Monday, December 17, 2012

Beaufort 60K—A Bridge Too Far

Shortly after The Most Beautiful Thing last September, Sabah Adventure Challenge launched the Beaufort 60k - A Bridge Too Far. I wasn't really paying attention to this event. I have done several ultra trail marathons up to 100km, and 60km was just another event to me; until I noticed those few words "on the hottest stretch of tar sealed road in Malaysia". The lust for challenges of many flavours—I hate to admit it, but I'm a sucker when it comes to these things! And soon after that, my name found it's place in the official racers' list.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I had very little opportunities to train specifically for the Beaufort 60k. You see, after the TMBT, I did the Miri International Triathlon in early October; and then the Powerman in early November; and finally the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon just 2 weeks ago. But I had planned from the beginning to use the Beaufort 60k as a training run for Vibram HK 100km in January 2013, so I was going to run very slow. The cutoff time was 9 hours. I reckoned that it'd be a good training if I could go slow to finish, say, in about 8 hours. That was the plan. But I totally did not expect the effect of the heat of the day!

On the way from KK to Beaufort wherefrom the race would start, we spent the time chit-chatting. In fact, we stopped briefly for roti canai at Salim's in Lintas Plaza. We discussed about blisters in the groin area for endurance sports. There were suggestions of wearing G-string, silky soft underwear (that had a secondary function to seduce the wife), and even no underwear at all. Conversations such as these can be very enlightening, you know! Well, we arrived at the starting line just a few minutes before the flag off.

Felice and Hana had apparently planned to run together, and obliged to take a photo before the race; Hana of course did her trademark back-breaking pose, while I was still busy attaching the bib on my shirt.

Before the start, the race director gave a final briefing; and then made a pleasant announcement: the cut off time for the race had been extended to 10 hours instead of 9 hours. It was quite a relief, I thought I would relax even further, perhaps putting in even more walking breaks. We then made our way to the starting line.

Erwan was there (extreme left in photo), and Yim was also there in his striking orange-coloured outfit. Felice was looking grim; probably praying really hard for the impending torture.

We started the race on a short stretch of gravelled road before turning to the highway which was fully asphalt and there was hardly any shades. It was already fast approaching 7:30am when we were flagged off, and the sun was already up in the sky.

I started way at the back, and Bob decided to run together with me. But we stopped for a few minutes to pour some fertilizer on the grass at the roadside.

As we turned to the highway, we could already feel our backs burning from the sun. But it was still a pleasant run then, as we were going at about 6:30 min/km. And then later on we eased to about 7 min/km. I could see my running buddy, Dr Peter, a few hundred metres ahead, but I had no intention to run at his pace. However, I remarked to Bob that Peter was running exceptionally slow for his style!

We kept to more or less that same pace up to almost 20km, passing water stations every 5km apart. I'm not sure if it's the shoe, or maybe the socks, but shortly after 15km into the run, I could feel something of a biting pain in my right toe. It was obvious that a blister was developing, but there was very little that I could do. I tried compensating by changing my footstrike, but to no avail.

After about 2 hours running, it was also clear that we would struggle in the heat of the day; and it's gonna be a long, long day! I actually found myself hoping for a rain, but that was just wishful thinking. Bob kept his pace steady behind me. He's got this thing about following my pace rather than dictating the pace; sometimes I kinda feel a bit of pressure too!

When we reached the 4th water station (20km), though, I told Bob to go ahead as I had to rest a little longer. I was feeling a little faint because of the heat. I stood there under the tent watching Bob drifting further and further away. A few other participants overtook me, but eventually, I had to continue running. I must have taken about 15 minutes or so before I caught up with Bob again. We alternated between running and walking, but after passing the water station at 25km, the blister on my toe was becoming unbearably uncomfortable. We walked for a good distance, until I decided I should deal with the blister. Hence I stopped at a bus stop, taking off my shoe to put a plaster on my toe. Again Bob went ahead. Little did I know, the next water station was just around the corner, meaning that we've done 30km so far. It was quite disheartening to think that we have actually reached just the halfway point, and there's another 30km to go!

It was probably around then that Judy was already approaching Kuala Penyu, and she's still running strong.

After the water station at Km30, I continued running and eventually caught up with Bob again. I knew that there's a Petronas station up ahead, so I ran a little faster, leaving Bob behind. I was running alone for perhaps 10 minutes.

I stopped at Petronas station and used the toilet there to douse my head with water. The water wasn't really cold, but it felt like ice water anyway. It was very soothing, but the downside was that perhaps because of the sudden cooling of my head, I felt a bit of nausea. I stood there in the toilet for some minutes, leaning on the sink and looking at myself in the mirror on the wall. I was, like, "Why on earth am I doing this to  myself?" 

Throughout the race there were moments when I contemplated throwing in the towel, and this was one of those moments. But, you see, failure was just not an option—for as long as my legs could still move, I had to continue. Otherwise, when I wake up after a good rest the next day, I would hate myself for surrendering. Thus I went out to the road again. It must have been around noon by then and the temperature was around 35 degrees C. I duly crossed the bridge and as I was reaching to other side of Sungai Sitompok, I saw Bob in the yonder. I did not realise that I spent much longer than I thought at the Petronas station after all.

Well, I caught up with Bob again, and we remained together for some distance. We were by then walking more than running, but I wasn't planning to finish fast anyway. I meant to take my time to benefit the most from the training. Eventually, not only were we walking a great deal, we were also walking very slowly.

It must have been around then that Peter was already at the 45km point; and he was still going strong. I can imagine his excitement as this was to be his longest running distance ever, and he's doing great!

As we were leisurely walking in the ridiculous afternoon sun, Bob suddenly remarked that at the rate we were going, we would take up to over 9 hours to finish the race. I waved him off, saying that we're doing OK; that we should be able to make it within 8 hours 30 minutes at the most. But later on when I stopped at a water station at Km45, my mind started thinking and calculating again. And to my horror, Bob was right with his calculation! When it was announced that the cut off time had been extended to 10 hours that morning, I remember telling myself to limit my running time to 9 hours. That should give me a good 1 hour buffer to the time limit. But I got it all wrong with my calculation, and it had now become quite critical. Thus it was time for remedial steps. The first thing I did was to go into my briskwalking routine. Bob was hot on my heels.

I kept going and after a few minutes, when I turned back, I noticed that Bob was already lagging behind. But I knew he would gradually catch up—he always would. Thus I kept going. The heat and humidity, and the blister on my toe were killing me, but there was no time to lose. Suddenly this had become a race once again! After all the hard work, it would have been such a shame if I couldn't at least finish in time.

When I reached the water station at Km50, Bob was already quite far behind. Looking at my watch, I realised that even at that pace, it's too late to hope to finish in under 9 hours. I began to panic. So I started running again, alternating between running and briskwalking for a good half an hour until I reached Km55. After gulping a few cups of water and 100Plus, suddenly my legs refused to cooperate! I leaned on the water container on the table, looking down to the ground, staring at my feet. I wondered if this could be the first ever race that I would fail to finish! The 4 volunteers at the water station looked at me sympathetically, and one of them saying that there's only 5km to go. Damn! 5km is such a short distance; I can run that distance in about 20 minutes on any other day, but right a this moment, it seemed like an impossible distance! 

I took out a sponge from an ice case and squeeze it on my arms, my neck, my back, my head, my legs. I wasn't sure if it helped at all at that stage, but it's the least I could do. I must have spent about 10 minutes at that water station. Just as I was about to leave, I saw Bob arriving from afar. As I had expected, Bob could always catch up in the end. 

I then turned to the other direction; a long straight road with seemingly no end. I embarked on the epic 5km final leg of the race. Several minutes later, Dr Dev Sidhu, driving from the opposite direction, stopped by to say that I had about 3km to go. By then I was having a bit of a problem keeping steady on my feet. But with only 3km to go, there was absolutely no way I would give up.

I limped because of my blister; I was slow because of my exhaustion. And walking that long straight road, I felt like I wasn't moving at all! Then after what seemed like eternity, I reached a sharp bend, and turning the corner, I saw the finish line. I gradually increased my pace again, eventually up to a jogging pace. 

Cheers abound, cameras clicking, and I was ecstatic when I crossed the finish line.

And then I was surprised to see Felice sitting on a chair. She had given up at Km45. I have raced together with her several times, especially in last year's TMBT. I know she's not one who'd easily give up in a race, so I know this must have been a difficult decision for her to make.

Peter was also there and obviously relieved to survive the torture. Perhaps we should up the ante to 70km next?

We waited for some more minutes before Bob showed up at the corner. He was walking slowly. We cheered him on, but it was obvious that he, too, was struggling throughout those last few kilometres...

I thought Bob's arrival was the climax of the day, but little did I know that Hana was still out there struggling to make the finish line. Earlier on she was complaining of knee pain and blisters, but I also know that she's quite a stubborn woman. After all she's an ex-St Franciscan, you see. I should know, because I'm married to one! I thought she's going to miss the cut off, but the race director had yet again extended the cut off to 11 hours!

About a minute or two after the 10-hour mark, Hana emerged from the corner, limping. And then my jaw dropped to the ground as I watched in disbelief how she sprinted that last 100 metres even faster than how she started the race 10 hours ago! She was literally flying to the finish line!

She was airborne, and running so damn fast that my camera was not quick enough to focus on her...

And not only both her legs were airborne, she raised both her hands too!

Fortunately, there was the finish line and she had to stop running to let Aman the race director to put the finisher medal around her neck. Neither the knee pain nor the blisters were apparent, so remember that folks, if ever this woman tells you that she's in pain, don't believe her!

Earlier on, I missed another dramatic finish by Dr Joseph Lau and Herddy who tied second and third hand-in-hand together.

The hardwork on a hot, hot Sunday for this medal.

A very challenging event which I would strongly recommend to crazy endurance runners out there.

I reached home utterly exhausted. I thought I was gonna be dreaming about G-strings and silky soft panties, but instead I slept like a corpse throughout the night. I woke up this morning, still in a state of disbelief that I have conquered such a gruesome hot, hot 60km ultra marathon.


Jonas said...

Well done Cornelius!
It was truly searing hot out there. I can assure you that you were not the only one suffering.
Aman is a man of his words when it comes to advertizing a race!

Cornelius said...

Thanks, Jonas. Because of the temperature yesterday, it was much harder for the body to cool down, even though with proper hydration. It was truly an art of trying very hard to control the body temperature by slowing down the pace when overheated. There wasn't much that I could do but slowing down; because at some points I was at the verge of fainting. Quite a scary experience!

Oh yes, this was indeed an extremely hot race!

Sue's Ramblings said...

Great job.

The same phrase I echoed to myself during this morning's run: I would hate myself even more if I stopped or started walking. (FYI: coming back from a strained hip flexor)

Deo said...

"I leaned on the water container on the table, looking down to the ground, staring at my feet." <-- this is also what exactly I did, but at KM45 (the CP on the left side of the road) - wondering what is left inside of me to finish the last 15km (that's equivalent to 2h 45m).

Somehow, miraculously, you and I, and other runners finished this grueling race. Well done Cornelius!

Cornelius said...

Thanks, Sue. But I sometimes wonder if we are being smart about this. Of course the ultimate goal is to conquer the feat, but at times we tend to forget where to draw the line. People have actually died or sustained prolonged or permanent injuries because of their failure to quit when the situation called for it. So maybe I haven't been very smart about this at all! So I hope you take it easy with your workout, especially coming out of an injury!

Cornelius said...

Thanks, Deo, and congratulations to you for a job well done too!

This race was actually intended to be just a training for next month's Vibram 100km in Hong Kong, but as I had said to Bob, it ended up being quite a challenge after all. In fact, in a way, I dare say it was my best effort endeavour too, especially during the tail end of the race.

Even now, 2 days after the event, I'm still proud of myself for surviving the torture; truly it was quite a feat!

eezard_vazz said...

Congratz Cornelius for finishing the hottest ever 60km ultra marathon in Malaysia... Truly inspired by reading your entry. Hopefully there will another blazing hot 60k Beaufort next year too.. Can't wait to join one... =D

I'm sure the extreme heat really zapped away all your energy and willingness to finish the remaining distance... Full respect for your strong tenacity... Kuods bro!

Cornelius said...

Thank you, eezard_vazz, for you kind words. This race was truly an eye-opener. I think many people who've done a 42km road marathon can most probably stretch it to 60km with a bit of extra training. But for this particular event, the distance is not really the main factor. Instead it's mainly about the heat. Of course I knew that the temperature would have an impact on the runners, but I didn't expect such a big impact!

Yes, I'm almost certain that the organiser will do it again next year. It's really something different, and endurance runners should try it at least once!