The Singapore leg of the North Face 100 – the most well-known series of trail running races in the Asia-Pacific region – took place yesterday. It comprised of four categories – these were the 50km Duo, 50km Individual, 25km and 13km distances.
Was feeling nervous prior to the race
I took part in the 50km Individual category. Leading up to the race, I hadn’t been able to get in as much training as I would have liked – due to the haze. Also, I had been having a mild bout of diarrhoea the day before, so I wasn’t even sure that I would have been able to finish my run.
It was with feelings of trepidation and nervousness, when I headed to MacRitchie Reservoir Park, where the race would begin at 7am yesterday. I reached the starting venue just after 6am, so that gave me an hour to collect my thoughts together and get myself mentally ready for the race.
Catching up with friends
While waiting for the race to begin, I caught up with several friends who were also taking part in the same category as me. The time whizzed by, and before I knew it, it was time to enter the starting pen and await flag-off.
Once in the starting pen, we took a few starting line selfies and wished each other luck. Then the starting horn blew, and it was time to begin running. I broke into a slow jog, but my lack of training began to show during the uphill sections. It was difficult to maintain my rhythm and I found myself panting. At the next climb, I realised that I had to change my strategy, and decided to walk during the uphill sections to conserve some energy.
The 50km race begins
This strategy worked for a while and it took me through to the first checkpoint – which could not have been a more welcome sight. Roughly about 9km into the race, this gave me a good opportunity to catch my breath and sip some ice-cold isotonic drink, as my own supply had warmed up considerably by then.
After consuming one packet of my gels as well, I then continued with the race, feeling refreshed and energized. From MacRitchie Reservoir, the route now took us through Rifle Range Road and the Dairy Farm trails, as well as the Green Corridor trails.
The Green Corridor was mentally draining
The Green Corridor area was the most mentally draining part of the whole race, simply because the monotony of the path felt like it could go on forever – and it didn’t help that at least half of the race was run on the trails here. While the terrain is pretty flat and devoid of slopes, it is not supposed to be physically challenging. But still, running for about 30km on these trails can be really mentally draining and repetitive because there is no variation in scenery at all, and everything looked exactly the same. The stones there also didn’t help my running.
I was a little disappointed with the checkpoint at the 27km mark on the return route. This was because on the outgoing route around this point, there was plenty of water and isotonic drinks, together with gels and bananas. But on the return route, there was nothing else available except isotonic drinks at the same area. This was slightly upsetting as I had been looking forward to some ice-cold water then.
Through the race, I fuelled myself with my salt electrolyte tablets, energy gels and water, which I had brought along with me. These helped to keep me going through the Green Corridor when I had felt my mental resistance slipping. The bus stop, which I had spotted adjacent to the route at between the 25 to 30km mark, became more and more like a magnet to pull me there and hop onto the bus.
Meeting familiar faces and Darth Vader
Along the way, I bumped into several familiar faces, who had smiled warmly and greeted me back in return when I had said ‘hi’ to them. These had included regular podium finishers Vlad Ixel and Carol Cunningham and avid ultra runners William Muk and Jason Foo.
To my surprise, I even saw Darth Vader, whom I encountered many times along the way throughout the race. Perhaps the Sith Lord had been there to hunt down all the remaining Jedi in hiding – ever since the Great Jedi Purge by the Clone Army.
Surprisingly though, Lord Vader had been in a good mood during the race and didn’t even try to use The Force to unleash any chaos out in the trails. And he even posed for photos.
Unofficial checkpoint was a welcome relief
Towards the end of the Green Corridor trails too, the unofficial checkpoint that had been set up by a group of good samaritans, was a very welcome relief.
Here, I helped myself to some water and used that as a good opportunity to stretch my legs and catch my breath before continuing.
The final 15km was the toughest
When I exited the Green Corridor trails, the race got even tougher. This was roughly about 33 to 34km into the race and my legs were aching and cramping and there were so many hills to conquer all the way to the end point.
I felt like giving up and at this point, I felt that I would not be able to reach the finishing point – but my friend, Ethan, was running with me for part of the way, and we both pushed on together. Having someone trudging along with me, helped.
The route certainly didn’t do me any favours, though, and there were so many loops and u-turns along the way in the final stages. Indeed, not only were there so many hills, but the trails were starting to feel very monotonous. Every 100m of running literally felt like 1km by this point.
At about 45km though, it was very encouraging to see the final checkpoint of the race – I had thought I would never be able to make it to this point. I hydrated myself with some water and isotonic drinks before pushing on. Ethan stayed behind for a while longer though, to apply some muscle rub on his cramped legs.
The Imperial death march
The final 5km after that checkpoint, was literally a death march. My legs were urging me to quit and call it a day, and the more I walked, the harder it seemed to be, for my brain to counter that message.
I think I would have quit and collapsed right there, if I had been totally alone, but encountering other suffering runners from time to time helped my cause, as I realised that I was not alone in fighting these feelings of pain and agony.
During this point, I also saw Darth Vader again, power-walking past me very briskly. Probably he had just sensed a Jedi, whom he had been relentlessly chasing after. I hoped that the Jedi had managed to get away alive – to restore the Jedi Order.
Wooden markers served as mini milestone points
For the final 3km, the wooden markers at MacRitchie Reservoir – which were placed 500m apart – kept me going. I used these as mini milestone markers and cheered silently inside me whenever I had passed one.
My legs were so sore now, that I could barely walk and my feet were starting to feel numb from all the hours of exertion. It definitely wasn’t easy to press on, but I was so near to the finishing line already so I knew that there was no point in giving up now. After all, if I completed the race, I could reward myself to some delicious ice cream at the end point.
When I saw the wooden direction sign that said there was 600m to go, this really energized me. It had felt like the longest 600m walk in my whole life, though! I brisk walked the final 600m, and soon enough, I started to see sunlight streaming in through the trails. Then I saw the opening to signify that I was leaving the trails – at long last.
Crossing the finishing line
I broke into a slow jog and crossed the finishing line, and I was so relieved to have made it, without sustaining any injuries. Yes, my 50km suffering was finally over. Now I could finally tuck into that cold ice cream that I had been looking so forward to.
I vowed to myself – right there and then – that this was the last time that I would ever attempt something as crazy as this, too.
Other blog posts
- 50km @ 2014 Edition of TNF100
- The Great Relay Singapore 2015
- Trail Running Tips by Vlad Ixel
- Vlad Ixel’s tips for 100km first-timers
- Energiser Night Trail Singapore 2015
- The Green Corridor Run 2015