Project Triple8: Chapter Five "Emerging from the Unknown…"

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

After the obligatory CP admin and the fuelling and hydration were done on arrival at CP7, we were faced with 1 of 2 choices. They were simple choices. The first and most obvious one was rest up. The second was press on.

The Checkpoint landmark was a burnt out car at the entrance of a rest and viewing area flanked by primary forest. This made it considerably more appealing than the busy Shell Petrol forecourt from the previous night. It also had, allegedly, some rooms in which we could rest in and there were even apparently bathing facilities. The thought of bathing was attractive but after a brief discussion we opted to not even check the facilities out and adopt Byron Powell’s mantra of “Relentless Forward Progress” once again.

As a result, by 11am we were underway again with the “currant bun” (London Cockney Rhyming Slang for “Sun”) now burning down on us brighter than the spot lights at Wembley Stadium. The ad-hoc plan that we had hatched over our breakfast stop was basically to tough out the full heat of the day for as long as possible in an effort to tick off as many of the 53.5kms that we had to go to the R&R at Gawi which was CP8.

I do not mind admitting that after the 1st 5km on this road we had to make a serious adjustment top our approach as the stifling heat on this road made that initial 5km feel like 20km. We elected to keep going but to adapt the frequency to 2.5km rather than 5km. This was (just) within the limit allowed as we’d been advised at the briefing where we were told in response to a question that he every 2km would be OK in terms of the frequency of aid from our support cars. This was better but our supplies of ice were now being stretched and the wonderful relief that the iced towels provided me with on that 1st Day was now a thing of the past. 

To cope with this I needed to concentrate hard on something else and this is where the work that I have been doing recently professionally and personally on mindfulness really started to pay dividends. As by concentrating on other aspects of the moment, namely the stunning scenery of the lake, I was able to finding other benefits of being here that compensated for the heat. That said it was difficult at times not to feel like bits of my body were boiling as the day and I marched on. In particular my lips and hands took a bit of a beating as did strangely enough my calves and shins.

The Magnificent Lake Kenyir
Primary forest wall
I spent most of that afternoon practising these moments of mindfulness which were, I confess, interrupted with frequent moments of weakness where I was distracted from embracing the beauty of ‘Mother Nature’ and let my thoughts slip into regret, remorse and, even retribution towards myself and my plan to not have packed some decent sun protecting lip balm and skin protection blah, blah, blah.

After leaving behind any opportunity for shelter at CP7 there was absolutely nowhere to hide so I’m actually quite pleased to report that the art of staying mindful and recognising these moments of weakness and being able to return from them to the focus back on just our breathing so that we emptying our minds and become one with our environment, really got me through, what could have been a tortuous afternoon.

As a result, rather than finishing the afternoon in negative frame of mind I had a reasonably healthy all be it slightly frazzled one. Around 5pm we reached what Elsa and Rudhra advised me was approximately just over half waypoint to CP8. This was a mini R&R as Elsa had described it. In reality from the outside it looked similar to the few other buildings that we’d encountered along the way e.g. deserted and dilapidated. On entering the dark shaded internal areas of the property though we found it alive with a handful of people and clean. As importantly, it had ice and food and I proceeded to cool down and consume.

Mini R&R - Warung Pok Su
Fueling at Mini R&R with Roti Telur and fried rice
By the time I left here, shortly after 6:30pm, with 4 delicious helpings of Roti Telur (an Indian influenced flat bread with an egg inside), 1 and a half portions of fried rice and copious glasses of warm water and several Kopi Kosongs (black coffees) to the good, I felt like a new man and was good to go.

Rudhra who had been watching the sufferfest throughout the afternoon asked me if he needed me to pace him. As politely as I could I declined this suggestion primarily because I felt that the death march pace that I was proceeding with did not justify a pacer and, based on previous experiences of the last 8-10 kilometres of each Sector being the hardest, I knew I was going to need him later. As a consequence, the march to Gawi continued on and eventually we were consumed by the darkness as the sunset.

Despite being surrounded by water (Lake Kenyir is the largest man made lake in South East Asia covering 260,000 hectares. That’s a surface area of 260 square kilometres) and primary forests after the sun dropped I could not detect any noticeable drop in the temperature. On reflection this might have been because I was so badly toasted by this stage that my core temperature was not able to drop from its elevated state.

At the time I put it down solely to the fact that tarmac retains the heat so well, to the extent that even several hours after the sun had retired for the day, you could still make a decent job of frying a Roti Telur on its surface. I caught myself cursing this fact several times and forced myself to focus on returning to just breathing and not thinking. This was becoming harder and harder though and at around 10pm I called for reinforcements in the form of Rudhra who by now was chomping at the bit to run as understandably he’d probably not only been getting a bit bored but possibly disillusioned with my decreasing pace and progress.

I resolved myself to really try to pick up my pace and was grateful for all the positivity that Rudhra was showing in helping me to not just keep moving but to inject a bit more purposefulness to my stride. The coolness of the night air had finally taken hold and I no longer had the excuse of the heat to halt me. Despite this though I was struggling to keep pace with Rudhra’s stride length which involved me taking 3 paces to his one. As a result, for the first and only time in what was definitely my darkest moments of this challenge I was reduced to stopping and crouching over my knees needing to rest.

Then when I possibly at my lowest ebb there was a moment of magic. This occurred when Rudhra’s musical talents (he teaches music) came to the fore as all of a sudden in one of these crouched moments he said to me with a sense of urgency in his voice “Listen, can you hear that?” This prompted me to immediately think of those elephants again but I heard no signs of them so I responded rather curtly by saying “No, I didn’t hear anything”.

This wasn’t exactly true of course as all around us were the sounds of the forests with frogs, cicadas and the like all contributing to a subtle cacophony of sound. Amongst the variety of sounds was one particular sound that Rudhra was referring to. He highlighted it to me and start mimicking its rhythm and using the word “walk, walk, walk” repeatedly.

The chorus frog (photo source: Google)
I attributed the sound to a particular group of small frogs that lined this section of the roadside. They were mostly likely the tiny narrow mouthed frog aka the appropriately named Chorus Frog which are rarely seen (as they are usually only 2cms in length). Their sound was deafening though and I joined Rudhra in the chant which now sounded like the roar of the crowd urging Usain Bolt or Mo Farah on down the home straight.

It’s difficult to recapture this moment in words for you to appreciate this but before long spurred on by this my walk had become a shuffle and the shuffle a gentle jog and we eventually arrived into CP8 at the Gawi R&R at 11:57:15 with a cumulative race time of 88:27:15.

Check in @ CP8 R&R Gawi KM382.5, Tuesday 11:57:15PM
After allowing Rudhra and Elsa to check me in to the CP formally in the usual way, I shuffled off to the public conveniences where I confess I used the disabled washroom (it was not only the cleanest but also seemed ironically the most appropriate for other reasons ;-) to take a much needed wash (it had now been 2.5 days since the last one in the Gua Musang Homestay). Sadly, this was not heated and I therefore did not linger.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

On emerging from the washroom feeling somewhat fresher I found that the ever faithful Elsa and Rudhra had set up our camp for the night and I took up my position on my mat under a Pondok (Hut). The last thing I can remember was Elsa inspecting my feet and the area of chaffing around my groin and applying talcum powder to these, as I was now getting the hang of the art of the “power snooze” as rather than dropping off I plummeted into a deep and restful sleep.

I know that we’d been talking about setting alarms for this rest stop and discussed being up and ready to get going for circa 4:30am, but I do not recall hearing any. Nonetheless, the entire team to rise as one and after dressing in some fresh running gear and scoffing down some breakfast of oatmeal, dates, nuts and fruits simultaneously with my usual cup of coffee we were on our way again.

Over our breakfast I discussed the need for me to take things easier on this sector so that I could finish the last Sector strong. Based on a distance of 40.8km to CP9 I felt that I could and should be able to march there by lunchtime which in turn could mean that we’d made the finish line later the afternoon so that we got to spend the night in the hotel resort that had been booked for the awards dinner the next day rather than another night on the roadside. The prospect of this became our burning goal for the day and we used this rather than the burning sun to keep us moving relentlessly forward, progressing ever closer to the finish line.

I have to say that taking the pressure off of myself by stating this Sector with the intention of walking it all was a bonus and my march throughout was purposeful. Soon after leaving the R&R which was of course still shut, we started to re-enter what we described as civilisation. There was quite a few negatives associated with this in that the scenery was significantly less attractive and signs of the existence of human ‘beans” again with their cars and rubbish being the primary ones. There was one positive though and that was the fact that the more built up it go the closer we were to our ultimate goal and getting that perfect score I promised Jim we’d aim for on the descent to CP5 which now seemed like forever ago.

At approximately 2/3rds distance I sheltered in the shadow of Rambo and laid down to an impromptu brunch picnic where fresh supplies of ice had finally been acquired. Whilst eating some fruits and nuts and the last of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, it was discussed and decided to message the rest of the support teams of this supply as we were worried that, like us, they had been without ice for some time. In fact we’d estimated, based on Rudhra’s monitoring of the Live Tracking system, that it could have been considerably longer as the mini R&R where we last got ice from would have been shut by the time they reached it.

By now I had accepted that my suspicions of correctness of the live tracker were unfair as having not seen a sign of a runner or their support car for over 24 hours now I was satisfied that no one was breathing down our neck and, to be frank, if they were, well good luck and well done to them. As I had never expect ted us to stay out in front and certainly was needing us to cross the line in that position either to feel like we had won.

I’m pleased to inform though that despite this degree of comfort we did not ever allow confidence to morph into complacency and we kept up our by now well drilled and disciplined approach and continued making relentless forward progress.

By the time lunch came around the Mosque at Kampung Sungai Ikan had come into view and we checked ourselves in officially at CP9 at 1:05:47. We now had 101:35:47 on the cumulative race clock which gave us just over 18 hours to cover the last 21kms.

Check in @ CP9 Kampung Sungai Ikan KM422.8, Wedneday 01:05:47PM
After Elsa & Rudhra found us another great little pit stop cafe where I feasted on Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) and a local Terengganu dish of Nasi Minyak (Oily Rice which was delicious ;-). This was washed down with several Milos Iced drinks and feeling excited and refreshed Rudhra, who was going to join me for the final leg, and I set off for the beach at Batu Buruk almost bang on 2pm. I kept telling myself that we were now only a “warm up” run away from getting this job done.

Nasi Minyak (photo source: Google)
Man on a mission.
Along the way Elsa manned the by now well oiled water stations with meticulous precision although with the increasing volume of traffic at one point we missed the stop and lost contact momentarily with her. This was quickly corrected by Rudhra and Elsa communicating effectively with each other as I knew they had done throughout our journey.

For my part, I followed in Rudhra’s wake for all of this Sector and to a large extent was like an aircraft coming into land on automatic pilot. Along the way, my primary focus was to try as best I could to stay on Rudhra’s heels and maintain the pace he was setting. Having him there was an immense help although it was a constant and painful struggle which I could only do by marching at my pace and then when he was 50 or so metres ahead of me forcing myself to run him down and reconnect to his heels.

This happened every 4-5 minutes given a combination of the relative freshness in his legs and the fact that he needed only one stride to my three. The only exception to this modus operandi was at the one and only roundabout that we had to navigate our way across. Here I assumed the role of the “Trafik Polis” (aka traffic police) by using my experience of running the gauntlet in the traffic of central London in places like Hyde Park Corner and my desire to not stop moving for fear of not being able to start again, to control the busy intersection s and allow us to cross safely without even breaking stride. Admittedly, this was only possible, thanks to the generosity of several drivers whose jaw’s and eyes told me that seeing a weird White Man striding out in front of their cars with absolutely no intention of stopping, was not something that they were willing to ignore.

Slowly the city of Kuala Terengganu started to emerge around us and we caught the sniff of the sea air in the form of a very stiff headwind. This was another great reason for having Rudhra with me as he made for a perfect wind break and I forced myself to stick to his heels to avoid the full force of this wind. My will was ebbing, so he took my lead from the Roundabout and navigated us nicely through the busy traffic here as we crossed the bridge over the mouth of the Terengganu River that signaled for me that we were almost home.

My wind breaker
Sungai Terengganu
The Crystal Mosque or Masjid Kristal - A grand structure made of steel, glass and crystal
On exiting the bridge we had to take a sharp left and it was at this point where I started to lose what had been up to this point a reasonably calm and collected disposition. Perhaps it was a combination of tiredness, relief of finally arriving at our ultimate destination and a genuine ad serious concern about our safety. As, I found myself getting very irritated with the traffic and particularly the motorcyclists that were now weaving in between Rudhra and I. After getting clipped by their wing mirrors on several occasions I quickened my pace and passed Rudhra and asked him if we could get on the righthand side of the road.

Sadly, Rudhra convinced me that we had to stay on the left and I therefore remained deeply distrustful of the competency and due care of some of the drivers and gingerly and cautiously proceeded until we finally entered the sanctuary of the pedestrian walkway leading down to the beach and State & National flags that were adorning the finishing area.

I know that this impacted my mood which should really have been euphoric at having almost finished this leg of the Challenge. Additionally, as these flags were not celebrating our arrival but the arrival tomorrow of Malaysia’s Merdeka Day celebrations, I also confess momentarily at least, to having my mood further dampened by a sense of anticlimax at arriving alone with just our team to witness what was, I genuinely believe, to have been a gargantuan effort by us to deliver on the earlier promise I made to Jim of making it 10 CP’s out of 10.

The consolation for this though was that there was no need for us to be on ceremony of any sorts at the finish line and as soon as we’d done the final obligatory check in and snapped a few photos we could make our way to the resort where the Awards Ceremony was taking place for a really well deserved rest.

Check in @ CP10 Batu Buruk Beach KM443.6, Wedneday 03:54:36PM
The Team at the finishing line
We crossed the line at 5:24pm on Wednesday afternoon, meaning that we had covered that final 21km in less than 3.5 hours which, by my standards and the distances covered since Saturday morning, was I believe a BIG tick in the box in terms of the strong finish I had wanted. It’s a shame that no one else there appreciated the significance of this but, on reflection, we weren’t doing this for any of these people so why should they care ;-)

Officially we recorded a final cumulative race time of 104:24:26 and when I learnt of this I was momentarily confused as this would have meant that we crossed the line at 3:54pm when it was definitely 5:24pm. However, when sufficient oxygen had returned to my brain, I realised that the race time in the results was an adjusted one to take account of the 90 minutes that the race was suspended for when we were back at CP6.

In my eyes though this suspension did not apply to us as we had fortunately already reached the CP and were in “rest mode” when the decision had been made to suspend the race. Despite the unattractiveness of the CP as a rest point I am satisfied that we’d used our time there productively and that we were not held up in anyway.

As a consequence, I consider that our actual time for the run element of the 2017 edition of our Triple8 Challenge is just under 106 hours and that this is the actual “course record” ;-)

Official certificate

Official results


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