My Titi100 as a MURA referee

My Titi100 as a MURA referee

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On March 19 and 20, I was in Hulu Langkat at the Titi 100 ultra marathon, named as “one of the toughest road ultra marathon in Malaysia”. Titi 100 is organized by Endurance Nature. I was told that during the 2015 edition, there were issues with runners about missing mandatory gears, cheating cases, … So this time, the organiser decided to engage MURA as an independent referee in case of disagreements. That’s how I ended up at Titi 100 after having to forfeit my 100km entrance due to a toe injury few days before.
I’ve been driving on the race course (up to CP4) during the saturday afternoon (for the 100km) and on the night (for the 50km). In addition, I was part of the crew checking the mandatory gears check before start for the 50km and doing the mandatory gears check at CP3 between 2am and 4:45am. I want to share with you guys why this is very important, not so much for us but for you guys as safety is the most important thing.

The Rules and Regulations

I know around here people don’t like to follow strictly the rules but these are really important. The rules and regulations for Titi100 were available at the time of registration on their web site: http://titi100.com/?page_id=10 . You can read them here also in case the web site content changed (PDF printout of the rules and regulation):
If you ran Titi 100, did you take the time to read in details and understand the rules ?

What are the mandatory equipments you need to have ?

 Below is the list of the mandatory items per the race regulation:
  1. One working headlamp/torch lights (for 50km & 100km runner) or two working headlamps/torch lights (for 200km runner) with spare batteries.
  2. Reflective vest “and” any bright back blinking accessories;
  3. Water bottles or hydration bag with a minimum capacity of 500ml;
  4. Whistle;
  5. Mobile phone;
  6. Foldable cup or other container suitable for drinking at the water station points – it can be replaced by the water bottle/hydration bag;
  7. Emergency blanket;

These items are really the basic minimum ones. If you think of it, they all make sense to have: you need to have light (and batteries) to see, you need to be seen (safety vest, blinkers) from front and back, you need to carry your bottle/cup for water as no cups are provided (sustainability). In the event you are injured and can’t be seen for some reason, you have the whistle to be heard by others, same goes for your mobile phone. The emergency blanket is in case you are feeling very cold or injured. Running at night for long hours, being exhausted can require you to have the emergency blanket around you when you stop running. It happened to some very good runners the year before when they completed. Moreover if you are injured on the side of the road, the emergency blanket makes you very visible too.

Even this time, I saw at CP3 one of my friend Chandru so exhausted after 175km that he was sleeping with the emergency blanket on him to keep him warm.

What was checked at the race start

For each race format, there was a race gears checking session. It was ran by the race volunteers and monitored by the MURA crew.  We had 5 volunteers in each shift. Every participant had to go through the check then when it was successfully completed they would get a colour tag on their bag, which means it was checked. Volunteers had the template below on the tables to allow an easy identification of items by both participants and volunteers. This is getting more and more common on ultra marathon races now.

 

 

I personally attended the gears checking session for the 50km race. That’s probably the most “challenging” one as many runners are new to ultra-marathons, hence many don’t know how important it is, think some items are optional or simply didn’t read or understand the guidelines properly. After all… on a full marathon you don’t need to carry anything ! I have to say that 95% (rough estimate) of the runners came with the gears. Some didn’t have the gears and were trying their luck knowing they didn’t have some of the items. Very few people were rude and aggressive with both the volunteers and the MURA crew. To these people… shame on you. This is a race where volunteers give their time to support it, don’t shout at them or threaten them. Someone threatened my friend and I to punch us in the face if we don’t let him have his way. Well, he didn’t have his way and had to comply and go get mandatory items.
Luckily the organiser had planned for “supplies” to sell at cost to runners  in case they had genuinely forgotten something or were missing something. Essentially the missing items were: spare batteries, blinkers, safety vests. However, despite a significant stock, the organiser didn’t expect to sell out everything, including some of the spare safety vests for volunteers !
Some comments based on the questions we got during the checking of mandatory gears:
  1. A reflective small band (like the free ones from KL marathon few years ago) is not sufficient and not replacing a safety vest
  2. You really need to have spare batteries in case you run out of juice. And even in that case it can be painful to change the batteries: practice before the race !
  3. Some of you had very tiny blinkers with weak batteries. You pass the check, but seriously how do you expect to be visible with a low battery ring size blinker for 8 hours ?
  4. When you have a USB charged headlamp, it’s very hard for the volunteer to know that this particular model can do 8 hours of lighting. My USB one does 5 hours max (Nathan) and I need a power bank to comply with the spare battery rule or bring a spare battery if you can swap the battery (some Ptzel allow that). In fact, the best is still a lamp with traditional batteries.
  5. If you carry a blinker with CR2032 batteries (button flat ones), I would suggest you carry spare batteries too and learn how to change them. The blinker is what can save you along with the vest from cars coming behind you.
  6. A bright T-Shirt is not a reflective vest. It doesn’t have the big reflective areas. A small nike or puma sign won’t cut it sorry…
  7. An emergency blanket is not a think jacket or a spare T-Shirt !
I think this year was again more of educating the ultra running community. From that perspective it worked as more runners were compliant with the rules and when doing mistakes, they were genuine ones, not intended to either cheat or beat the system. We are ultra runners too, I know how important doing the race can be for you guys and don’t think it makes me happy to have to be strict with some of you and tell you you can’t start if you don’t have the gears… It hurt me as much as it hurts you… I’m a runner too. I’ll give you an example: literally 3 minutes before the start, one runner rushed to the checking area and he didn’t have spare batteries. There was no more stock. He couldn’t start. This runner was nearly crying. What do you think I did ? I opened my lamp and gave him my batteries. I didn’t ask for anything. I never saw the guy after, but it was right to do so. Morale of the story: if you are nice, we’re ready to help you as much as we can provided it doesn’t bend the rules. If you’re rude… well you know.
Now for the 5% of runners who were not compliant with the checks and in the end were compliant not by buying items from the organiser:
  1. When you say the item is in the car and ask if you really need to carry it, a child’s look don’t work. Moreover I’m not stupid, I know in 90% of the cases you don’t have the item.
  2. When you really leave the item in the car, I know that most of you will not carry it and leave it back after showing it to us.
  3. When you bring back an item that you were missing, I’m pretty sure that for most of you it’s an item borrowed from a friend who passed the check before. I saw some of you exchanging items then giving back after the check.

You pass the check, beat the system. What does it bring you ? You think you’re safe enough doing your way ? That’s the reason why we did a mid race check of mandatory gears at CP3…

Along the race course taking photos

At the end of the afternoon after the start of the 100km race, we had few hours to spare before having the safety gears checking for the 50km race. We drove along the race course passing all runners taking photos from the car window then at each of the CPs. You need to be careful driving with so many runners and cars coming in the other direction. Runners, be very careful when you overtake other runners and step out of the single line. There might be a car behind you. Don’t do it if a car is coming in front of you for sure.

If you want to see photos from the race, you can check the MURA photo album. You can also check the list of available photos albums by various photographers compiled by ET Tey.

Now, the interesting piece is when we reached the first 10 runners of the 100km. It was starting to be dark, and guess what… some of them were running without lights ! You could argue it’s the end of the day… but when I have to switch on my car lights to drive it’s not, or when I can’t take a picture without flash ! So when we stopped to take some pictures, I had to remind these runners to switch on their light immediately and for some wear the other gears (vest, blinker) otherwise we have to DQ them on the spot. Fast and experienced runners, please be an example, follow the rules and show it to newbies runners. Slower runners, the same apply, you’ll have buddies possibly starting running ultras inspired by what you tried, be an example !

Some examples below of situations where you need to already wear your safety gears (light, blinkers and vest). It’s about your safety and being seen by others users of the road.

You might think you see enough to run at 6-6:30pm and be safe (ie not put your feet into a pothole) but I can assure that having driven there, no one can see you until the last minute. This is extremely dangerous for you. Is your life worth less than 20s on the race to put your lights on ?

The mid race check at CP3

We were scheduled to run a mandatory gears check at CP3 entrance from 2am to 4am. We ended up doing the checking until 4:45am as there were still a lot of runners. Unfortunately we were so busy doing the checks I don’t have a single photo of the place. We were split in 2 teams: one checking the 100km and 200km runners coming back to the CP and the 50k runners coming into the CP to U-turn back.

Normally the checking is to be done by the volunteers and MURA crew only overseeing and ruling in case of dispute. But the CP was so busy and so many runners were coming into the CP for the 50km, we had to split the work with the volunteers: they would mark the BIB and time of arrival, while we would do the gears checking. We don’t want to slow down the runners or have them loosing their momentum, hence we decided with the organisers to focus on checking the key mandatory items for safety: light, blinker and safety vest. We don’t really want to check that you have your cellphone, emergency blanket, whistle, cup and spare batteries here. Though I suspect some runners were not carrying the emergency blanket despite the initial check… Maybe next time !

The check by itself is very fast: look in front for the light (easy), look at the back for the blinker, and see the vest. Now we had many runners not carrying items or not wearing them (safety vest, blinkers). Few cases of blinkers gone dead. Don’t worry, we won’t DQ you for that (though let me stress how important the blinkers are and why you should should also have full batteries and spare batteries for the blinkers).

Few points here:

  1. We had 10 cases of DQ for non carrying and having mandatory equipments – these were allowed to finish as the goal is really to educate this time
  2. We had 5-6 cases of runners not carrying or having mandatory equipments when entering the CP but that we allowed to leave the CP and continue after someone gave them the items (friends or people having DNF at the CP). By right they should be DQ when entering.
  3. One runner kind of try to bribe me (serious I’m not joking), pulling me on the side and telling me he is sure we can settle an agreement. Sorry mate, DQ.
  4. More than half of the runners were having the pack on top of the safety vest, making it less visible. We had to shout regularly to the CP crowd to put the vest on top of the pack. No DQ for that of course, but please listen, this is for your safety.
  5. Couple of runners trying to ignore us after we tell them they need to wear the gears otherwise they will be DQ. We had to keep looking at them to make sure they don’t leave without the items.
  6. Some 100km and 200km runners who did not have the blinkers. Same story here, we had to tell them to wear them otherwise DQ. They all complied.
  7. Some runners trying to confuse us saying they got clearance at the checking… sorry mates, we were the ones doing the 50km gears checking !

Reading this sounds harsh… I know… but the rule is the rule. When at CPs on the way to CP3 we warn runners that there would be a gear check, so no excuses. The volunteer work is tiring… we were also tired after 2h30 of inspection… respect to the volunteers staying so much longer there. Maybe next time we need to check the driving licenses too 😀 (got 50RM underneath the license ???). We had countless words of encouragement for the runners too especially when they were leaving the CP. Though we had to do something tough by DQing some runners, it’s for your safety. We’re runners too, we don’t like to see someone exhausted at half point of the race being DQ because of a simple thing like a missing blinker.

Why do you need to carry a safety vest, a headlight and a blinker ?

This part is more to show you why it’s important. I think that unless you seat on the other side and drive with runners there, it’s actually hard to realise how little visible you can be… It’s all about to be seen and less about seeing where you’re going.
This is what you see when driving there at night. Note that I was driving slow, hence think of it as if you are not a race crew driving but any fella driving there and possibly in a rush. Everything goes very fast. With your own eyes, you would probably see a bit more than what the camera can capture BUT the speed even slow one makes compensates negatively for that.
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.25.41
You only see blinking lights and some reflective markers. You can see the difference in reflectivity between different runners. The front one has a very good blinker. You can miss him/her but the vest is not reflecting much because he/she put the backpack on top of the vest, hiding most of the reflective areas. The runner just behind  has a smaller blinker but his vest is put on top of the pack, ie you have a good reflective area (though this is not the best vest  you can see).
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.25.58
However you can see that despite having a good vest, he still put the pack on top, reducing the visibility he could have. Here on the photo, the timing is off and his blinker is not lighted for one second.
Another example of a basic safety vest here. The runners are wear the vest on top of their backpack. Their blinkers are pretty good.
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.31.02
The next picture shows you I believe the organisers safety “vest” (more of a X with bright reflective materials). See how well you see that runner compared to the 2 runners who are right in front of my light !
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.30.19
Now, if you consider the front visibility of runners if you are a car facing the runners. Here is what you see if you are a car facing the runners.
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.26.32
I dont have lights, at the back of my car illuminating the runners hence you don’t have the reflection of the vests, but you should expect to be as visible as from the back. It shows you that a good light with good battery is important also to be visible. You can see the differences between runners. One of them is having a quite powerful light. These however are runners that were all side by side running at the corner…
Which brings me to runners overtaking. That happens, not everyone runs at the same pace. However, please be careful. Don’t overtake more than one runner at a time and not in a corner. This is actually quite dangerous.
First picture, I was arriving on the corner. The runners were still overtaking. It’s going uphill, so even if say you drive 20km/h, you have to nearly stop behind the runners. I believe most drivers would just cut through the continuous line (forbidden) and  drive close to the runner especially if suddenly they see a car coming. Recipe for an accident here.
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.26.08
Second picture is when I’m just behind the runners on the corner itself. They’re still running side by side. I’m a running crew here, so I’ll just stop and take time here. But imagine a crazy guy, not runner in a rush or even drunk driving ? Please be careful. Take notice also that despite the mandatory gear check at race start the runner on the left does not have a blinker and his vest is barely reflecting anything despite being on top of his backpack. You can see on the previous picture he does not have the blinker.
Screenshot 2016-03-25 15.31.29

How can we get better next time ?

Well, I think there are several improvements we can look at (organisers, referees, volunteers):

  1. Do like major oversea races and seal the packs after the gears check, then recheck that people starting don’t have a broken seal on the bag. That will ensure you can’t show items and not carry them.
  2. Do more education prior to the race on why safety is important
  3. Bring more stock just in case as the stock ran out
  4. Be very clear on the equipments allowed and those not. I think prior to the race there was some confusion on the blinkers vs the safety vest. It was clarified that you need both. Maybe that was too late.
  5. Set a clear time after which the safety gears must be worn at all time, to avoid room for personal interpretation (“oh but I can see”)
  6. Check the gears early in the race say CP1 as in the 50km race, it’s already well in the night.
  7. For those not wearing the vest but carrying it (we saw many), note their BIB at CP1, give them a “yellow  card” (warning)
  8. At the next CP, recheck and anyone with yellow card not complying is DQ straight away. Mark the BIB, don’t allow them to leave the CP (some runners are very stubborn). This year, BIB were noted and shared with organisers in realtime. Some runners decided to keep going.
  9. Have few teams driving along the race course for safety checks and give yellow/red cards to runners not complying. Even if say it’s the top running guy. Sadly a DQ of a front runner will make a lot of noise but will really show that safety is paramount and that we should not compromise on it.

Again this year is much better than the previous editions, awareness and controls pay results here. Still so much to do to improve and be even better (support crews for 200km rules, friends supporting their 100km buddies, …). Many rules were breached there I see and that will need to be fixed. Oversea it does work well, why not here ?

Final words

Safety is the most important thing here. We don’t have rules or ask you to carry this or that to bother you or make you slower. It’s just for your safety. Then it’s a race. When you join you expect no cheating and a level playing field. How would you think if the guy finishing ahead of you does i because say he didn’t carry the mandatory items or water and was lighter than you ? You’ll felt cheated. That’s it. You want a fair game, play by the rule. Be safe.

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