Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cameron Ultra Trail (CULTRA) 2017 (55km) Race Notes

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The Cameron Ultra Trail (CULTRA) 2017 was held on 22 July 2017. For the 55km category around 296 runner participated. It was an out and back course where runners had to go from check point (CP) 1 to CP7 and back to CP3 before finishing at Tanah Rata. The route takes runner accross Mount Jasar, Sg. Pauh Campsite, Mount Berembun, Robinson waterfalls, vegetables plantations and Boh (Tea) Plantations. The overall ascent for the 55km is estimated at 2,505m. Cut off time (COT) was set at 14 hours after flag off (5:00 AM).

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1. Cultra = Cold + Ultra. That was my first impression. Cold is good. I had a pretty decent time running in (relative) cold conditions. Went into this race with just a day of taper since I'm currently building for TMBT, so I didn't want to reduce mileage. I accepted that it might affect the outcome of the race but it doesn't matter much since TMBT remain top priority. The strategy for this race is basically choosing my battles. This means, to run the runnables and go as fast as I can comfortably go on the technical/uphills. I also wanted to use this race to rectify few things and experiment.

2. It was the first time I used tailwind nutrition (naked flavour) in a race and I wanted to see whether it worked or not. So far, I did a 20km trail hike/run and it held up well. I also wanted to use poles and hike the climb with them, only for me to find one of them broke while packing the day before. My daughter admitted she over extended the poles. I was quite upset but shit happens and I guess it can happen even before race starts. They were cheap poles anyway (cost me RM30 for a pair) so this was probably expected. I also wanted to really pace myself so that I'd finish feeling relatively ok and hopefully recover enough for a basketball game on Sunday. I was also racing for the first time with the merrel all out crush shoe that I got for RM35 thanks to discount voucher I won from King of Kampung Kemensah 2017 race.

3. Traveled on Friday, bought some food and stuff, collected the race pack and set up the tent at Sg. Pauh Campsite which happens to be one of the check points (CP2). I planned to sleep early around 9PM or so. It was quite peaceful in the afternoon once everybody got their tents up. Had a long chat with a camper who also loves being outdoor. That was nice, talking about other stuff than running and just sharing each other's experience being outdoors. There was also another runner camping and we talked about the race a bit, running and also other races. That night I couldn't sleep too good and kept waking up. It wasn't exactly comfortable, there was a group who were pretty loud and also dogs barking. But I never slept well before a race anyway.

Race Day

4. Alarm/woke up at 3 AM. Boiled some water for the oats+chia seed and had a boiled egg. Topped it off with some coffee. It was a good breakfast due to the cool environment and just the stillness/quiteness. The warm meal plus me moving around and about the campsite helped bowel movement as well. Yes!

5. Went to the car and packed all the stuff I intended to bring including my 30 sachet of 1 scoop tailwind, 2 bars of mars chocolate bar, some salt pills and raisins. Apart from tailwind, I never touched any of the other food I brought during the race. Parked at the event hotel, dropped bag and warmed up. 5 mins before the race, went to the toilet and did some warm up routines but never really got warmed up. It was pretty cold. 5 AM sharp, we're off.

6. The first few km was on tarmac heading to G. Jasar. I started from the back and saw plenty of runners in front of me which based on previous trail races lead to bottlenecks. When we finally arrived at the jungle section, everything came to a complete stop. Some were a bit careful on the steep technical section. So we were moving slowly, starting and stopping. Some runners including me were pretty agitated. I knew I could climb a bit faster. But it was so early in the race and I thought this bottleneck could probably be good for me to really hold back and pace myself. It was a sensible thing to do as it was dark, steep with roots and on some parts we were on a ledge. I'm sure no one wants to accidentally plunge into the dark abyss or face plant themselves.

7. But still, everyone was getting impatient and as if the traffic wasn't annoying enough, my 5:30am alarm went off from inside my pack. I admitted that the annoying sound was coming from me and apologized to those around. Going down, I finally got to go faster and the runners were understanding and gave way. I might have been a bit too aggressive going down but the trail condition were asking for it to be run on. The surface was great, cool, misty and we finally were (trail) running. I thought I might shot my quads but it didn't happen so it was all good. I had to also move quickly because I needed to perform the Subuh prayer.

8. Upon reaching Sg. Pauh campsite I passed the water station and immedietly went to perform the Subuh prayer. I didn't go back to refill to save time. I passed by my campsite and the camper who I had the conversation with the day before wished me well. That would be the last time I'd see him as I found out later that day he'd left.

9. Going to G. Berembun, again, some traffic but it wasn't as bad as before. We were moving. It felt like going up G. Nuang. We were on all fours on some parts. And again, I went down as quickly as I could. Just can't help it. I really enjoy going downhill.  I refill my tailwind at CP3 and was fumbling trying to get tailwind into my bottles. It took sometime for me to ensure every ounce of that powder went in.Once we were out of the jungle it was time for some tarmac climbs. I remember running for 3 electric pole and walking 1. The 3:1 run/walk ratio helped my mind off the climb and provided some rhythm. It wasn't steep but it was pretty long.

10.  I planned to run the downhills after CP3, CP4, CP5 and CP6 and maybe CP4 return and they were a mixture of tarmac/gravel. After CP3 most of it were in the tea plantation and it was cool. We could see other runners. The view was stunning and it was hot but the breeze was nice and it wasn't as humid. I felt like this was when I learned the importance of a cushioned trail shoes. Ouch indeed. The all out crush was very responsive but there was little cushioning and on the tarmac section I could feel the impact it was having on my foot. And, on the gravel section I could literally feel the rocks pushing up both my foot.

11. I was worried the pounding and impact might lead to cramp up but it didn't. This somehow suprised me. Was it tailwind? Was it the shoes? Was it pacing? Was it the weather? I don't know but I'm sure it's a combination of these factors. The pain/soreness was tolerable and I kept focus on moving quickly. Especially on the downhills.

12. At CP7, the U turn point, I had instant noodle and just sat down. After I got my act together I started going again. I felt like I was moving but I was moving slower and was getting passed. A quick look at my pace confirmed that I was slowing down. Probably the lack of sleep and the 1 day taper were starting to take its toll. I tried to keep up the intensity but every time I thought about walking, I walked. So the best solution was to walk/run. And later it was reduced to just walking. I was struggling to enjoy the view and the tea plantation seems endless. I don't know whether I was bonking because it didn't feel like the usual bonk, but it was hard and was one of my low point of the race.

13. This continued but at CP5 there were some downhills. I also struggled on the downhills and was getting passed. But I was running or at least was resembling running. But, no cramps. I kept eating at the aid station and making sure I stayed hydrated and even took toilet breaks. All system go it seems. So at CP4, going downhill, I just said "f**k it", I'm gonna run this downhill as hard as I could until it's over. While running I felt ok. And I continued with the same intensity going up the robinson falls climb.

14. Once I got back on the tarmac (CP3), there was about less than 2km to go. I took my time at the CP. I then hurried up and finally walked to the finish. Got my medal and was happy it's over. My first 55km run and in terms of duration, the longest run I ever did in my life.

Post Race

15. Had some meal provided by the organizer and took a bath. Went to get some food at Brinchang and also stroll around Brinchang night market before heading back to rest at the campsite. It rained in the afternoon. Ate some isntant noodle and went to sleep around 9pm. Didn't wait around for the prize giving ceremony the next day because I had a basketball game to attend to, but looked like it was pretty chill via videos on facebook.

Race Notes

16. Race itenerary kind of went like this:

09:00 AM: Move to CH
11:30 AM: KFC Lunch at R&R Tapah
01:00 PM: Race Pack Collection and pack some food for dinner
02:00 PM: Set up tent
04:00 PM: Dinner and shower
09:00 PM: Sleep (sort of)

03:00 AM: Eat & prepare race gears
04:45 AM: Arrive, warm up & sort out drop bag
05:00 AM: Race
02:30 PM: Finish Race, rest/hydrate/eat & check phone
03:00 PM: Shower and went to Brinchang for some (real) food
05:00 PM: Got back to camp
08:00 PM: Quick meal
10:00 PM: Sleep

06:00 AM: Pack tent/quick breakfast
08:00 AM: Depart home & breakfast
12:00 PM: Arrive home

17. The race:

Registration: RM314.60
Accomodation: RM12
Travel to venue & Race kit Collection: ~6hr
Traveling cost: Conservative estimate at RM0.40/km : 500 km X RM0.4/km = RM200 (plus toll)
Travel distance from hotel to start line: 1km
Waiting for toilet: No issue
Sorting out drop bag: No issue

18. Race Detail:

2,200m D+ (2,768m D+ w/elev. correction)
31/296 overall
24/229 gender
15/119 men open

Full results:

Race Comments

19. For RM314.60, I think it was well worth it considering the services provided. The baggage drop was quick, everything was well marked, volunteers were plenty, hydration/nutrition were good. They had this banana chips which was the first thing I consumed upon reaching the CPs. I would stand in front of it and help myself. There were also dates, gummy bears (my daughter would've loved these) cola, 100 plus, water and you could actually see bottles of them. In short, hydration is a non issue. The post-race food was great. An apple, some bread, water and pasta was there. I really enjoyed camping in Sg. Pauh and for RM12 you'd have to sacrifice probably hot shower and maybe a good bed. But I know that in advanced and was ready for it.

20. One thing that I thought was super cool (I'm a noob so this thing is probably the norm) was having the elevation map on the bib. I was planning to do the same myself to see where the climbs and descent were. The bib map was really helpful in planning or in my case "choosing my battles".

21. The course, phew. Where do I start. It had so far everything I came across in an ultra, mountains, tarmac, gravel, stairs, jungle roots, scenic view but no river crossing. The cold weather was probably the draw of the race apart from the view of the tea and veggies plantations (we had to go through one veggie plantation and I thought I got lost). The weather throughout the race was perfect and the trail was almost dry throughout. The start/finish at the huge field was brilliant with all the open space to warm up or do what ever. Parking was good, traffic was good, drop bag was swift, RPC was very professional and the crew were accommodating, always smiling and very helpful. The information provided in advance on facebook and the guidebook was informative and had everything you need to know in them. I do however think that info on total ascent of each CP and also total cumulative ascent would be better instead of maximum elevation as that would determine the difficulty of the section.

22. As far as my race is concerned, I slowed down but didn't bonk. I think when I finally reached CP7 I stopped for some instant noodles. It cooled me down and it was hard to get going again. I was feeling the fatigue and had to force myself to run and when I did it wasn't that bad. I just never stopped for too long at a CP before. I know it's important to stop, do a quick maintenance and asses the situation. But you'd feel the fatigue set in and it's hard to get back going again. But that doesn't mean the race is done. Don't know how I'm going to train for that.

23. But, I did not cramp at all. The main contributing factor has to be nutrition. I had no doubt that eating at every CP and consuming tailwind for most of the race helped. It's just that putting them in the bottles was such a pain. For shoes, a bit of cushioning would be great espcially at the tarmac/gravel section. The merrel all out crush shoes were meant to be used for obstacle races and should hold well in muddy conditions so it wasn't a surprise that it held well on the jungle and technical section. On the tarmac, not so much.

24. This race was like a really long fartlek run. I was experiencing different kind of challenges and it's good to know that I can actually push through them. The suprising part was probably that I was walking quite well the next day and felt ok. My recovery capability seems to improved a bit and that means I can hopefully continue training in a few days time.

25. Looking at the result, the first 55km runner completed the course in 6:41:23. That's like almost a 3 hour gap. The front guys were probably running uphill faster than I was running downhill and I was in awe when we crossed path. These front runners were pretty bad ass running up those hills and I imagine they must be committed in what they do to be able to do that. One thing that surprises me was the amount of time I spent idle. My moving time was 7:46:29. That's like an hour and 45 mins of standing around. Maybe the bottlenecks, the little breaks and the CPs all add up to the final idling time. Surely this is an area I can improve.

26. For TMBT, 100km with around 5,000m D+, I'm just so nervous about it. I was observing 100km runners coming in to CP2 at sungai pauh and even some while I was driving back home and I can tell they were exhausted. Imagine coming down G. Berembun, cold, soaking wet and hungry to a bunch of campers cooking BBQ, singing songs accompanied by music from acoustic guitar and basically people having a good time chatting/laughing. This was probably the best time to ask, why are we running 100km and subjecting our body and mind to such challenges? For everyone that I managed to see that day, they had their answers and they had no doubt they'll finish the race regardless of the many temptations to quit.

27. The runners were not the only relentless ones. The volunteer were very cheerful through out the night. Every now and then I'd hear them cheer runners coming into CP2 and some of the campers would cheer as well. Every time I went to the toilet, I had to go through  CP2 and all the time, the crew seems like they genuinely wanted to be there. They took care of the runners and understood that some of them are in pretty bad shape physically, mentally and emotionally. After cut-off, they were cleaning up the place, calmly and probably as tired as some of the runners. Having seen that first hand was amazing. Huge respect to them. Not forgetting the photographers who were out there taking picture for us to enjoy later. They were at the course, some even on the ground, waiting for runners with their equipment, lenses etc. It doesn't look easy, but they made it look easy. Thanks for capturing the journey guys.

Final Note

28. The race though, was worth the money and time spent to get there. Having seen first hand 100km runners running at night in the rain and also some in the morning got me really nervous. >24 hours of being outside, moving. Sounds a bit crazy to be honest. But I'm looking forward to find out whether I, like all of the 100km finisher that day can endure till the finish.

29. I still have TMMT (70km) to sort out gear issues and pacing. TMMT has less elevation from what i hear (no maps etc. is published yet). This would present another challenge as the furthest/longest run I ever done up to this point was CULTRA. So I don't know whether I can run the entire 70km or the majority of the course and I'm excited to find out.

30. And finally, job well done to those involved in the organization and execution of this race. I'm sure they contributed to someone finishing their 1st ultra/trail race that day. Congrats to all finishers as well. To those who fell short, train harder/better and have no doubt that you will eventually reach the finish line.

Next up, TMMT.

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