Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Taking Part In The North Face 100 Singapore

When the emcee posed the rhetorical question "Are you ready for the run of your life?" before the race began, I thought he was exaggerating. After all, it was his job to make the event sound more exciting and interesting. I realize now that he might as well have addressed his question to me directly.

My partner and I joined the 50 km duo challenge. That meant each of us had to run 25 km — four kilometers more than my original target for this year. As part of our preparations, we joined two of the three progressive runs offered by The North Face 100. Along with other friends, we completed the 10 km and the 20 km trail runs in the MacRitchie Reservoir and Bukit Timah trails. Unfortunately or fortunately, we missed the 30 km run.

Our flag off for the 50 km duo was at 10:30 a.m. That initially got alarm bells sounding off in our heads, thinking it would be too hot by that time. But we knew based on our previous runs in the same location that the sun's heat would be filtered by the canopies. It shouldn't be too bad.

On that eventful day, I left the house at around 8:00 a.m. and had three other people in tow — they had made quick plans to see the HSBC Treetop. Runners were required to be there at least an hour early to complete the pre-run checks so I made sure I wasn't going to be late. When I got there, TNF participants —identifiable by their tops and bibs— were everywhere.

I found my friend Chinky as I followed a trail of red shirts to the designated assembly area. Together we headed towards the registration booth, which was strategically located at the zig-zag bridge. It was there where the TNF 100 staff took note of our body weight, checked the amount of liquid we carried, and asked to see our whistles and mobile phones. Once that was done, we joined the other runners assembled just before the starting line and waited for our partners.

We stretched, took each other's pictures and traded stories while we waited for our the start of the race. Every now and then participants from the 100 km solo category would make their way toward us and we would stop whatever we were doing to cheer for them. It wasn't difficult for us to admire and respect them imagining the amount of hard work it took to be able to take part in that category. We knew that genes alone were seldom sufficient.

If good luck favors the prepared, could the opposite be true? Work was my biggest excuse for not running for a month. I was saying to Chinky's partner, Joan, that it was probably a suicide mission for me to participate in the TNF 100 event. She countered by saying that it would only be such if I haven't really been running before and suddenly decided to run 25 kilomters. I thought she had a point. Together we concluded I could probably pull it off. Besides, she managed to run only a maximum of two times herself during the month. Still, I couldn't shake off the feeling that my lack of preparation was going to get me into a bit of trouble.

I had the answer to my own question in the first few minutes we started running. I decided to make a quick stop to the toilet just before we got to the trails. In my absent-minded state of mind, I missed a step, almost sprained my ankle and ended up bruising my left knee. I stood up as quickly as I could without looking behind me as if nothing happened. I shook of the pain in the men's room but I couldn't do anything about the open wound. I guess bad luck comes to the ill-prepared.

The first part of the route was familiar to us, having ran it during the first progressive run and walked it going to the HSBC Treetop before. The canopies did their job as we'd hoped for but the air was warm and humid. We were half wishing it would rain.

I walked the slightest of ascents, my body telling me I was not in an optimal condition trying to accomplish what I had set out to do. My partner, obviously stronger, lead the way although I'd catch up with him every now and then. He had initially declared he wouldn't leave me out of concern for any injury I might have sustained during my embarrassing fall. Knowing that he was intentionally slowing down for me prevented me from totally laxing off.

I thought then that my run was, in odd ways, similar to the story of the tortoise and the hare. The first similarity being that I was the tortoise and my partner was the hare. I felt I could be both too: a tortoise on the uphills and an hare on the downhills. I wished the story were that easy.

The most difficult part of the route was towards the U-turn point. It was a very punishing ascent, the angle much steeper and the climb longer than what we had gone through during the 20 km progressive run. Runners turned into walkers, although some obviously did a better job than others. Some were doing it backwards too.

When at last we reached the summit, I heaved a sigh of relief and thought the worst part was over. I was only partially right. I was ready to sprint my way downhill to make up for lost time and was in fact slightly ahead of my partner when he suddenly declared he had cramps. I forced him to sit down and stretch his leg, something he initially resisted, relenting only when one other runner told him to do the same thing. One other runner offered his pain relief spray, which my partner swore was a magic wand. He was back to his feet after about fifteen minutes of rest.

My partner would not recover completely for the rest of the race. He announced that he didn't think he could run anymore and would just have to walk to the finish line because his calf muscles threatened to betray him again. Pretty soon he was complaining about both legs. Fortunately he got more doses of his magic spray at the checkpoint.

As for me, I never regained my lost momentum. A part of me was glad though that I didn't have to run. There was still a long way to go however. Apart from the steep climb, the other part of the race route that I hated most was the concrete road we had to trudge to get from one trail to another. With no tall trees to protect us from the sun's debilitating rays especially at that time of day, it was an excruciating moment. I finally understood why you had to be a bit crazy to join these type of races. The exhaustion I felt also reminded me that it was an endurance race I had gotten myself into after all.

It was easy for my running mates and I to think that the cutoff was a bit lenient before the beginning of the race. During the course of run however, that changed. We were thankful that the organizers did a good job of estimating the amount of time it would probably take for slow pokes like us to finish. One thing that kept me running when walking seemed to be the only thing I was capable of was the thought that I had to make it to the cutoff or my run would be in vain. With the deadline fast approaching, the wound on my leg bleeding and my water bag emptying, I summoned my last remaining strength and ran like I was supposed to, overtaking three others in the process.

Minutes which felt like hours after, I crossed the finish line with some time to spare. It felt really good. But nothing was as rewarding as the good number of hours of sleep I had afterwards. The sore I felt all over my body did not leave me though for the next couple of days. The wound on my knee took two weeks to heal. The memories will definitely last a life time.

Oh, my partner finished the race about 7 minutes earlier. Not bad for someone with cramps on both legs. He must have been thanking his magic spray all the way to the finish line.

After all that's been said and done, a huge, crazed part of me wants to run the TNF 100 race again next year.


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