My Third Ultra at the Bukit Cinta Ultra 2016

My friends and I were supposed to join the 24 hour relay, which unfortunately got cancelled because of lack of participation. Right after we got word of the cancellation, I saw a notification on Facebook that the Bukit Cinta Ultramarathon (BCU) was reopened for registration.

Truth be told… I wasn’t even aware of the BCU this year, although I had my eye on it as I had joined it last year. But I think even if I was, I wouldn’t have signed up for it because it was on the same weekend as the 24 hour relay. However due to the cancellation of the relay event (which I had been really looking forward to!!!), this opened up the weekend, and many of us who had been planning to go for the 24H relay ended up going for the BCU to make up for it.

I wasn’t prepared. I had been training, but not regularly enough, and I certainly don’t have enough mileage for an ultra. I had been running at most once a week, and the most I’d ever run in a session is 10km. Sometimes I would get lazy be really busy and only do 6km.

And to top it off, I was working a full day dance event the day before and had been on my feet for almost 16 hours.

RUN DAY (3-4 DECEMBER 2016)

I reached Universiti Malaya just before flag-off time, which was at 8pm. I managed to pick up my bib from the registration counter, put it on, and got to the starting line just as they were counting down. The only warm-up I got was from running from my car to the gathering point.

The participation this year was significantly less than it was last year. I am not sure why, but my friend Luan suggested that it could be due to this year’s medal requirement. Last year’s BCU offered three cutely-designed medals: bronze (5-9 loops, 25-45km); silver (10-14 loops, 50-70km); and gold (15 loops+, 75km+). This year however, the medal was not as cute, and they only offered two medals: silver (10-19 loops, 50-95km) and gold (20 loops+, 100km+).

The BCU2016 medal design

I think many of the seasoned runners were aiming for the gold medal – but that was based on last year’s requirement. When they changed the gold medal requirement, it was obviously only for the elite runners. And with no bronze for offer, only the very serious runners would be game for the challenge.

This time, the holding area was at the car park next to Dewan Tunku Canselor, instead of the swimming pool, but the route was exactly the same. We still had to run up the crazy Bukit Cinta slope.

The holding area for BCU2016

I had been running this route almost every week since May this year as part of my training for the 24-hour relay with my teammates (amazing runners Uncle Chan Nam Kiong, Colin Tan, and Luan). I was the weakest one in my team at that time. I still remember the first time I ran with them. It was embarrassing; I hadn’t even gotten halfway through the route before I had to stop and start walking. I only managed one loop before I called it quits, while the rest did two loops without much struggle.

However, my teammates were patient and didn’t give up on me, and kept giving me good advice which I tried to put into practice. I eventually managed to complete two loops during training without slowing down or stopping for a water break. My pace improved significantly, making me able to finally complete my half-marathons below 3 hours.

So this time, I was able to start this ultra a lot more strongly than last year. However still being a newbie to ultras, I foolishly ran up the slope for the first two loops (I later received sound advice from highly experienced fellow ultra runner, Loy, who said I should never run upslope in an ultra), but for the remaining loops, I was forced to just walk up the slope.

I surprised myself this time. I was able to keep running for the most part of each loop (downhill and flat), unlike last year where I was walking most of the way.

I planned to only do 10 loops again for the silver medal. I wasn’t going for gold because 20 loops is too demanding – there was no way I could achieve that in 12 hours! And to be honest… I had not trained long distance at all. All I’ve been doing so far was a mere once-a-week run – which I sometimes skip if the weather was really bad, if I wasn’t feeling well, or if I was outright plain lazy too busy.

So my initial plan, which I based on my performance last year, was to complete five loops in four hours, take a one-hour break around midnight, and then complete the rest at the rate of about one loop per hour, which hopefully meant I could finish my ten loops in about ten hours, and I could then go home for my much-needed sleep.

To my surprise, I was able to complete the targeted five loops in a little over three hours, so instead of taking an early break, I decided to keep going for one more hour. I managed six loops in the first four hours.

Luan and me off to an enthusiastic start!
Thanks for the pizza!! This kind soul was offering free pizza to the runners at the peak of Bukit Cinta.

I took a break just past midnight. This time there were less food and beverage compared to last year, but I believe that this is due to lower participation numbers, hence less money available for preparing the refreshments.

I was fortunate – I was one of the last few who managed to get the fried rice. Because it was buffet style, there was no proper rationing like last year where the chicken rice was in prepacked boxes. Some of the runners who decided to take a later break didn’t get the rice at all. There were bananas and watermelon, but that was not enough carbohydrates.

The refreshment station
The food that was left when I finally took a break just after midnight
On a break! Taking photo with random fellow participant (sorry didn’t get your name!) and Kay Hao (one of the nicest and most supportive ultra runners I know)

I took a shorter break this time, compared to last year – I stopped for only half an hour, and was back on the road about 12:40am. As I was going, I fell into step with Loy (whom I forgot to take a photo with, argh), who gave me the sound advice about when to walk and when to run. Thanks to his advice, I was able to get into a groove to keep me going.

By my ninth loop, I started itching to challenge myself. I would have gotten the silver medal if I stopped at 10 loops, but I decided to try to go for 1-2 additional loops.

I finished the tenth loop strongly, but when I started my eleventh loop… well, my sudden drop in performance shocked me. I couldn’t run at all. I ended walking the entire loop, and even before reaching the steep slope that was Bukit Cinta, I was tempted to stop, give up and turn back; but I told myself I needed this challenge, so I dragged myself through the rest of the route. When I crossed the line, I was exhausted and fatigued and determined not to punish myself for another loop.

I had improved significantly this time – 11 loops in 8h45m!

And thanks to the 11th loop, my overall ranking in this ultra was quite good – I ranked 8th among the ladies.

Still… I am not here to boast, because that would be just embarrassing myself. There were plenty of faster, more seasoned runners who were able to finish much more strongly than I could. It’s just that they decided to stop at 10 loops, because whether they do 10, 15 or 19 loops, they’ll get the silver medal. The rankings were listed based on number of loops. If I had done more loops, I would probably have higher ranking. But my legs were no longer my own (as in, they were not listening to me anymore), and I think if I had continued, they would have walked away from me in protest.

So this will probably be the only time I can ever say I made top 10 in an ultra marathon!

I didn’t stick around for breakfast; I waited for Luan to complete her 10th loop so we could take photos together.

And then it was home for sweet sleep.

Thank you to BCU2016 organising team! Looking forward to 2017!

Luan and me after the run
My results at the Bukit Cinta Ultra 2016. Not quite the best, but I am proud of my achievement anyway!
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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