Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Race Report: Miri Beach Ultra 2016

MBU 2016 marked my first venture beyond the Full Marathon distance. The race route starts from Beach Republic in Luak Bay and stretches along the coastline all the way to Bungai Beach in Bekenu, with almost the entire terrain on sandy beaches. Passing through the famed Horse Drinking Water structure at Tusan Cliff was a main feature of the event. With breathtaking scenery like these along the route, I signed up for the event on a whim, despite some crocodile sighting concerns the Bakam river crossing that was part of the route. 
The event is divided into 2 categories, the 30K and 50K, ending at Tusan Cliff, and Bungai Beach respectively. On this inaugural edition, the number of participants were capped at 100 for the 50K category, and 30 for the 30K category on first come basis. Minimum prerequisites of HM and FM completion to be admitted for the race were imposed. So is the mandatory kit requirement that is status quo for ultra trail events like this.
Basically, there were only 5 checkpoints along the route, spaced out by averagely 10K apart. Check Point 3 at Tusan Cliff marked the finishing point for the 30K category. The 50K category finish line was situated at Check Point 4 at Bungai Beach (KM38), and is actually a return loop back from Check Point 5, being the furthest at KM44. For the Bakam River crossing at KM10, an alternative longer route to navigate around the river was made available. Definitely a more assuring option than having to go straight across into the river in pitch black 4AM moonlight, not knowing how deep it gets, and what could be lurking inside it!

Race pack collection was held the previous day before the event, on 5th of November at Eastwood Valley Golf Club. Collection was smooth and hassle free. The pack came with a race bib and an orange long sleeved running vest by 2nd Skin. While the pack was pretty basic, the running vest came with personified name print (an option during registration) added a cool touch. 

Running gears I was equipped with:
1. Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 stuffed full with (i) Note 2 mobile phone in air tight plastic bag, (ii) 2 x 500ml soft bottles filled with Tailwind, (iii) 2L bladder filled up with plain water at the back, (iv) 1 x sachet of Tailwind, (v) 3 x chocolate energy bars, (vi) Oakley shades, (vii) Sunscreen lotion, (viii) Anti-chaffing stick
2. Compression gears - long pants and long sleeved shirt and socks
3. Energizer headlamp 
4. Hoka Challenger ATR2 trail shoes 

On the race day - 6th of November, we gathered at Beach Republic as early as 3am for registration and check-in of personal effect items to be transported to the finish line. Gun-off was at 4am sharp, and it was drizzling for much of the early hours into the race. The cooling factor helped me off to a great start. A few hundred meters into the start was the first of the many streams or creek crossings to waddle through. Though seemingly shallow (ranging from ankle to knee depth of water), the current can be quite strong, making some of these crossings a bit tricky. Water logged and sand filled shoes were the conditions to get acclimatize to for the next FM distance or so.
There wasn't much too see during the early hours as it was still pitch black. Was feeling great and was running pretty much all the way to the CP3 at Tusan Cliff (KM30). Had to make the hike up the cliff to the registration counter at the top, and clocked a decent 3 hour 20 minutes a this point (the top finisher of the 30K category has yet to arrive).
From this point (CP3) onwards, the route got really interesting. This is where the water waddling, shuffling by rock face, and getting pounded by waves section starts. It was high tide, and barely subsiding when I got to this point. Slow and careful navigation required, as with every step, I could barely gauge the depth of the water, and had to balance with each step forward on the slippery rocks beneath. There were multiple stretches of such terrain between CP3 to CP4 at Bungai Beach, which is approximately 8km away. 

Spent a great deal of time navigating these section and by the time I reached CP4 (38K), I was almost drained of leg power. Developed 2 huge blisters on my right foot, but was more bothered by the heat from the rising sun, as the rain had stopped and clouds had cleared. It was 900am when I reached Bungai. The worst part of finally seeing the finishing point is knowing that this is only the 2nd last check point, and there is a further 12km to complete. 
Upon reaching CP4, I was informed that CP5 was brought forward from KM44 to KM40.5 due to safety concerns on river crossings that could not be secured further up. Under normal conditions (i.e. road race events), I would have been very pissed to be part of an under-distanced race, but for this particular ultra and given the fatigued state and pain I was in, I felt somewhat relieved. That last 5K U-turn to CP5 and back, took me almost an eternity to finish. 40 minutes to be exact.
To the total distance came up to be slightly over 43km; an Ultra is technically any distance beyond 43K. My Garmin clocked up to 42.3km @ 5 hour 26 mins before it blacked out on low battery.
The official results said I made it in 5 hour 40 min, and a placing of 17th out of 92 finishers. Not bad for my first ultra outing! 
After thoughts: I really got to enjoy and literally soak in the scenery and atmosphere during the run, more as a casual runner than a time target driven competitor. Glad to have finished the run in one piece, and injury-free. Trail runs are a refreshing breakaway from the monotony of road running, especially over very long distances. Will I attempt another trail run? Definitely, but of a shorter distance i.e. 30km, so I can enjoy without really having to suffer longer, especially during that last hour of a 50K.
The finisher medal is probably one of the chunkiest and heaviest I have. Hard earned keep indeed!

Here's one splendid video to reminisce the ultra run:

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