Monday, June 24

Penang Eco 100 Ultra Marathon 2019 - Malaysia

My very first Endurance Nature Race: Penang Eco Ultra Marathon 

On that one weekend in June, my dose of adventure in the trails of Malaysia was like two separate races in one event under the scorching Malaysian sun and torrential monsoon rain on over a  100km distance. When finally the schedule of the 5th edition of Penang Eco100 was a month after H1, I thought it will be an easy chance for me  to join, but a major office activity was set on almost the same date as the race, I cannot travel a day earlier nor not be in the office a day after the race. Thanks to the unusual start of the 100km distance (1pm), that gave me the chance to travel the night before the race with enough time to catch up the gun start and traveling back right after the race. It was a fly in - run - fly out thing for me. Alen was kind enough to help me collect my race bib a day before the race (though I missed the Event Expo) and he had me in his hotel room for me to change to running attire and fix my drop bag the day I arrived and change to travel clothes right after the race before I flew out of Penang.  I even haven't got a chance to enjoy the famous Penang food nor enjoy the tourist areas in the island that I visited more than a decade ago. It was a long tiring Friday for me at the office, so I took advantage of the 4hour flight to KL from Manila to get my much needed sleep and rest (though this was also where I lost my precious expensive eyeglasses inside the plane), the waiting at the pre boarding area on my lay over  before the boarding gate opened and the 1 hour flight to Penang. That was my only sleep before I embarked on this adventure. As soon as I got out of the arrival area at Penang International Airport I rush looking for an open store that sells SIM card, there was none that early, I got a taxi hoping to reach the hotel earlier but I went to a different U Hotel (apparently there are two which I did not check). Finally when I reach U Design Hotel I had just enough time to fix my things and catch up the bus that will bring runners to the starting line.

I arrived at the school at Sungai Lembu where the start and finish of the race still with enough time to prepare my things, final check on my drop bag and luggage before finally handling it to the baggage counter. A lot of familiar faces, local and foreign runners, including Filipino contingents, which was a nice time to reconnect. I met few of the 100mile runners already covered more than 50km since their gun start more than 7hours earlier,  Ali Ajis from Brunei was there who decided to stop from the race, Yim who was looking for his second drop bag, Narnia (Adelinah) was in a hurry going out to do the next part of the race and Razif was there too who decided to stop from the race. We went inside the hall for the gear check, collected our timing chip and GPS tracker. The place was huge to house hundreds of runners. Adjacent to the start/finish arch is the activity area, arranged in such a way that runners, volunteers  and organizers can move and do things freely. Each category has it's own race briefing before gun start. So while waiting for the race briefing of the 100km to start  there were already food at the aid station area, as we haven't eaten real meal yet (especially for me) Alen insisted that we should look for food somewhere, for those at the start/finish line aid station are for the runners already in the race. There was a small family restaurant that opens at the intersection  of the road which we hurriedly ate. Even before midday, the scorching heat of the sun is already evident though the forecast says it will rain within the day. Before the race briefing ends Alen already grab ice cubes to his hydration bag  which I went  out in a hurry right after the race briefing to grab some as well. I should have put some on my headware and wet my clothes early on which I regret I did not do.

Thankful and grateful that I am finally standing at the starting line and finally able to join this race, I look up the cloudless sky and whispered a prayer asking the universe to keep me safe and protect me the entire race and guide me as I aim to finish  not later than 30mins before COT, for me to be able to catch up my 9:30pm flight. Few minutes after, the countdown begun and off the 201 runners started this adventure.

Though I have been racing countless times in few parts of this country, I got excited to embark on my very first Penang Eco ultra race, excited where the trail will lead me. My strategy in mind is start slow as I listen to my body, to get a comfortable pace, move my feet forward for as long as I can, kilometer by kilometer from one aid station to the next.

From the road to the trail that goes through endless palm and rubber plantations to the villages in between with lots of open areas and roads too, from the starting line this is going to be an almost 10km distance to the very first aid station. I just took it slowly keeping a comfortable pace as I am trying adjust my body to the heat of the sun. Early on I was already sweating like buckets. The ice cubes that I put  in my hydration bladder helped a lot in keeping my body cooler, I constantly hydrate with my mix of tailwind with chia seeds and plain water to avoid dehydration early on and alternating it with solid food, my pie's energy bar. On my slow pace I just appreciate the green scenery around catching up few runners in front of me while few runners pass by me too without me noticing 19minutes after an hour of running I reached the entrance of the temple, CP1 finally. Rene and Uncle Ray were there, and Alen was about to leave. I immediately look for ice cubes to refill my hydration bladder (full of ice cubes), replenish  my mix of Tailwind while eating watermelon and sandwiches. Few minutes after, I thought of grabbing few more ice cubes in my headware for my head, there was none left, all consumed, which most likely the refill came  after, I hope. I wet myself with the remaining cold water at the bucket and grab more watermelon and off I go to the 2nd aid station.

As I moved forward, I noticed the hydration bladder full of ice cubes in my vest becomes heavier but I did not mind the extra load for as long as the melting ice inside my vest keeps the temperature of my body down, a sip from it from time to time give me so much pleasure. From one part of the road to the next as we continue to thread through the maze of this flat terrain, it passes through rice paddies, with few villages around, there were times we went through small loops of roads in between houses, sometimes under a road, a marker very visible to the eye. Once one will hear the sound of the vehicle then this will cross the road through another plantation of palm and rubber probably. I reached CP2 with no more ice cubes which I was so looking forward to refill my water bladder, that disappoints me as I was so hoping to have another supply in my hydration vest, probably I was too slow, one runner shared his to me, after grabbing few slices of watermelon, I proceed to the next. I went up to that hill which runners like almost bump into each other, which I hope it could have been longer and higher before it goes down and back to the road again. CP2, 20km with running time 2hours 51minues.

Now on to another flat terrain,  from the trail beside the river seeing water buffalos, herds of cows and monkeys too, it goes through another palm plantation,  trail signs are just easy to follow, white ribbons with event logo, red E paint on the posts, trunk of the trees, and on the road itself, a signage of turn left or right is positioned on major crossings and intersections most especially that part that will cross main roads one will not miss. At some parts there are roving marshals on motorcycle on sections almost to an aid station informing runners that aid station is just few meters away. I consciously keep a steady pace, running along few 100mile runners gave me some boost of motivation and inspiration, my admiration goes to them. I salute those runners  infront of me too who can  run a steady fast stride. I am in awe with their persistence. Me? I was down to my constant snail pace. From the trail to main road watchful of the fast moving vehicles few big drops of rain came, until it became faster then finally a heavy down pour. While other runners put on jackets and raincoats, I welcomed the rain with so much joy. This is what I needed to lower the temperature of my body, i did not mind having  wet shoes and socks nor wet running clothes. I have been wet just few kms since I started anyway. I reached CP3 with running time 4hours and 19minutes. Though wet from the rain I still hoard ice cubes in my hydration bladder, ice cubes in my headware and on my tank top. KT tape on my knees now started to fall apart which I hope my knees will hang on despite loose tapes, I do not have any knee support even on my drop bag. Watermelon is the most refreshing food to take on this hot and humid race that the rain gives us a little break from the heat.

But the coolness that the rain brought did not last long. As I tackle the next 13km to Suling Hill, the sun came out again. My shoes and  socks  gets dry fast as I slowly move to the next aid station.  From the flat terrain the road finally leads to a climb which gives me joy. I feel early on I had too much of the flat terrain already. Had a short stop at the comfort room along the road, that gave me the chance to do number 2 and wet myself again before reaching  the aid station at the top. Right after I had my timing chip scanned, I saw Alen again about to leave, Doi doing the 100mile resting on the grass. As soon as I move to the aid station table volunteers were ready to attend to my needs, refill ice cubes to my hydration bladder, refill my tailwind bottle, but because the mix was a bit pale to my taste, I always add from my own sachet with chia seeds, refill my collapseable flask with cooler water, grab more of the watermelon again and sandwich and off I go. CP4 at 42.8km with running time of 6hours and 38minutes.

Though it was still bright I decided to bring out my headlamp early on, left CP4 the soonest. Crossed over the gate barricade and search for the next trail sign. The road still goes a little uphill before it finally goes down all the way down. It  was quite long and I was just running and running and running was all that I remembered, and I cant help but recall my MMTF experience in this very part, a never ending going down on the road.  This is going to be little over 7km to the mid point of the race, the next aid station CP5 which is the start/finish line. I was on the main road with lots of fast running vehicles, I can see few runners in front of me, until the remaining 4km turn right into the trail inbetween trees mostly uphill. Finally finally all the time I wonder when will ever this race gets inside a trail finally came. I love so much this section, it was already dark, the reflectorized trail signs already becomes visible. I catch up with Alen and few other runners infront of me. I was just pushing on the uphill, run a bit on the runnable parts and down hill until it reached back to the start/finish line. I saw Jennica and Desrie on their way out as I enter to the finish line. CP5 covered 50km in 7hours 52minutes running time. I thought of going straight to the baggage counter when Renee Tan came and told me to get some food while she will grab my drop bag for me. After Renee handed to me my drop bag, the very first thing I did was look for my set of change clothes, while eating bits of the fried rice, Renee refill my hydration bladder, I said I will go to the nearest CR to change, I went to the Male RR for I cannot find one for the female, total change of running attire including shoes which I seldom do in a 100km race. When I  return to the table Renee was still there to assist me, she gave me more water, I continue eating rice, I thought it could have been nice if there was soup, but it was fine. I asked her if the RD is around, for I did not notice on the few minutes that I was there, nothing really important but it could have been nice to see any of them.  I brushed my teeth final trip to the rest room and at 9:20pm I left the aid station. I thank Renee for her kindness in  assisting me. I owe you one girl. This part reminds me so much of my TMBT experience with Jefferlyn Castillano, having a mid point of the race back the start/finish line where buffet of food and festive atmosphere was so tempting to just stay and enjoy the party, This time I was so time conscious that I left right away after doing my thing.

First part done! 50KM, 7hrs 52mins! On to the second part!

As I started the second half of my adventure, I went out on my own, I look around hoping for another runner at least I will have company especially on the major intersection. I saw one,  we walked together and follow the trail sign that direct us to CP6. Its all road again, until it enters the rolling rough road, one local runner catch up with us until the trail leads up towards the hill beside a fence. It was totally dark now, I lead the way going up, I can see lights from runners infront of us, as we reach the open part, I can see a painted trail sign pointing a bit straight but towards the left. I can see one reflectorized ribbon attached to like a stick a bit elevated from the height of the grass in front of us but I cannot see any after that. I can see the contour of the mountain a bit on my left but there was no trail sign at all. Few runners are down below on the road on our right, I shouted where to go next, they replied to just go down. We went down and joined them on the road, a little further while already on the road as I look up on the mountain slope on my left there I saw another stick with reflectorized marking. There must be another one before that that probably fall down or we just missed. It was all road after this, on the right was like a body of water on the left is the contour of the mountain which I wish we were somewhere there rather than on the road again. 

And the left turn towards the mountain starts the several jagged peaks of the race. The trail switched back on slope of the mountain. I dont have much recall of the details of it anymore but what I remembered is that I had so much joy and fun despite me pushing to move faster on all the climbs. The trail inside the forest inbetween trees really give me so much fun, I just move upward forward and run on those runnable parts, downhill has always been of extra care holding from one tree to the next so as not to stumble and  fall. For the distance of almost 10km it took me more than 2 hours to cover (11:32pm at CP6), still hot and humid despite night time, just like my routine in the daytime. I still refill ice cubes on the bladder, watermelon and sandwiches and still a mix of tailwind drink. The next 10km with two major climbs that  took me a little over 3hours to cover but really I did not complain, I was not even mindful of my time, I just move forward climb those endless ascents, run those runnable parts including going down, I did not think so much on the fact that I did not have my trekking pole and that it could have been very useful on this part of the trail. I just hold into the trunks of the trees, take my balance on those parts with nothing to hold into. The reflectorized trail sign become so visible, closely placed to each other. There were white paper trail signs too with drawing of two barefoot that are attached to the trail with some are scattered on the trail which I thought almost all through out the race was part of the event’s trail  markers. I reached CP7 3:10am, I take some food and when I decided to change the battery of my flashlight, I decided to take a nap. I was not really sleepy.  I was already awake when Alen called me that we should keep going. He went ahead, I grab some food then I followed. He said he will only be walking so I was hoping I will catch up with him. Few meters after I left, Jen and Desrie followed, I can see them from behind. It started to drizzle but I did not mind the rain,  then turn left of the road then right entering under the road to the next community. I tried to wait for them at the covered part but to nobody appeared, I moved forward following the trail sign. Inside the village with rows of houses, despite my being alone, I woke up the dogs, I decided to move to the other side to the road, and waited for Jen and Desrie, I decided to go back a bit but nobody appeared until one Malaysian runner came. Alen was nowhere to be found, probably he run so much faster this time.

And we just walked, from the village to the road on an open horizon wide and flat until it started to rain, heavy down pour of rain, with thunder and lightning. We continue on, few runners pass by us. This open part I imagine to be like a rectangular in size, never gets to end any sooner, we were just walking under the rain. I did not put on any jacket nor rain coat.   I stopped to a shelter when I saw one senior Malaysian runner taking a shelter, after sometime the other runner whom I walked with early part of the trail came, I joined him. We finally cross the road we have to search for the trail sign, we had to walk back and forth from the last arrow to make sure that we were on the right direction and it was road again all the way to CP8 with some barking dogs at some parts.

Less than 20km left, I went to the rest room again and do my number 2, the chaffing around my waist is now painful but tolerable, I went back to the aid station had a cup of hot choco grab some watermelon and sandwich and left.

The trail inside the forest after the heavy downpour of the rain now becomes muddy and slippery. The senior Malaysian runner whom I share a shelter went ahead of me at CP8 but I catch up with him on the slope on the slippery trail. Minutes later it was Kitto whom I shared the trail with for quite sometime. As the going down becomes so slippery now I took the time to hold into the rope installed in critical parts. Nothing to complain despite the slippery trail, I was just enjoying this part and prefer this more than the flat roads. I arrived CP9 bright enough now I put back  my head lamp to my vest. I just grab few pieces of food then get back to the trail, it took me more than an hour to cover the less than 4km distance to the next aid station, then finally to the CP11 switching back on the mountain slope of the Durian plantation. The most awaited CP11 seems to be forever to arrive, on to the second day of the race, I slowly tackle the rolling terrain. I catch up with the two lady runners of 100mile distance, the second and the third, my admiration goes to them. The last aid station was on the side of the road, I hoard ice cubes once again, I take my time to eat, put ice cubes on my headware and slowly push the last 8kms of the race. I can’t help but shed tears, I know this is still going up, but it’s already very hot again. It was just a very very slow pace for me. On this uphill concrete road I tried to push a little harder, think of all the positive thoughts to keep me going and motivate myself to do it a little faster. After a minor descend another uphill part until finally it goes down. I was warned that the last 4km will be rolling uphill and downhill until finally it goes back to the road that leads to the finish line. As I cross the road towards the finish line, I was a bit hesitant of pulling out my flag but I did it anyway and wave it high until I cross the finish line touching that finishing banner held by two volunteers, right after one volunteer handed to me the finisher medal and the finisher shirt and a bottle of water, another volunteer cut the raceyaya ribbon and take back the gps tracker. I insisted of having another photo holding my flag then holding the finisher banner. I looked around and hope for familiar faces but there was none not even the RD, so I get inside the activity area and gather my drop bag and my luggage.

Few minutes after I crossed the finish line I was asked by the RD, ‘did you finish the race?’

Second part done in 16hours 21minutes. 104km in 24hours 29minutes

It was a well organized race, the organization is up to the international standards, every aspect of the event is well thought of, from the drop bag that is to be given to the runners,  to the runners booklet that was sent out before the race day containing all the details about the event, the choices of hotels that runners can stay, the buses that runners can avail to the event venue, the use of gps device, the very informative signages in every CP, a well stocked aid stations of different options of food and with lots of ice cubes, the ever ready volunteers to help runners, very visible and well placed trail markers, distance of aid station to the next is just right, roving marshals in motorcycle are very helpful especially to a runner like that is afraid of the barking stray dogs. The down side though, there's just too many roads. I mean I am not good in the trail but it is where I find my happiness. Probably that is what is the best that can be done on that side of Malaysia, the best that the organizer can look for a route on the trail rather than using too much road. 

But still I salute them to  strict implementation of rules, no head phone, no playing of music. Since there are more roads, blinkers should be a must in front and at the back of each runner for safety purposes most especially in the evening, to make the runner visible. The paper trail signs especially those that were scattered in the trail were not so good to the eyes, I wonder if there will be a cleanup of trail signs after the race. At the rope sections,  putting some knots a foot apart on the rope probably will be  helpful in order not to get rope burn, and marshals on few critical turns that runners missed a section this year. The food was great, the pansit was just too oily though and soup could be helpful at midpoint. Trekking pole will help runner a lot in the second part of the race. Have one if you plan to do this race.

Running is a very personal thing and runners join races with different goals, probably fulfill that dream of finishing the first 30km or first 100mile race. Over the years of running, I  personally believe  that running is more than just the finisher medal and finisher shirt that one collects after a race, it’s the community that you share the journey with that adds meaning to what one is doing, and that includes having a hand shake from the RD after finishing a long journey. This really is just very minute detail of a race and a personal preference, a personal opinion. Not many races does this in fact only very few races.

The race. The race for me sums up the many races that I joined in this country. The flat terrain that goes through the palm, rubber,  fruit trees reminds me so much of TMMT and Sungai, the heat and open spaces is like Sungai and the road section especially with fast moving vehicles reminds me so much of C2C. The muddy trail and the long road descent from the top reminded me of MMTF.

I finished the race without blisters despite the scorching heat and torrential rain. No issues with my stomach too. Another race ticked off from my list. I thank Alen, Razif, Rene for all the help and I thank God for all the strength.

Congratulations Endurance Nature for another successful event.


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