pain on the right kidney side. I knew I had to drink water and rest now but… was the colour normal, a sign of something serious or the effect of that bloody petal the night before ??? I decide to continue slowly, drink and stop about 100m from where I was. There was a bench (half point of the climb I think).
At that time, Renee overtook me ! I was surprised, she was quite behind me on the trail, but must have been more consistent and faster on the road. I let her go and she told me not to seat too long. I think I sat for 10mn there… just drinking water, breathing slowly, eating a bit to recover. It worked, I felt better then went back up to climb. It took a while, it was tough but I reached the top. I crossed Renee again, she was starting the way down. I had to run to the gazebo, get the bib marked then go back. Probably 200m going down then back up. When I started to go down, I saw Yk Foo, Renee’s sister also. I went down the stairs quiet well… like a fast walker, not flying down like some folks. I was happy my quads were good. However it still takes time to go down !
Once at the bottom, cheers again then hit the road. One guys was with me, we ran together for a while. The road was going behind the town then onto the main road at the back of the museum. We could hear the race finish and Man as MC, the music.. yet we were still far… about 5km on my GPS. It was going up and up. I didn’t realise on the map there would be this (lesson: study better the map before). I alternated run/walk then reached the top of the museum, where there is the entrance of the mining tunnel (I assume). I overtook one runner there, then went downhill. I kept running downhill with that hope that I could do a right turn to the race site (but I knew I had to pass by the suspended bridge). At the intersection I saw Arman who told me only 3km remaining and next water station is at TBox… from there I knew well the road having walked it few times. I went running to TBox, didn’t stop (I had water), crossed the bridge walking (there were tourists on it) then headed back to town. I thought I would cross on the second bridge however not ! It was hot, I had to continue trailing 2 runners on the road. I was confused, no idea where it was going except I would end up on one of the 2 bridges (the road one or the bottom one near the river). One last water station, drank a bit of water then kept walking as fast as I could. I wanted to run downtown to the arrival. I was trailing these 2 folks then we arrived at the cemetery ! In fact we took a back road (lesson, check the map well again to avoid disappointment like that !)
Finally I saw the bridge and I knew this would soon REALLY be finished.I turned right, saw the tree line and started running steadily. I saw many people, people taking pictures then I saw the end line with Man. He started shouting my name, I crossed the line. I could barely speak and I just told Man “for Zack… Zack” then walked very slowly. I stopped my GPS, saw Lina and Suzi, they congratulated me and I was so exhausted yet happy I took both in my arms so happy to see friends. Then I stood back: I realised I was so sweaty it was probably not that nice from me to do that and culturally wise it’s very western !!!! Anyway, Lina, Man, Suzi, thanks for all your smiles at the arrival and thanks for bearing with me at that time ! I got my race bag, then went seating. Mission accomplished. Not brilliantly, quite poorly in the 2nd part but nevertheless job done.
It was very hot, I sat under the tents. These tents were heaven. I had a chat with friends there. After resting a bit, I drank all my water, changed shirt, went to get the Cendol (the best Cendol ever !) and the Nasi Lemak (very so so, not enough sambal, but hell it’s a race end, not a proper restaurant). Couple of pictures then I waited for the cutoff time. I knew they would be very strict on that. 2 runners made it just before the cutoff time then they brought down the balloon arches. No one after was considered finisher (no race pack, DNF status). However they still get the food 🙂 The prices were given, photos taken, … It was cool seeing so many friends.
Congrats to the winners in all categories. The men veteran category was so competitive…
At 5pm I started walking back to the TBox (yes, walking !). At the museum crossing I saw a Team Pacat volunteer waiting for later runners. He had water for them and was waiting for about 15 old/slow runnners still in between. I guess they made it barely at CP2 before cutoff then carried on. I don’t know the policy after CP2… should they fetch runners by cars (like cycling races) ? I walked to the TBox, overtook a runner who was not yet done. I slowed down and chatted with him. I didn’t say I finished the race and that the cutoff was gone by now but I encouraged him to carry one telling him what to expect after TBox. I asked him how he trained to do this ultra… In fact that was his first ever ultra. From the sound of it, he didn’t now what LSD were hence probably missed the Full Marathon on the road. He trained in the last 2 months going 2 or 3 times to Nuang to do the climb and running there. Of course running on the road too. I was amazed how naive he could be to do this 50km with trail and road (sorry for the directness here). I gave him advice that next time he should start with shorter distances and he has to run weekends LSDs and back to back LSDs in order to go ultra distance. At the TBox junction I left him and went back to get a proper shower. There my pee was back to yellow, by evening it would back to light yellow/white after drinking close to 1.5 later of water at the hotel.
In the evening I went early in town to have dinner, only the food court was open. I had dinner with Ewgene, Renee and another person I didn’t know. Then I passed in front of the hotel of these folks and there a big group had beers (Yk Foo, HL Tan, Cheah CC, …). I stopped by, had one beer, a good chat with them then when they went for dinner I went back to my hotel to rest. The next day, Sungai Lembing was empty expect the food court at 8:30am. I then drove back to KL. All in all it was a fun week end, where I had a good time racing and spending time/seeing many friends. As they say: priceless !
My personal evaluation of King of Sungai Lembing
First I have to disclose I’m friend with Team Pacat folks, however I’m trying to be as objective as possible. I’m also part of the MURA committee where we try to support the development of the ultra running practices in Malaysia. What I’m writing below is my own personal opinion, just to be clear.
My expectations for an ultra-marathon race are the following (in disorder):
Not everyone will agree with me on these, but this is what I think and expect from an ultra marathon race. If you read carefully, I’m basically saying that runners should be as much as possible self-sufficients… That’s an ultra-marathon, it’s always challenging and self-sufficiency is one of the challenge to tackle. And there are many specific challenges to each races (cutoff, elevation, weather, technicality of the trails, …).
So how did KOSL 2015 fare ? See for yourself…
From my point, KOSL was a good first edition. On my evaluation, they do a good 75% which for a first race is good. There are many races I would have ranked lower than that. As a comparison, Putrajaya P100 last year, which was my first ultra and from the same organiser I believe would probably hit the 50-60% mark. Team Pacat is getting better at this that’s for sure. There are certainly points to improve but I can see improvements compare to previous races. The organiser decided to take a tough stand to align this race (for the 50km) more with the oversea standards (strict cutoff time, water/aid station content, …). This brings for sure some negative comments. I think it’s partly an education problem: so many new runners on shorter races, more want to try ultra races and think it’s easy. Don’t be mistaken it’s not. There is a big threshold between a 30km road race and a 50km ultra trail for example. People simply don’t know and come with shorter races expectations, so it’s really an education issue.
With that matter, it is to be noted that Malaysia Ultra Running (organiser of Route 68, B2E, …) and Team Pacat organised an ultra running clinic in July (see review here) to go through the basics of ultra. This is to help new runners. I was there and remember clearly Jason Tan explaining how preparation is key, how studying the profile is key and cutoff times are very strict. So to be fair to them, they started doing these education activities for new ultra runners. Blaming them now for a too tough cutoff time is not fair. Even me, this cutoff time got me shit scared of not meeting it. As a result I planned to start running faster to make sure I was ok. I made it comfortably yes, but it’s also because I was prepared for it.
Needless to say some points need to be improved:
- Post mortem/post race communication (actually wether there are issues or not)
- When issues are reported, a proactive communication to let people the organiser is looking into the issues raised and to do a proper investigation/analysis
- Reporting the results if any to close the topic.
- More education work, especially if we want to bring more people from shorter races into ultra (that’s how you find talents)
Malaysian runners are still used to the overflow of stuff, comfort on shorter races, having no cutoff time, all kind of drinks, goody bag, little rules to follow, no one to enforce them, … I believe it’s good we align our ultra races standards with those we have oversea, that’s how we will make our races known oversea, that’s how our local ultra runners will get tougher without having to travel oversea, …
You go to UTMB or UTMF after all for the challenge and accept the strict guidelines. No one goes there to expect an oversupply of food at aid station or for a medal/t-shirt. Why should we be different ? One day I’d love to see foreign runners coming to Malaysia to attend these new ultra races like KOSL, Route 68 in the same way our TMBT is getting famous oversea. The races need to be challenging, competitive, …
King of Sungai Lembing is a good race I’d recommend to anyone who want to race in those hills. Choose your distance wisely, prepare for it well. I’ll sign up next year without any hesitation. Actually I’m tempted next year to do the whole King series (King of Bukit Larut, King of Kemensah and King of Sungai Lembing).
My personal take-away from this race
Below is what I will take away. Things that worked well, things I seriously have to work on and improve next time…
Plus points/worked well
- I had a good controlled start and a good pace until CP1, despite the trail. My core improved a lot in the last 6 months, I saw that there.
- I didn’t get burned, so I managed that part better than all my previous ultra races
- I completed the trail section reasonably well, which for me is good progress on trails
- My left hamstring was behaving very well, proof my muscles start to be better balanced on left side (I have tight left hamstring)
- My barefoot work paid big time: I used minimalist end to end. No foot pain, no calf pain, …
- Staircase training in Sydney paid when I had to climb Bukit Panorama
- I spent less time at water aid/station than my previous ultra races
Minus points/ to be improved
- My water strategy sucked: I actually have no idea of how much water I drink over time except roughly 1 bag every 2 WS. To be well, I need to track my hydration per hour well.
- My food strategy was so so:
- Always get proper breakfast before the race, it will help me not waste precious time
- Get my food reachable while running
- Almonds were right but toward km 45/50, it gets harder to swallow or I need to drink more at that time.
- I had blisters after the race:1 big one on left small toe, and 2 other toes with small ones. Manly on the road part because my shoes were not tight enough I think. The taping around big toe where I had a recently healed blister due to barefoot running worked well.
- I had minor chaffing between the legs at the joints of the 2XU. Always same place, I need to reapply mid race maybe some anti chaffing.
- I couldn’t stand the HR belt at 2/3 of the race and removed it, I need to find a way of keeping it comfortably.
- I had a lack of LSD in the last 2 months, that cost me a lot in the 2nd part of the race
- I’m totally not ready for 100km road race in the sun like P100 nor a full 50km ultra trail (or even a more technical trail ultra)
- You don’t remove your shoes when crossing rivers nor drain your socks after, it wastes too much time
- I still spent too much time at water/aid station
Now it’s 4 months to my 100km P100, I’d better start training properly now…
My Garmin Connect stats
You can find the overall Garmin Connect stats at the following URL or below:
- Following my coca cola moment, I did some research on the internet. This article explains what happens and why it’s actually ok in most of the cases. You have to rest and drink a lot of water to clear the kidneys.
- For those who wonder about blisters and taping or in general how to avoid them, here is a useful resource (don’t be to scared by the pictures !). The article on the 6 days track ultra is particularly interesting.