Route 68 Challenge 2016 was the 2nd edition of the race. The 1st edition was held last year and was a success. However there were many issues with runners non complying to the race rules (mandatory gears to be carried at all time, no pacer, …). The organisers took time to come up with the final results and it was not very clear what happened. As a result of that, multiple workshops were put in place by organisers of ultra races to educate runners on the need for mandatory gears, preparing for an ultra marathon, following the race rules, … Kudos to them for organising that.
I decided to register for Route 68 early November when it was still the early bird rate. Some of my friends did not want to run the same race, but I decided that it was a challenging race, which I did like and it was a good way after a year of training to benchmark my progress… Well, at least that was the plan… End of November I DNF Putrajaya 100, took a break to rest my left shin muscles. Christmas came and I restarted training some time in January. Over January, February and March my runs were limited:
- Only small weekly mileage (30km max)
- My longest run apart those 2 LSD was 15km
- 1 LSD(25KM) in Orlando in the US on a business trip
- 1 LSD (30KM) on March 5 on the first part of Route 68
That wasn’t great for training for a tough ultra like Route 68 but life is what it is: sometimes you’re just too busy and need to sacrifice something. My first quarter of 2016 has been very busy with work and travels, hence the weekend long runs were sacrificed to spend time with the family. However I trained mostly wearing the Z-Trek sandals I had bought in november and decided in January that I would be ready for my first ultra wearing sandals end to end.
I arrived on the race site at 5am. The flag off for the 70km was at 6am. I was part of the first runners to arrive and because last year I had to park beside the hospital, I parked there again this year then walked 600m to the race site. I decided to leave my bag into my car as I had no bag tag. Somehow the tag was supposed to be with the BIB. I didn’t remember having one: either I lost it or I didn’t get one. The race site was better organised than the year before I felt. The school area which was used last year for drop bag then shower was closed. The drop bag area was just beside the start line. Below is a photo of the race site taken by the organiser before the race.
Runners slowly arrived. People were quite joyfull in general. Well it’s still a small community and if you run ultra marathons for more than a year, you’re probably know or met already half of the folks around. I had a quick chat with Jason the co-Race Director and this year they installed barriers to park runners at the start line after checking the mandatory gears.
One can get out but they will have to be checked again. I thought it was a better idea than the tag given at Titi 100. Ironically, I bumped into couple of people I did not know but who knew me and had read by blog post on mandatory gears at Titi. And guess what was the question they all asked me ? “Do you have all your mandatory gears ?” 😀 Yes I had them. Actually more, I carried the emergency blanket too.
In term of footwear, this time I was very clear and decided: I would run end to end with slippers. However I never ran more than 30km at once with the Z-Trek and I know they are quite thin. Seow Kong Ng also told me one day that when you wear slippers on a long ultra (100km).
During that time, I finished my energy bar from Marathon Baker I had taken for breakfast (one with oats, chia seeds, …) while I carried with me one bar with chocolate, also from Marathon Baker. Seriously these are good but they’re very energetic and caloric, hence you need to consume them really when needed, not as a snack. I went through the gears check, they only check headlight, blinker and safety vest. Then we had to wait for 5 minutes before the start. Few minutes before the start, I decided to tighten a bit my slippers then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and here we go.
I started too fast last year, so this year I went easier. However looking back, I’m not too sure it was the right pace. Certainly I stayed with my group of pace people. Unlike last year where I went too fast and half way the first 15km, people started to overtake me, this time I arrived well at the top of the climb, feeling fresh (unlike during my LSD where I was wacked already). I just stop to refill one of my flask, it didn’t take long.
Let’s compare shall we ? I set myself the goal to go slower in the uphill to preserve strength for the rest of the race… This year, it took me 1 hour and 55 minutes to reach the top. Last year, it took me 1 hour and 45mn. It was 7mn/km last year vs 7:40mn/km this year… slower but not that slower. Some of my friends told me I started much faster than them and they overtook me in between top to U-turn.
I then started the downhill section.I was wearing sandals and I was cautious. During my last LSD, I made the mistake of running 15km downhill very fast (for me…) at 5:30-6mn/km and I got some hotspot under the balls of my feet. I had made the mistake of not tying enough the top of the sandals to avoid much movement. I ended up having a blister on the left side that was still there for the race, well I had cut it for about 10 days and it was dry, no issue there but I wasn’t sure if that would happen again. Hence i decided to go downhill slower than usual, also to manage my feet and tireness. It was ok but a bit demoralizing when I saw many of my friends overtaking me from the top of the climb to the U-turn point… It’s hard to see folks you know have similar level than you or that were slower than you overtaking you…
This being said, you get the results you worked toward. I didn’t have enough training and also I made the choice of running with slippers. Running barefoot is much slower, running with slippers is faster but still slower than shoes. You need time to get back to your speed over such a distance. That’s what I told myself when overtaken by my friends… otherwise, you don’t know why you’re doing it and you loose it.
True enough, in 2016 it took me 4 minutes more to reach the U-Turn however it was a a more consistent pace and with very little stop and with nearly no waling.So here’s the catch, if I’ve been only 15mn behind my 2015 time, my friends were quite good this year 🙂 Considering I was running with the sandals it was not too bad. My strategy was to stop as little as possible at the CPs. Prior to reach CP5, I started seeing the runners coming back from U-Turn. Last year, there was only one and I met him at CP5. Either I was slower (which I was) or the runners were faster and more competitive (which it was !). At CP5, I met Jason who was managing the CP. He refilled me with ice water in my pack while I was eating some of the fruits.
At the U-turn, I stopped to refill my pack with ice water and eat. Not too much resting, though I sat there. It was too busy I guess. The volunteers were not as helpful as in other CPs. Overall I stayed 13mn at the U-Turn point which was the same time as the year before. Honestly, I thought I spent less time there. I saw Suzie there giving come local ice drink, got mine on the way back.
On the way back up to the bridge on top of Genting Sempah, It ws tough with the heat however I felt much better than the year before. In 2015, I had very long stretches of walking and on the way up some parts running, essentially trying to stick with Siawhuah who was doing walk/run. This year, I decided I would not have long stretches of walking and was very disciplined on the walk/run: counting slowly to 60 while walking to recover and hydrate then running consistently counting slowly up to 180. One increment aligned on the left foot. I kept this very diligently and it made me very honest, otherwise you get tired then walk longer. At CP7, Jason again gave me a refill of ice water. That was great then off I was. Surprisingly my stop strategy was different and I had a bigger stop at CP5 (U-Turn 50km). This is where I changed slippers. There was a lack of chair there and I had to go on the side of the road in the mud seating on a small stone…
At Genting Sempah, I had to do a major stop in 2015 as I was very tired and removed my shoes and put the Luna sandals. This year, I just briefly stopped to take some food and refill water. Overall on the climb back up, I was slower because of the sandals but it’s same pace and less effort than in 2015, so I think it’s a good sign… This year my heart rate was in average much lower. My heart rate and pace show the walk/run being kept diligently, whereas the year before it was high for running then lower for walking. If you look at the cadence chart, it’s very easy to see run (green/orange) vs walk (red). Overall I still walked a lot on the way back up but differently and after all… it’s the afternoon with the scorching sun. For my future training, I need more LSD over 30km finishing in such conditions to get my body used to walk/run faster.
Reaching the top of Genting Sempah, I was down to run back to the start. Overall it took me 12mn more this year. I was tired but last year I was also very tired. I think the difference here was that I was slower downhill with the slippers (as in the earlier part of the race). Though I was running with the Z-Trail (essentially a more cushioned sandals than the one I used in the first 45km), I had some small hotspots under the feet. Hence I had to stop couple of times to put water under the soles of my feet. No blisters but I had to manage this. I think the issue is that I never ran more than 5-10km once with the Z-Trail… but I knew I needed cushioning for the 2nd half of the race. Because of that I walked more: after wetting the sole, I had to walk for few minutes to dry the sole then run again. My pace was much faster last year in the first part of the going down. This year, it was more consistent but slower. To be noted on the graph, the pace looks weird at some point, it’s because of bad GPS signal. Somehow I had really bad signal there and distance is longer, hence pace not meaning much.
So overall all these few minutes stack up and despite finishing strong at the last kilometre (despite the huge traffic jam where I had to run in between the car and sometimes nearly slide on the front of the cars… I did 9h41 in 2015 and 10h18 in 2016. 35mn slower BUT I ran with sandals.
It was expected not to be an easy and fast transition. Also – no excuses – poor training in the past 3 months did not help. I suspect also my choice of sandals (Z-Trek/Z-Trail) requires some more training for the downhill sections. Maybe I would need to run an ultra with the Z-Trail only as they have much more cushioning. Something to try on a long LSD…
Honestly I’m disappointed with myself but you get what you trained for ! Only myself to blame. Still a lot of learnings and I improved a lot of many side aspects of ultra running, on which I struggled in the last year. I guess sandals is just another point that need more work for me.
Takeaway learnings from this race
I didn’t have a formal strategy in place due to the many uncertainties (sandals, lack of training, …). The only objectives was trying to be faster than last year. However I did not break this goal into what it meant in term of pace, time at CP, … That was plain wrong I think. Whatever the race you need to set goals and granular ones CP by CP to keep you honest. As a result of that, I went at the pace that felt right with sandals but that wasn’t enough to bring me to the finish line even in just last year time. If I had that done, I would have known that my uphill pace should have been maybe slower and my downhill faster.
Hydration and food
This part went very well. Since my dehydration issues at King of Sungai Lembing, I nailed this one down. 2 ultras in hot weather and everything was ok. Food wise, I had my usual mix of almonds, nuts and raisins. I did not consume everything but that was sufficient. I ate quite a few bananas as complement to get potassium and took rock salt from time to time. As a result no issue of cramping at all unlike some other folks. One thing I could change though is I carried some water in my pack from the start whereas that was not needed until CP7 probably (when the heat was turned on). The two Salomon flasks on the front of the pack were sufficient. Also it helps regulate how much you drink. On the way back, I used the pack water as it was much more hot and I also used some water from the flasks to water my feet sole.
Gears and sandals/feet
I ran with the compression short and calf compression from 2XU. The top was a compressport short sleeves shirt. Then I had my Salomon pack. I think I put too many things in my pack and I could have been lighter there. I carried the 2nd pair of sandals in the pack as there was no drop bag (it’s only 70km after all). I decided to run for about 45km with the Z-Trek until I reach back CP5 then i changed sandals. That was great and good timing I thought. Maybe I would need to wear the cushioned sandals earlier in the race, but for that I need appropriate training mileage with them.
My feet were not trashed after the race. No blisters, which is a good sign however I noticed afterward that I had some chaffing on the front rope of the sandals. That happened in the 2nd part of the race with the Z-Trail and mainly on the right foot. There was chaffing at the big toe level and I realised that I should shave the hair there (serious !)
I think for the next training and races, I will need also to tape some areas.
Race performance and improvements
The pre-race information pack was great and very thorough. Race start was well organised. Markings was on the road, but to be honest I barely noticed it (no need for it as it was my 2nd time). The CP supplies were great (banana, biscuits, watermelon, water, carbonated drinks). Volunteers were overall great. When you have a strong ultra runner manning a CP, it help bring everyone to the same level. Some CP were less effective but overall very good. Arrival was well organised.
Only thing is I did not see any food at the arrival (maybe I missed it). We were given the medal, shirt and a bottle of water. There was a first help corner which some runners were using. As usual like last year not enough seats as many people hang around there. One thing I missed was the shower area. I was told one can go shower at the mosque but it was not written anywhere. I’m not going to go into a workship place for a shower unless it’s clearly stated it’s allowed. A matter of respect. I just went back to my car, clean up a bit with water and changed… well good enough until I get home.
A great thanks to all the volunteers. I have to say 90% of the volunteers were very friendly and very helpful. They know their stuff better than last year certainly and you can see the improvements. Also all the CPs were handled (like last year) by an experienced ultra runner (not sure about CP8 though). Special thanks to Kelvin, Hong Lan, Barkley, Seng Heng, Jason, Suzie (and kids !) at the various CPs. Great race put together by Jason and Jeff. It’s keeping getting better, keep it up guys. It’s a really enjoyable race, tough but satisfying as it’s pushing you over your limits. Thank you also to all the photographers there, engaged by the race organisers, other passionate professional photographers and other kepoh photographers like me sometimes.
Some photos from the race
Photos from me, Rany Tan, Khawai Loh, Barkley, Suzie, Crystal, Jeff Ooi, Maui Photo, … I’ll check the credit later 🙂