Sir Bani Yas Challenge (29-30 March 2018)

Marwa Al Wadhahi, a young Omani lady who is enthusiastic about sports and adventure shares her experience at the Sir Bani Yas Challenge 2018. She loves challenges, pushing her limits and experiencing new things. She works in the Oil & Gas industry during the day and passionately practices sports in the evening and holidays. 

Marwa Al Wadhahi

I was very excited when I saw the announcement of Sir Bani Yas Challenge which was originally consisting of 3 km of kayaking, 10 km of trail running and 37 km of cycling. I was excited because I never cycled and kayaked these distances, I’ve never been to Sir Bani Yas and I’ve never done a 50 km challenge in single day. Basically the challenge had a variety of activities and in a unique and exciting venue.

Wildlife at Sir Bani Yas

Sir Bani Yas Island in the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was the venue of the challenge. The island was one of the first “Greening of the Desert” projects established by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1971. Over the years it became one of the UAE largest animal reserves and is home to over 15,000 free roaming animals and birds.

Due to circumstances out of control, the cycling was cancelled and the challenge was modified to become a total of +33 km of an amazing hike on & between mountains, fun kayaking and a long trail run.

The challenge was tough, we started at 6.30 am where the weather was foggy and nice then it got hotter as time passed approaching noon. I personally absolutely loved the hike and the kayaking, I found the trail run (which was the majority of the race) fun at the beginning but then it was really torturous due to the heat, strong pulsing cramps and trail that felt like infinity as the long distance was new to me.

I pushed myself hard, I felt like crying, I felt like giving up, I thought to myself “What made me do this? What was I thinking” I literally felt physically and mentally exhausted. However, because I signed up for the challenge with a mindset and goal to finish as a minimum and despite all the pain and torture I felt, I was absolutely determined to finish, I limped, I walked, I jogged with pain until the finish line.

Husaak Support Stations

On the other hand, the organisers, Husaak Adventures, and fellow participants along the way were very supportive which injected me with positive energy amid the suffering, I smiled to them, felt positive and said to myself that I can do it and I should not give up even though I felt like it! Giving up was just not an option for me. I had fun chatting with some participants along the way and cheering others to continue as well which really makes a difference and pushes people further. Organizers were at the water/food stations and also driving back and forth with cars cheering, checking on us and supplying water

Hiking Trail Views

With a few hundred people participating, Alhamdulillah I’m proud to finish 4th out of more than a 100 female participants, and 33th Overall out of almost 300 male & female participants 🏁 I really pushed myself that day. I haven’t had specific training for this event, just my regular gym training. So I was basically fit but not really trained for this kind of long distance running.

Trail Run

I believe if I hydrated more in the weeks leading to the event and practiced long runs, it would have went even better. Maybe I wasn’t trained enough or ready to go at the pace I was going at but the experience was definitely enriching. The feeling of true struggle that I haven’t felt in a long time, but pushing hard and fighting pain & fatigue to reach the finish line was priceless.

What I learnt when I did not finish a race

I’ve been delaying this entry for more than a week since I came back from “The Most Beautiful Thing” (TMBT) Ultra Trail held in Sabah. If you have been following me on my social media channels, you would have already known that I did not finish the race. I did not put this entry off because I was ashamed there is a glaring “DID NOT FINISH” in the results list, but because I have been thinking really hard about what I learnt when I did not finish a race.

So here are 3 lessons that I learnt when I did not finish TMBT 2017:

  • There is no shame is not being able to finish a 50km race.

When I signed up for the 50km category, I knew that I had embarked on an adventure that I could not possibly forget. It requires physical training and mental preparation. I built up the mileage needed, consistently did LSD (Long Slow Distance) runs every weekend, and trained for the elevation. In fact, I was mentally worn out from doing the same thing every week.

I can hardly recognize my own feet at 48km.

  • No two trails are the same

I am not a stranger to the world of ultra running. This is my 3rd ultra marathon, and I have ran in several long distance trail events. Yet, I was naive enough to think that since I have completed Cameron Trail Ultramarathon 50km last year, I could pull off TMBT, when in fact, TMBT was a totally different game. Mother Nature is unpredictable. TMBT was the race that I have experienced various types of weather: scalding hot and shivering cold temperatures, bright sunny hours and torrential downpours, all in 16 hours. The only thing missing was probably snow and ice. And weather conditions affects the trail – it can be muddy, dusty, slippery, etc

TMBT – The Most Beautiful Thing or The Most Brutal Trail? I choose to believe in both

Hanging bridges like these seemed to be a permanent part of the route. I have never experienced anything quite like this in other trail runs

  • Never underestimate the mandatory items

I utilized everything listed in the mandatory items, except for the emergency blanket. I was especially grateful for the waterproof jacket, headlamp, and blinkers.

Also, never skimp on anything that you think might become useful in a race. Think thoroughly while packing. Personally, an item that I underestimated its usefulness were tissues (wet and regular tissues) and money. Why?

Tissues – You might never know when you need to go. Decent toilets were available at every checkpoint, but for your own comfort and hygiene purposes you will be glad that you carry a tissue. It is also handy when you need to wipe your muddy hands to eat and drink in the trail.

A typical water station checkpoint. At least there were flushable toilets in mini halls like this.

Taking shelter from the heavy rain in one of the checkpoints. Although there were no designated praying areas, at least halls like this was convenient enough for us to pray.

Money – These villagers were really entrepreneurial! Along the route there were villagers ready with cartons of drinks in ice boxes. There were also food too (eat this at your own risk!). Although I packed enough isotonic drink mix and water, but after a long and hard climb a bottle of cold Coke was very tempting, even if it costs more than RM3.00.

How everyone refuels. Only mineral water was provided, because along the way villagers will set up ‘booths’ selling soft drinks.

 

TMBT will be one of the races that I will never forget. I was happy that I was able to participate in it, even though I did not finish it. If you are up for the challenge and a big fan of trial runs, this route is a must.

 

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?

The toughest race (so far)

I don’t usually start my blog post with an appreciation speech, but a 50km ultramarathon trail is an important milestone in my running career. I would not have been able to do it without my family and friends who have always believed in me, Nashata.com for assisting from registration to accommodation and everything in between, my running family Kyserun Krew for their weekly training, LSDs, trail running, and Gunung Nuang hiking, my other running family Naked Spirit Runners for their encouragement, and my Fuelfam Fuel Athletics for making every rep count. I dedicate this medal to all of you.

img_6159

As soon as I watched Cameron Ultra-Trail’s official promotion video, I knew I had to do it. I can feel it in my guts that 50km is the distance that I should sign up, despite the crazy 2240m of elevation and little voices in my head doubting my capabilities. I had 6 months to train, and it has been 8 months since my first 50km ultramarathon (road condition). I did not have much time, and the elevation that I will face in this race is no easy feat. I set to work immediately within the limited time that I had. Trail running and strength training became a regular part of my routine, and as the race day approaches I hiked to the peak of Gunung Nuang twice.

slide2 slide1Never underestimate the importance of studying a route with its checkpoints, especially for a long distance race.

With other 50km runners

With other 50km runners

Finally, it was Race Day. I can tell that the race director and his team have put in a lot of effort while planning the route so runners will get the biggest bang for their buck – after every tough segment of the race, runners will be rewarded with a magnificient view or a very pleasant downhill. Checkpoints were also strategically placed with enough food and drinks. My biggest regret was not utilizing the special bag drop facility (the crew will bring your bag from the starting point to CP4) to stash an extra pair of road running shoes, because CP4 (at 18km to 42km) we will be running around the Boh Tea Plantation on gravel and road. Unfortunately, I packed another pair of trail shoes so they weren’t very helpful to be utilized on road conditions.

We were transported into another world when hiking to the highest peak of the route - Peak Berembun

We were transported into another world when hiking to the highest peak of the route – Peak Berembun

The first cut off point - Robinson Falls

The first cut off point at 12.3km- Robinson Falls

Personally, I found the Boh Tea Plantation was the hardest segment of the race. It wasn’t very hot however because Cameron Highland’s high altitude, I felt as if the sun was shining right above my head. Sipping on isotonic drinks were really helpful to prevent cramps and the dizzy spells. After 34km, reality hit me hard. I could not run anymore despite refueling with solid food. I was mentally exhausted. Even the sight of the vast green tea plants and the fragrant smell of freshly plucked leaves were unable to uplift my spirits. I gathered whatever that is left inside of me and dragged myself to the next checkpoint to head out of the tea plantation. After heading out of the tea plantation, there was only 8km left and that cheered me again because the finishing line feels a lot closer now. I completed 50km in about 14 hours 18 minutes (unofficial timing) in one piece.

Boh Tea Plantation - we spent about 27km going up and down, and in loops

Boh Tea Plantation – we spent about 27km going up and down, and in loops

"Oh my god what am I doing"

“I am ok I am ok I am ok”

Ultramarathon brings out the best and the worst in everyone. Due to it’s extreme distance and long hours, it digs up emotions that I never knew could exist. Never before I have felt the highest high and the lowest low that I could possibly feel in one day. It also brings out physical pain on muscles that I never knew in my body. Yet, it gave me an indescribable satisfaction that could not be attained through other distances. Despite all of the hardship, preparation, and emotional toll, I could not find a single reason to stop participating in another ultramarathon. Eventually, I hope to make 50km a regular distance in my running calendar.

img_6174

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner