Project Triple8: Chapter Two "The Plan"

Friday, 25 August 2017

We had what seemed like a sensible and well thought through plan for the next 3 days.

It started with us collecting Jeri Chua (an Elite Ultra Runner from Singapore) from the Airport in Ipoh, and then Chun How (another Elite Ultra Runner from KL) arriving at our place in Tambun. He’d driven up in his personal car as he’d volunteered to also ride back with me and needed to bring his own car rather than his support truck as he was heading up North to see his parents immediately after we finished.

This was blessing as in the process he was able to bring up Rudhra, a personal friend who we'd met through our involvement in the Care 2 Run Project and who had volunteered to help Elsa as part of the support crew for what we were now referring to as "Team Live More".

Our first job was to try and squeeze all of our luggage in to Rambo, our truck, along with our five bodies. Despite my reservations immediately after agreeing to the ferrying of these additional bodies to the start line rather than just ourselves, we managed to do this with remarkable ease and shortly after Midday on Friday, 25 August we headed out for Lumut and the hotel where the race pack collection and briefing were scheduled to take place later that afternoon.

Setting up support car - Rambo (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
Along the way we had a stop for lunch in Simpang Pulai and then for the benefit of Jeri who was unfamiliar with the course, we followed exactly the route that we’d be running the next day (Chun How had already done a full course recce with the race organisers who were personal friends of his a few week earlier) pointing out land marks like Kellie’s Castle and cabin where CP1 would be located.

On arriving at the hotel I felt obliged to remind Elsa and Rudhra to ignore the other teams' trucks. I confess that this was as much for my benefit as theirs, as it was very difficult not to be in awe of some of the other teams “hardware” which had been especially converted to give these teams more of a mobile home feel to them rather than a mobile aid station as Rambo was designed for.  

The hotel room offered ample space for Team Live More to set up our first temporary camp of the adventure. Don’t take this as a recommendation though because in reality it was just a functional and clean room. However, our expectations of our other temporary campsites was minimal so, by comparison, this one was sheer decadence and even afforded us the luxury of a bathroom ands a fridge/freezer for our perishable products and cooling blocks/bags to be placed in.

With the briefing pushed back to accommodate some late arrivals we tried to snooze. However, “tried” was the operative word. As in terms of catching naps I realised that this was an acquired art and I had overlooked this in my preparation phase as being an important skill to have mastered for the week ahead.

Around 5pm we wandered downstairs after busying ourselves in our respective camps and whilst we were some way from the formal briefing we completed the registration process, took some team photos and, most importantly, were able to start introducing ourselves to the other runners and their teams. At around 7pm with the briefing over and done with we tucked into the hotel buffet and continued to network with the other teams before we all took the opportunity for an early night.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

By 6am the next morning the runners and teams were back at the same buffet this time busying themselves with breakfast. Given that we were estimating that I was going to be burning something in excess of 40,000 calories over next 7 days versus the usual 11-12,000 that a normal male of my size would burn over the space of a week. As a result, eating or as I was now more accurately describing it, "fuelling" was fast becoming a major focus for us all.

Tucking into our breakfast (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
As a result, when combined with the air of expectation that were all experiencing, it’s fair to say that conversation at the breakfast table was minimal versus the jocular mood the night before and there was a real sense of positive tension in the room. I know that I was starting to get a real sense now for the enormity of the undertaking we were taking on and I suspect others were too.

Just before 7am we decamped from the luxury of our hotel room, packed the gears into Rambo so everything we needed for Sector 1 to Seri Iskandar was accessible and after giving each other a hug, Elsa, with Rudhra riding shotgun, pulled Rambo out of the car park into a drizzly damp morning which was the first blessing of the day ;-) 

There wasn’t room for me in the truck as Elsa & Rudhra’s organisational plan was utilising the rear seat as the secure locker and dry bag for our supplies. As a result, I stood on the running board of Rambo to travel the short distance to the start line which was on the bridge that joined the resort to the man made Marina Island where the hotel was located. The start line was immediately above the shoreline of the mainland of peninsular Malaysia.

After the obligatory official start line group photos and well wishes given to all of the other participants I had one final hug with my support crew and gathered for the official start. At this point, I have to confess that a few unofficial photos were taken and in these I looked like I was still asleep.

Group photo before start. From left to right: Seow Kong, Chun How, Rambo, Steven, Allan, Sidqi, Lily, Jeri, Cheryl, Rose, Wooi Keat and Dave (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
I’ve jokingly said publicly that indeed I was. Although in reality I was very much awake but was gathering myself and I do this best by closing my eyes and bringing together in my mind all the things and people that are important to me. 

In this instance, I was thinking about the good fortune I had to have such a great team doing this challenge with me, the amazing family and network of friends that I am blessed with who were supporting me from a far and the causes that we were doing this challenge for and the amazing work that they do.

At what I assume was precisely 07:30:00 the word was given that we’d started and all of us trotted down the slight incline of the bridge before turning right onto a long straight and reasonably flat road to CP1 at Seri Iskandar 50km away.

7.30am start from Marina Island (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
As mentioned earlier there was a very light drizzle although this had dissipated by the time we started. Despite this though we were still fortunate enough to have a relatively cool start to the day and we set about the task of finding our rhythm.

I settled quickly and contented myself with what felt like a comfortable pace since I prefer to have no gadgets or devices on me and run only with my Lifeline ID on my wrist. This placed me around 4th to 5th place with Jeri Chua out in front, Rose Betonio and Allan Lee, Steven Ong/Chun How for company.

Our strategy with aid stations was for me to run with nothing other than the mandatory equipment. During daylight this was my backpack with the tracker device, chip and bib number along with a phone and whistle to attract attention and call for help if needed. At night it involved lights and high visibility gear as well.

All my other needs were attended to by Elsa and Rudhra who set up an aid station every 5 kilometres or so when drinks, fuel and iced towels would be dispensed from the back of Rambo and Rudhra who could hop over the barriers (versus the set of step ladders that Elsa or I would need) in the road, would risk life and limb and cross the busy road to offer me these and along the way snap a few photos as well.

By the time we had reached Ayer Tawar almost 20km up the road I was ready for my 2nd breakfast and asked Rudhra at the next aid station to have one of my sandwiches and a banana for me. I didn’t need to specify the sandwich as Elsa knew that I’d be wanting my usual morning fuel of Marmite and Honey. To my surprise the banana which I’d been expecting to be separate came inside the sandwich and fuelled by this I didn’t sense myself speeding up but found myself passing Jeri before I had even finished the sandwich to end up at the head of our train.

KM22 Ayer Tawar (photo credit: Soggy Beard)

KM 36 posing in front of paddy field (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
This was neither intentional or something that I thought would last. I told myself it was simply a consequence off the Formula One like pit stop strategy that we were using and that over time the faster and stronger runners would compensate for our efficiency in this area and we’d soon be part of the pack again. 

As the morning progressed the coolness was soon a thing of the past and the heat of the day really started to kick in. This is where the iced towel strategy worked wonders as these really helped to keep me fresh and other than for the couple of hills that we had approaching Seri Iskandar I remained consistently around the 6 minute per kilometre pace.

To my surprise this kept me at the head of the train in the remaining kilometres to CP1 where I arrived shortly after 1pm in an official time of 5:31:49. This was comfortably inside the 8 hours given for the cut off at this point and perfectly in sync with our plan.

Check in @ CP1 Seri Iskandar - KM49.8, Saturday 01:01:49PM
After dealing with the admin which involved Elsa or Rudhra scanning me, photographing me and messaging the Race Directors with my arrival confirmation, I got my vital signs recorded by the medical crew to show them that I was fit to continue and settled down to the KFC lunch that I’d pre ordered and was seriously looking forward to.

After seeing Jeri & Allan arrive, chatting with the team and Roberto, Jeri’s “Race Bitch” and opting to change my shoes to a slightly larger pair given the heat of the day was now upon us and my feet were starting to swell up, I was on my way again shortly after 1:30pm.

The completion of Sector 2 is at POS Raya. However, the next 30km into Simpang Pulai were I was scheduling a stop and a rendezvous with a few more members of the Live More Team was relatively flattish with a few more rolling hills like the ones immediately before Seri Iskandar. As a result, I was able to maintain a good steady pace of around the 6 to 7 minute per kilometre pace for much of this.

With about 15km remaining to Simpang Pulai I stopped to slip on a fresh pair of socks and Rudhra slipped me a delightful roadside drink that he and Elsa had spotted. This was Air Kelapa Asam which is a coconut water with a sour plum and is deliciously refreshing. Whilst I was sucking on this he told me of some confusions behind us in terms of other runners interpretations of the route which they were following in the chat forum and the live tracker. This involved some runners missing turnings and others embarking on a slightly alternative route to Simpang Pulai which was allegedly 2 kilometres shorter than the Kellie’s Castle route we were planning to take.

On the way from Seri Iskandar to Simpang Pulai (photo credit: Soggy Beard)

Posing in front of Kellie's Castle (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
After discussing this we agreed that we’d stick to the plan and the published route as I’d rather be long than wrong in terms of how we interpreted the route. At the same stop Rudhra slipped on his runners and joined me to stretch his legs and get a taste of what was to come when he would be my sole source of pacing resource.

Just before we joined the main trunk road up to Simpang Pulai I decided that I would walk the remainder into this small town as a means of recuperating and preparing for the climb up Cameron. Shortly after this decision we got our first taste of rain and Rudhra jumped back in Rambo with Elsa so he didn’t get soaked to the skin like I was going to get and they headed off to the brilliant Chicken Rice store where we’d lunched the day before to get our dinner.

Fortunately, I had only 3-4 kilometres to go and continued marching in the rain to the Petronas garage where waiting for me was my Cameron pacing team of Awei Awei, En Lin & Joon Bing. They were accompanied unexpectedly by Jim Willis who was on his way to Moonriver (CP3) where he’d take over the pacing role along with Kasper & Xiao Wei two young swimming friends and aspiring triathletes with Ah Wah and Cecilia their respective supporters.

Group meeting with pacers (photo credit: Cecelia Aw)

Thanks for the support Kasper & Xiao Wei (photo credit: Cecelia Aw)
By this stage, all the BBQ heat of the day had dissipated and the rain had now put a real chill into me. Seeing this group of enthusiastic supporters really warmed me up inside though but unfortunately, on reflection, I do not feel I was able to acknowledge and show my appreciation as much as I should have. As, truth be told, I was feeling bit beat up and when Jim offered me the back of his truck with a Doof Bean Bag to lie on I gladly accepted this to rest and get out of the rain.

I had yet to perfect the art of the power snooze but the rest was a welcome one and whilst laying here Elsa and Rudhra turned up with Rambo and our supper. I elected to wait for the Chicken Rice until we reached CP2 which was approximately 15kms up the road and just took the salty chicken broth that they had also sensibly bought. This did the trick in terms of warming me up and I felt ready to crack on and get to CP2 for supper and a change of clothes.

Resting on Jim's Doof Bean Bag while waiting for my chicken rice dinner (photo credit: Soggy Beard)
Urged on by the encouragement of the support team and cries of “You Got This” I was led up the road by Awei Awei who’d assumed the role of chief pacer with En Lin & Joon Bing following up behind at a respectable and discreet distance for when they were needed.

The climb up to POS Raya starts gradually and sedately. There is then one long serious climb and several short sharper ascents and descents. With Awei Awei’s help we ran all of this at a steady and consistent pace and before we knew it we were checking into to CP2 with just under 25% of the challenge completed. The time was just before 9pm and we were smack on plan still with a cumulative time of 13:23:47 and just over 4 hours ahead of the cut off for this Checkpoint.

Check in @ CP2 Pos Raya - KM100.6, Saturday 08:53:47PM
After completing the check in and again having my vital signs checked the priority now was to refuel. The rain was pretty incessant although thankfully not too heavy so this meal consisted of a hot Mushroom soup with a large sweet potato broken up in it. For dessert, I had half of the chicken rice supper. I dried myself off, put on a fresh shirt and socks and changed into an old set of Salomon Trail Shoes. The rationale for this was that the hard shoulder of the road up to Cameron was rough and full of lots of loose stones which I’d anticipated would get caught in the soles of the Cloud “All Blacks” and would irritate me mentally as well as potentially physically.

With renewed and refreshed vigour we headed on upwards with Awei Awei once again setting a metronome like pace for me to follow. The darkness and dampness of the night air made it reasonably comfortable to run in and we continued to make good progress on our goal of making CP3 by first light. However, our poor support crews, who were still there for us every five or so kilometres, were starting to feel the chill as our elevation increased.

I’ve ridden this road many times and run it several times in my preparation for this event. Both times I’d run it in the early morning and had to do the bulk of the climb after the sun was up. This had made me realise that no matter what I felt like at CP2 this was not the place to rest and the strategy had been formulated to press on through the night so that this climb could be done out of the heat of the day. As to do it when the sun was up would be debilitating and potentially fatal in terms of the our aspirations of staying comfortably inside the cut off times.

Our support car setup during night time
As a result of running it in the dead of night though most of the usual landmarks were lost to me. I recall passing “Long Bridge”, “Short Bridge” and the “Landslide Tunnel” but other than this almost all the other landmarks up to the BHP Petrol Station just before the turning to Kampung Raja were lost to me as I continued to stick to Awei Awei’s heels and got lost in the rhythm of his incredibly high cadence which I’d developed a way of being able to walk behind to conserve as much of my energy as possible.

Thankfully for us the traffic wasn’t heavy but it was steady. Thankfully for me, Awei Awei excelled as not just a pacer but as a visual beacon and traffic cop for me in terms of making sure the drivers of these vehicles not only saw us but gave us a wide berth. His hand signals to them and to me to forewarn me of potholes and puddles was exemplary and I found myself thinking how I could not have wished for a more attentive and astute pacer.

Other than at the stops we made for hydration, fuel and several stiff shots of coffee, we didn’t talk much whilst we were running, other than for me proffering words of encouragement at the wonderful job he was doing. We were all definitely at one with each other though and it brings goosebumps to my body now typing this when I reflect on the bond of camaraderie and companionship that I had with this wonderful group of pacers.

One of the coffee stops on the way to CP3
Before I could imagine it we were passed the BHP Station and heading to the Mosque at Lojing where I knew it was a mere 10km from Moonriver Lodge and CP3. Knowing that the last 10km is all downhill and that the road is separated for most of this by a big divider, I waved on the Support Crew telling them we’d see them at CP3 and to get the 1st of our race camps set up for us to have a good rest. This must have been at around 5am and was in hindsight a mistake. As it took us almost 2 hours to reach CP3 from this point as, despite the descent, due to the dark, poor quality road and obviously tiredness of us all, this 10km seemed like forever and reflecting back was definitely one of the longest 10kms of our journey.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Our official cumulative race time was 23:24:30 when we checked in just after 7am. This was almost 1.5 hours slower than the stretch target I’d set ourselves for this stage whilst day dreaming of where we could get to in certain times. That said, the plan was to make CP3 by 1st light on the 27th and we’d achieved that objective almost with meticulous precision. 

Because of this it meant that we were now 14 hours ahead of the cut off time for this phase of the race. The welcoming party of our wonderful support crew and Jim (my next secret weapon), who had rested the night at the Lodge and who had got up to welcome us was a really memorable one therefore.

Check in @ CP3 Moonriver Lodge - KM152, Sunday 06:54:30AM
Thanks for the companionship & camaraderie En Lin, Awei Awei & Joon Bing
I’d always felt that this was going to be the longest day for us both in terms of hours (actual moving time was 20:02:49), distance covered (159.8km) & elevation gain from the west coast (2,152m) where we had started the day before. As such, it was probably the most critical part of the journey, as with this in the bank so to speak, we could not help but feel that we had made an excellent start to the challenge and whilst not resting on our laurels could be justifiably proud of achieving what we had set out to do in the first 24 hours of our plan.

As such, the next part of the plan was a well overdue hot shower and, a thoroughly deserved, and darn good sleep which were the next priorities of our plan.  



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