Mount Rinjani Ultra 2014
The hype is back, and with the Early Bird registration ended last couple of weeks, I saw a post on their FB page that Malaysians turned up as the biggest international crowd in MRU 2015. And as I did not post anything after the race in 2014, let me share few supporting notes for aspiring participants who'd care to read.
I shop for many things for myself based on vanity these days – the best looking stuff I could afford. And that has put me enough trouble when I registered for the Mount Rinjani Ultra 2014. Coaxed by enticing mountain views, and glistening calves of the poster boys in the ads, I signed up, and convinced my wife that we fly the kids for our annual holidays in Lombok.
And just like that, we were on our way to Lombok on AirAsia. The plan was simple – I’d run up Rinjani, and the family would chill in Senggigi. Reunite post race, and swim till the heart’s content, and sleep all day.
On the fateful day, with very little homework and limited internet coverage about a-lot-of-things that Senaru is, the taxi driver pulled over at Rinjani Lodge (Senaru) where the action was after an hour of driving from Senggigi. It was close to 1:00 p.m., and I had 20 minutes to make it to the bag drop line. I registered, collected the kits, and went to drop my bag. A recycled paper and some duct tapes 2 minutes later, a marker to jot my bib number, and it’s done. But word of caution – the drop bag counter closes at 13:00 hours on Friday, and many late runners had to run without their drop bag waiting at Plawangan Sembalun. I wouldn’t want to arrive there without my fresh supply of asam boi!
The lodge is filled with concoction of what seemed like hundreds of lean runners, all tanned and bold and ready to rumble. If you grew up with little self-confidence like me, that is already an intimidating moment. No expo whatsoever, but be prepared to bargain some hot stuff off a carboot alongside the main road if you savvy it.
|I know for a fact that this bag is not an effective drop bag, because at W4 I was digging for stuff like a treasure chest. So if you are chasing a tight transition time - get an organiser|
Finding lodging was about winging-it in Senaru. It is close to impossible to find any credible leads online on a place to stay. But given that I travelled alone, I’d prepared myself to bunk anywhere like the good-ol’-backpacking-days. As luck would have it, or what seemed like a brilliant idea, was to rent a tent on top of the flat roof next to Rinjani Lodge. The perspectives towards the Rinjani Peak are amazing, without a doubt – with rolling padi fields below the range. The downside is the bloody place is some 2.5km away from the race start, and from where the Malaysian contingent was.
But for RM25/night, it worked well considering I’d only be spending a maximum of 5 hours pre-race sleeping, and expecting to spend another 6 post-race.
|Call it a night for a bargain. What you get in the tent - a pillow as hard as a coconut husk, a sleeping bag, and a rubber base to soften the rugged concrete roof. As a bonus - cold windy air at all times, moon light, and 100% humidity|
After a lazy afternoon spent in the tent dozing off in full view of the peak, not worrying of breaking pep talks with others, dinner was forced down – albeit hesitantly when the body started to freak out of what lies ahead. It between the occasional Whatsapps messages and Facebook stalking, I managed some poor shuteye and woke up at 8:00 p.m.
In my slumber, I somehow managed to kungfu half a chicken teriyaki out of the tent, and left with a banana and some bread with Nutella for supper. All pre-arranged gears were also now strewn all over, and getting them packed again while I had to put the new Silva Trail headlamp to the test for the first time. Cold front wind crossed over and brought chill in a quiet night as most runners staying at the lodge were running for the 21K category, and not up to run yet for the next 6 hours.
Alas, I walked up to the hostel where the Malaysian contingent were, and I swear the walk to the start line felt like coming down to the caves of Moria with the sound of thumping beat. The faint sound of drums amplifies by the closing steps! Or, was it just beats of my freaking heart? Oh ok, it was my heart crapping the shit out me actually.
At the stroke of midnight, the gun went off, and hurled out hundreds of gungho runners like chicken escaped from the butcher house. The first stretch is through the Kampung Senaru, but before long, we arrived at the gate of Senaru to mark the start of the trails. What you see is dancing headlamps bouncing off the dense vegetation by the side. As I start from waaaaay back, I was presented by a trail of lights in front of me – and you’d able to gauge the elevation from this perspective.
The lightline started to break as the trail meanders into the woods and the running pace turned to walking for most of them (myself included). The clear rocky path one would be familiar to as running the Rover Track in FRIM turns into bloody roothell. The roots tumbled and crossed whichever way like the Seventies on steroid as I gingerly put my foot down. My vision was really just at my foot with the Silva Trail is fogged with my misty breath. By now I was sweating profusely with the humidity of the forest, and largely from being overly dressed. The trail snakes up like no end as most times I was running alone in the dark. At the twist of corners I’d spot a hint of a headlamp just to disappear onto another. My pace walking up is just labored breaths while at times reeking with foul words at the crazy climbs!
Oh let me record what I was wearing from the start line before we go further in crapping about the climbs, magnificent views and more punishment in running I sweat my spine.
For shoes, I had the Brooks Cascadia which only had a 150K mileage after making its first outing in TMBT 2013 (second leg 50 K, Wisma Perkasa and back). Yes, I am not fond of the shoes (mind you, I am wearing size 13 UK) as the feet swells post 50K and that is it. A rigid pair of shoes, but doesn’t allow for ‘friendly foot expansion’, especially after being trashed in mud etc. I figured the trails in Rinjani would mostly be dry, so that manipulated my choice for shoes. What can I say, rookies loves idiotic mistakes like this.
I have a long tight pants (mileage 50K TMBT 2013) after second-guessing how the climbs would be so frigging cold that I’d better protect my legs. Although I’d prefer to cover my aurat in public, there’s nothing like running with sweeping wind between your legs that I love. So the choice was made, and I wish I hadn’t made that decision as the humidity level was close to seeing me ripping them pants apart. For 2015, I’d swear againt this for sure.
Along the long-sleeved base layer and my favorite running drifit tee, I had a buff around my wrist, my Suunto Ambit 2, a running cap, shades Raidlight Olmo 12 and my minty Black Diamond Z poles.
The base layer was a good decision, although I hate that it rolled up my belly (ok, so I am fat – so let’s get that out of the way) but it trapped the body heat in. The drifit tee had no traction on it and seemed to sway together with the Raidlight Olmo. Bloody pack cannot be strapped tight enough to make it stay at one position, damn it!
The buff was another good decision as there are tones of dusty stretches along the climb that not covering your nose could be life-threathening. The amount of dust kicked up by runners are easily well above the critical air pollution index level. Unfortunately for me, the buff was not enough to filter the fine ash that it permeates well inside which was evidence by my black nose, err, deposits…
OK, back to the trails – With a total elevation gain of only about 900m and 5.8K, I reached W1/Pos 2 with a huge relief. But some late dinner was still in the system, therefore a small helping of the mini cheese sausages helped to slip in some salt in my bloodstream. But the W1 is packed with Pocari Sweat so I savored for a bit to help bring my bursting heart rate down.
Khairi Muin was getting ready to head out, so I got up in hot pursuit. But he proved to be a pocket rocket as I lost him in a second. Thereon the climb continues on and on and on and on, until the landscape started to change. The moon-kissed balmy hills are more apparent, and air is cooler. The thick vegetation thins out and turns mossy – the same landscape transformation when climbing Mount Kinabalu (or any other mountains in this region for that matter).
|It was freaking 2:00 a.m. in the morning! What do you expect?|
A short section of the ascend includes sand, but was easily traversed when picking the manageable route and holding on to shrubs along the trails. My vision was more fixed to the sparse bobbing headlight ahead and behind me. Coming up 10.5K to W2/Plawangan Senaru was no less majestic when the walk turned into light jog amongst the sweeping orange-coloured tents along the trail. Yeah, exactly what they were thinking – better to be asleep at 3:00 a.m., mate!
But W2 is not short of hydration and cheese sausages – and I just grabbed a couple and headed down. Whoaaa – the trail immediately dropped precariously vertical as I grabbed some steel bars for dear life. If you have limited Ultra experiences like me (more so amplified if you have limited trainings to support that statement), it’ll shake you to your very spine! As I stepped down gingerly trying not to disappoint the guy behind he huffing his breath like a dragon, I also do not want to miss my footing. But my penchant for Indiana Jones movies when growing helped in this short adventure. Thankfully no rappelling is required, and I arrived at the mid-base with no drama, and continued to run the mostly runnable trail. At sections, there are steep areas and slippery areas that sees mostly my butts touch-n-go-ing with the coarse sand. While being solid, the Cascadia slides much in this condition. Overall, this stretch is mostly rocks which can be deadly when combined with small aggregates and sand. Not without a drama, and possibly fueled by fatigue and sleep deprivation, on one occasion I somersaulted off the trail into the ravine! Luckily my reflex dropped the poles and grabbed the long grass and ferns downhill. I came to a complete stop some 5 metres down with feet dangling, and hauled myself up. 2 runners came from behind and helped me calmed my flustered heart and bruised ego. It was dark, and there’s no telling what I had put myself into – but as the pros would tell you to expect these speed bumps along the way when running trails.
It was close to 5:00 a.m. and I limped my way ahead when surprisingly greeted by the sound of lapping waves. And just like that, W3/Segara Anak Lake is within sight. By now I was running on rocks and getting faster to the smell of instant noodles! Yessireee, they served hot white coffee and hot instant noodles in cups! I probably spent too much time in this transit – performing Subuh prayers, drinking etc. Waaayy too long. By the time I decided to get up, the sun breaks and presented God’s creation in its mighty. It is time to bring out the GoPro and more time is spent to awe at those views – waterfalls in the far gaze, surrounding greens and bright blue sky!
It is also a busy stretch of trail, and it’s common to share the dirt road. Although, almost always the locals would give way – what with runners looking like zombies. Looking at the course map, it is just a short 3.5K to W4/Plawangan Sembalun, but the elevation (elevation gained only 600m) proved taxing with seemingly endless stairs and turns. I am going to zero out all the pain-in-the-quads (relatively speaking) and focus on the views. Each sections are more beautiful than the latter and Hendra as a Race Director knows a tickle on the ribs when he sees one!
|The sun-kissed wall is where you'd be climbing back to Senaru. I bet you'd not be 'adoring it's beauty' then.|
|OK - so I take some selfies. Proves that I am a narcissist sometimes. Aren't we all?|
Huh - I could see that the Raidlight Olmo is drooping lower at my shoulder blades - must be the reason why it bounces off so much!
Just before 8:00 a.m., I reached W4/Plawangan Sembalun in full view of the peak. Even the volunteers handed over Pocari Sweat bottles, my eyes were glued to the peak like a moth to a light. It was majestic and terrifying at the same time. Moments afterwards when the view to the peak is fully savored, I turned to the tents and rehydrate. This is also where you’d access your drop bags, and I was reunited with fresh supply of food, some crisps, fresh chocolates (other bars are soggy in my wet hydration bag) and fresh socks. By now the leaders are blistering down the peak to oblivion.
Below W4, the view stretches towards the valley and sea below. Up ahead the ridge of Rinjani peak sliced the lazy thin cloud. Further to the right is Segara Anak Lake in deep turquoise, and you’d see the face of the climb when going back to Senaru. With a tight cut-off time, I wonder if I’d be able to go back.
The peak looked deceivingly near, and I figured for a 1000m elevation gain in 5.2K would be done in 2 hours as I set off through the many plains filled with camps. Or at least that’s why I thought (idiot!).
What started with fine black sand started to become noticeably annoying with returning runners kicking up the dust up my throat. Buff up, get up and head down. Good to say the section is quite easy to tackle, and I soon arrived the horizontal ridge line where solid rocks were quite runnable. Well, if any of you running for 2015, enjoy this short stretch as it soon becomes annoyingly bad like never-ending James Bond’s series! Soon along the trail I found Nik Nasrul on his back, motionless. He was spent, as I soon to find out real soon, that I was too.
The rocks begins to loosen up, and soon real loose. Each 3 steps only harvested one effective motion forward as the other two slides backwards. It was frustrating looking at returning runners floating effortlessly, while me, and other climbing runners were not making any progress. The peak then became like a curse and I was heaving under the thin air. The poles were useless at this point in pulling my body weight up, and the gaiters I put at W4 were a nuisance when dust infiltrate my Cascadia. The pain all over were just a mind over matter, but I was becoming more angry at the trails – when will I ever get the fuck up!
I looked at the Suunto, and the cut-off time has ended. There were 5 runners ahead of me, and some 10 behind my arse. I had my cap, shades, buff on my mouse and nose, and I was close to giving up. What I could allow myself is to get to peak regardless and claim my conquering over Rinjani, and head back. So, I had to keep baby step on the climb, so I clenched my butts and moved on.
Close to peak, word has it that Hendra extended the cut-off time to 12 noon, so I hurried to the peak in a surge of emotion. That is not a bad news. And at the peak I have arrived to a non-eventful stone-place-thing, greeted by many runners catching a nap. It was cold and windy, and the Adidas windbreaker with 2 layers of base and tee were simply not enough! Then after scampering to reach the top, I’d have to scamper again down as the volunteers had scaled down in an effort to rescue themselves from hypothermia. But it was one of the gratifying moments when handed a blue band as a bragging right. No time to waste, I now buttfacing the peak, and racing down. Remember when I said ‘flying’? Yup, flying down was like ice skating. Not that I have tried ice-skating in my life yet, but at least that was how it felt. It was effortless to say the least, but jolly fun was more of the whole expression. I now have a chance to kick up dust to the other trekkers.
|W4/Plawangan Sembalun - see the 'short' trail to the peak. Yeah, let that fool you a little. You actually go down after the first hill and start the climb. |
This is a place where you'd make a fortune selling cold canned drinks and hot curry puffs.
|Fancy this view? Best is to tie tennis rackets to your shoes to get through this hurdle|
|Still 2 hours away from the peak? But the thin air has turn me from a compulsive narcissist to a complete lunatic|
|Close to the peak, and the guy was just showing off|
|All you need is confidence, and you could fly off this very quickly. But at certain areas, the ridge line is only 5' wide and it's a long way down|
|This is close to W4 and I'd recommend 2015 runners to bring their surf boards|
All that fun ended when I reached W4 again. There was no water, no food, and I could not chomp on any Mars or Snickers no more. My body needs something warm and full. And the officials handed over a heartbreaking news – that I could try to go for W6/Pos 2 Sembalun but the cut-off by 3:00 p.m. is not achievable, and I’d lose all support when I head back to W4, let alone other stations in the woods. In his words, I’d be on my own.
That doesn’t need much convincing that I need to call it off. The Plawangan Sembalun at noon is misty and filled with trekkers like hippies in Woodstock, and I join the ranks in scaling down to W6/Pos 2 Sembalun to catch our packed lunch, and was told to be transported out back to Senaru. It was either confusion at such an altitude, or the officials being irresponsible, I was convinced that the W6 is only 3.8K as stated in the course map. But boy, it ended like walking a full 10K. Most sections are almost vertical downhills and I cannot even fathom how to climb it all up with no water in the bladder. The only consolation is warm lunch at the end of the tunnel. I was all tired having spent most of my energy up the peak.
It was also misleading as the route markers were non-existent and I was too incompetent to check my GPS. So, thanks to the trekkers coming up from Sembalun, I reached W6, and soon joined by Nik. Much to our disgust, there were no warm lunch, succulent grilled chicken with sambal, and cold drinks. Nooo… I was offered some mandarin oranges and that was it. Apart from the odd 30-runners louning ‘waiting to be exported out’, we were told that the bus point is some 1-hour hike. About a handful of WTFs later, we gathered to save our emotions intact, and started hiking before nightfall.
It was another frustrating 2-hours of hiking with no water to the Sembalun village, not without some scary interludes of going through the Blair Witch Project’s secondary forest and not seeing civilization and people for hours on end. But after a mind-numbing stop over the hills, not knowing where to go, a train of walkers came from behind consisting of local runners who we chugged along the train to return to wherever it was required to go back to Senaru.
At the local village, we devoured food like cavemen – it was already 9:00 p.m., and I had not have solid food since morning at W4. So after spending some Rupiahs on food, we collective arranged for a couple of trucks to transport us back to Senaru – apparently some 2 hours of driving in pick-up trucks. That was another IDR50,000/person.
So after spending a bumpy, and freezing ride, I arrived at Senaru just about 10 minutes before the total cut-off for the race. Close at 10:00 p.m., the officials were spending quiet times at the sparse arrival of runners, but I was too bleeding tired to hang around. Returned to my tent, and dozed off in whatever gears I had for the day. I only focused on getting a ‘speda’ I arranged to bring me back to Senggigi to be reunited with my family – and in my mind – the hell with Rinjani!
It dawned on me how unceremonious was my first DNF. A ‘tough race’ is not even a correct definition as I searched my head for a fitting vocabulary. But since I have already registered for 2015, I would prepare myself a little better, like;
a) Arrive at Senaru earlier to rest, if that is possible
b) Pack 2 bottles of hydration in the drop bag. That was for the first and second return via W4 when water is not available
c) Similarly, 2 packs of chicken fried rice for that matter
d) In terms of gear, I’d start with my running shorts from the start line, and skimp on long pants. I’d need a good stormshell jackets though. But the Salomon low cut gaiter had to go!
e) I wonder if wearing slippers could be done – perhaps I should put a pair in the drop bag
f) Ditch the Silva Trail – inadequate lumens was a real bust as I had to squint my old eyes! The batteries didn’t last long too (ok, I skimped on the low end batteries, so what?)
g) A chest mount for the GoPro – that way I’d save from having my fat fingers at the aperture, and keep hands on the tracks, not on the camera
h) Shoes selections needs a little bit of heads there. Whether or not I need to invest in a different pair remains a mystery
i) The majority of the running stretch, especially coming down from the peak was affected by swollen feet. Bigger shoe size, I’m afraid. Might be a good idea to put a second pair of shoes at W4
j) Well, it’s not a rocket science that I need more trainings done