Cameron Ultra-Trail 2019

Cameron Ultra-Trail 2019


2019 has been an interesting year thus far. I overcame a disappointing series of DNF’s in 2018 by finishing the UTMT TTF in January. Work then kept me busy till April. Later in May, I ran a 4:16 Sundown Marathon while continuing to fast the following day.

But after missing out in a spot at the UTMB, I changed my attention to the regional races and signed up for two races: the Cameron Ultra and the TMBT. I got lucky with the ballot for Cameron, so I will be using this as a training race for the tougher TMBT. But Cameron turned out to be tougher than I thought!

Travels

Travelling to Cameron worried me somewhat. It was my first time entering West Malaysia by coach and I had read horror stories about bed bugs, speeding bus drivers, lengthy delays at stops, missing baggage’s, etc. Nevertheless, I decided to buy tickets with two different coach operators with Starmart departing and The One Travel returning to Singapore.

On Wednesday night, I headed off to Golden Mile Tower for the start of my travels. There I met Darren, a fellow runner and his girlfriend Grace, who was also travelling for the race. They accompanied me for much of my journey.

Bus Ticket from Startmart Express

The coach went through the Second Link and made a couple of rest stops before continuing on the journey. The bus was mostly full when we left at night. A handful of passengers were left by the time morning came around.

I alighted at the Tanah Rata bus terminal along with everyone else. But everyone had to make their way to their respective stops. I was a bit peeved that the coach didn’t take me up to my hotel as per the charter. Regardless, I slowly made my way to the hotel and checked-in early.

Though my ticket said it was going to take me to the hotel directly, it never did.
A simple but big hotel room in the old wing of Heritage Hotel

After clearing some work stuff, I headed down into the nearest town for lunch and decided on The Mossy Forest Cafe after doing a quick Google search. It wasn’t bad at all.

Lunch at The Mossy Forest Cafe. It wasn’t bad at all.

I stopped by a convenience store to pick up some snacks so that I wouldn’t have to go out again until dinner time. For the rest of the afternoon, I slowly prepped my gear ahead of the gear inspection the next day. I even managed to complete a quick 30-minute shakeout run at the indoor gym.

In the evening, I joined my new friends for dinner at a nearby Nyonya restaurant.

With my new friends Darren & Grace! Darren would be running the 55km category.

Race Expo & Tea Party

In the morning, I walked to Century Pines Hotel with Darren and Grace for the gear inspection and race expo. The queue had already started by the time we arrived there at 10:20 am but was moving. After registration and gear check, we went up to the expo to collect our bibs and browsed around merchandise and gear.

With Darren and our bibs after collection. Darren’s bib went missing apparently and he was issued with a new one.
Wonder why my number is up high!
A very nice and functional duffel bag. Other race organizers should take note!

Pre-Race

After leaving the expo, Darren, Grace and I had lunch before heading back to our hotels. I started preparing my special needs bag which I had to deposit at the expo before it closes. We met again in the afternoon to drop our special needs bag and visit the tea party. I caught up with fellow Singaporean runners before the race but couldn’t find others I was looking for.

Although the party was great, it was very stuffy with the afternoon heat and the crowd. I left soon afterwards to start my final preparations for the race: preparing my sachets of tailwind and calculating the amount of nutrition I needed.

With Darren and Amir at the tea party.
Managed to catch PS Sim as well!

For this race, I chose to wear the WAA Ultra Light t-shirt over my usual Ultra-Carrier shirt. It would be my first time using it in a major race. Other than that, most of my gear remained the same. I was also testing the new Milestone MS-F1 headlamp, a Japan-exclusive headlamp featuring dual white and warm LED — useful for misty and foggy conditions.

A quick flat lay of my gear. Mostly tried and test at previous races.

Race Morning

It was a real challenge trying to get enough sleep for a 3:45 am flag-off. I knew I had to sleep, but the body was refusing to cooperate. Probably because of the pre-race jitters and the fear of waking up late. In the end, I had probably a few interrupted hours of sleep before finally waking up to my alarm. I prepared my usual comfort-food of cup noodles for breakfast, got my gear ready and did my last-minute checks.

Having a quiet and warm breakfast while watching a Mumford & Sons concert.

Oh by the way, for early morning starts, sleep in your race gear. That way you wouldn’t panic too much in the morning in case you do wake up late.

A sleepy selfie before heading down to the lobby to wait for the shuttle.

After packing my hotel card, I went down to the lobby, where the hotel had organized transport for runners (100 & 55 km only) to the start line. A nice touch by them.

100km Elevation Chart

The Start, CP1, CP2

I wasn’t feeling very nervous at the start considering it was my first time at this event; everything felt a little nonchalant. I hung around the tent while waiting for more runners to arrive. Eventually, it was time to get into the starting pen. It got cold really fast and it started drizzling. As the gun went off, it began raining heavily and I soon found myself stopping by the side to put on my rain jacket. Terence and Pua found me early on an encouraged me to go ahead.

The race started with a run down a straight road. After a while, we went on a gravel path towards the first bottleneck of the race: the climb up Jasar Peak. It was really muddy and technical due to the rain, I was pulling myself up tree roots just to get up the trail.

I don’t remember much about this part of the race, but I eventually made my way to CP1, which I skipped as I had enough water and rations with me.

CP2 was quite a blur as well. But I do remember that the entire night was pretty rough due to the mud and constant scrambling up tree roots and try to find ways to get down without sliding or breaking a leg.

CP3, CP4, CP5, CP6

It was probably past 8 am by the time I got to CP3. I took a moment and refilled my bottles, ate my nut butter and packed my headlamp before moving out to CP4, where I would get my special needs bag.

The section I was running ahead consisted of a sharp descent followed by a gradual ascent up a tarmac road. On paper it was doable, but in reality, was quite daunting. I kept on power hiking until I finally reach CP4, which was a guardhouse with an erected tent by the side and an open area gravel car park.

Picking up the special needs bag was the first thing I did upon arrival. But they mixed up mine with someone else’s, so there was a small delay in getting my bag. Finding a spot beside another runner, I changed into a fresh shirt and put on my cap and shades; a hot day awaits. I left CP4 and briskly made my way into CP5.

Taken from CP4 to CP5

The journey from CP5 to CP6 was the longest distance between two checkpoints at 13.3 km. But it was mostly gravel road, which wasn’t too bad. As the temperature rose, I eventually experienced a minor side stitch which forced me to walk for a while before I could run at full steam again.

CP6 was located just at the top of a slope and a junction. I made friends in James, Edison, and Matt and we sort of bounced around positions from there on end.

CP7, CP8 – U-Turn Point

CP6 to CP7 was one of the hottest parts of the race with 34 degrees at its highest. Coming into CP7, I quickly refilled my bottles and one soft flask with water to cool my head down. But decided not to stay for long but pushed onward towards the elusive CP8.

At CP7. You can see myself pulling out the soft-flask from my bag.

I say elusive because it took ages to get to this checkpoint, which a long run down and some hiking, eventually came into view in the form of a small village area. After making the climb up to the little hut, I took off my shoes and sat down in one of the chairs there. The volunteers asked if they could help with anything. They were extremely helpful for sure.

For lunch, I had a mix of lontong and mee in a nice and warm soup base. After checking my rations and adjusting my shoes, it was time to head back in the opposite direction.

Temperatures got pretty warm towards the middle part of the day and race.

On the return trip, I bumped into PS Sim and later, Terence and Pua, who were making their way down to CP8.

With Terence and Pua after I made the u-turn at CP8.

By the time I reached CP7, dark clouds had formed and it started drizzling. I chose not to wear the rain jacket yet as I figured the rain might pass. But eventually the rain got heavier, so I stopped to put on my rain jacket at a small shelter. En-route to CP6, there were many 100 km runners making their way to CP7 and CP8.

From this point on, I was running the course in reverse. Which meant more climbs and through rainy and cold weather. The mud has also become much thicker, making it difficult to run without slipping and sliding over. At CP5, I set up my power bank to charge my watch and put on my headlamp before making my way to CP4 in the dark.

At CP4, I retrieved my special needs bag again to change into a fresh pair of socks. I was already struggling with blisters under my feet, but my feet were too soggy to pop them. The blisters were preventing me from doing any flat or downhill running. I also changed one last time to my ultra-carrier, keeping myself fresh for the night ahead.

There wasn’t much food left as I returned my bag. I was quite hungry but took a few bites of oranges before moving on. The marshalls made sure my blinkers were on before leaving CP4. I would advise runners taking part in this race in the future to bring extra batteries for your blinkers.

CP4 to the finish

It was a full-on push through the night where the last 22 km was concerned. I had started feeling sleepy at this point but continued moving to take on the Berembun Peak at 1850m on the return leg. It was a steep and difficult climb on tired legs, but climbing it felt like one little victory.

Unfortunately, we still had to descend to CP2, followed by the short but gnarly up and down climb into CP1. It was hell to go through the night on that terrain. But I kept going with Joo Siang either in front or behind me. After finally getting out to CP1, I got myself a cup of hot coffee, hoping it would keep me awake for the final stretch. Beh caught up and we chatted for a while before moving on. One last peak, one last descent and it would soon be over.

Terence and Pua would catch up to me sometime in that period and we eventually stuck together to the finish line. I couldn’t run much by then, so I savoured the company and moment.

Finish

After 26 hours and 16 mins of running, I finished my second 100 km race of the year. I didn’t meet my target timing, but no one thinks about those the moment you finish a race. I was happy to have finished it. We took some photos, collected our finisher items and parted ways. I stayed around to talk to my new friends and catch up with Beh, before slowly walking back to the hotel.

With Pua and Terence at the finish line.
With James, a new friend I met during the race and Joo Siang
With old friend Beh whom I met at my first ultra almost 6 years ago.
It wasn’t the perfect race but given everything that’s happened. I was happy with it. I’ve never seen myself this muddy before! – Photo by Kim Lai who DNF’ed earlier in the race but was around in the morning.
With Kim Lai who DNF’ed his race but was still around that morning.

Aftermath

I painfully got out of my running gear and packed all the dirty gear into zip lock bags. After a really nice shower, I changed up then went to have breakfast with Nazrie and Imran. They were staying in the same hotel and had completed their first 55 km ultras themselves. After breakfast, I finally slept. I woke up later in the afternoon and continued packing my bags.

Medal and Finisher Tee

In the evening, I joined the two guys for a celebratory steamboat dinner.

With Imran and Nazrie for a steamboat dinner post-race. They completed their first 55k ultra-trail!
Last views from the hotel

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cameron. Another 100 km finish in the books and I got to share the experience with friends new and old. The race is one of the more well-organized races I’ve seen in this region. And I’d rate it about 70% to what I experienced at the UTMB. I suppose they could improve the checkpoints with re-stocking of some food for the runners who were still out on the course and were coming in much later.

Where racing is concerned, I think I could do better for the second half. It’s clear that I took too long to finish the last 30km. Some reasons could be because I lost my drive when navigating the mud, low on nutrition, the blister on my feet, or otherwise. Perhaps I could do better next year if the conditions were different.

Travel wise, I regretted not spending time checking out Cameron. I’m sure there are lots of interesting places to go like plantations and strawberry farms. Perhaps I will return for a longer trip should I be back again for the race.

Till next time, Cameron.

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