Puchong Hill night run – aka Blackwater series

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During the month of Ramadhan, Muslims runners have to shift their workout to the evening mostly. Morning runs are not really an option as breaking the fast is happening very early (at least I did not see anyone mentioning they had morning runs). Hence, many of my running friends were now running in the evening. One day, amongst the flow of Facebook posts of runners (Trail runners in Bukit Kiara or Gasing, runners in Putrajaya, in Desa Park City). I noticed an invite posted by Arman Arshad (race director for Team Pacat races) for a night run in Puchong hill on June 27. The name caught me by curiosity: Blackwater Series Run… It sounded to me like Badwater… Therefore it must be as bad and in the black ! Deal !

I’ve never been keen at running at night but for the preparation of Back 2 Endurance, I went for more evening runs (between 10am and 1am) near my place. It wasn’t running with a head lamp as the public lighting is good enough there but quite a departure from the beginning of the year where I purposely discarded Titi 50/100 from my race list because it was a night run. I wasn’t simply ready for that and the thought of running all night was… insane ! Since then… I bought a decent head lamp and ran more in the early night. Not throughout the night though: that will come with the Bukit Cinta Ultra in September and the training in August after King of Sungai Lembing.

puchonghill1b
Where Puchong hill is located and the size of other main forest areas around KL.

Puchong Hill (in fact Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve) is the biggest hill in Puchong and the surrounding (see this interesting article on the web site Malaysia Traveller). Around KL, it’s not the biggest but one of the biggest. If you look on the map, I added FRIM and Bukit Kiara (normally both not seen on the map). FRIM is slightly bigger but Bukit Kiara and Gasing are smaller. Gasing has been shrinking over the last 10 years due to the greed of developers and the cooperation of DBKL giving permits. Bukit Kiara has been much bigger and preserved but in the last years, it started shrinking on the Segambut/Mont Kiara side and on the KLGCC side. Despite “assurances” from the authorities to protect it, the destruction keeps continuing.

Back to Puchong Hill (it’s easier to call it like that), it’s a forest reserve and the access is only partially allowed to hikers/runners in a small section of the hill. Previously people went all the way through the hill (there are many trails) and there were complaints from University Putra Malaya (UPM) which is in charge of the forest. The hikers were then banned from total access in 2012 (see this link for an old Star newspaper article). Since then, hikers have now access to the loop only (maybe one other trail). Puchong Hill elevation is maximum 220+ meters (from the elevation map I have), located at the loop area.

So here I am on a saturday evening driving for 40-45mn to Puchong. The meet up point was the restaurant Tomato on Jalan Wawarisan 5/1. It’s located at the bottom of the start of the trail and there is ample parking slots. Once you know where to go it’s easy to find, though I had to ask Arman what was the street of the meet up point as I couldn’t find the Tomato restaurant on the internet ! So I’ll make it easy for you go to these coordinates 3.024951, 101.629098 or use this link on Google Maps !

When I arrived there, I parked my car, get my gears, wear my shoes, .. then headed to the restaurant. I found many familiar faces there: Suzi and the kids, Man and Lina, Ken, … and couple of other people I met once or twice but never got to know them. We waited for 15-20mn for additional people to arrive, everyone was enjoying their soft-drinks or juice there. Around 11pm, Man started a quick briefing for those who would go into the hill (some preferred enjoying seating at Tomato :D).

I have to give some background on Blackwater series, held only during the month of Ramadan. It’s basically a self supported event with some structure put around by volunteers in the sense that there are lead people showing the way, pacing groups and sweepers to make sure no one is left in the hill. We started around 11pm with a briefing. This event is a self supported one coordinated by Man and there are rules to follow:

The rules given by Man for the Blackwater series were simple:

  1. Head lamp is mandatory, no head lamp, no hiking/running
  2. Bring your own and have enough water
  3. Run as a group, never become alone as it’s night
  4. Stay on the trail at all time
  5. Avoid going into cordoned areas (off limits by UPM)
  6. Be safe and mostly be happy !

We would have to follow our pacer and lead for tonight: Andrew. Ken would be the sweeper and also taking pictures. We were told we would do 2 laps but if anyone wants to do more, it’s up to each of us… but very likely from past experience we would stop at 2 loops. The group we had tonight was quite big when I think of it. We would split into two groups: one running and another one hiking. To be noted there were many first timers like me here to discover Puchong hill. Quite a few ladies were also registered at the upcoming Pink 50 ultra(happening on August 1 in Putrajaya) and had been invited by Suzi and Lina who are in the Pink Runners organising committee.

At that time, talking some of the folks there and being explained what was the loop, its length I realised seeing people carrying only small bottles or handheld bottles that my full camelback was overkill ! I had planned pretty much for the worse, a though 3-4 hours run/hike… so before starting the run, I emptied quietly half of it on the grass nearby… I would be lighter for sure…

After this we started heading to the trail. I was in the first group of 5-6 runners following Andrew. They were quite fast and we had a first climb to reach the main trail (a loop). The main challenge when you’re new to the place and new to night running is that you only see what’s ahead of you, nothing else. It’s hard to foresee what will come and pace your effort, so I had to rely on the guys and try to follow them. The hike/run to the start of the trail was quite steep at times.  When we reached the start of the loop, we paused and Andrew explained again we would run that loop and come back here. Some people do the loop counterclockwise (more steep in the first half then less steep) then do another loop clockwise (easier then harder).

We started the loop counterclockwise. Andrew was very fast and obviously knew the place (though chatting with him later he told me it was just his second night run there). The light i had was really good.  I never really used it in total darkness but I bought a good one which was a wise decision. Don’t be cheap on this item your life depends on ! I tried a cheaper light that I happened to have in my house for Gunung Nuang first hour of race and I could not see anything compared to the folks with a proper headlamp. That’s when I decided to go buy a good one. Essentially, the white beam of light is very powerful and light on the upcoming 10-15 meters ahead of you.  The angle of the light beam can be adjusted, which is quite practical and the headband also can be adjusted (it needs to be quite tight to avoid the lamp bouncing in fact).

I managed to catch up with the guys after the first climb then stays with them at all time. The first loop was tough ! Tough because you don’t know the place, don’t know where to put your feet, … But the second loop, done counter clockwise also, was much easier. Andrew went ahead at his own pace now that he was sure that our group was sticking together. I ran with another runner and we were together at all time. We found the second group hiking and some ladies followed us running. We went ahead and at the key intersection waited for the rest of the group. It’s actually important because after 2 loops, some intersections were still confusing as per where to go ! The cordoned areas were not closed very well and the signs added on the tress were all rusted and unreadable. I guess UPM needs to do a bit of maintenance ! But the trails were marked with painting on some tress if I remember.

Continuing at a much faster pace on the second loop, we stopped after a long steep going down at a small river with a wood bridge, waiting for the rest of the group. It was nice and peaceful hearing the sound of the water at night ! Later we pushed again – I was following my running buddy – up to the end of the trail where at a big intersection we met other hikers from the second group who went in a different direction. Ken was there, taking pictures. We all had a good chat and waited for the other folks. Then we headed to the end of the trail going down back to the cars.

I was actually feeling good and wanted to do a 3rd loop but I was the only one. I looked at my watch and realised it was already close to 1am ! I had told my wife I would be home by 1:30am hence I just went back down. It would take another 30-40mn to go back home.

It was a great experience. I’ve always seen the mountain bikers in Bukit Kiara doing night rides and I thought it was crazy but no ! It’s actually a different way of experiencing the hill and trails. Moreover, it’s nice to go there during the Ramadan month. It makes you realise the commitment Muslims people (and runners) do during that month by not just fasting but shifting their entire life the evening and early morning, while keeping a near normal schedule during the day. And when it comes to the very active runners, kudos to them to shift their trail runs, LSD at night. I would encourage anyone to actually join these night runs during Ramadan, being the Blackwater series or the Trailblazers runs, .. there are many different ones organised by passionate and committed people.

One last note, the last Blackwater finale was help yesterday – July 11 – as we’re coming toward the end of Ramadan soon. I was not able to attend this session (I’m just back from Australia) but it was also having a talk from Yim Heng Fatt about the Ultra Trail Mount Fudji (UTMF) which he ran and finished in time last year. Such initiative is great, be sure to follow Team Pacat as they organise a lot of these runs, talks, … A big thank you note to Ken, whom I borrowed some of his photos for this post.

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