My first ultra run at the Bukit Cinta Ultra 2015

Yes, this is an overdue post. By about a year, in fact. Yes, I can skip writing this post in favour of the recent far more successful attempt to complete the same ultramarathon. But I have fond memories of this ultramarathon in 2015, simply because it was my first attempt at an ultramarathon, and I am going to #throwback this experience on my blog, just because.

Up to this point, I had not done any full marathons yet. I’ve only done a few half-marathons (with not very good timing… I was completing them beyond the 3-hour mark). So… was it insanity to try to join an ultramarathon, with a complete lack of training?

I was probably not as insane as my friend Nyuk Luan, who had joined her very first ultramarathon (24H) within a few months of her starting runs. She had invited me to join the run then, but I could not make it as it had clashed with a work event.

What is an ultramarathon? Well, for the uninitiated, a full marathon is 42km, and therefore a half marathon is 21km. An ultramarathon is actually defined as any run more than a full marathon. In some countries, it is defined to be of at least 50 miles, but since in this country we use the metric system, we define an ultramarathon as a run of at least 50km, which is great for someone like me who can’t run too far anyway.

So within the year up to this point in 2015, I had only been doing runs up to 21km. I hadn’t even had the chance to try the longer distance routes of 25km and 30km that some runs had been offering. But I was foolish and ambitious and wanted to challenge myself, so when Luan invited me to join this ultramarathon, I gamely signed up.

This ultramarathon was initially scheduled on 12 September 2015, but when the haze came and lingered and ruined everyone’s running events, the organisers of the Bukit Cinta Ultra (BCU) decided to postpone the event instead of cancelling it, because a lot of the runners had been really looking forward to this run. But they were also fully aware that some runners may not be able to make it for the new date, so they gave the option to the runners: if you choose to pull out for whatever reason (can’t make it, or decide not to run), you can still come and collect the bronze medal; if you choose to run, collect the race pack and challenge yourself on the new date. At that time, the new date had not been announced, so they offered flexibility to the runners who opted for the second option; if you can’t make it, then come get your bronze medal anyway.

Among all the runs I signed up for that had been badly affected by the haze, I must say that I highly commend the organisers of the BCU, because this was the best way I’ve ever seen a cancelled/postponed event. They gave very fair options to the runners (short of refunding the money, which all organisers usually won’t do because money had already been invested in preparing for the run, like printing the T-shirts, bibs, and medals).

This run offered three different medals: bronze, silver, and gold, depending on how many loops the runner completes. Each loop was about 5km within the Universiti Malaya campus, and the reason it was called Bukit Cinta Ultra was because the loop goes up the crazy slope that is known as Bukit Cinta.

The ultra spans 12 hours from 8pm to 8am.

Bronze: 5-9 loops (25-45km)
Silver: 10-14 loops (50-70km)
Gold: 15 loops and above (75km and above)

Because I had opted to run instead of just taking the “free” bronze medal, I was determined to run the minimum needed to get the silver medal, which meant that I needed to run at least 10 loops.

The organisers were pretty generous in this event… after all, they still gave a bronze medal for a minimum 25km, even though that doesn’t qualify as an ultramarathon. I think they provided this option to encourage signups, because 25km is only slightly more than a half-marathon, which even leisure runners would be able to accomplish easily. The medal design is supercute, inspired by the famous Ultraman character.

The medal design inspired by Ultraman

RUNNING MY FIRST ULTRA

The inaugural Bukit Cinta Ultra used the car park in front of the building that housed the swimming pool in the UM campus. It was a great venue, as there was plenty of space for the numerous tents needed for the event – for the refreshments, the food, and resting space for the runners.

Luan’s and my bibs
The race pack collection counter in front of the swimming pool building
Luan and I having teh tarik and homemade cookies (made by Luan) while waiting for the event to start
The timer which would count down from 12 hours when the race started
Runners waiting for the flag-off. Photo credit: BCU

It rained just before the run started, but it came to a drizzle when we flagged off at 8pm.

I was actually quite ill-prepared, having no idea of what to expect and what to do in a ultra marathon. I had brought my pouch, but I forgot my water bottles!!! So in the end I ditched the heavy pouch and only carried my phone in a small pouch. Because I didn’t have my water bottles, every time I completed one loop, I would run into the holding area to get a drink.

Starting the run very enthusiastically! Photo credit: Low Kah Wai
Hanging out at the refreshment station, which had free-flowing drinks and fruits. Photo credit: Seven Chiam

I started off the run fairly optimistic. I wasn’t able to run up the steep slope, so I would walk, but I would attempt to run down in order to catch up on my time. My first few rounds went fairly well, and I was even foolish enough to think about pushing myself to get the gold medal. Needless to say, that quickly went to bust when I started seriously struggling after the sixth loop.

I completed five loops (approx 25km) in four hours, and decided to take a break at midnight. There was plenty of food provided for the runners – packed boxes of chicken rice, which was quite tasty, and hot teh tarik which was just what we needed to keep warm in the cool night. I took a one-hour break where I chatted with the other runners who were also on their mission to get their silver or gold medals.

Caught in the act of taking a break! Photo credit: BCU
Prepacked nasi ayam for the runners

My lack of training began to quickly catch up with me. I was fairly consistent the first five loops, and after the break I felt refreshed and was able to complete the next loop without struggling too much, but after that loop I was beginning to feel my knees starting to ache.

By the seventh loop, I was already limping quite badly. My muscles were perfectly fine; my knees were not, especially my right knee. (My doctor later told me that it was just due to lack of training, and my knees were not injured.) Going uphill was not as bad as going downhill; I couldn’t walk downhill anymore, much less run. This was when I quickly learnt how bad going downhill was for the knees!

I really wanted to give up by then, but I could not bear the thought of going through all that effort only to get a bronze medal that the participants who did not run got for “free”. (Yes, I am that kiasu.) Well, some runners did show up and only run 5 loops too, and went home with the bronze medal, which was pretty smart of them, since they didn’t have to suffer like I did. If I was going to get a bronze medal, then I would have also stopped at 5 loops. But I was 3 loops away from a silver medal.

By this time, I was questioning my sanity on completing this ultramarathon. Photo credit: Rany Tan
Me and Luan in slippers, because we didn’t bring spare shoes and socks and our feet were really hurting.

So I forced my limping self across three more loops, completing the required 10 loops just past the 11-hour mark. Some runners kept going until the 12th hour; I decided to white-flag it and have my breakfast instead.

Breakfast of roti telur. Yums.

My first 50km completed in 11h06m. Tired and almost broken, but very proud of my own achievement!

And while I know this post is really overdue, but I would like to take my hat off to the organisers and volunteers of the Bukit Cinta Ultra 2015. There was plenty of food and beverages (that were quite delicious), and all the student volunteers were very friendly and helpful.

Kudos to the team of Bukit Cinta Ultra 2015!

Me with new friend Swee Fong. She had seen me stop because I had taken a misstep and had a slight ankle sprain, and came over to help me. She is a lovely woman with legs of steel (she completed 12 loops!!!).
Me with Luan after the event. I only did 10 loops, while Luan did an impressive 12 loops!!!
My results. Yes it’s pretty poor. Please don’t judge me, it was only my first ultra.
Zyen Hoo

Zyen is a Physics, Chemistry and Math teacher with many interests, including running and dancing. She also enjoys indulging in vanity projects such as her personal blog, and is a self-proclaimed reviewer. She is also notoriously slow in updating her blog due to her constant search for the next adrenaline rush (on top of her heavy workload at school and her freelancing projects), so she asks for your forgiveness and understanding of her very delayed updates.

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