First of all, bear with me as this is my first race report in a long time… This is my personal account of this race – my longest to date – in my journey into Ultra Marathon running…
When registration opened, I was all excited by having finished P100 and registered for both Gunung Nuang and Route 68. 6 months later, I did not regret participating in these and particularly in Route 68 Challenge. I come a long way as a year ago I was just registering reluctantly (understand peer pressure) to my first full marathon (Standard Chartered 2014). In that way, Route 68 was really the challenge I was looking for to push my limits way to a much bigger mileage. Maybe the goal is to see if I can do 100km one day.
I started increasing mileage from early January and despite travels for work, I managed to keep the increasing level. It’s hard to find the time to increase mileage with young kids, work, business travels. Nevertheless, this is where I was before Route 68 (week 19). I had 2 weeks of unsolicited tapering due to work then family vacation, only managing to pack small short runs and one 15km in the 10 days before the race.
I’m running barefoot as much as I can but can’t do long distance yet (max 12km barefoot). For full marathons and ultra, I use my Merrell Bare Access 3 (minimalist, zero drop, 8mm cushioning). I used to train with the Merrell Road Glove 2 (minimalist, zero drop, 4mm cushioning) but I had to stop using them because of the lack of cushioning that was difficult for my calfs after 30km. I carried in my camelback my pair of Luna Sandals in case I need them. The Luna are sandals with 6mm cushioning. I trained up to 15km distance with the sandals in the last 3 months. I was toying with the idea of completing the race wearing the Lunas 🙂
Before the race
I always find funny to see the day before a big race all my friends posting their packing list, so this time I decided I would make a funny one. It was quite a success! Now seriously, if I had got a glass of wine straight after finishing, I would have felt asleep at the race site !
My friend Frank and I carpooled and targeted to be on the race site by 5am to avoid parking issues. The place was easy to find, the Race web site giving very good instruction. There were already marshals helping parking the cars, which was great. Toward 5:30am, it became much more crowded with people parking now on the side of the road and the bus from KL coming. If you want not to be worried, just head to the race site early!
Arriving at the main site, there was the bib pickup for late people, 2 big sitting areas, toilets in sufficient number and the drop off bag area. Everything was well organized, and it was great to see many known and familiar faces. Some folks were surprized not to have a drop bag for the mid race (68km) but they probably just misread the race guidelines. I did not hear at all the pre-race briefing and moved to the start line thinking that was for the briefing and it just went straight to a countdown. The race started sharp on time at 6am. That’s always a good sign when the race starts in time…
Essentially we had 14km uphill, 20km downhill, U turn and 20km uphill, 14km downhill. The game plan was to start at a reasonable pace to climb the first uphill then go down as fast as possible without trashing the feet and quads, then take a break a mid point and do the last uphill with alternating fast walking and running. The last downhill would be mostly ran to save time. No real timing goals here, just running based on how I feel and doing my best. However when I was asked what I wanted to achieve, a short calculation showed that it should be possible to do it in 10 hours. Plenty of time before the cut-off time of 12 hours.
The first climb
I started probably too fast here: I actually made the mistake of not deciding a pace going up before hand (no race strategy) which you can stick to whatever happens around you. My pace was around 6:45mn/km and in the last part of the climb, closer to to 7:15mn/km. Looking back, I was overtaken by quite a few people in the second half. It probably did cost me some energy for the later stages. There were 2 CPs before the one of the top (Genting Sempah). I ignore the first one, refilled some water at the second one and took a shot break at the 3rd one. I was happy to see familiar faces (Renee, …) who were all great helping runners and giving words of encouragement.
The downhill was still fast but I was worried for my quads. In Gunung Nuang on just 50km, I trashed my quads for 2 days post race. This going downhill was also the longest I had ever ran, so it was a little bit unchartered territory for me. It overall went well. The weather was cool but it started drizzling. At the CP, I was happy to see known faces like Kevin. No time for chit chat or photo, I just get tagged, refill and go. After that, the rain became more risky, so I decided to take my K-way (poncho, whatever you call it), put it while running. It helped for… 500m then the rain stopped so I had to stop remove, pack it again. Lesson learned, next time I’ll have to take something easier to pack/unpack, practice it and wait for real rain to be there. My shoes, shirt, … everything was already wet from sweat anyway.
The view was very nice during the going down, especially the second part running side by side with the river. At some point, I saw Jeff and Foo in front of the waterfalls. Quite a beautiful place, I tried to tell them but… I could barely talk, and ended up waving my hands, … That last part was tougher, I had the impression it was flat (though it was not) and I was running with a group of 2-3 runners, each overtaking each other depending on when they were walking or not. I kept running. At the km 30 CP, I stopped enjoyed the oranges and took some for on the go. The last 4km were long, in fact it seemed to me that the last km was much longer than 1 km). I started seeing few people having done the U-turn (few runners in the lead particularly Kevin from Permaisuri runners) then a flock of runners ahead of me (Frank was one of them). I arrived at the mid point of the race after 4:03:32. I was happily surprised considering how bad I felt in the last 5km. The biggest challenge was to come.
I stayed at the CP to get some rest, refill, eat then left after a little bit less than 10mn. I was actually envious of the water ponds ! I’ll probably come back see what the hotsprings have to offer one of these days. Before I left I saw Duncan arriving asking where is the other French guy ! Well my friend he’s gona for 20mn at least J
Back to race start
For the way up my strategy was to walk fast (I can walk on flat ground at 7km/h) and run. I used the first part to run more than walk, but that was tough due to the heat starting to settle in. My pace was 7-8 mn/km, it then went down to 9:30-10:30mn/km during the steep climb. I was walking most of the time there. I saw that Man gave up at the Mid-race CP and went back on a bike with a volunteer.
The heat was there during the climb and it was getting tougher by the km. I was just walking at that point. Siawhua – the barefoot queen or barefoot mummy on Instagram – overtook me. We exchanged few words about her race in France (that was hell), then she went ahead. I tried to follow her, she was doing run/walk. That gave me some strength that I could run, so I kept following then overtook her and few guys. But at each CP they were coming back quickly J Finally after a while I reached the CP of Genting Sempah. I decided to take a longer break to be ready for running all the downhill. More familiar faces were there, I took photos with Renee, Chen Hong who came with his bike to support runners.
I removed my shoes as I felt I was tired and wanted to see my feet. That wasn’t pretty, I had two big blisters on the top of the toe nails on the 2 mid foot toes. The blisters were nearly bursting. The 14km downhill would only make things worse. I decided to put my shoes on my camelback and wear my Luna Sandals for the last 14km… That’s the maximum distance I have ran with the Luna Sandals, but luckily few weeks before I managed to fix the adjustment issues I had, so I felt good about using them. Moreover, people might cheer me thinking I have done the rest barefoot and with sandals !
I started walking up the hill for 500m before starting the downhill part. The pace was between 7 to 8mn/km but quite consistent. The tiredness was settling in… so I did cut every corners where I had visibility – even though I don’t like doing that – There were 2 checkpoints in the downhill, I ignored one and stopped only at the last one. There were few guys driving their car and stopping by the side of the road and shouting stuff, kind of harassing runners, that was very unpleasant. Traffic was also getting bigger by the km, especially closer to the town. The last 5km were done steps after steps to get to the arrival. I saw Lina by the side of the road taking pictures then head off to the arrival. When I arrived there it was a bit confusing. The start was done on the road, at the entrance of the green patch while the arrival was at the tents with the timers. I lost few seconds but was directed by a volunteer and Victor and Elaine who had come back already from their picture taking driving exercise.
I finished in 9:42:18 at my watch after consolidating the two workouts. About the same time as the race results. I was confused with the Garmin Fenix 3, as it chopped my ultra in two parts making it a multi sport activities. I definitely need to experiment here, not too important but at the least annoying after the race. I still had 25% battery left by the end of Route 68.
There were little seats, hard to find somewhere to park yourself to rest. Many runners arrived earlier were chatting, with few of them giving seats to new runners. That’s very kind of them. I collected my medal, shirt then went to eat some food. Not sure what that was but I ate. It was partly in the sun when I arrived, not great for food but it’s probably soaked in palm oil at frying time… I rested, went for a quick shower then left with Frank who dropped me home. Following this I stretched, showered, tried to play with the kids but was too tired. By 8:30pm I was dead asleep. Unfortunately, I caught cold the next day at work and by the Tuesday night was down with fever and a bad soar throat… bad luck L Next time, I’ll take a day off after the race to just rest at home. My 2 blisters were actually bad. I had to pop them and realized that the 2 toe nails were loose… so now I’m recovering without 2 toe nails. I think I should have changed socks mid race probably. That’s something I need to talk to the sifus to know how they deal with that and mostly avoid it… Positive thing, on this race my nutrition was good and the mix I carried (nuts, almonds, raisins) was working well and sufficient for 68km. I just complemented with the bananas and oranges and in the last 3 CP some 100Plus (though I don’t want to drink that).
I was pissed with some runners throwing their plastic bottles, plastic bags, gels on the side of the road. I saw an uncle (50+) who threw a bottle of water 100m before a CP. It pissed me so much I took the bottle and brought it back to him. Later in the race I saw a lady putting a plastic bag with ice on her neck then throwing it on the side ! Runners, respect mother nature. If you have trash, just carry it to the next CP, it’s always 5km max from where you are.
This race was quite well organized for a first edition. It garnered quite a bit of buzz and success, which Jeff Ooi – the race director – did very well. I remember looking at the registration page and the banner/logo for Route 68 is just brilliant and really entice you to go run that race. I’m not an experienced Ultra runner but some of the good points and improvement points I can see (note this is my own opinion):
- Great route, scenic views, challenging climbing
- Well spread CP, all well furnished
- Great volunteers at the beginning of the race and at each CP, they make it really so much nicer
- The race is nearby KL, for example it’s much more painful to go to Hulu Lankat
- Parking was very well organized when we arrived, a bus was proposed however I think Jason told me only 10% of runners took it, hence overflow of cars
- Mandatory gear list for runners safety, despite whatever some runners say it’s a good thing
- Drop off bag at the start/arrival very well managed
- Shower area at the back of the drop off bag area
- LSD organized by MURA (disclaimer I’m a MURA member) on the road of the race, working with the race organizer. It gave confidence to many runners.
- Too many crazy people driving on this road – nothing the organizers can do except putting signs regularly that a foot race is going on that day – that would be better.
- Unheard pre-race briefing despite the megaphone!
- Food at the arrival, unattended (no volunteer to man the booth)
- I’m not sure if anything was vegetarian. Not a big think for me (I’m mostly vegetarian) but could be an issue for others (Frank for example and other friends)
- Lack of seats and shaded areas at arrival
- Confusing arrival (no proper arrival U shape) or line to clearly show where it is
Don’t get me wrong, this was a great race and the last 5 points are really minor improvement. This first edition of Route 68 was brilliantly executed by Jeff, Jason and the team. It’s great the see new events like this around KL. I’m looking forward to next year edition. Lastly the best picture I have seen from myself: