Wednesday, 19 February 2014

TITI 50km Road Ultra Marathon 2014 - Race Report

My First Ultra

50km or Bust

Why do I torture myself?

It has always my dream to run 50km. After completing six full marathons I thought it was time to give the ultra distance a try. So when TITI 100 Road Ultra Marathon came along I was as excited as my little nephew with a full bottle of Nutella. I love that stuff too by the way, and till today will spoon mouthfuls of it. Not wanting to be foolhardy, I signed up for the 50km. Having run River Jungle Marathon the year before at Batu 18 Hulu Langat, thought I would rather give a venue I am familiar with a try. TITI Ultra would start at Batu 14 Hulu Langat. So I would have run much of the route before. This time around I wouldn't be running it alone. My friend Cynthia Andrew, who I first met while running Borneo International Marathon last year, and again ran with at the Penang International Bridge Marathon, was willing to join me. Also running with us would be Billy Wong, whom she met at Standard Chartered KL Marathon. So our group weren't exactly novices, having completed 12 FMs between us. Cynthia's boyfriend, I Cung, would be close by if we needed any help, and some of the photos in this blog were taken by him.

Have often wondered why I torture myself like so. Twelve days before TITI Ultra my shin was acting up. I was running out of time to train because of the daily rain and had put together 50km in three days, clocking 7:07 in the process. All looked good. Then my left shin acted up really bad. My doctor friend at the gym looked at it and said no running till TITI Ultra. He runs FMs too, so I listened. The frustrating part was of course the inactivity. I knew what to expect at Hulu Langat, so I wanted to be ready for it. Yet the fear was my shin would let me down. Then the Monday before the run I came down with the flu. The weather had changed drastically and there was no rain at all. Ideal conditions to train, but alas I couldn't even taper. What I did was up my dosage of Vitamin C and took my meds, hoping against all hope that I would be well by the time TITI Ultra came along. Cynthia too had her problems as she was recovering from her Achilles injury. We joked that we would be the running wounded. Billy I had yet to meet. I've known Cynthia long enough to know that if she liked a particular person, so would I.

All taped up with 12 days to go

Losing the plot

Took flu meds before I left with the gang for Hulu Langat. Decided not use any of my 'ignition sticks'. It was going to be a long and gruelling run, and setting off fast wouldn't do me any good. Met up with Billy near Plaza Rakyat, and then we hooked up with I Cung and Cynthia. We had trouble locating the starting point and drove as far as CP1 (Lakeside T-Junction) and had to back paddle in a hurry. Was parked and changing into our running gear with about half an hour to spare. Signed up and took the obligatory 'before' pic. There was no nervousness for me anymore. What was the point? I wasn't going to go fast. I was in fact prepared to slog it out for 9 hours. That was the cut-off time they gave us. We started promptly at midnight. Me using headlamps for the first time. Had not trained with them on. Discovered that 90 lumens was bright enough for a road run. Had two strobe lights attached to my hydration bag, which was filled with 2L of Gatorade. Also carried a pouched filled with enough gels and bars for the whole run. My mobile phone was in there somewhere. 

Cynthia, Billy and me, good to go

Started off the run using music. My trusty iPod shuffle had served me well in many a run. Only this time I was using new handphones. Had to stop several time to blow my nose. I know it looked gross, but I had to do it. Did cough a bit, but after awhile suspected my body was in enough shock, that even my cough dared not make an appearance. The snort was enough thank you. We ran from the start. As per the map, when we approached the hills it got tough from the word go. The gradient was really steep. We walked when we had to and ran when we could. There was a brief respite around 9 km at CP1. Met Tey Eng Tiong there with his trusty camera. This part of the route I was familiar with. Off we headed towards CP2 which was uphill all the way. It was chilly and windy. The wind was really strong. Even thought of putting on the new Brooks jacket I had just purchased for this event. However since I was wearing a t-shirt I thought I could just last it out. It was the very same t-shirt I got for signing up early for the Kuching Marathon. At least I was able to put it to good use. There was a running singlet with me as back up for when things got too hot later. However I never used it.

Ready to rumble!

Mugging for the camera

Munching on melons at T-Junction

Always good to see Tey Eng Tiong

The water stations were well stocked with whatever we needed for hydration. There was water, isotonic drinks, and even cola! They served us slices of bread with peanut butter, oranges, bananas and watermelons. The melons were my favourites. Even drank quite a bit of cola. The caffeine does really help. The staff were really helpful, providing us with empty bottles to pour our drinks in, since none of us brought cups. Next time I will run with my usual Nathan hydration bottles. It's easier that way. Then my hydration bag can be filled with less water too. As it stands I was carrying too much weight on me and in me. Things started to get very lonely the further we went as the runners began to split up. Kept as close as possible to Cynthia and Billy. Did feel slight pain at my right shin, but nothing I couldn't squish mentally. There were painkillers in my pouch but I refused to take them unless things got really bad. Luckily for me it never came to that. With all the things I carried with me it was more like I was ready for battle. In fact at some points that's what I felt it was.

The hills are ideally suited for cyclists to sharpen their climbing skills. However we where unprepared for the various groups of Mat Rempit who came downhill at breakneck speed. One or two didn't even have lights! So we kept as far to the opposite side of the road as possible. Once a biker nearly lost control and came to our side. Lifted my foot out, thinking that I might have to use my legs to protect me from impact. It was indeed a close call. Then there was the car drifting to our side too. That was even scarier! At one point we came up to a group of Mat Rempits resting along a junction. Cynthia nudged me into the lead. That's where size is always helpful. There just looked at us but did nothing. Have read on Facebook of some others having adventures with that group, but nothing of the dangerous kind. However I cannot begin to imagine how scared a lone female runner would be in that situation. There were cars patrolling the route but it was really a long route to cover and they could not be everywhere at once.

We needed to make it safely to CP3. Knew it would be at km25. So when it got to the downhill stretch I decided to run since I knew the checkpoint would be near. However I ran and I ran and I even passed "TITI 25km" written in white paint on the road... The checkpoint finally did materialised after we had run quite a bit into Negri Sembilan. That was something that surprised me. Was later to discover that CP3 was actually at km26.5. That meant we were actually running 53km instead of 50km. Those at the checkpoint were unsure of things. I took my time to recover and waited for Cynthia and Billy. We didn't know about the additional distance as we had gotten lost and arrived late for the briefing. However we did as best we could and carried on. Must admit at that point in time I was really frustrated. Knew now we were running against the clock. We didn't know if 9 hours was still the actual cut off time or that it had been extended. Cynthia and Billy were game to go on and ran ahead of me. I would play catch up most of the time.

Then after a point I said to myself what the hell, I will give it a go and started to run and soon left them behind. I was running alone. My headlamp wasn't as bright as before. Saw flames amid the trees. Small fires made by who knows who. There were fireflies too. Billy had muttered earlier that some emitted red light. Cynthia didn't want to know any more. We had survived two wheels and four. Nothing was going to stop us. The feeling is always great when one's body is performing well. So on I ran downhill. Then I looked up at the clear night sky and saw the moon it all its splendour. What blew my mind was the two lines of clouds that joined together to form two sides of a triangle. Just stood atop the hill and stared. Having never seen something like that.  How I wished I had a camera to take the shot. Alas all I have are my memories of it. Imagine if you will pure silence and then a sight I have never seen before. It was so ethereal. I have never been accused of being spiritual. For me if it bleeds I don't fear it. I wasn't afraid. Was just in awe of what I had seen.

Run Yahya, Run

When I reached CP9 the sweeper bus had just arrived. Wanted to run on but I was worried about what had happened to my companions, not knowing how far I had left them behind. So I popped into the bus, after telling the driver, and the helpful guy at the water station, that I was not quitting. Even with headlamp on I didn't see Cynthia or Billy in the bus. So replenishing my hydration off I went towards CP10, which was back to the T-junction again. It was getting light and I knew my next battle would be with the heat. Along the way I met I Cung who was worried for Cynthia, so I told him I thought she was still running. At the checkpoint I ate half a not so ripe banana. Having already consumed 4 energy gels I didn't have the urge to eat anything else. The guys there told me they thought the cut off had been extended by an hour. That was good news to me! Based on my guestimates I could reach the finish line before 10am. So off I went again. Of course they made me take a bottle of 100 Plus with me since it was 9km and getting hot.

Happy to be heading back

On the way back

After a time Billy caught up with me and then later Cynthia. Saw quite a few other runners then. I Cung had sped ahead to take pics and lend support at the side of the road. I didn't like him parked at some dangerous places. Cynthia and Billy trudged on as did I. The further I went the more frustrated I got. It was like this one never-ending hill. I just took it one stride at a time. After awhile I decided to pull away. When the road started to flatten out I knew I was nearly home. The urge to run for home was huge. However I wanted to save my legs for the last bit. The clock was not ticking in my favour. Cars drove pass and offered support. That really helped. Then a guy drove by and said I was nearly there, and that the cut off was in fact 10am. So I just decided to run for it with 15 minutes of the clock left. I gave it all I could and reached the finish line in 9:58. It was nothing to be proud of, but I had finished my first ultra marathon. Not 50km, but 53km. Unfortunately I discovered that the 10am cut off was for the 100km runners! So in the end all I got was a rolled up towel for all my efforts. They didn't even give me a time, having DQ-ed me!

My last ditch effort at finish line

The Aftermath

Yes I was devastated. It was a brutal run. I pitied those who came after me, especially the 100km finisher who had missed out by minutes too. What can I say that has not already been said? Rules are rules. The organisers stuck to the rules as they had a reputation to maintain. If only I had known at CP3 that the cut off was 'extended' by 20 minutes for 53km things would have been very different. I wouldn't have spent so much time at the checkpoint and at the water stations. That in itself lost me lots of time. Yes I was recovering from an injury, and yes I was still sick, but it is easy to make excuses. Was I trained well enough? I believed at that time I was. I ran at least four times a week. However how I wished I had at least ran up Mount Serapi once before I had attempted TITI 100 Ultra. Did that a week before Putrajaya Night Marathon last year and it worked like a charm for me on race day. The best thing I can say is in retrospect is that I now know what I did wrong. It was a painful lesson as my left ankle reminded me. By the time we arrived the breakfast buffet was well eaten through no fault of the organisers.

How we looked after we finished

My hardest earned towel ever!

For our efforts we got a towel. In fact I haven't even opened it. Am still bitter over the fact that I didn't get an official time for my records. One look at the plastic trophy told me I didn't want it. I have better trophies in my trophy cabinet. Cannot imagine what I would have done with that trophy if I had run 100km and finished 2 minutes before cut off and they had given it to me... The finisher t-shirt I had to admit was nice however. I am partial to dark colours. Oh well, it's back to the old drawing board. Will learn from this. If it were a straight road run I would have made it. The hills got to me. It was like 30% flat and 70% hills. The elevation map doesn't tell the whole story. It was dark, it was cold, it was very windy. Yes indeed it was brutal. I am so glad that I had friends with me for my first ultra. Without them I am sure I would have finished, but the pain would have been worse. I truly believe now that being a long distance runner is a mental sport. Mental as in crazy. I must be at least 75% nuts. The other 25% is devoted to training.

Plastic running man!

Who doesn't want a 50km finisher?
(Trophy and finisher t-shirt pic courtesy of my friend Hafiz Aizat Yanan)


The Day After

Slept most of Sunday away. Woke up late for supper. Was staying in Chinatown, but managed to locate my favourite kakak. She had enough noodles left to whip me up some char kway tiaw. It was rather plain but to my starving body it was so delicious. Drank kopi jantan, a thing I always seem to do when I am there, out of habit I guess, though it does nothing for me. Then it was back to my room and more sleep. Did message the organisers on a few misgivings I had. It mainly had to do with the distance and the timing and later the safety issues. Imagine my surprise when Allan Lee himself called me. We spent a good half hour chatting. He answered all my questions. While I cannot say I am happy with all his answers, at least I understood his point of view and I respect them. Know for a fact that he wants TITI 100 Ultra to grow. Who knows one day it might even become a 100 miler! Talk about challenging oneself. Hopefully next year the cut off time will be a bit more generous. I can tell you the hills at Hulu Langat are no joke. I have run them twice in my life now, and I pay them the utmost respect.

Having faced down four wheels, two wheels, four legs (monkeys), two legs and no legs (snakes) along the route, I am ready for my next challenge. I think I will take things easy. Bolster up my confidence first and then build up to attempt another ultra. The distances might seem impossible, but I do believe anything is possible if one has the mentality and the training for it. As it stands I have nothing to show for my first ultra but a small towel. Was lucky enough to meet an old lady selling crystals who recommend something to me for 'energy.' Had told her I was a Rabbit running in the Year of the Horse and needed something to ward off injury and sickness. However in the end she picked out the iron tiger's eye for me. Now at least I had something solid to take back with me to Kuching. She even 'blessed' it for me and sold it to me for next to nothing. For my flight I picked up James Bowen's first book - "A Street Cat Named Bob.' Had been meaning to read it for awhile now since I love cats, and thought the time was right. Went through half the book in the air. 

Things were getting back to normal. Had my very mean looking bracelet, a book about a cat, a small towel, and my war wounds (swollen left ankle) to remind me of this experience. My friends weren't too happy. However at the end of the day nobody can satisfy everyone. Lets hope next year TITI 100 Ultra will happen again, and maybe I will get that elusive finisher t-shirt. However hopefully before then I would have deservingly collected a couple more in other races. It was hard for me to explain to my 75-year-old dad that I had nothing to show for my exertions. When I ran my first full marathon (PBIM 2012),  I gave him the medal (which he later passed back to me, saying that it was mine, and I should keep it), and for my first ultra I had planned to give him the finisher t-shirt, since 2XL would have fitted him too, and he could show it off to his friends when he wore it to the surau. I told him it was really tough. He smiled wisely and said, "Not many can do what you have done at your age." I take heart in that. It is just a matter of time. 

If all that we run for are medals and trophies and finisher t-shirts, then what is the point of running? We run to challenge ourselves. We run for the pleasure of it. No finish line is too far if we believe in ourself and our bodies. I so look forward to my next adventure in running, and hopefully by then my legs will be fine, and my body will respond in kind. Of course it also helps if I make my father proud. He has rows of tiny solid cups that he won for the 100 and 200 yard dash in his school days. It's sheer joy on my part, that I, who nobody thought was a sporty chap, could carry on the tradition so late in life. So if I, at fifty, weighing in at 95kg, can do it, so can anyone else, with the proper training of course. Who knows come next year what will appear on the ultra running scene. For sure I will always make mistakes and am continually learning new things as I run. This is a lifestyle thing for me. I run not only because I can. I run because it makes me happy. Till next time, run happy always!

Iron Tiger's Eye bracelet

What I read while airborne

My swollen ankle...

"I believe I can fly..."


Signed up: 151
Started: 141
Finished: 88 (63%)
DNF: 53 (37%)
Gold Award: 0% (0%)

Signed up: 281
Started: 256
Finished: 197 (77%)
DNF: 59 (23%)
Gold Award: 0 (0%)


  1. i would still say, 'WELL DONE, Yahya!' i guess we don't need a trophy or medal to commemorate such achievement cause the whole experience should have been in our mindset. those bitter sweet memories.

  2. Awesome achievement to 3 of us. Tough run with many dangerous encounters, but we pull it through with record long hours on the road. I guess we are proud to say, "Beat our longest running hours on the road!"
    Finisher-T is a good motivational item for us runners. We crossed the finishing line and did not quit. We soldier on without showing signs of defeat. We, all the runners who crosses the line, deserves it. Anyhow, we were all CHAMPIONS that day!
    Please take care of your shin, Yahya. I wanna do more runs with you too!

  3. Nice write-up, Sir... I must say that despite all the elements and against all odds, you've finished one of the toughest Ultra Road Marathon in Malaysia... Well done Sir, although u were 38 minutes late... I'm really proud that you managed to finish this grueling 53km Ultra Race in one piece... I missed the briefing too as I was busy looking for bib number pins in my car... Didn't know the extra nasty 3km n extended time either...

    Fret not, let's train harder, wiser and come back for 50/100km perhaps next year.... I have to admit, after this race made me thinking more than once as I didn't dare to sign up for 84km Penang Ultra...

    Can I make it to the finishing line within the 15 hours cut off time? Knowing that Penang Island was well known for its treacherous undulating hills

    P/S: please get plenty of rest ice and compression for your shin Sir, I'll be seeing you more often this year, hopefully... Take care

  4. looking forward to your next ultra race report! not sure if the flu had stopped after the race, take good care! more achievement to be made and can't wait to read more of it!

  5. Brooks KL HM will be a walk in the park for you after this adventure