Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Most Beautiful Thing 2013 - 14th September 2013

They weren't kidding when they insisted on a waterproof jacket or a rain coat to be one of the mandatory items.

And thank high heavens that I have my 5-buck-Daiso-kiddy raincoat on.

My shoes and socks are soaked and the skin at the sole of my feet were starting to feel "blister-prone"...if you know what I mean.

I'm tired...and I'm hungry....and it's not even 20km in.

But my-gosh....the view!!!!
The rain was pouring down hard.....
I'm wet and cold....somewhere up on the mountainous areas of Kota Kinabalu......and I've never felt so bloody alive. I was on race day of TMBT 2013.

When in a race, anything that could go wrong was more or less, going wrong since the start of it all.
The race that took my breath away....figuratively....and literally. one of the most memorable races I've even set foot in!!!

Winnie and I got into KK on Thursday.
Somewhere along the never-ending stair climbing in Hong Kong earlier this year, I kinda talked her into doing TMBT.
Well....I figured 2012's TMBT was a relatively easy race. And as I was climbing yet another hill-worth of stairs that January inching nearer to the end of Vibram Hong Kong, I figured that TMBT was gonna be a much easier 100km to complete.

* At race kit collection, Hyatt Regency, Kota Kinabalu. With SiewPeng, Winnie, yours truly, Phuitin, Joanne and Karin.

Of course that wasn't taking into consideration that the TMBT race organizers had other thoughts brewing in their minds.....thoughts of bringing back the original 2011 route....thoughts of bringing the racers into the more beautiful parts of the mountains.....somewhat sadistic thoughts of torturous climbs and technical trails to test each racers' ability, determination and perseverance.

Unbeknown of all these....I stupidly signed up and dragged Winnie along for the ride.
"Yeah....I'm sure it'll be more or less like last year's route".
" was pretty doable last year....I'm sure we'll be fine".
Yeah....I'm a dumbass, hear me squeak!

* Just before getting onto the bus....pic from PT's camera

On race morning.....we got on our assigned busses that took us to the starting point....pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Now here was where things slowly started to unravel.

Bus got to starting point late.
Yes....not entirely the fault of organizers. I heard there was a rerouting due to landslide or similar hiccups of nature.
We reached the start just before 7am....the pre-planned starting time.

* Pic courtesy of Leslie.

But when I got there....I don't see the crowd moving. Everyone seemed a little lost.

Turned out that we were suppose to cross a rickety bridge to the "actual" place of starting the race. But poor old rickety bridge could only take 6 people on it at any point in time.
So that was several hundred participants....6 across at one time.....and 6-people crossing amounted to about almost 10 minutes per the math.
(well...since after a couple of years in the medical world, my mathematical ability has been on the decline but it seriously doesn't take a genius to figure out that the start time for the race would be grossly delayed)

10 minutes to 8.....we finally started the race.

With a 100 kilometers in mind....we started slow.
OK....we walked.
Plan was to walk the entire way....conserve energy on that reserve when we need it most.
But everyone was zooming past us.

....and suddenly I saw a congregation of people just mulling around.
"Bro....what are we waiting for?"
Apparently another rickety bridge ahead that also allowed 6 people across per time.

15 minutes later.....I am 5 steps ahead from where I first stood to ask the above question.
30 minutes later.....another 15 steps.
45 minutes later.....if I squint enough, I think I see the bridge ahead....but I'm not too sure.
50 minutes later.....yup, that is the bridge alright....20 more people ahead of me.
60 minutes later.....I'm finally stepping on the bloody bridge.

Pretty soon we reached our first river crossing.
A mild bottle necked developed.
When I got nearer I understood why.....some racers were taking off their shoes and socks to cross the river. I even saw a guy took out a pair of Croc-like sandals to wear while his shoes and socks safely tucked inside his hydration bag, to cross the river.
River wasn't too deep (it reached just above my waist) and the water was welcomingly cold and refreshing.
Winnie asked if I was gonna remove my shoes and socks.
I figured that was way too much hassle for a very short river crossing.
My Hokas can handle a bit of water, I thought to myself.

We crossed. Shoes and socks intact.

We continued on our way.....and I am very proud of to say we brisk walked pretty quickly, soggy shoes and socks and all.

Reached the first water station WS1. 
Filled our hydration bladders....emptied our biological bladders....quick bite of Mars bar....and off we went.

Climb some hills....cross a lot of streams....persistently got ourselves ankle deep in mud puddles and the likes....then a lot more streams to clean the mud off the shoes....repeat plenty of times.
The mud paths were slippery. Plenty of racers slipped and fell right in front of me.
But I thank my lucky stars that I'm in Hokas!!!!!
(no...Hoka OneOne Singapore does not pay me a single cent for saying good stuff about their shoes....although seriously they should consider putting me on payroll!!!! Just saying....)
These shoes held their ground....had fantastic grip...and were a dream to go downhill in!

By the time we were approaching WS2, the sun was blazing and I feel my sunscreen failing.

We got to WS2...signed in....and just as we were about to get our refill of water....the marshal told us that we did not make the cut off time at that water, get this, 3 bloody minutes.
I thought I misheard the man....I asked him to repeat what he had just said.
"You missed the cut off time by 3 minutes. You can stop here...or you can keep going. I'm not sure if the marshal further up will allow you two to continue after that".

I was annoyed.

And I was skeptical....(after 3.5 years of being in the forensic department of a mental institution, one learns to adopt skepticism as one's sole religion)

I turned to Winnie and told her what the most-likely-to-be-punched-in-the-face-by-two-very-irritated-women man just told me.
Winnie "nicely" informed the gentleman that we were held back at the river crossing for almost an hour.
The man seemed genuinely confused.
The confused stared momentarily at the angry and the skeptical....unsure of what to say.

To save him from that moment of uncertainty....I spoke first. We will continue our journey to the next check point.

As we walked out....another marshal outside glanced down at both our bibs and cheerfully said that the 100km participants still had plenty of time left until the next cut off at the following check point.
I continued to be skeptical. Winnie looked confused.
We continued.
(but only after chomping down some dried pork meat and several bites of chocolate bars)

We soldiered on......and then the almost vertical climb. It really was almost vertical.
I felt like I was back at the public rock climbing gym in Putrajaya.

I tried not to think....I just climbed.
I always felt that in situations like this.....better to keep the thinking for later.

Dark and thick grey clouds were hanging overhead.
The surrounding air was less warm and humid....but now a cool breeze.
You just know in your gut that it was going to rain.
And if your gut could bet its life, it was gonna rain hard and heavy!

It started with a light drizzle. 
I took out my pink-polka-dotted raincoat that cost me rm5 from Daiso.....y'know, the ones that were made for little kids (coz I insist I looked adorable in it!)....put it over me and continued to walk.
It drizzled on off for almost 30 minutes that at one point I thought that the rain was playing hide and seek with that I'd look silly (no was adorable, rite!?) in my polka dotted raincoat, trudging my way up on the mountains.

Got to checkpoint 1 (CP1). Glanced down at watch. 2.30pm.
Asked the nice gentleman hiding under a makeshift tent what was the exact cut off time for this check point.
3pm, came the answer.
Am glad I was skeptical back there.
Told Winnie the good news...and we went on our way.

At one point on a single track path....I turned around to look for Winnie.....and I was gobsmacked.
In awe.
The view was spectacular.
All at once, I was speechless...but I wanted to find a word to described what I was seeing...what I was experiencing....
Patchy mist surrounding the path that I've just walked up from. Green, as far as the eye can see.
Undulating terrain all around.
I smiled to myself like a nutcase. I just wanted to stand there forever to take in the view. I took another bite of my dried pork....captured the image into my mind.....convinced myself that the drizzle was gonna kill my already ailing iPhone.....turned around and continued walking.

Then the rain started to pelt.
Bigger and heavier drops of rain.
And then it poured.

Looked down at my already wet shoes.....thought about my wet feet inside.....assigned myself to my current fate as I stepped into yet another puddle of water....and continued on.

Walking through the mountains in the rain and feeling the coolness of the air was extremely refreshing.
If there was ever a nourishment for the soul....this was pretty much it.

As we went on on the single track path....I noticed some racers heading back in the opposite direction on the same track.
I saw some familiar faces....they told me that the river further up had suddenly swelled.
It was dangerous. They weren't letting anyone across it. People were stranded.
They rushed off. I was confused.
I continued. 
More familiar faces came and went.
Everyone said the same thing.
The river was impassible. We were not going to be able to cross it.
Then they ran off.

We continued walking....until we saw a hut filled to the brim with racers taking refuge from the now very heavy rain. Some marshals took down our bib numbers. Didn't mention anything.

What's going on?
They wouldn't let us continue.....they said the river was too dangerous....we are waiting for further instructions.
How long do we have to wait?
We don't know....we've been waiting for the past 20 minutes. We are clueless and so are the marshals.

We waited.
25 minutes of the marshal told us to just turn back and continue to the 25km water station.
We did just that. We didn't know what it meant. Are we going to be disqualified because we turned back early?

Finally at WS3 which was a small hut in a small kampung area, racers hoarded together gloomily.
We found out that we missed CP2 as we did not cross the swollen raging river. The Miki Loop.
Honestly, I was pretty thankful that we were slow. Saved us the hassle of the river.
A marshal took my bib number down...told me I wouldn't be disqualified even though I did not make it to CP2.
Shit happens apparently.

This water station, was the most depressing water station I've ever been at.
The talk around was of quitting...of fear....of despair....of hope lost.
"I'm gonna call it quits here. I'm waiting for the transport back. Its too dangerous".
"Its cold....the rain is too heavy....I don't think I can carry on".
"I don't think I'm gonna make the cut off time. I think better I'll just wait for the transport back".
"I almost died. I was terrified. The river was so dangerous".

Way to go to show enthusiasm.

I looked for Winnie.....loaded up our hydration bladder.....chomped down more dried pork and got ourselves out of that place ASAP.
Another minute longer there I'd be drained of any remaining positivity left in me.

* Pic courtesy of Dannie....Carrie, yours truly Winnie and Waiyee

The route after WS3 was better. Less technical. More "humane".
And eventually brought us onto the main road.

It was also getting dark.
I knew that I had to dig for my headlamp at the next check point.

At WS4 (which was also the official end of the 25km race), out came the headlamps....the reflective vest...the back blinkers....and off we went.

The 50km mark was very near....about 20km away....I think.
The rain was dying down to a mild drizzle.
I was starting to blister at the soles of both feet.
But at that point in time, it was kinda pointless to change my socks (I have 2 pairs along for the ride) as it was still raining and I was sure there would be more puddles of water/mud to cross still.

And we trudged on....

Right out of WS4....we were still going on steep incline but God bless the people who tarred the road.
We head on for about 2km on proper road until we come to a fork in the road.
On the left turn off....a dirt trail leading to goodness-knows-what.
On the right turn off....a continuation onto proper decent road.
I saw a couple of participants headed up the right side.....but I figured let's try and find the bloody orange ribbon marker to see if we're on the right path.

Please please please let there be a ribbon on the proper road and not on the dirt trail.

But lo and behold, we spotted an orange ribbon right at the end of the dirt trail...and to the left we turned.

Dirt trail continued to become intermittent puddles of water/mud/slosh/mush.....which then continued to become continuous trail of water/mud/slosh/mush.
The path was bad.
Am sure plenty of participants had trampled on the same ground hours before me and soil had become loose, slippery and just plain dangerous.

But we persevered.
After about 2km in that horrid darkness, we reached tarred road again.....this time right by the main road with extremely large and fast moving vehicles whizzing past us every now and then.

There was suppose to be 1 more water station.....1 more check point...and at WS6, it would be 50km mark.

I was running low on water right about then.

Headed up the road for what seemed like 5km....and then saw a lone standing marshal taking down bib numbers of all participants passing through.
I asked him if there was any water at this station.
He mumbled something along the lines of NO and told me that there will be water at the next check point.
In between verses of incomprehensible mumbles, I audibly recognized "7km", "just follow orange ribbon" and "almost there".

Right......extremely encouraging.

Continued on....and staring at our watches.

We knew for quite a while that the cut off at 50km was 15 hours....which mean 11pm.
Right there after passing mumbling marshal, it was almost 10pm.
Not that we could do much at that point but to continue.....but at least we knew where we stood.
We either make it in time before the cut off......and then decide whether or not to press on for another 50km....or we don't make it by cut off....and we'll be having an extremely indulgent breakfast after our very long and deep sleep tonight.

Walked on we did.....the road was long and winding.....until there was a turn off to the left.
Looked around for orange ribbon....but could see none.
Everyone in front of us conveniently turned left.
We figured everyone can't be wrong...can they!?

After turning left....there were plenty of orange REFLECTORS on the ground on both sides of the road...but no orange ribbons.
I was kinda worried.
All these while it had been orange ribbons...and ALWAYS hanging off trees or high shrubs.
And all of a was REFLECTORS and on the ground.
Could these reflectors be the ones placed on the road for vehicle driving purposes?
We weren't sure.
Growing doubt clouded my mind. I told Winnie what I was thinking.
She was a little worried too.
No one mentioned the orange ribbons would be replaced by reflectors....(or was it that I totally missed this fact while skimming through the emails sent by the organizers!)

We came to a halt.
People passing us asked what was wrong. We told them our concerns.
They insisted that we should just follow the orange reflectors.
After all....everyone else was doing just that.
If we went back, we'd be wasting our time.

We weren't convinced....thus backtracked.

First person while backtracking was this elderly gentleman who had this muffled voice and in his muffled tone said something in Chinese about the marshal just now telling him about the markers being reflectors on the floor.
He wasn't extremely convincing.
Winnie and I agreed to keep backtracking until another person verified what the uncle just said.

Well...some Caucasian dude came and said the SAME thing that uncle said....except he was a whole lot more convincing.
So we continued with everyone else.

That road went on forever.....

Finally we came back on the main road....a road that I recognized from my previous (many!) trips to Kundasang....we were walking into town! was way past 11pm.
We knew we were done for.
Mentally and emotionally....we were prepared to be DNF-ed.
But at least.....we will try our darnest to get to 50km mark.
We already came this far......

By this time, my hydration bladder was dry.
No more water. Zilch.
Therefore I was joyous when I saw a marshal taking down numbers. There MUST be water here!!!
I quickly went to him....gave him my bib number.....and asked where can I topped up water.
"No water here. No more. Have to keep going to 50km mark for water"


Hang you're trying to tell me that I've walked for over 15km and the only place I can get water is at the 50km pitstop!?!?!

This time...I wasn't skeptical.
I was annoyed.
I would have smacked the life out of this man had he not followed up with, "....and the 50km pitstop is 1.5km away!" wasn't that bad.
I can crawl 1.5km and get to water!!!!!
I ain't dying here like I thought I would be!!!!
Praise be to God!!!!!
Everything was gonna be alright!!!!!!

......except it wasn't 1.5km.
It was almost 5km.....steep uphill walk......and I was back to being grumpy, annoyed and very keen to head back down to smack the life out of that marshal!!!!

Anyway....we did reach 50km pitstop alive.
Thinking we DNF-ed....we got to the checkpoint person....told them our bib numbers...and continued on to collect our belongings....went to the buffet spread to get some food and water in.....

......and were told by our fellow racers.....that the cut off time for the 50km mark had been extended by another 2 hours.
Which means.....we did not DNF-ed.
Which means.....we could have continued.
Which means.....right about the.....I was freakin pissed!!!!!!

......but I was too tired to do anything about it.
Told Winnie I was not gonna go on. I just want to go back to town and sleep.
She agreed....albeit reluctantly.

I was still pissed. But I accepted the DNF.
First DNF ever....but no biggie.
But I was still pissed.
Pissed....that no one along the way told us this crucial info that could have mentally set my mind to continue on.
Pissed....that I was dehydrated for 15km, had no water....and was given false information all along....coz I could have begged for water from the houses along the way if I had known there would not be ANY at the next check point as well.
Pissed....that I found out after the race ended, that right after WS4....there was a detour from the original route that we took and all the water supply was transported to the new route.....WHICH NOBODY TOLD US ABOUT!!!!

Sure....I could accept the rain....I could accept the river crossings....the puddles of mud.....the toughness of the climbs....the blisters.....the tiredness that came along with it.....
All that were part and parcel of ultra trail racing. I understood all that when I signed up. I also understood that nature and weather were something that nobody can control and we were constantly at mercy at their changes for the worse.

* Pic courtesy of Vivian. Our DNF pose.

But I could not...and still can not....accept the miscommunications between us and the marshals plus the lack of information given by them when things went awry.

That now leaves me with a very important question...

Would I head back again?

Hmmm.....I gave this quite a bit of consideration.....and the answer is....YES.

It wasn't a bad race.
No one could control the weather and no one can control nature.
Had it not poured like that one race day.....the race would have been different for a lot of people....and perhaps more doable.
Last minute changes on routing may not have happened. Things would have been different.

And I'd like to add...that the race did deliver what organizers wanted.....a tough off road race through some of the most beautiful sights you'll ever find in KK.
.....and for that....I think is worth a return.
(except maybe in 2016 after my professional exams are done and no longer a concern)

But anyway....the end of TMBT 2013 also meant that I no longer have any more "ultra" races until goodness knows when.
I guess at this point in time, I'm just clearing my pre-signed races one by one.
I would like to NOT run that much after that.
Because I would like to participate in triathlons more.....cycling events more......or just chill and just cycle and run just because I like it instead of always in preparation for a race or another.

So yeah....

Ok...I've said my peace.



Slow Brains said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Welcome back!! Too bad about the DNF though, never the less still inspiring stuff you've got on this blog.

Daryl said...

Hey....where is the part and pic about the food you eat?!?!?! I want to know that more than the race itself...LOL!!!

Sue's Ramblings said...

oh gp back in 2014....ya know ya want to!

Anonymous said...

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