TITI Ultra 50

So, I have now embarked on my journey of insanity… ultra marathons. But so far, I have only participated in loop ultras – Bukit Cinta twice, and 24H twice. But I have never tried a traversing ultra.

At the encouragement of my running sifu, Uncle Chan, he suggested I gave Titi Ultra a try, but to take the shortest distance as my maiden non-loop ultra. He was confident I could finish within the cut-off time. Well… he was more confident than I was. I wasn’t sure I would be able to even finish.

If you’re wondering what is a loop ultra and a traversing ultra… click here to read my brief explanation!

TITI ULTRA

Being a MURA member, I got RM50 discount when I signed up for the Titi Ultra, although I had already missed the early bird promotion.

Race pack collection at Rudy Project in Jaya Shopping Centre
At the race pack collection booth, with Hwee Peng and Seow Kong (race director)
What’s in the race pack

To be honest, I was actually very nervous, whenever I thought about this ultra marathon. It would be my first attempt at a traversing road ultra marathon.

So, as always, I overprepared.

I checked the mandatory items list very quickly, making sure I had the complete list of both the mandatory and recommended items.

Mandatory items for the Titi Ultra run. Photo credit: Kylie Lam, who was one of the volunteers at the event
Recommended list of items, from the Titi Ultra website

In fact, I overprepared so much so that I think I packed a really heavy bag.

These were all the items I planned to bring. I think packing for a vacation to another city may have even less items than these. I brought all of these in the car with me, but of course, in the end I didn’t carry ALL these items in my backpack. I left out some of the items.

And considering I was only doing a 50km, I shouldn’t need to carry so many things.

After all, I have done a few full marathons before carrying virtually nothing… 50km is just an additional 8km, so surely I don’t need to carry so much?

But being the paranoid person I was, I still didn’t want to go in too empty handed.

Instead, I decided to apply the method I use whenever I pack for a vacation – lay out all the items I was planning to bring, and remove half of them. So what I actually brought with me during the run was half of what you see in the photo above.

It was still a little too heavy though – partly because the hydration bag I was using in itself was a little heavy. I hadn’t want to spend too much money, so I used the bag which I got for free as a participant of the 24H event in January this year.

START OF THE EVENT

The 50km runners were flagging off in the middle of the night – at 1am. The organisers had planned it so that all the categories – the 250km, 200km, 100km and 50km – had the same cut-off time at 10am on Sunday.

With a 9-hour cut-off time for the 50km runners, it was a pretty comfortable time to run as we would be running in the wee hours of the morning, so we didn’t have to run in the heat of the sun.

Unfortunately though, it was rainy season… it had been raining heavily all week, and so it rained over the weekend too. The longer distance runners (250km, 200km, 100km) had no respite from the rain – they had to run in the storm!

As for us 50km runners… there was another downpour yet again just before we were due to flag off. We had to squeeze ourselves into the tent to try to avoid the rain, not that it would have mattered – we would be flagged off on time in spite of the rain. After all, a little bit of water discomfort should not be a deterrent for an ultra marathoner.

Runners were required to go through mandatory items check, upon which we would receive a yellow ribbon which we had to tie upon our person as proof. If we were caught without our mandatory items at any point during the run, we would risk disqualification.

There was also a briefing by the organisers about how the run would be conducted, and we were reminded again about the need for the mandatory items – in fact, the organisers expressed shock that some runners had turned up without all their mandatory items. They reminded us about the reason for the mandatory list (safety first, guys!), and this list had been on the website ever since the event was first posted, so the runners really had no excuse for showing up without everything that was needed.

Briefing about the need for the mandatory items to be on us at all times

I personally needn’t have worried about not having the mandatory items. Being the OCD neurotic person I was, I was carrying more than I needed.

I didn’t take that many photos before the run, because I was just so worried about the run. But I did bump into a few familiar faces, and had enough presence of mind to take my phone out for a few shots.

Me with fellow ultra runner Phang Chow Khee. Yes, our outfits are very matching, hehehe.
Me with fellow 24H runners, Chase Chong and See Woan Mey
Titi Ultra was graced by Japanese ultramarathon legend, Ryōichi Sekiya!!! And I managed to get a photo with him!!!! (plus Mr Photobomber Darren Chuah) Such a humble and inspiring man! (Mr Ryōichi, I mean.)

THE ROUTE

The route had been very clearly laid out by the organisers, on the website, including the elevation:

50km route map and elevation map. Check out that rise in elevation! Taken from Titi Ultra website.

They also laid out the position of the checkpoints very clearly, together with the cut-off time to reach each station.

Checkpoints for the 50km route. Taken from Titi Ultra website.

MY GOAL FOR TITI 50

My expectations for the race? Truthfully, very low. Not about the race event, I mean. The organisers have proven themselves to be very reliable the past few years. The expectations I meant were for myself. I had done a fairly decent job in the other ultra marathons – but those were loop ultras. (Notice I said decent, not good.) Even my full marathons were decent, not good. I did not expect my performance to be any better in my first traversing ultra. With the given cut-off time of 9 hours, all I wanted for myself was to finish, even if I ended up crawling over at exactly 9:00:00. And that would be fine with me, because I think it is a personal achievement for myself if I could even finish.

THE RUN

So we were flagged off at 1am sharp, in the rain, which by then had let up very slightly.

Start line for Titi Ultra
50km runners waiting to flag off

We ran along the road in the dark, wearing the mandatory headlamps.

I tried very hard not to run too fast at the beginning, because I knew the route would be very hilly, and I really wanted to make sure that I had enough energy to finish the race.

Arrows indicating the direction to run placed along the side of the road, marked with reflective stickers so that it was easily picked up by our headlamps as we ran

It was with dread when I reached the first hill. Here comes the start of the nightmare. And no, this wasn’t even the worst part of the route yet. There were more hills to come.

But what goes up must come down… and when the hill descended, I managed to run down all the way to the first checkpoint, reaching it at 2:20am just before the cut-off time of 2:30am. I took some fruits and a short drink before I forced myself to keep going.

Checkpoint 1 at 9km. Look at all the fruits and snacks!

I managed to reach the next checkpoint which was about 5.5km away, improving slightly by reaching 15 minutes before the cut-off time of 3:30am. It was relatively flat, so many were able to keep running.

I managed to reach Checkpoint 2 at 3:14am

The next part was one of the the longest distance between checkpoints of the 50km route, and also one of the toughest! The slope seemed to be unending, nothing but up!

It even started raining again midway. I tried putting on my waterproof jacket, but the rain didn’t last long, and it got too warm, so I had to take it off very quickly.

However, the rain from the very beginning of the run had already long ago seeped into my shoes, and I could feel blisters dangerously forming on my feet. But I didn’t allow myself to stop until I got to the third checkpoint, which was also the U-turn point for the 50km runners.

I managed to get the third checkpoint a little ahead of time, at 5:06am. This was where I finally allowed myself to take a few minutes break, where I refilled my water bladder, stuffed myself with some fruits, and finally change out of my wet socks.

Here’s a selfie shot, just in case you didn’t believe that it was me running and taking those photos!!! I managed to reach CP3 about 5:06am, well before the cut-off time of 5:30am.

Then I was off again.

I hadn’t eaten very much at the checkpoints because I wasn’t hungry then… but in the middle of the night, as I ran the 10.5km back to Checkpoint 4 (which was also CP2), to my dismay, I started getting hungry. I was extremely thankful for my overpacking, as I had brought two FitBars with me, and these were able to keep me going!

Managed to reach CP4 a few minutes before 7am, before the cut-off time of 7:15am
The final checkpoint for all runners, before the nightmare began. Managed to reach it at 8am, before the cut-off time of 8:15am.

I managed to reach the final checkpoint a few minutes before 8am, and this was the beginning of the toughest part of the entire route. The next 3km was nothing but a steep uphill climb… and is now branded as the toughest 3km of my life up to this point!!! Yes, I had already known this was going to be tough, when I breezed downhill when I first started the route. I just didn’t know how tough it was going to be. Steep uphills aren’t usually so bad, but this felt unending, plus I had just completed a very hilly and undulating 41 km, and was exhausted. I don’t know how the longer distance runners managed to do it. I have nothing but respect for them!

It took me nothing but determination to keep going. I had no energy to move fast, so I just kept walking up, albeit slowly, in the morning heat. And every time it leveled a little, I thought it was the end of the steep climb, only to find that I had been fooled, and there was still more uphill.

It was with an overwhelming sense of relief when I finally reached the crest, and then it was downhill into a flat road into the Finish line! That sounded like a short route, but trust me, it wasn’t. It still felt like forever as I forced myself to keep going to the Finish line.

And… I managed to cross the Finish line before the cut-off time! I finished at 8h37m, with an average pace of 10:20min/km. This was a much slower pace than my usual run, but I had not pushed myself as this was my first non-loop semi-self-support road ultra marathon. I had brought too many things with me on a hydration pack that was made of a material that was a bit too heavy for long distance running.

It was a good lesson learnt for my first run, and I’m just glad that I managed to finish it in time.

The organisers have done an excellent job presenting enough information for us to prepare for this run, and the checkpoints had enough water and refreshments to help keep us going.

Kudos to the Titi organisers! I don’t know if I will ever upgrade to 100km, but I will definitely consider joining the 50km again!

Me with race director and my idol, the amazing Mr Ng Seow Kong
Me with 100km finisher and fellow 24H runner, Colin Tan
Me with Jimmy and Uncle Choo, who didn’t participate but provided support to their fellow friends. I just came over to tumpang their support.
Yayyy I found my name on the board of participants!!!

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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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