My second 50km road ultra at Route 68 2017

I signed up for Route 68 quietly, because… well, to be honest, I didn’t feel like announcing it, mainly because I was worried that (1) I would DNS, or (2) I would DNF.

DNS = did not start – for example, choosing to skip it because of illness or being unable to make it

DNF = did not finish – in this case, actually started the run, but unable to complete it for whatever reasons, e.g. cramp, fatigue, illness, dehydration, etc. Not to be confused with DQ = disqualified

So I didn’t tell any of my close running friends, none of whom had signed up for this run anyway. I opted for the 50km route, because I needed to ensure I could handle a shorter distance before allowing myself to graduate to 100km.

MY PREPARATION

I was smarter this time. I didn’t pack as many things as I did for Titi Ultra. I didn’t use the hydration bag that I got from 24H. I purchased a reflective vest that had pockets through Lazada, but to my dismay, it didn’t come with bottles as advertised. I had lodged a complaint with Lazada who tried to compensate by giving me a rebate voucher. All fine, but I still had no bottle.

I figured, I could wear the vest as well as my running pouch that came with bottles. But after much consideration, I opted to take only the following:

My running kit for the road ultramarathon.

And yes, they include the mandatory items as listed on Route 68 event’s website:

Mandatory list from Route 68 event’s website. Actually this is the list for 2018; they have already started preparing for next year’s event.

I know some of the other runners do travel lighter. In my case, I would rather overprepare because I am just not experienced enough to know what I need and what I don’t need. I didn’t carry everything in that photo though…but I was really glad that I brought all the refreshments and foodstuff with me, because I used up them all up – the two FitBars, the Red Bull, the energy gel, and the isotonic powder. I think if I didn’t have all of them with me, I would not have managed to finish as strongly as I did. (Well, I wasn’t that strong, because I was still slow… but I might have ended up crawling over the line instead of running over it.)

ROUTE 68

Route 68 this year was held over the weekend of 15-16th April 2017. It has three distance categories of 50km, 84km, and 168km. The 84km and 168km were flagged off earlier, of course, on Saturday 15th. As mentioned, I opted for 50km only, and that was flagged off on 16th April, with an allocated time of 9 hours between 6am and 3pm.

MY CRAZY START

It had actually been a hectic day the Saturday before the event. I had a full day as I was doing some work, and then I had an event to attend which I could not back out of, and it ended really late.

So late in fact that I got almost no sleep, and I was almost a zombie when I woke up.

The people from the event were advising me not to go… they said that it was insane to run 50km on virtually no sleep. They were right, of course. But they also didn’t understand how the mind of an ultrarunner works. As we would say here colloquially – “die die also must go”.

As I made my way to the event venue though, I did wonder… was I too insane to force myself to go? I had less than an hour’s sleep in total, and I seriously doubted my ability to complete 50km.

But still I geared up and waited to be flagged off. I thought to myself, it’s okay if I end up not finishing. Let’s see how far I managed to get to in this condition.

FLAG-OFF

And we were flagged off! A few minutes late, actually. We were supposed to be flagged off at 6am, but they only flagged us off at 6:10am, because some irresponsible runners had parked their cars in such a way that it blocked access, especially the residents who stayed in that area, so the organiser refused to start the event until those cars had been moved.

50km runners waiting to be flagged off
Bumped into fellow 24H runner, Zhunkit before flagging off
Bumped into another fellow 24H runner, Sea Pherng

MY TORTURE BEGINS

And for the first time in my life, I went through a battle between my head and my spirit. Yes, it was only 50km. But it was still way too long. Throughout the 50km, the battle never ended.

You’ve seen those cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Well, I had a similar experience.

It started from the moment we were flagged off. As I went into a slow jog, being overtaken by almost anybody and everybody, my brain was telling me, “You’re tired, and you don’t have enough rest! You’re not going to make it. You know you’re probably going to DNF, so why not stop now instead of torturing yourself unnecessarily and stopping later after running and tiring yourself, when the end result of getting DNF will be the same.

The mind can be a really horrible demotivator.

And I would have stopped, had my spirit not been kiasu enough to whisper to me, “You never know, you just might be able to do it.”

So I persevered on, putting one foot in front of the other, but I could not keep up my usual pace because my body was just so exhausted.

How can I describe to you what I felt when I peeked at my GPS watch, and saw I had only run 1km?

ATTEMPTED STRATEGY

I had initially planned a strategy. Unlike Titi 50 which had flagged off at 1am, Route 68 50km was flagged off at 6am. Both had cut-off times of 9 hours, but unlike Titi which would run overnight when it was dark and cool, Route 68 would see us running most of the time in the day, when the sun was out and it would be hot.

So this was my strategy. The sun would be up by 7+am, but the heat would normally start kicking in about 9am. That would give us about 3 hours of cool running time. Knowing me, I wouldn’t be able to run well in hot/humid weather, so I would need to maximize the distance covered in the first 3 hours before the sun started warming up the road.

Needless to say, it all went to squat because I simply could not keep up a good pace. My eyes were already having trouble staying open.

Thank goodness for my can of Red Bull.

THE TORTURE CONTINUES

I did manage to catch up on my time when it came to the downhill slopes; I was able to move into a faster pace then. My biggest concern though, was that if I went down now, I would have to come up the same slopes after I made the U-turn.

Nevermind. One step at a time.

After crossing merely the second checkpoint, my mind really began playing nasty psychological tricks on me. Well… maybe not so much my mind. It was really driven largely by my body, because it was reluctant to keep pushing on. I was seriously doubting my ability to complete the entire run, because I wasn’t even halfway yet. “Maybe I should stop and take the sweeper bus,” I thought. I had never before sat on a sweeper bus, so that would be a new experience. My mind did a quick calculation. The previous CP was nearer me than the next, so if I wanted to get on the sweeper, I would need to turn back.

At the second checkpoint, which was only 10km into the route.

My kiasu spirit refused to give up though. “You’re not getting on the sweeper bus, and it is not an experience you should be looking forward to try,” it scolded me. Forcing my feet to keep pushing on ahead, no one was more surprised than I was when I reached the 25km mark – the U-turn.

Let me rephrase. No one was surprised, except me. Everyone at the station was encouraging and motivating, saying, “You made it! You’re halfway there! There’s only 25km more to go!”

I was saying stupid things like, “I want to DNF! I just want to get on the sweeper bus!”

Nobody took me seriously, of course, because I didn’t stop. I was saying those words as I was leaving the water station with my bottle filled and my sunglasses on.

The 25km mark! The U-turn!!!

I was extremely thankful for my stash which I brought, as I had mentioned earlier… I only took the Red Bull in the first half of the route, but I finished everything else in the second half.

And it was nice to see how many had turned up to show support for their friends who were running this event. There was a group of supporters – who were runners themselves, although they hadn’t signed up for this run – who cheered everyone who was running, and even brought an industrial water spray to offer relief to us running in the heat by showering us with cooling water. Sorry I didn’t take photos with you guys. You guys are really awesome.

How do I describe the overwhelming relief and joy I felt when I finally reached the Finish Line? I was so happy that I ran all the way to the Finish the moment I saw it from afar. I pushed too hard actually, and had to stop after I crossed the timing mat, because I could feel the nausea hitting me.

So happy to cross the Finish line!!!! [Photo credit: Lim CH]
Pushed too hard until I felt sick… Rany caught as shot of me as I stopped to fight the wave of nausea. This is what ultra runners do, haha. [Photo credit: Rany Tan]
Not a fast pace, but I managed to finish 7h37m – a whole hour’s improvement from Titi 50! And this was in the heat of the sun, with virtually no sleep. Not too bad for a newbie wannabe ultra runner (me).

A quick breather before collecting my medal. I got the silver medal, yay! So surprised; this meant I was among the top 50 women finishers. I managed to take a few photos before I decided to go home, although I had completely forgotten to look for name on the giant bunting with everyone’s names, damn!

Made new friends, Azman and Edi, who finished way ahead of me. Congrats on your achievement, guys.
Bumped into fellow 24H runner Loy as I struggled to make my way back to my car. Of course must take photo.

And then it was time to go home to crash into bed.

Thank you to the organisers of Route 68 for the excellent event and the great experience!

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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.

  • Azman Ali

    You're simply awesome Zyen??‍♀️✅ It was great meeting you too?

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