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of unicorns and volcanoes (70km @ bromo tengger semeru ultra 100)

Posted on December 01 2014

Life is full of beautiful and terrifying things

Training for & running a 70km race is full of these:

  • There is always the constant struggle & stress to find time, distance & elevation to train while juggling 2 jobs, keeping the house clean and maintaining a semblance of a social life,
  • The friends you make while training who inspire you and laugh out loud with you at the absurdity of your race,
  • The (rather large) butterflies in your stomach as you make your way to the starting line,
  • The otherwise perfect knee which plays up 18KM in, making you do an awesome retro-2-step skip downhill to avoid that knife-sharp pain,
  • The equally beautiful & menacing Bromo-Tengger region with both ethereal lakes & forests, sulfuric ash and killer climbs,
  • The dark, shadowy hour alone just before dawn where leaves, birds & imagination play tricks on your eyes,
  • The strangers running your race who become good friends (whom you probably spend more time talking to than your mother in law; not difficult when you have 15 hours to kill en route); sometimes you contemplate giving up or slowing down, and then you turn the corner and there is a smile waiting for you, a conversation about everything and nothing in particular to keep you going,
  • And finally, the sheer, sweet relief when you cross the finishing line after 15 hours & 16 minutes (which when you put it in perspective is barely 0.2% of the total hours you have in a year, which you could easily burn watching one season of 24)

Regardless, you win in every sense, every mental battle fought & won, every muscle fibre now stronger, every race moment & scene you get to relive, and every beautiful person you meet and add to your life (and on facebook).

Nuts & bolts & candy

things you will need to know about this race & preparing for your next (first)?:

Race details

  • Event Name - Bromo Tengger Semeru 100 Ultra
  • Event Location - Start & Finish at Cemero Lawang, Bromo
  • Elevation - 2950 M
  • (that's like running up KL Tower (420 m) 7 times, vertically, or climbing up Mount Kinabalu 1.5 times)
  • Distance - 70 KM (30, 102 & 172km categories also available) - or 44 miles
  • Cut off time - 18 hours (I planned to finish in 16, and took about 15:16)
  • Total Participants - 81 completed out of a total 138
  • Logistics in Getting There - Fly to Surabaya International Airport, then book a 3-4 hour road ride via your hotel

pic taken the day before the race, its nice and bright already at 530am!

Nutrition

Pre-race: For 1-2 months pre-race I was trialling a minimal meat diet, many ultra racers are vegan and claim it helps with endurance as it reduces the blood pH (high acidity can cause more inflammation and is poor for recovery). Don't quote me on this but best way is to trial and error & listen to your body. Very easy for me as I quite enjoy rice + vegetables + soy-based products + eggs. For additional protein I added a lot more cheese & dairy to my diet. For good fats an avocado a day and coconuts (juice + flesh) as often as possible - which is very easily available in Malaysia! Sometimes just wholemeal breads with philly cheese dipped in extra virgin olive oil. Bananas, passionfruit & yoghurt for many desserts.

During the race, on the hour: 2 Electrolyte Tablets + 1 Anti-fatigue pill + 1 Energy Gel (thank you Hammer!). I also kept some random normal food like Almond M&M's & Ribena Pastilles for some normalcy.

Post race: Beer in the first hour is always welcomed. Then a lot of rice, salty soups and some meat for recovery & rebuilding. I ALWAYS crave a nice hot Tom Yum soup but this time they changed the menu at Lavaview Lodge so I had to settle with a steak :)

Mandatory Race Kit:

  1. Good & funny friends - bring lots & make some along the race course :)
  2. Shoes with a nice, big-ass toe box - your feet will expand during the race and sand will get in. I have a trusty pair of Skechers Go Bionic Trail which are a size 9 US, I'm usually a 7.5/8. Best part is, they are PINK.
  3. 1.5 L hydration pack (i have a cheapo bright orange Mac Pac my bro bought for me on sale at a Kathmandu outlet in Sydney, don't laugh, I know it looks like a pre-school back pack but it has served me well for 3 ultras!)
  4. Hiking pole - just one is enough, to battle the uphills and as a crutch when your joints fail you!
  5. Headlamp - with fresh batteries, minimum 80 lumen, we were lucky it was a clear night with a bright moon. Just remember to lower it when talking to someone :)
  6. Cap - so you don't overheat & tan like muscle-man
  7. Face mask - or scarf so your snot doesn't end up being black for a week after
  8. Gaiters - they help prevent the sand getting into the shoe from around the ankle, good to wear from the start
  9. First aid + whistle + emergency blankie + anti-inflamm cream - you just never know when it is your turn, or if you can be someone's Knight in Shining Armour (as much as I enjoy being Damsel in Distress....)
  10. Raincoat / windjacket - crucial for races during the night, especially since Bromo dips to 15 degrees celsius, coldest point for me was 3am!
  11. All the nutrition & foodstuff mentioned above

Course overview

I tried to capture some pics at every section, but obviously just the scenic ones, we won't bore you with the vertical drops which you should go down on your bum, nor the crazy uphill climbs. I'll let this picture do the talking:

2330 hours - KM0-7 [Cemero Lawang to B29 Peak]

too dark for pics, we skirted the mountain ridge & did a massive ascent which seemed endless, key was to go real slow and steady, keep the legs operational for later. I fooled myself into thinking the constant stream of lights going up were stars and meteors (didn't quite work).

0100 hours KM8-18 [B29 Peak to Ranu Pane]

too dark for pics, but this was more gradual, and final stretch was a down hill tarmac section leading to last year's 50km starting point (familiar turf!) - ran with Sebastian for a little while, then lost him as we reached Ranu Pane.

0300 hours KM19-27 [Ranu Pane to Ranu Kumbolo]

basically a constant, uphill slog in the dark, alone, very cold and seeing shadows everywhere just before dawn. there was a guy in front of me with ear phones plugged in, and not a word uttered, did not want to disturb his mojo. close to dawn saw a participant observing muslim prayer times. was a humbling reminder for me to start saying prayers for my other friends who were racing, and then thought about how busy this year has been, how many good things I have in my life with the business I have started & the opportunities everywhere. started hearing birds chirping, knew dawn and the lake was near, but every bend around the mountain seemed to just lead to another bend, and another, and another. sunrise at about 0430 hours was a magical moment (actually more of relief) ...

0545 hours KM28-32 [Ranu Kumbolo to Kalimati]

the most beautiful bits were just before and after the lake, then we entered a half-burning, perpetually smokey pine forest i could barely breathe, and felt very very very sleepy. i think Maleficent was lurking somewhere behind a black burnt-out log ..

(Aky & Arief walked into my photo frame :)

0645 hours KM33-38 [Kalimati to Ranu Kumbolo]

The loop back. Bumped into my husband! GIVE ME A HUG!!!!! And a few other friends, in particular to note 61 year old Doc Jagjit - he's done about 10 ultras, and many more planned (our sifu!)...

Full morning sun on the lake, took 5 minutes to put some anti-inflamm on my knee in the sun:

0745 hours KM39-54 [Ranu Kumbolo to Jemplang via Mt Ayek Ayek & The 'Pipe']

took my time walking up to Mt Ayek Ayek, slow & steady, baby steps, literally, I had Jessen Lee's words in my head 'the best way is small steps, and then if you can, increase cadence' ...

Hard to show scale but second pic is the view from half way up Mt AyekAyek. Ran a good part of this stretch with new trail buddy Dan. Conversation helps pass the time and helps you ignore the pain.

1115 hours KM55-70 [Jemplang to Cemero Lawang via Mount Bromo & The Sea of Sand]

Home stretch. Just the scenic bits. Don't be fooled :) A lot more through villages, dry open areas, some uphill tarmac stretches and some crazy bushland verticals!

On the way down from Jemplang into the Sea of Sand. Dan made us do 1 min walks + 1 min jogs. Then I made him take off!

Taking a break and emptying my shoes...

Final photo of the view of the last 5 km from atop Mt Bromo. WHAT A FEELING!

then a scary look on the other side into the smoking crater ...

1446 hours - FINITO.

and then i dropped that bloody heavy but AWESOME medal on my dirty feet ...

A lot more detail is available on their website, so do check out www.bromotenggersemeru100ultra.com for race maps, participants lists, results etc.

Shout out to all the awesome friends and trail buddies who made the event such a good weekend!

This is why I love doing these races; I hope that the terrifying, tiring and painful bits seem worth it in the light of all the wonderful, borderline magical and beautiful things & people you will encounter.

xoxo

hui

ps: MALAYSIA REPRESENT!!!!!

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