TNF Singapore, 100 Duo, October 2011
I think from 2012, I shall be calculative in events I'd partake. No, wait... extremely calculative. Nothing genius here - races are getting really expensive. Race fees, and on top of that are travelling, lodging, fuel, tolls, preparation for hydration and hydration, not to mention all those items required intensively during training sessions. What with the baby Batman's arrival in February - I'd have little room in my pockets to wiggle between flight tickets and ERL fees.
2012 I foresee is the year all pirates shall be awaken.
Having said that, there are races I'd register without a blink. No wait - I'd blink, but will find my resources to fulfill this insatiable fantasy. A fantasy that makes me feel like a million buck, like I am a superhuman. A superhero. I suppose I am like that. It is currently a fast personal trait that I hate about myself. That feeling, goes without saying, is like a page of an awesome travel destination, ripped from a magazine somewhere. An image not cohesive with the picture and reality. A reality I mostly cannot afford (not yet, but maybe one day...).
So TNF Singapore is one of them. I scratched my wallet long time before the registration was open. I feel that it has a different appeal to the road races I've ran in, and I liked to think that I am a different breed of runners. Running 50k in the gorgeous woods and punishing open trails in Singapore is an event I was waiting for. Regardless I trained for it, or not, is beyond discussion. I felt that this was my playground. So when the drama of registration unfold in the past months, I'd been coy and silent about it, but truth is - I was disappointed on how it turned out in the early part of the registration. Whatever happened - I cannot fathom or think what the reasons were that I was sidelined so easily. The feeling was horrible when you have a familiar place being torn apart from you. I became disoriented, and didn't feel grounded. Irony because, it was not a grounded place to start with. The male-mantra was easily "don't fix it unless it's broken" gave me a new meaning. From last year's race, it seemed, I was broken.
I needed to fix myself too - as this great race is easily gobbling all sides of my resources dry. I do not harbour any ill-feelings in any way, so please spare this plot from any Cerekarama Director. It's just that, unconsciously at the back of my head, I know this reinforces my belief that running is in fact, a solitary sport.
Coming into the third year, my preparation could not have been any worse. For the trainings, it only picked up speed post Ramadhan when the mileage peaked at 100+k/weeks. The target was more on endurance and time-on-feet training, and very little speedworks. I tried, but in the end I was too fatigued from running mornings and evenings, 7-days/weeks. I cannot find the energy to speed, but to speed things up as I counted the laps and time when to complete the mileages, and get on with it. But in the end, I felt comfortable running the trails at FRIM, so I thought I did OK (which was, of course, wrong).
Regardless, October came in eventually. By the final weeks, I still logged 100+k/weeks, and only the final 5 days prior I forced my shoes to lay idly basking in the hot sun at the balcony. And the weather had been quite sneaky with most rain showers after lunch. Sometimes the evening runs were rewarded by cool, after-thunderstorm wind, but mostly the heat stung my dark skin and rendered my vision blurred. In the final days, I sorted the the renewal of my passport, and book the bus ticket. Pushing everything to the last minutes almost reinforces my laidback to going to this race. Something tells me that this third year, I'd almost gotten things in an auto mode.
As for the race itself, their hesitant decision to move the race to start an hour late proved lethal to many. OK, proved lethal to me at least. And standing at the starting line alongside my partner, I incidentally had an image of TSB, whose passing is still fresh. A young guy, loved by many, had been in my mind since the day he died, and so with every stride, every exertion was calculated. Every pain, chest discomfort, disillusioned and temporal blurry visions were channeled to questioning myself, had I been pushing my maximum heart rate. At any point, I knew I started a lot slower as compared to TNF 2010. I was overly careful to listen to all the red flags my body threw at me, where at any given moment, I'd just have a go at it.
Another point was I ran in Ghost 3. Having lost TerraX 2 weeks before the race left me with no window to break a new one. And with the size 13, it was a gigantic effort to drive around looking for a perfect fit. After a couple of flings up to Steroid Part 2, I was confident the Ghost would not disappoint. Well, Ghost cannot disappoint, because I had no Plan B.
By then, Ghost had done roughly 60k on trails, and the effect of many road miles has made the Ghost sweet without the socks. This decision was a disaster, I later found out.
This year, with slight deviations in the route outside MacRitchie (into the Durian Trails), and rerouting of Mandai, Lor Asrama stretch - I had the routes about 60% in memory, so it was easy to lay out the routes, its hopeless rocks and bricks, and I was able to enjoy the run. But I have been rather unfortunate sometimes, when missing a route marker sent me into a wrong direction, and needed to backtrack. And fortunate to the major part of the route as I ran alongside Singaporean colleagues who had trained and knew the trails well, and put me/us into a good path. I almost can imagine my frustration if I were to run at night. I later found out, some pedestrian moved the markers, or was it pedestrians?
I think I maintained a good pace coming out into Mandai, and had a considerable rest at CP3. Frank caught up, and we chatted away when attacking the harsh trails, 365 Hill and the remaining of it all. Needless to say, coming back to Mandai felt I have returned into civilisation. Funny, because I only exited the trails into the road that leads to the Zoo. But coming out of that trails felt like I have passed an insurmountable challenge, like I have cleared a clogged drain, and now I was able to speed back to the CP3 for replenishment.
Once I reached CP3, I pulled half a dozen plasters as the heat of Lor Asrama really worked my left toes, and the sweat down to the shoes, and some cold shower earlier by 365 Hill were a combination of stupidity and recklessness to attempt an Ultra distance that particular day. By then, the left toes were screaming as I tried to put some plaster on the wrinkled and wet skin, but none stuck on except sending extra pain directly to the brain. I looked up to the sun, glitched off the afternoon track and listened to my growling stomach. I popped one KitKat bar, and the aftertaste burn in my throat. That will not go well. Downed some salt, a gel, some water, and I was off. There was only 34k, not an easy one at that.
Over the many moons I started running in races beyond half marathon distance, there were many events I shared with fellow runners, talking proudly how black our toenails have become. I remembered my first blister, and when the first toenail came off (SCKLM 2009, no less), I smiled for hours on end. But a blister this particular TNF gave birth to was super nasty. Some 500m into the trails, the blister popped on my pinky left toes, and I was floored by the excruciating pain. I felt like an open wound soaked in acid when the stain and foul fluid from the Ghost, a fine mixture of sweat, 100+, water and soil. Even after a minor 'procedure' of double plastering the toes proved hopeless when the plasters doesn't stick on wet toes are wet, hence all effort to run was futile. What's was left made me choose to walk with just my sock from Mandai to CP4, passed the Park Connectors, and passed the long trail next to BKE into the next medic tent. The sun was unforgiving, as I hobbled under the sun, mostly tiptoeing on stones like hot coals, and walked under the shade, while holding the left pair of Ghost. I weighed my option of calling it quits, as request for an ambulance ride back to the finishing line.
But that would have been too easy. And that reaffirms that I am not a barefooter.
And thanks to the medic at CP4, although not without some delay, I was mended, and I was convinced it was all he could do. Clean the toes, wipe it clean, put some plaster, and tape them. I grit my teeth, pulled up the Ghost, and walked in pain. It hurts just the same as before. It hurts when I stepped on the rocks, and it hurts when I coasted downhills. But that is the only locomotion required. After all, I cannot hail a cab in the middle of the trails. I just needed to move ahead. Whoever created the saying 'pain is temporary, the glory is forever' must have gone through some shitty times.
But thankfully, there are times when adrenalin rush would overrule the pain, especially when I passed some spectators patiently clapped their hands, and uttered what a well done a job I was doing, or when the landscape opened to some breathtaking landscape, like when rolling trails unfolds in front of you (mostly downhills on the way back), that the brain was paralysed from the pain.
Somehow, coming back to MacRitchie and the customary ice shower, I felt re-energised, and able to block the nagging pain on my toes, rubbing against the third change of socks. Regardless of the pain, the distance was less than 10k to go, and that was a motivation in itself. And the last section of the trails, even with its meandering routes and unreliable markers, only one unmistakable vision counts - when the trail clears into views of the lake, and suddenly burst into an open sky, into the lakes and back the the cafe. That was a utopia of some sort.
And bursting into that very image brings huge relief that the end is near. That no pain could ever defeat me, as adrenalin rush takes over. Even though the end feels more like a cheap wedding karaoke, but still, coming back to the supporting warm hearts beats the scorching sun, and after passing the gantry, I was relieved that it is finally over. I am not sure if I was relieved the race was over (so I never have to do it again), or relieved that I completed the Ultra in one piece, and alive. It is hard to discover myself when the mind is numb when approaching the finish line. For sure, I was certain I was ecstatic that the route beyond Mandai was over once I exited near Singapore Zoo. That felt like a finish line for me, or at least that I like to feel, being closer to where I could hail a cab.
Only after some Double Chocolate cookies and few strawberries later that I managed to gather enough gut to open my socks and check on the toes, not before peeling layers of tapes, gauzes and plasters. Whoever was enjoying their post-lunch meal next to me must have been swearing me and my next generation. The pinky left toe, apparently had a huge blister at 360degree. Once I would be ready to peel off the dead skin in a week, I would have gotten a completely new skin all around that toe, and the dead skin would have been a perfect skin glass. Gross is a state of mind. And the next toe looked like a popped balloon, all wrinkly with the skin tore open along the tape the medic put on earlier. And I had a little peninsular of blisters under the ball of the left foot, all proud and waiting to be sliced open.
But apart from that, TNF this year has proved that at that pace, I was spared any muscle cramps. Only the day after that I felt my stiff shoulders, and sore back from lugging the hydration bag, and the sore quads from over-compensating the blisters. Quietly, I was grateful I do not have to run at Timpohon, in an attempt to conquer Mount Kinabalu in 2.5hours next week. *phew*.
Me and Kash vowed for a suspension from TNF Singapore 2012. I do not know how long will that last, and for me that will be mirrored by the ClimaCool shirt on offer next year. Judging from their similar medal design over the years, I need to look beyond the lazy medal to register for next year.
However, I'll put down a note of this year's mistakes, so hopefully next year, when I open this log to find wisdom, I'd find some;
a) I never learnt not to wet the shoes when splashing cold water on me at water stations. However, sweat drips down into the shoes easily, so there's no solution yet.
b) did not tape blister-prone toes. Next time, my toes would look like deep fried prawn fritters. Whatever it takes.
c) carried too much water. 1.5litres of water/isotonics was too heavy. While I can now imagine how I felt like when I carried the extra 4.47kg on me, that weight in water was too heavy for me (I had to stop at KM3 to pour out precious 100+ into the drain).
d) stick to Mars bars, ditch the quick sugar fix. When the brain's on fire, all cheap chocolates burns badly. I should have chucked them all to the monkeys instead of carrying them around Singapore.
e) Ghost is only good for 20k trail run, not more. Period.
f) I had 2 pieces of wholemeal bread with Nutellafor breakfast. Nope... not nearly enough. I remembered the pasta I had for SCKLM 2010 3 hours before the race was a good fuel.
g) While running sockless is one simple pleasure I have discovered, the sweet freedom definitely did not work with Ghost. Perhaps another marriage with a better suited pair would do justice. And perhaps it's time I invested on Injinji socks, although I hate the wiggly feeling in betweens.
With that pace, and that distance, I gobbled 3 gels. I had a banana while the medic taped the wounded soldier. Some Chomps, a KitKat bar, handful of asamboi, and about 6 litres of fluid with ice and 4 Nuun tablets. Sadly, the buah kurma and the remaining gels were purely weight training, which is responsible to this severe soreness on my shoulders.
Well, in this quest to run into my 70s (insyaAllah), I could see many of these mistakes coming my way. And looking back, I doubt running TNF Singapore next year. This year had been not enjoyable, but I am sure when the wind swept my way at the right time, I'd bow. The question is not so much of whether I'd register, but whether I'd be able to enjoy it.
Suppose I have another year to find out how gorgeous the event T would be like.