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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

August 25, 2014

2nd BEDOK RESERVOIR ULTRAMARATHON 2014: “A walk in the park…. literally”

Penguins graphicsBlogger’s Note:  

This is an article by my Ateneo de Naga HS Batch 1983 batchmate and friend, Bitoy, who has worked  abroad in a handful of Southeast Asian countries, most notably Singapore and Vietnam. The two of us were rowmates (by virtue of our diminutive stature)  and classmates (by virtue of our family names) in our section LG-4 in our first year in high school. Back then, the intrams name of our section was “Desiderata” and reading thru this article of Bitoy, one cannot help but think that he is living the spirit of the  timeless poem by Max Ehrmann. He continues to go after for things that he desires in his own silent yet efficient way (he is an engineer after all). He may not be  loud but his actions speak louder.  With his survival of the 2nd Bedok Reservoir Ultramarathon last August 16,  Bitoy is the very first 83nean to have conquered an ultra abroad.  
Penguins graphics

Nine days ago today, I was in a reservoir park in eastern Singapore together with about 300 runners from all walks of life who participated in an ultramarathon race – the 2nd Bedok Reservoir Ultramarathon (BRU).

BRU is a close loop race around Bedok Reservoir Park with two categories: the individual and team of 2, where the participants are challenged to complete as many loops as possible within 12 hours (from 7am to 7pm) with a minimum of 12 loops (each loop is 4.3km or a total of 51.6km) to earn a medal and finisher’s t-shirt.

Route map

A view of the park and reservoir
What led me to join this race?

After completing Sundown Marathon almost three months ago with my fellow 83nean Ernie, I got the crazy idea of trying my first ultra. I told Ernie, “Hinog na siguro ako padi (Perhaps I am already ripe, bro) considering that I have now four marathons under my belt (since December 2012).” So, while recovering from my 4th FM, I surfed in the net to look for upcoming ultra-races and found this BRU. Actually, there were 3 other options: Craze Ultra on 20-21 September, The North Face 100 on 10-11 October and MR25 Ultramarathon on 28 December. 

I picked BRU for the simple reason that the cut-off time is so manageable. Normally, the time limit for a 50K ultra is 10 hours. So, I said “Wow, there is a 2-hr extra.” Running 12 loops in 12 hours is simply completing one loop in one hour. By doing simple math, I will have 14 minutes for every kilometer at my disposal. Since my normal walking pace is around 12 min/km, then I can do it even by merely walking the entire 12-loop race.  Ooops wait… BRU is known for its “hot-weather/high humidity” foot race and in fact, the event organizer (Running Guild) dubbed the runners in their website as “the burners.” The race track is also narrow and on a coarse sand/dirt road and some parts of the route are unshaded.  Moreover, running a loop for 12 hours is quite mentally punishing than doing it on a straight course, so perhaps this justifies the 2-hr extra in the race cut-off time. To put it simply, BRU can be likened to a Fat Ass ultra (except for the entry fee) in a semi-Badwater ultramarathon condition (exaggeration included). In my view, that what makes BRU unique from other ultramarathon races.

My race plan

Buoyed by achieving a PB in the Sundown marathon (at 6hrs 13mins…), I eagerly devised my race plan for my first ultra.  Like in my previous pre-race preparations, I drafted in excel worksheet my target weekly mileage, checklist/to-do list, etc. - “Parang tunay” (Kinda real).  From mid-June to race day, I had only 2 months to prepare and given the limited training period, I only aimed to complete the 12 loops (or 51.6km) in 8.5 to 9 hrs… not an ambitious target for a 47-yr old, below average runner like me, who only started running in 2011.

Training disruptions and other unforeseen events

On my first week of training (around 3rd week of June), I had only short runs every other day. Gradually, I increased my mileage, but after doing a 10k on one fine Sunday, I suffered an injury (not a serious one though). There was this some sort of pain at my right knee every time I strike my foot. Strangely, there was no pain if I only do a walk. To ease my anxiety, I immediately consulted a doctor. The prescription was simple --- I had to refrain from running for 2 weeks. That was already July and only more than a month before the race day. So, I did not hit the road for 2 weeks. By mid-July, I tried to resume my training with the usual short runs. After a week, I was tempted to do a long run as I badly needed it to survive my first ultra. Unfortunately, after only hitting 10K, the pain at my right knee struck me again.  At that point of my training, I was already contemplating of not joining the BRU. It was barely 3 weeks before the race day. This did not deter me from out rightly quitting and to compensate my lack of long slow distance training, I did some brisk walking almost every day, hoping that I could still fulfill my dream of achieving my first ultra by just walking the entire 12 loops.

One week before race day

One week before the race day, I checked the 7-day weather forecast and by all indication the whole week would be “wet.” True enough it was raining almost every day and I became worried as I really wanted to have a last minute test run to check whether the pain in my right knee would still persist or not. All the same, I still prepare for the race, but with 2 plans in mind. Plan A was to only show up, get the race singlet, watch the race for few minutes and go home (especially if it is rainy as it would be too absurd to go into the race walking in the rain and later under the sun for 12 hours). Obviously, my Plan B was to join the race, but again depending on the weather.

The race day

The race bib collection was on the event day itself. So, whether I would be participating or not, I was obliged to go to the race venue to get at least the race singlet.  What a pity or what a waste of the entry fee if I could not even take the race singlet! Adding to my misery, I was not able to wake up early on the race day (my alarm clock failed to ring). Running out of time, I took my breakfast (2 bananas and a can of 100 Plus) inside a taxi. While walking towards the start/finish area to collect my race pack, I saw a number of participants (may be more than 10) who were also late. I said to myself, “Hmmmm… I’m not alone.”  Then, I also looked up in the sky to check the weather. It was pretty clear and there was no sign that it would rain. The weather forecast was wrong (now I realize why it is called a forecast Smiley). This finally convinced me to join the race leading to activate my Plan B.

I was preparing to set off when I heard one of the race crew roared, “C'mon guys, you still have 11 hours and 40 minutes!” Whew!!! It means I was late by 20 precious minutes. From a short distance, I could already see some runners about to complete their first loop.

Runners before the start
The 1st loop was a test run (rather a very slow run) for me and it turned out okay, so I continued with the 2nd loop. My mind-set was to discontinue at any point in the race should I feel any pain in my right knee as I didn’t want to aggravate the injury. As usual, I employed the Galloway run-walk-run strategy (which I came to know from my fellow 83nean who owns this blog). Nevertheless, along the route, I ensured that I must be in a running form whenever I see a race photographer  (and I would immediately shift to walking after the picture taking). So, loop after loop…hour after hour, I was still feeling good. I was surprised, happy and reinvigorated (“It means my injury is gone.” – I mumbled to myself).

I ensured that I must be in a running form...

...whenever I see a race photographer.
By the time I completed the first half, it was almost high noon. At this moment, I saw a lot of runners taking their lunch, posing for cameras (some even doing ‘selfie’ & ‘groupies’), happily chatting to fellow finishers, some had changed their clothes and some were already heading home wearing the finisher’s t-shirt, especially the participants in the team category as they only need to run a combined number of 12 loops (i.e. 6 loops each runner or 5 + 7, 4 + 8, etc.). After eating one peanut butter sandwich and of course sipping cold water and sports drink, I proceeded on my 7th loop. At this stage, I was beginning to alter the Galloway method…. more walk and less run…walk-walk-run-walk-walk...dancing smiley courtesy of www.freesmileys.org

After the 7th loop (30.1km), my longest run/walk after the Sundown marathon, I decided to spend a few minutes at the aid station to do a quick “sanity check.” My legs were still okay and I was still sane SmileyAgain, I said to myself “kaya ko pa” (I can still do it). This is the drawback of joining a race solo flight – I have no one to talk to. After awhile I took out something in my bag [you will know it later at the end of this story].  

Among the crowd at the start/finish area, I hurriedly looked for a “Kabayan” (fellow countryman) to assist me. I said to a guy who was loudly talking in Tagalog, “Kabayan, can you help me put this thing at my back?” He said, “Sure…walang problema.” Then, I went off with my 8th lap… this time purely “brisk walking.” 

Ang tugot at ang Pinoy
As I continued with the race, some runners who passed by me noticed the thing at my back.One guy in blue said, “Nice message, bro!”  Another one made a “thumbs-up” and smiled. A lady runner said, “I like your message” and one half-naked runner (male runner) uttered, “Keep running bro, you can do it!” Every time a runner reacted at the thing at my back, I would just say “thank you.” It was effective. I was energized by their encouragements. Then, at the middle of my 9th loop, I was surprised to see the “kabayan” who helped me put that thing at my back. He stopped running and unselfishly paced (walked) with me up to the remainder of my 9th loop. I learned that he joined the team category, but opted to continue beyond 6 laps. We chatted everything about running and I also learnt that the BRU race was his birthday gift to “himself.”


At the back
On my 11th loop, another runner saw the message at my back and he said, “So this is your first ultra.”  I gladly replied, “Yes, this is my first ultra-walkathon.”  Like the first “kind Kabayan,” the guy who walked with me at my 11th loop happened to be a “kabayan” as well (What a luck!). Actually, he already completed 12 loops in more than 6 hours, but decided to make another round (and another round) because according to him (he realized) 13 is an unlucky number so he wanted to make it 14. We also talked anything (under the sun…literally) about running and he shared with me some tips, techniques, etc. By keeping myself busy chatting with “kabayan,” I did not realize I was almost completing my 11th loop.  At the aid station, “kabayan” mumbled at me “3 hours in one lap – kayang kaya mo na yan.” The last lap went like a breeze for me (albeit still by brisk walking).

Kayang kaya pa kabayan.
At 4:39pm on Saturday, 16 August 2014, I finally achieved my dream of finishing an ultra-marathon despite lack of training and almost withdrawing from the race. For the male solo category, I was ranked 87th overall in a field of 138 solo “burners.” About 30% did not show up or did not finish the race.

True to its name: Row 5
Lesson for us all : “Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try.”

P.S.  

Bitoy would like to thank the following race photographers for the photos: Ben Swee of Running Guild, Running Shots, Ming Ham (Lifestyle 1881) and Umar Muhammad. Congratulations to the race winners:  Male Category – Yong Yuen Cheng (103.2 kms in 11 hrs & 35 mins);  and Female Category – Neo Lay Peng (90.3 kms in 11 hrs & 44 mins).

8 comments:

  1. I hope sharing this story will inspire others who are afraid to try running or joining ultra-marathon races.
    With patience/persistence/ perseverance and determination, we can achieve our goal.
    I will surely join the 3rd BRU next year. I’m planning to have a new message --- “My 2nd BRU Ultra --- “A walk in the park….. literally and figuratively.” hahahahahaha

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    1. Hi Bitoy, I'm looking for an article about last year's BRU experience and saw your article. I'm actually planning to join this year as wasn't able to join last year due to overseas trip. Thanks for sharing your experience. It gives me motivation to push my plan of joining this year. See you on October. Noel

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  2. Good one Bitoy. You continue to inspire many.

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  3. Congratulation Pading Bitoy on your 1st Ultra conquest. Mabuhay ka!

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  4. "Mabalos pading Bob... Sisay ang mahuna na nakaya ko ining ultra..kaya kung nakaya ni Bitoy mas kaya nindo yan.." (Thanks Bob. Who would have thought I could complete an ultramarathon. If Bitoy can do it... you can also do it.. hahahaha) --- a message to 83nean batchmates who are not yet into running... "porbaran nindo mga padi... masiramon asin maogmahon..."

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  5. tumpak padi! masiramon na maogmahon ang feeling after an ultra. nakaka adik talaga.
    congrats padi!

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