4 steps to train for a trail run

Trail running can be a daunting, yet rewarding experience. Through a lot of trial and error and based on my own personal experience, I have developed a systematic 4 step-by-step approach to help you prepare for a trail run.

Think of training for a trail run as a pyramid – without a solid base, it will be impossible to move upwards.

The 4 Layers of Preparing for a Trail Run:

TMMT 2017 Part 2: The Race

 

  1. The Race Kit collection

Like most trail runs that are situated outside KL/Klang Valley, race kit collection venues are usually held at small towns that has a big hall facility. For the remote village of Merapoh, I guess the biggest hall that they have was located at a school SMK Merapoh. Besides as a race kit collection venue, the hall and school is also a venue for:

  • a race expo, selling mostly mandatory items but mostly energy bar/gel/drinks for tomorrow’s event
  • a camp site and an accommodation site. There are no proper hotels in Merapoh village, hence they encourage participants to pitch their own tent or sleep in the school’s student dormitories. However, we stayed at another town called Gua Musang which is about 30 minutes from Merapoh. Just like Merapoh village, there are no reputable hotels in the small town of Gua Musang but we managed to secure a comfortable and clean accommodation through Airbnb called GM Villa.

“Ummm yeah I think I know what I’m doing” #CampsiteVibes

Told ya I knew what I was doing!

Before we could collect our race kits, we had to go through the mandatory item screening to ensure that we bring all the important items just like any other long-distance or ultra trail events. After collecting our race kit, we also stayed for a while to hear the race briefing. It was not compulsory, however the race director will usually leave hints on some dangerous areas to be extra cautious, changes in cut off times, etc.

In front of the school after we have collected our race kits

  1. The Race Day

Distance: 35km

Highest elevation: 271m. The hills weren’t very technical, so they are manageable.

Route profile:

The starting point was not the same as the end point. Even though the flag off time was 7am, but we had to be at the SMK Merapoh school again by 5am to secure a parking spot, walk a few hundred meters to the 100K and 70K starting line, where there was a pick up truck waiting to transport us about 6km to the starting point.

Off to the starting line we go

Do expect everything, even for 35km. For the shortest route available for this event, there was a little bit of every element; the jungle, the plantations, the river-crossing, small hills, and we get a taste of Merapoh’s caves too. Plus, it was raining the night before so it was foggy even after the sun was up.

No that’s not haze. Foggy conditions up to 9am.

My verdict:

Since I had very minimal training for this event, I found the distance daunting. If it wasn’t for the manageable hills that weren’t very technical, I would have found the race to be quite difficult.

Weather can be unpredictable. It was raining the night before so it was cool and foggy. However, it got hot really fast once the sun was up. Always make sure your hydration bottles are filled at water stations. Isotonic drinks with salt will help too. Most importantly, bring a hat if you predict that you will still be running after 11am.

The view and scene were rewarding. Besides Cameron Ultra, it was unlike any other trail runs I have been to. The 4 hour driving journey to get to run in Taman Negara Merapoh was so worth it. My favorite part of the route was definitely the caves, however here are a few highlights of my 35km journey:

Rubber plantations at the fringe of the forest. We saw rubber tappers collecting latex.

The first cave that we entered

What are trail runs without some fun in the river

More caves! But we didn’t enter this one. Limestone caves seemed to be a popular theme in this route

It’s sad to see deforestation through out this forest. But how does one choose between developing the nation and maintaining the natural ecosystem?

There were at least 3 of these signs through out the 35km route. The organizers had some sense of humor!

Conclusion: If you want to try a long-distance trail running event but not ready to take on ultra marathon distances, TMMT is the one that you should enter.

TMMT 2018, maybe?

TMMT 2017 Part 1: The Pre-Race

I am drafting this out just a few hours before we drive towards Pahang for The Magnificent Merapoh Trail (TMMT) 2017. I will be doing the shortest distance available: 35km. My main motivation to enter this race was because I have never ran in that part of Malaysia before. It is also one of the National Parks in Malaysia. Don’t you just love how running takes you to extraordinary places that you could not think of if you’re just a regular traveller?

The pre-race is always the most exciting yet nerve-wrecking part of the race. What if I didn’t train enough? Did I miss something from the mandatory item? Do I have enough equipment? There are many aspects  To make things more manageable, I have prepared a to-do list to ensure that (hopefully) I have covered everything.

  • The training

I admit that this is one of the areas that I lacked the most. I have not been running any longer than 21km for quite some time, although I do run 5-7 km on weekdays and more than 15km on weekends. Due to my busy work schedule, I had the time to attend my CrossFit class for once a week only, and that is insufficient. Therefore, I had to set realistic expectations for this 35km race: Just finish it within the cut off time (COT).

Training also involves route studying. For my ease of reference, I have printed out the elevation profile along with vital information required. I didn’t print the map because I’m going to be really honest here: I don’t understand maps. As long as I keep up with the crowd and don’t steer off course, I shouldn’t get lost.

Why printing out the elevation profile is important, especially for trail running at long distances:

  1. Your GPS watch will be inaccurate. It will not state the actual distance covered.
  2. Since your GPS watch is not accurate, you have to use a different method to gauge your distance – the elevation. For example, the highest elevation point that you will hit first is at roughly KM8-9.
  3. You will know which checkpoints have drinks/food/bag drop/toilet etc. This is also important if you want to quit from the race as not all checkpoints are accessible by car/ 4 wheel drive.
  4. You will know the COT at each check point to ensure you’re not disqualified

The most cost-effective yet crude method to ‘laminate’ your elevation profile. Sloppy workmanship, but oh well, as long as it gets the job done!

  • Equipment

Always always always refer to the mandatory list as a guideline for packing. They are important for a reason. Many participants take the mandatory list too lightly, but most trail run especially long distances will have a mandatory item check-in to ensure participants comply. Usually, at the race site there will also be several booths selling the mandatory items but at a very high price.

Hence, the packing begins. Luckily, I did not have to buy a lot of new stuff as I can still use some of the mandatory items from Cultra 2016 and my previous trail runs. Here is a #flatlay of the items I will be bringing. In the end, I decided not to bring the jacket. I also added some painkiller and socks into my bag later. Not in the flatlay is also my headlamp.

I think that covers pretty much most of my pre-race to-do list. Time to head off to Merapoh, wish me luck!

5 reasons why you should join a trail run

After a few months taking some time off from running and exploring a new interest in crossfit, I am now back with a more consistent running schedule! Lately I’ve been more interested with trail running, and the most recent trail run that I participated was King of Kampung Kemensah in the 18km category. I had a good time running off-road, and here are 5 reasons why you participate in a trail run too:

IMG_9059My hijab is as cheerful as the race day vibes. It feels good to be back!

1)Less participants, less bottleneck and congestion

  • To avoid over-crowding the single lanes in the trail, organizers usually limit participants to less than 1000 in total
  • Parking is easy, because there are less cars too
  • Due to the small number of participants, it is easier for organizers to manage the welfare of participants, which means there is always an abundance of food!

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2)Running is more challenging

  • There are various terrains that you can expect, such as muddy, sandy, or rocky. It takes time to get used to balancing and running on uneven surfaces.
  • It is more humid in the forest. This will also attract bugs such as mosquitoes and leaches.
  • Cuts and bruises are all part of the trail run package. Just think of them as souvenirs and battle scars from the event, embrace them and be proud of them!

3)It takes you to beautiful places

  • Such as this:IMG_4112 2
  • And this:IMG_9049
  • But if this view does not convince you to join a trail run, I don’t know what will:IMG_7835

4)You will appreciate nature

  • You will never take clean air for granted again
  • Take notice of the interesting leaves, foliage, and bugs surrounding you. Everything is beautiful in their own way!
  • Sometimes you just have to accept whatever Mother Nature throws at you. The weather can be unpredictable – it’s better to be over-prepared with the right equipment.
  • Most organizers are now implementing BYOB – Bring Your Own Bottle. Trails are cleaner thanks to this new rule, and I fully support this move.

5)You will learn to respect the distance

  • Running 21km on the road is not the same as 21km in the trails. Therefore, trail running requires a different training strategy than road races.
  • Elevation is always a part of trail running. Get used to running uphill, climbing the stairs, and strengthening your quads and glutes.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have Jason Robinson during our regular Tuesday night runs with Kyserun Krew. Jason Robinson from Mont Kiara Running Club (MKRC) is a well-known ultra running figure in the local community who won 1st place in TMMT 2016 100km and 4th place in TMBT 2016 100km. He shared his experience and a few training tips, stating that his regular training grounds are Kiara Park Trail and occasionally Gunung Nuang.

Last Sunday, just like most running Sundays, I was excited to participate in an event called Conquer the Trails @ Kiara Trail Run 2017. With Jason Robinson’s tips still fresh in my mind, I was excited to run through the same training grounds as an ultramarathoner! I was unable to verify if this was the same route taken by MKRC, but while running they looked pretty confident and they know where they are going so I guess they are familiar with this route. The total elevation gained with the 13km course was around 530 – 550m (depending on your GPS watch), so if you are training for an ultramarathon, repeat the loop several times so get enough mileage and total elevation gained.

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Never too bright or pink for the trails

Never too bright or pink for the trails. A little bit too optimistic for what lies ahead I guess?

And as for me, I have only ran on the road portion of this park during my Tuesday night runs or on weekends. The trails, on the other hand, is a total uncharted territory for me. Elevation is no stranger in any trail run, however, this time I allowed it to get the best of me. I had to stop in the middle of my climb to catch my breath – a sign that I need to work on my endurance and stamina again. I admit that since this is the first trail run of the year, I have not set foot in any trails for quite some time. I forgot how it felt to be agile yet nimble while running in the trail – my feet were clumsy and my movements were too calculative. All of these cost precious time, so it took me 3 hours 31 minutes to complete the route, with a sinking feeling that I knew I could do better.

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Not my best race but I'll be back!

Not my best race but I’ll be back!

This trail run serves as a hard reminder that I need to train more off-road to build again the skills, stamina, and endurance that was lost during my off-season for the past few months. It looks like I have some serious catching-up to do, so expect more trail runs for the next few months!

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner

I love this BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) concept at any trail run. Look at how clean this water station is!

I love this BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) concept at any trail run. Look at how clean this water station is!

Weekend Runner takes Australia

I took some much needed break from any running activities after Cameron Ultra and spent slightly over one week in Melbourne and Sydney. I could write a million things about Australia – the coffee and café culture, the koalas, kangaroos, and natural wildlife, the multinational population… but my most favourite part of the trip was the Great Ocean Road and Blue Mountains National Park.

  1. Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road (GOR) is not just any stretch of road. Spanning over 243km, it is actually a war memorial, built by soldiers dedicated to their comrades who died in World War 1. It is located along the coastal line, and along the highway there are several points of interest and historical significance. It is perfect for families, surfers, and even runners as there is a pedestrian walkway too.

However, from my personal point of view, the main attraction for GOR is it’s diverse natural formations. From dramatic cliffs, to unique limestone formations, friendly campsite and beaches, surfer waves…one could not get enough of the beauty that surrounds GOR. I wish we had more time to complete all 243km. We did not even make it to the 12 Apostles, but on the bright side, I have reason to return again soon!

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14753690_10210813226636562_2728491184366127058_oNatural formations carved by wind, water, and time

  1. Blue Mountains National Park

When in Sydney, the first image that comes to your mind is the iconic Sydney Opera House. However, after about 1 hour 45 minutes of train ride from Central Sydney, just off the Katoomba train station, lies the magnificent Blue Mountains National Park. Inside the Blue Mountains National Park is the Three Sisters, Wentworth Falls, and various trails and hikes. I wish I came there prepared in my trail running shoes with a few hours of trekking supplies. There was just so much to explore!

Three Sisters

Three Sisters

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Since time was also limited, the best way to enjoy was taking the train, cable car, and moving “skydeck” at Scenic World. Just like it’s name, Scenic World offers a panoramic view of the national park, and it also leads to trails of various difficulty levels. Scenic World is also a live museum dedicated to the pioneering European settlers who worked as coal miners, working several meters deep into the mountains. On a bright, sunny day, you can view for miles away and even spot the ‘blue haze’ that this region is famous for. I wonder what it’s like to go for a trail run among the trees and behind the waterfalls. Once again, it gives me a reason to return again soon!

"Blue Haze" that gives Blue Mountains its name

“Blue Haze” that gives Blue Mountains its name

Remnants of past mining activities

Remnants of past mining activities

 

Australia has left me with a bigger hunger for adventure and a renewed appreciation for nature, and the only cure is to start planning for the next vacation.

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner.

Finally I’m alive again!

Be prepared….Be very prepared! (I always doubt myself..Am I really prepared for this?)

When Cameron Ultra Trail was announced, I was the extremely excited….until the organizers released the official promotion video,…Then, oh my! Yes! It was no joke!…

The elevation was about 2280 m and the highest elevation that I ever hiked prior to that was only 965 m – the Mount Serapi in Kuching. I did not get to train enough for trail. My daily routine was training on the road after my whole day at the hospital… Yeszz! I thought I would die this time!

I flew from Kuching on Thursday night, after my Sarawak Advanced Life Support In Obstetric (SALSO) examination that evening. It was a busy and hectic week for me. The next morning I went to Cameron Highland for race pack collection and race briefing.

The day before the race, it was raining throughout the day and I was most worried.

Finally the day came. I just wanted to finish strong without injuries, no DNF and if possible, I wanted to arrive the finishing line before Maghrib prayer. I didn’t want to be stuck on the trail in the dark.

We started our crazy 50km at 5 am,..with a hike towards peak Jasar, with an elevation of about 1684m and distance 3.2km. Though the route was slippery, everyone was fast. Everyone started to leave me behind. I feel like a toddler who just learn to walk. I just keep moving at my pace, although slow, I just kept moving and stayed safe.

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This pic was taken after I just had my Subuh prayer , 6.30am at the nearby road. Then I continued to run.

The next big challenge was Mount Berembun, with an elevation-1835m, and distance 10.1km. It was a never ending hiking up and I felt like my both legs were going to separate, I feltl tired and I wished to stop for a while but, no! I needed to keep moving, I wanted to arrive at the checkpoint 3 in time which was 6 hours from the start. And yes! I arrived at the checkpoint 3, 40 minutes earlier. Hooray I made it! And…Alive! Yup I was alive!

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This is Queeny from Singapore. We ran together start from the Peak Berembun as our pace was not that different, we managed to survive together in the forest.

 

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The next route is the BOH Tea Plantation. And yes, I love green!

The next 27 kilometres was by the hillside of BOH Tea Plantation. I thought it would be easy until…. I realised there were a lots of pebbles along the route, and they hurt the surface of my feet. I was grateful, the surfaces were not slippery like previous route. Oh ya, I like the weather at the run; breezy, not that sunny, less sunburn though. For those who wanna breezy run, you can try here,..and after that you can pick up strawberries with total mileage 30 km to Tanah Rata.

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The never ending route!

My tips is..you don’t have to run all the way (if you want to run, go ahead!), but run when it is downhill or less elevation. When you are going uphill, do powerwalk. Am sure you will be arrived every checkpoint in time.

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What motivated me to keep going is the view.. How could I stop if they keep follow me all the way 🙂

Along the race, I saw friendly faces. Every participant who passed by, would cheer up one another, or at least they smile. The marshalls were very nice and helpful, they keep motivating us to be strong. A moment I will never forget is when I arrived at the CP 4; one of the uncles made a cup of warm tea for me, and it was so nice to have it after a long, never ending run. I thought it was the best tea I ever had throughout my life.

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– Finally I found road! ( and yes! I love road more! )

For every checkpoint that I stopped at, I refilled my hydration pack, drank and fueled up with dates provided. Then I continued my run. I just wanted to save my time and be on time at the next checkpoint.

At 4.30pm, I was on my way go back into the trail route which lead me to last checkpoint – checkpoint 3 at the Robinson Waterfall. It was about 8km towards finishing line. As I entered back the forest, it felt dark. I was feeling very tired, but kept moving. I just wanted to get out from it before dark.

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yayy! Finally it almost end 😉

Finally, I reached finishing line at 6.12pm with official timing 13 hours and 12 minutes. Yayy! Mission accomplished! I suffered from no injuries, no DNF, finished strong and arrived before Maghrib prayer. And yes, I was alive. Alhamdullilah!

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That happy face with my new favourite medal 😉

I would like to dedicate this longest ultra trail  to my friends, my family especially my mum who keep supporting me and always believe that I’m far more capable more than what I think. And lastly, I would like to say big thanks to my sponsor, Nashata for the event slot, accommodation, transport and of course big support throughout the event. Without you guys, I might not be able to do this.

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Nashata Runners survived till the end.. Yeah! Women power 😉

Till we meet again, keep running and be inspired!

Re-discovering Kemensah

Flicking through past week’s photographs in the trail, I realised that I longed for the muddy ground, ascending among the trees, the clear air, and the rush of the river. What I missed was spending time in the trails again. Taking advantage of the long weekend, I gathered a few friends who were familiar with a route in the Kemensah, Ulu Klang area for a leisurely trail “run” (it was hardly a run, more like walking with occasional spurts of running).

We weren’t aiming for anything ambitious for that day. We set off at a very leisurely pace, excited for what is ahead since most of us are not very familiar with this route. We walked non-stop, and ran once in a while. It was not a very challenging trail, with elevation gain for about 400m. Sometimes there were puddles and small stream crossing, but nothing too technical. We could hear some animals along the way, but we did not manage to spot anything. Frankly speaking, I think everyone just needed a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city which is always a good thing!

The highlight of any trail “run” is taking a dip in the river. After about 6km of walking, finally we heard the sound of water rushing. We finally made it! The river was knee deep, and the lush surrounding trees makes a good spot for a photo op. Some of us brought some snacks drinks, so we took our time by the river to soak in the nature.

 

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The highlight of any trail run!

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Heading back

Heading back

Despite its ease of accessibility and close proximity to the city, Kemensah is not a very popular site for camping unlike Gunung Nuang. Probably because it was not very challenging and not very big, so most people can explore other trails within a few hours. I heard that there is also a waterfall among these trails too, which gives me the perfect excuse to come back again! 

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner.

Embracing elevation at Gunung Nuang

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My partner had no idea what she got herself into when she agreed to go on a hike with me!

People hike for various reasons. Some love breathing in the fresh air, some enjoy the meditative feeling of being close to nature, or some are addicted to the thrill and exhilaration of a strenuous sport. I, on the other hand, learnt how to embrace elevation.

Hate it or love it, hills and slopes are a part of any run regardless of the distance. A few hundred metres of elevation adds challenge and fun to a run, however, a few thousand metres that I will encounter in my next ultramarathon is a different league of its own.

Running in loops at the base of Gunung Nuang, that I affectionately call as Nuang loops (from the entrance up to the first checkpoint before Camp Lolo) is my favourite spot for trail runs because of its elevation and long stretch of uphills and downhills. Since this is the last week of training before Cameron Ultra, I decided to go all the way to the peak, giving myself 2 weeks to recover if anything goes wrong. At 1493 metres, it is the highest peak in Selangor, providing the perfect spot for some last minute elevation training.

What we plan to accomplish for that day.

What we plan to accomplish for that day.

We hiked up at about 7am and reached the peak of Gunung Nuang at about 12.45pm. Overall, it took us about 10 hours of hiking from Pangsun entrance – Peak – Pangsun entrance. While still in Nuang loops area, I proceeded to run-walk to the first checkpoint, Camp Lolo, because it is the easiest part of the hike. The real ‘fun’ begins after Camp Lolo. The distance between each checkpoints are reducing, but the route was getting more challenging. From the starting point to the peak, it was around 10-12km. It was definitely not a hike for beginners. Not to mention that it was drizzling too, so the ground was muddy and slippery. Personally, I found the hardest portion of the journey was between Camp Pacat and Puncak Pengasih. There was a lot of natural obstacles such as big rocks and fallen tree trunks that required using all 4 of my limbs. It was also very steep, so I had to use a lot of my quads to push myself up (strength training was slowly paying off!).

This was just the beginning

This was just the beginning

The second hardest portion for me was going down. I confess that I am scared of heights, so the sight of a really big gap forced me to get down on my bum and slowly slide down until I trust my footing. However, once I gained the rhythm and technique, I jumped and ran down at every opportunity possible. I was also rushing to get back to Camp Lolo for Zohor prayers. It resulted in a few miscalculated landings, but hey, what is hiking without a few bruises and cuts.

What goes up, must come down. The question is now HOW do I get down???

What goes up, must come down. The question is now HOW do I get down???

Resting and zohor prayers at Camp Lolo before we head back to the starting point. There is a waterfall and stream, perfect for washing up and ablutions. Previous campers also left tarps and kiblat indicators.

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Resting and zohor prayers at Camp Lolo before we head back to the starting point. There is a waterfall and stream, perfect for washing up and ablutions. Previous campers also left tarps and kiblat indicators.

Now I understand why hikers like to subject themselves to the ‘pain’ – there is an indescribable sense of accomplishment once you complete the trek, and it’s a addictive. While nursing your legs in pain, you find yourself wondering which mountain or hill to scale in the nearest time. You just want to go on and on. Runners, does that sound familiar?

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner.

From trails to tarmac

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After one week of resting (with the exception of a couple of crossfit sessions at Fuel Athletics) to give my knees a break from last week’s full marathon at Kuching Marathon, I finally decided that it is time to start training for my next big race: Cameron Ultramarathon or Cultra for short.

I did an ultramarathon once, so I am not worried about the distance. With enough LSD training, I have a high chance of completing the race. However, Cultra will be different because it will be a trail run, and elevation is not a stranger. In fact, trail running IS elevation. Therefore I must learn to embrace it rather than being in denial thinking that road LSD will be sufficient. I have to prepare my feet for a lot of uphills, downhills, and uneven terrain.

To get a taste for Cameron Ultra’s elevation (2240m) I head to the tallest peak in Selangor called Gunung Nuang. Gunung Nuang has a trail fondly known as ‘Nuang loop’ among the running community. The loop consist of 5km uphill to the first checkpoint called Camp Lolo, then another 5km downhill to the entrance. The 10km loop was only 530m total of elevation gain, however I was panting! Overall, it took me about 2 hours (at a very leisurely pace) to complete one loop. Then I repeated the same thing again.

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Hey guys can I know what your legs are made from? Because I need the same thing for my legs to keep up!

 

There is never a lack of company in the trails. “Why is this human with only 2 feet is so eager to run? I have hundreds of feet yet I never want to go up and down these Nuang loops.” – said the giant centipede.

There is never a lack of company in the trails. “Why is this human with only 2 feet is so eager to run? I have hundreds of feet yet I never want to go up and down these Nuang loops.” – said the giant centipede.

Looks like the Nuang loops will be my training ground for the next few weeks. I will be back again to train harder!

The next day, I head to an event called My Buddies Run for a quick 5km fun run. I rarely participate in short distance events, but after yesterday’s hard work I took this fun run as a way to reward myself. The highlight of this event was not to break any PB, but rather getting dressed up in costumes and just simply enjoying the race since the route was easy.

IMG_2933IMG_2940IMG_5330IMG_5352Many came dressed to impress! My Minnie Mouse ears was nothing compared to the scale of their costumes.

Clearly I was excited to get dressed up. Just like any event, one must do their best to follow according to the dress code right?

Clearly I was excited to get dressed up. Just like any event, one must do their best to follow according to the dress code right?

Fun runs gave me a fresh perspective on running. Since it was a non-competitive and friendly event, many families came with strollers, elderly couples walked holding hands through out the route, and kids jumping around in their costumes…Looks like it is never too young or too old to inculcate the joy of running!

It has been a productive weekend for me. Now I am all recharged and ready to face Monday again!

Until next week,