So… now that I was on the path to insanity (i.e. ultra running), it was about time I started to learn how to run an ultra marathon properly.
Truth be told, I do very little research on my own. I have read a few running tips online, but there are many articles with conflicting advice. I also rarely run, and just throw myself wholeheartedly into running, which has led to tendonitis and metatarsalgia from my last ultra marathon at the 24H event.
So, when I was told about this boot camp, I decided it was a great idea to attend to learn from the experts.
The Malaysian Ultra Runners’ Association (MURA) is a non-government organisation which was started in about 2014 with the aim of representing all ultra runners in Malaysia. With only an annual fee of RM50, it has the noble aim of trying to provide many avenues, opportunities, and support for ultra runners all over Malaysia.
Now that I was more interested in ultra running, I figured it would be good to join MURA, as it offers many benefits, including discounts off entry fees on some of the events, including this workshop! They also offered free entry slots to selected members for international ultramarathon events, but that’s not even something I can consider for now.
There are two tiers of membership – ordinary membership, for runners who have completed an ultramarathon within the last 2 years, and associate membership, for runners who have completed a full marathon (but no ultra) within the last year. As I have managed at least one (well, more than one) ultra marathon recently, I qualified for an ordinary membership, yay!
For more information, check out their website at http://mura.com.my/.
ABOUT THE BOOTCAMP
The fees for this bootcamp was very affordable – it was RM180 for non-members, and RM160 for members, which included not only the workshop fees, but also a one night’s stay at Puncak Inn, Fraser’s Hill (twin shared room – those who wanted a single room just needed to add RM60) and four meals provided (Saturday lunch, dinner and Sunday breakfast, lunch). That’s incredible value for money!
TRAVELING TO FRASER’S HILL
I picked up my ultra running partner in crime, Luan early in the morning about 6:30am, because when I checked Google the day before, it said the journey would take 2h20m; but when I picked her up and checked Waze, it said it would only take 1h30m!
So instead of eating breakfast on the way as we initially planned, we stopped and had a nice breakfast at McDonald’s before hitting the road about 7am.
The last time I went to Fraser’s Hill was more than 10 years ago. This was my second time ever, and there have been changes. Back then, there was only a single road, which would have time blocs for the one way up and one way down. They could not allow two-way access because the road was narrow and dangerously winding.
By now, things have been changed slightly for the better. The old road was maintained as the one way up, while a new road had been constructed for the one way down, so we didn’t have to wait for our turn to go up.
The road was really winding on the way up, and it was a slow drive. We reached Puncak Inn about 9am, which was about the right time as the first talk was scheduled to start at 9:30am.
It was really cold up there, and fortunately we had brought our jackets. As one of our ultra running friends and fellow bootcamp participant, Albert says… this is “Freezer Hill”!
THE BOOTCAMP BEGINS
There was a brief introduction of the bootcamp by MURA secretary, Sunny Lee, as well as vice-president Jerome Martinent – which was useful for me. Not so much about the bootcamp, but at least I now recognise the commitee members, since I was a new member of MURA, hehe.
MURA president Ng Seow Kong gave everyone a warm welcome, and introduced the first speaker of the day.
IMPORTANCE OF SPEED ENDURANCE COMPONENTS IN MARATHON
The first speaker of the day was Soh Wai Ching, a Sports Science student from Universiti Malaya, who is an accomplished speed runner (his social media ID is sohthespeedster). He was a very humble and friendly young man (well, anyone younger than me is young), with an amazing speed record of 10km in about 30 minutes. I can’t even hit half of that in the same amount of time!
Being a speed runner, he explained to us the importance of speed-endurance training, and even shared with us a sample of a training program which we can modify to suit our own needs, in order to improve our speed. Apparently Malaysians in general are not very fast runners – the average completion time of a full marathon is 5h52m! Gasp! That’s just about my time, and being a FM newbie, I had honestly thought I was somewhere at the bottom. I didn’t know that it was average time. Time for Malaysians to step up!
It was a very informative workshop for me, as I also learnt about the importance of high cadence (the number of steps per minute). We should try to get a cadence of more than 180 per minute with midfoot strike, in order to reduce injuries during runs. I didn’t know that, because some articles I had read had even suggested that it didn’t matter how we land (heel/midfoot/forefoot). Being a Sports Science student, Wai Ching was able to explain to us the reasons for high cadence and midfoot strike, and encouraged us to aim for these two during our runs if we hadn’t already achieved them.
My own cadence, according to my Garmin watch was only 159 per minute. I am going to have to change the way I run!
Wai Ching’s talk ended a little earlier than scheduled, but that wasn’t for lack of information. I was jotting notes nonstop during his talk, which it was very informative. Information overload, actually.
It was still a little early, so Jeri played a few inspiring running videos for us to watch before we were able to take a break to check in to our rooms and to have our lunch, which was all provided for at Puncak Inn.
FUELLING FOR ENDURANCE EVENTS
The next session was about fueling and hydration for long distance events by Jeri Chua, who was an experienced ultra runner. Well-known in the ultra marathon circles, Jeri has been through it all and knew what she was talking about. The information she shared with us was drawn a lot from her personal experience, some of which were not very pleasant when the drinks she took didn’t agree with her (such as projectile vomiting. Oh dear!).
As a representative of Tailwind Nutrition (a hydration drink manufacturer, which was also sponsoring hydration drinks for some of the MURA-organised events this year, including at this bootcamp), Jeri’s talk was based on a lot of scientific research as well. It was a very detailed workshop, where she talked about our body’s energy sources. She explained about the need for us to choose our hydration drinks carefully to ensure we were properly hydrated, how to calculate that we had sufficient calories to keep us going over the long distance, and the need for the right post-workout drinks especially within the 30 minutes upon completion. She even explained from a scientific point of view why we need to make sure we take in glucose sources (i.e. sugar) whenever we eat/drink fruits which are fructose sources.
I now have a lot of items to my fuel plan for endurance events; more so especially since I never had a fuel plan.
For more information and to purchase Tailwind, check out https://www.tailwindnutrition.my/.
I hadn’t really planned to run, as I was still recovering from metatarsalgia on my right foot and tendonitis on my left foot (both of which were caused by my overexertion during the 24H event), but I was too fidgety to sit still. So I put on my trail shoes, but I brought along my hiking pole (and I was the only to bring one, haha). I also took the opportunity to test the hydration bag that I got from the 24H event.
The trail had been set by MURA committee members Real and Fong Sang, and initially we were supposed to go for the longer trail run this evening and the shorter one the next morning, but because we started the run a little later than expected, they swapped the trails.
Wai Ching led the warm-up session, before we were brought into the forest.
After a quick shower, we had dinner before we went for the night session at the hall.
The night session started with a video about the 100-miles Western States Endurance Run in USA, where the featured runners had been interviewed and filmed from even before the run. The film showed us the interviews with the runners and their family members, the preparations the runners went through, and the experience of the runners on the day of the run itself. It was amazing to see the runners’ perseverance and determination, as well as the incredible support that the family members provided – they waited at the various aid stations to bring ice, food and drinks, and a change of clothes for the runners. It was like a “pit stop” where the family members worked in sync to help the runners make quick changes, like a change of clothes or hydration packs. It was very inspiring to watch – and many of us bemoaned the lack of similar support in our own family circles. Having a personal support team who was willing to help at aid stations were a major factor in helping the runners do well in the endurance run.
We ended the night with a huge sharing circle, where we each introduced ourselves and briefly shared our goals for the year. It was amazing to hear the different stories and goals that each of these participants had, and the determination that everyone has to improve themselves!
The trail run for the morning was initially scheduled for 7am, but because of the trail swap, we were supposed to do the longer run in the morning, and therefore had to start an earlier time.
I really wanted to go for the trail run, but my right foot (with the metatarsalgia) had been hurting after the trail run from the evening before, so I decided to do the smart thing by my body, and give myself a break. So while everyone else went for the trail run, I slept in… hehehe.
I heard it was quite a technical route, and because it had rained the night before, it was slippery. Some of the runners slipped, but no serious injuries, thankfully. And here’s what’s so amazing about runners – in spite of the difficulty and the falls, not a single participant complained!
We had breakfast at 9am before going for Sunday’s talks.
STRETCHING AND STRENGTHENING FOR ENDURANCE RUNNING
We were initially supposed to have Running Form workshop first, but because we were all so full from breakfast, they swapped the workshop sessions.
Jess Lim from Apple Physiotherapy presented the talk, explaining the role physiotherapists play and what one should expect when visiting a physiotherapist. She also shared with us many of the common issues she sees in runners, and some of the stretches and exercises we runners should do in order to avoid injuring ourselves, and also to strengthen the correct muscles. Jess was very experienced, and she was able to answer all our questions with logical explanations.
I even personally asked her about the need for orthotic insoles for flatfooted runners, because my own physiotherapist insists that I wear them; but Jess said that we should be trained to be weaned off the insoles, so that we don’t rely on them. Hmm. That was something I really wanted to aim for, because I can only wear my orthotics in sports shoes, and I certainly can’t match sports shoes with a pretty dress.
I found Jess to be very knowledgeable and practical. I’m even considering going to her to be my physiotherapist, hehehe. Many of the runners here were her patients, including Seow Kong himself. She even attempted to pick up running just to see what it was about (although she says she still doesn’t like it). No wonder she was invited as a speaker – she really knows her stuff!
INJURY PREVENTION AND PROPER RUNNING TECHNIQUE
Our next workshop was on Running Form by Sam Seow from Pose Method. He started with a brief theoretical overview before going into practical drills, which all of us got into very excitedly. We started with dynamic stretching – which to be honest, was in itself quite tiring. It goes to show how fit runners really are, haha!
Sam then went on to explain the running form employed in the Pose Method, detailing the reasons for the running form they used, and how it was able to help us run faster with less effort and lower risk of injuries.
I also managed to have a brief chat with Sam, who had flat feet, like me. Drawing from his own experience, he assured me that I didn’t need insoles to run, which was what I had been wearing in my shoes for the past few years. But I do need to strengthen my ankles to reduce the risk of injuries.
And with that, we reluctantly came to the end of the workshop.
Note: I didn’t get to take a photo with Jeri because she had gone back to Singapore the night before.
Then it was lunchtime before we headed back down.
Overall, it was not only an educational experience, but a really enjoyable one. The speakers were all well-versed in their topics, and generously shared what they knew, answering all questions to their best abilities without hesitation. As for the other participants, well… ultra runners are a crazy, fun bunch, and there was excellent camaraderie throughout the bootcamp – during workshops, over meals, during the trail runs.
Thank you to MURA for organising the bootcamp! It was a great experience! The only complaint I really have is the drive up and down Fraser’s Hill. It was so winding and long and boring!
By the way, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t elaborate on what we’ve learnt at the bootcamp… hey, if you wanna know more, you should sign up for the bootcamp yourself!!! This is not an educational blogpost!!! Plus, I don’t want to be sharing the information which I may have interpreted incorrectly.