I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats waiting for this. After Saturday’s race I rested, then spent all of Sunday catching up on things I didn’t do on Friday because I was too excited/nervous to concentrate. 🙂 But I think Race/Run Reports should be moved to Monday, instead of Tuesday (Why did I choose Tuesday? That was silly of me!). So: On to the report!
I summarized my thoughts and race strategy/plan in Friday’s Pre Race Thoughts post. I also unabashedly begged for “company” during the race. This was a last minute thought on my part, but it truly was brilliant, if I do say so myself. (So modest, right?) I would encourage all of you to try it in the future. I know people sometimes “dedicate” each mile of a long race to someone different – but frankly, this was even better.
I posted my request pretty late, so while quite a lot of miles got claimed, others I just handed out to people when it seemed fitting. [I also left some of you out. Apologies. Race brain? We’ll have to run together soon!] This strategy was fantastic: I got to spend a mile “with” dear friends, online friends, my biggest cheerleaders, aspiring runners, and running buddies who taught me the ropes when I first started endurance/trail running. At each mile, I got to imagine someone else was with me: What we’d discuss, the stories we’d share, and how you’d provide encouragement or a kick in the pants, whichever I needed most. This certainly helped me “chunk” – and it’s also how I remember the race now. In other words, I don’t remember the race by how I felt running Mile 18 or Kilometer 35, but I DO remember how I felt running with Hilary or Deb or Kathy.
So let’s get started!
After a 3:45 AM wake-up, I proceeded with the usual breakfast/Body Glide/gather stuff routine. I snapped a pre-race photo in the light of the dining room:
And I headed out for a 1.5 mile walk to the starting line (this constituted my “warm-up”). Once I got to McRitchie, very clear signage directed me to the Starting Line. The Start was located close to one set of restrooms, so I availed myself (No line! There was toilet paper!), then set out to top up the water I drank on my way to the park. I was displeased to be unable to find a water table, but it is possible that I just missed it. The TNF crew did a great job of lighting and signing the area, but with darkness and crowds, I could easily have missed water that was available. Thankfully, my hydration pack was still full (it was just my very small hand-held that was empty), so I wasn’t too fussed.
In order to enter the starting corral, I had to “Register” – ie, have my pack weighed to ensure I was carrying the required amount of water (1.5L for 50K). The Registration area was easy to find, and there was no line at all! When I approached, I asked the volunteer if I should take the bladder out. She looked at me with total confusion and gestured to the scale. I tossed the whole pack on, and this happened:
Her: “You’re carrying 3 liters?”
Me: “Umm…no…just over 1.5 liters.”
Her: *looks at scale in confusion*
Me: “Is it OK?”
Me: *grabs pack, enters corral*
Of course my pack weighed 3 kilos! Although only 1.75 of those were water, the pack was also stuffed with my nutrition, salt tabs, map, phone, sunglasses, towel…. Anyway, I passed inspection and was standing in the corral about 15 minutes before the gun.
The 100K runners started at 10 PM the night before, and their route was 2 almost identical loops of the 50K course. Thus, their route took them directly back through the Starting Line, so while we were standing in the corral, we got to cheer for some of them as they finished their first lap. I felt a bit bad, because I (and they) knew that this better-rested, fresh-legged pack of eager 50Kers was going to be trampling past them in just 20 minutes or so.
As the start time neared, I worked my way forward in the corral, knowing I didn’t want to fight through lots of slower runners in the first few kilometers. Finally, I was about 10-15 rows (approximately) back, and I was content with that – after all, 50K is a long way for places to get sorted out! With 3 minutes until the start, the fellow next to me asked, “Did you just feel a raindrop?” I laughed. I thought he was imagining things. Until I felt one. And another. And another. And a few more, and as the horn sounded for the start, a light rain was falling.
Mile 1: Erica (my “sort-of cousin”, who blogs at (not) just another erica jones). Well, when she agreed to take Mile 1, and offered up:
“I am also imagining a sleepy monkey audience cheering you on with little ‘TNF50’ (because monkeys are smart and they will know what distance you are running) flags and soy lattes (because it’s early and they’re posh monkeys).”
How could I not want her keeping me company? Erica, all I can say is that I hope you wore black socks and a cap with a visor, because the light rain quickly became a heavy downpour. We ran the concrete path for about half a mile, and hit the trail just as the thunder and lightening started.
I know this section of trail well, and although it has some decent hills, the footing is pretty solid. But the trail was dark and the rain was pouring, so we could hardly see anything anyway. Still, once our feet got soaked, there was no point in avoiding the puddles, so we splashed right through. And although I think that the posh monkeys opted to sleep in and avoid the downpour, Erica’s company was all I really needed for that first mile!
The race information booklet had warned us: “In the event of lightning, participants are advised to wait at the nearest shelter until the weather clears before proceeding on with the race.” Despite some cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning, none of my fellow runners showed any sign of seeking shelter in the trail-side huts. So although I’m a rule-follower to the nth degree, I opted to keep running. After all, I’d been out on these trail in similar conditions before. I just hoped no branches would come crashing down on my head! Besides, I adore running in the (warm) rain. There were a few other runners around (our combined headlamps helped brighten things a bit), and I was loving on the adventure and the trail. The second mile passed quickly.
Mile 3: Sarah (my sister). Big sisters are bullies, and I never gave her a choice in the matter. Sarah is the one who first got me running outdoors, although these days, she’s more likely to hop on the treadmill instead. She regularly knocks out 3-5 miles at a pretty sweet pace, so I nominated her for Mile 3. During our mile, she asked me why I do such ridiculous things, like move to Singapore and run trail races in the pouring rain/middle of the night. But she has a sense of adventure (rock climbing is her “serious” sport these days), and gamely splashed through puddles, which were more like lakes. She didn’t even flinch when someone ahead of me quipped, “Good thing we don’t have leeches in Singapore!”. Dang right, dude. Sarah brought me past the Ranger Station and on to the Rifle Range Link, where we parted.
This section has some short, but technical, descents/ascents – made extra exciting by the slippery, clay-like mud that appears when it rains. At this point, the rain had let up a bit, but the fog was out in full force. I was wishing for the “fog lamp” setting on my headlamp. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or hear anyone behind me – running this section in a race with hundreds of people, but feeling so totally alone, was rather surreal – but peaceful. I actually loved this solo mile.
Splits for McRitchie Section
Mile 1: 9:35 min/mi
Mile 2: 10:44
Mile 3: 10:42
Mile 4: 11:32
Miles 5, 6, 7: Hilary. I met Hilary through a mutual running friend. She lived, worked, and ran in Singapore for over 10 years, and recently relocated (again) for work just a few months ago. But this section of trail was a favorite of hers, and she wanted the chance to run it again.
Within the first half a mile, we came up to Rifle Range Road and the first Aid Station, where we stopped only briefly for a cup (or three) of water. I was trying to remember to hydrate, despite the rainy conditions – since I knew I was still sweating! Kudos to the volunteers, who had a small tent that was doing little to keep them dry, as they poured cups of water and refilled bottles and packs.
At this junction, there are metal barriers here between the wide trail head and the road, and one short section that is only blocked only by a heavy chain suspended between two poles. This is where we crossed. Stepping over the chain should have been a simple prospect for someone who is 5’9″ tall, but the gentleman running in front of me bumped it and set it swinging. I misjudged the swing, and when I went to hop over, my ankle got caught, and I face-planted in the mud. Thankfully, Hilary didn’t laugh (too hard), and the rain-softened ground made for a relatively gentle landing. My shin smarting, we headed out onto the road for about a mile, before turning back onto the trails. I was hoping that sunrise wouldn’t reveal a stream of blood down my leg, and thankfully, it didn’t. [Although two days later, I am sporting a lovely bruise and some small scrapes.]
We ran this section easily – it’s a bit technical in places, but Hilary led and I just watched her feet! We ran in companionable silence, with a steady effort. The sky started to get light, the rain stopped, and the miles passed quickly – we even overtook a number of other 50K runners along this section. I definitely appreciated how courteous and polite the 50K runners were – moving over to let us pass, even if it meant slowing or stopping briefly. This is a distinct advantage to running a longer trail race with more experienced participants: Folks know the rules and courtesies of the trail!
We popped out at Bukit Timah, and I bid Hilary farewell as I headed up to the Green Corridor. [I think she wanted to climb Bukit Timah, just for fun. Her new city is very, very flat.]
Splits for Rifle Range to Bukit Timah
Mile 5: 11:09 min/mi (Aid Station)
Mile 6: 11:07
Mile 7: 10:49
Mile 8: Amy (who blogs over at Run Write Hike). Mile 8 is Amy’s “Mile of Truth”: The point at which she starts to wonder whether or not she can actually do this – so she offered to help me through my Mile 8. Incidentally, my Mile of Truth occurred much, much later – but as we scrambled up the steep incline onto the Green Corridor, I was happy for some company. This section used to contain railroad tracks that linked the port at the south end of Singapore with Malaysia to the north. Most of the tracks are now removed, but a broad, flat “green corridor” remains. This is quite flat and very runnable, but can be a bit boring.
Amy lives in Boulder, and expressed some jealousy over Singapore’s relatively mild elevation profile – so this was the perfect section for us to run together. We talked about being PhDs eschewing academia, the ups & downs of investigating alternative careers, and the amusements of being white girls in Asia (she worked in China for a few years). She also reminded me to take my first packet of Sports Beans. For some reason, I had no desire to eat anything for the entire race. I wasn’t nauseous, I simply didn’t want to eat. But fueling early and often is important for long-distance events, so I listened. Amy stuck with me a bit past Mile 8, when a (real person) struck up conversation.
Mile 9: Sherri. After 8 miles of great company that was all in my head, I was surprised to hear someone come up behind me and say, “Gosh, isn’t this a beautiful day for a run?” I adore Singapore, and love Singaporeans – but there’s something about hearing an American accent that just turns my head – and this woman had one.
One bonus of ultra running is that it’s not always an aerobically-taxing event, so we were able to chat a bit. Turns out, she’s a veteran of ultras, but recently moved to Singapore with her family – this was her first race here. And she was right: The early storms and subsequent overcast skies helped keep the day cool. The Green Corridor can be quite exposed, but the cloud-cover helped keep the temperature down.
Sherri and I were just running along and chatting when suddenly, my right foot sunk in sticky orange clay-mud. In general, the Green Corridor section had little standing water, few slippery patches, and overall quite comfortable footing. But a small slick of mud was disguising a big ‘ole mud pit, and before I knew it, I was up to my right knee in mud. Thankfully, my left foot landed forward, on solid ground, and I was able to pull myself free. Unfortunately, my “Watch out!” warning to Sherri came seconds too late, and she was sunk up to BOTH her knees in a second mud pit, just a meter or two ahead of me.
I grabbed her arm and tried to help her out, while she tried to keep her shoes on her feet. [I said a silent prayer of thanks for my tight Salomon tension laces!] She pulled one un-shod foot out, and went in after her shoe with her
hand arm. I have no idea how she did it, but she came up with her sneaker. I grabbed it from her and tossed it aside, while she leveraged her other leg (shoe still attached, thankfully) out of the mud pit. When both of her feet were on solid ground, and she had her shoe in hand (in the process of transferring to foot), I left her to deal with the mud situation and continued forward.
In less than a mile, I reached the turn around, and headed back the way I came. I passed the mud pits, yelling at the oncoming runners NOT to step in them. The rain began again, and I tried to clean my hands up a bit. I wanted to refill my hydration pack at the upcoming aid station, but didn’t want to smear my equipment with the sticky mud. But the rain wasn’t heavy enough to do the trick, and finally I settled on using my small squirt bottle to rinse off.
When I stopped to refill, I realized it hadn’t been necessary – I had plenty of water. But since my pack was off and bladder opened, I topped up, closed up, and headed off – but not before I felt a moment of pity/embarrassment for a fellow racer, who was yelling in frustration that he needed a SHOVEL, or someone to lend him size 7.5 sneakers. He apparently wasn’t as lucky in the mud as Sherri was.
Mile 12: The Other Holly. One of my friends from Rochester (of Team Holly Cow fame) is a regular speedster, also named Holly, and no lover of the trails. I christened Mile 12 her mile, since this section was as close to road as a trail race was going to get. Honestly, Holly, I don’t even remember what you said, but I listened, because the Green Corridor was getting boring. Thanks for the company and distraction!
Splits for Green Corridor
Mile 8: 9:22 min/mi
Mile 9: 9:55 (mud pit)
Mile 10: 9:04
Mile 11: 9:59 (Aid Station)
Mile 12: 9:10
Mile 13: 9:28
Somewhere after Mile 13, Sherri and I ended up running together again, and when she told me, “Well, I’ve been having trouble finding women who like to go running in the jungle,” my heart skipped a beat. She was clearly an experienced and strong trail runner, seemed quite friendly, and dang wouldn’t I enjoy a long distance trail running partner on occasion! I pulled away from her on a steady climb leading into the trails by the Dairy Farm – but that wasn’t the last I saw of her during the race. Remember Sherri. She’ll be back.
Mile 15: Nicole (who blogs at Work In Sweats Mama). She requested Mile 15, in honor of the 15 mile long run she had scheduled for the weekend. Since the middle miles were pretty unclaimed, I was thrilled for her company. She regaled me with stories of her kiddos, and we laughed over the blessing/curse of working from home as we wound our way around the twisty, rolling terrain of the Dairy Farm. Before I knew it, we were at the Mile 15 aid station. I had a few cups of water, and an accidental cup of 100Plus – which I spit out in surprise, and exclaimed to the volunteers, “This isn’t water!” They looked at me like I was nuts. Thank you, Captain Obvious. But next time, different cups for water and electrolyte beverage (especially clear electrolyte beverage) would be awesome. Thanks!
Splits for Dairy Farm
Mile 14: 9:51 min/mi
Mile 15: 11:24 (Aid Station)
Mile 16: Jeano (who blogs at Jogging Jeano). She didn’t volunteer for it, but as a Hanson Plan convert, her longest marathon training runs were 16 miles. Hence, whenever I hit Mile 16 in a training run, I think about her marathon training plan with a bit of envy: “If I were Jeano, I’d be DONE right now.” Anyway, she kept me chuckling with her good-natured snark as we made our way along the Zhenghua Park Connector. We ran quite a bit of downhill, and I was thankful I wouldn’t be running this section uphill again (no, no – instead I would be running an entirely different section uphill around mile 24). We ran under a flyover (overpass) that had a whole garden planted underneath – some snoozing volunteers were taking advantage of the benches and shelter for a quick nap. [Many of them had been working long overnight shifts to support the 100K runners.]
But there was no napping for us. We kept running. My legs were starting to feel a little tired, and I succumbed to a walk on one pretty long, steep-ish incline, until Jeano busted me about slacking. We kept running. Or, at least, I kept running – she zipped off at about 16.5 miles.
Honestly, I zoned out for the next few miles. I had no one scheduled to run “with” me, I was starting to feel tired, and I was focused on reaching the Aid Station – and KMN, who was planning to be there – at 31K (19 miles). The terrain was gently rolling, which actually works well for me. There was only one confusing intersection, and the rest were well-marked with clear signage and helpful volunteers. Even the places where some of the race distances (13/25/50/100K) split from each other were clearly marked, and volunteers were helping direct runners along the correct route.
I just ran, and tried not to think too hard. Because this was a lengthy out-and-back section, I actually got to see the leaders on the “back” portion, while I was working my way “out”. That was pretty fun, and I counted myself as approximately the 5-6 woman. I was definitely starting to fatigue, but just kept pushing. I knew that the Aid Station was the furthest out point we hit, and from there, I would be heading back toward the Finish Line. Even though “back” was still 20K away, I know from experience that “heading home” provides a psychological boost for me. I also knew I had a lot of “company” lined up for the last 10+ miles, and that was going to help me make it through.
Finally, I burst out of the trees and to the Aid Station. I crossed the timing mat, found KMN among the approximately six spectators, and demanded, “Help me with my pack.” Due to some technical issues, the bladder in my hydration pack requires some binder clips to keep it closed. This works just fine, but makes it slightly pesky to open and refill. But KMN knows the drill, and he helped me. He also snapped a reasonably good photo…
*Insert suspenseful music*
…but you’ll have to return for Part 2 to see it. 😉
Splits for Zhenghua Park Connector/Trail to Mandai
Mile 16: 10:02 min/mi
Mile 17: 10:56
Mile 18: 9:53
Mile 19: 11:40 (Aid Station)
[Edited: Part 2 is now available at TNF100: The North face 50K (2013): Race Report (Part2)]
What’s the earliest race start you’ve had? How do you feel about racing in the dark? Trail racing in the dark? 🙂
I don’t want to hear grumbling about race photos. Describe a race photo of yours that you love! [I’m talking about something that shows grit, determination, and spirit, people!]