New Straits Times
With only about half of its participants completing this trail run within the time limit, the NR Conquer the Trails @ Kiara 2018 has been Amir Zaki’s toughest run to date
WHEN my wife told Kelvin Wong of Game Changer Event that I would be participating in the NR Conquer the Trails @ Kiara 2018 with a dozen of my former schoolmates, he responded by saying: “They like to suffer?”
At that point, I didn’t realise how literal and true that question was.
NR Conquer the Trails @ Kiara 2018 is the third edition of this successful trail running event in the city.
For this edition, it offered a longer 15-kilometre route (last year’s was 13km), and four categories of Marmot Juniors (children up to 14 years old) for the 5km route.
Bukit Kiara is one of the few green lungs in the city that is popular with mountain bikers, hikers and runners. For those who have been there, they should know that the park is huge and the trail, challenging.
The first time I went there with my wife, we got lost while leisurely hiking in the area because there were many routes.
I joined last year’s edition because a friend, who ran the event the year before, highly recommended it.
It was exciting because of the high level of difficulty it offered to runners. But it wasn’t your average off-road race — the run was about hiking, climbing up and running down steep hills.
Despite the difficult terrain and relatively bad running time, my friends and I decided to join the event again this year.
Just like the past two editions, participants must bring their own bottles for hydration. This is the organiser’s part in helping keep Bukit Kiara clean.
OFF TO RUN
Twelve of us registered, from as far as Penang, Kuala Terengganu and Johor Baru. But in the end, eight participated — two had previous ultramarathon experience, while the rest had participated in running events of various distances.
The race was flagged off at 7.30am at Taman Persekutuan Bukit Kiara. The route was slightly different than last year’s and it was definitely harder.
Before the flag-off, Wong briefed participants that there would be an elevation of about 1,000 metres. Last year’s nearly 700m elevation was already punishing, so we expected that this year’s race would be even harder.
We were in very good spirits before the run, participating in the warm-up session and taking photographs.
About a kilometre and a half from the start, we began to enter the trails. The elevation was kind at first, until after the second kilometre where traffic started to build up.
The trail was narrow and it was steep going downhill. It was simply difficult to overtake the runners in front of us. On average, runners were stuck in the congestion for 30 to 40 minutes.
I am quite familiar with hiking and know that descending a hill is technically more difficult than ascending.
In some areas, the trail was slippery
due to rain the night before. There were also areas where one could not hold on to tree trunks or branches for support. Many runners had to squat and step slowly downhill in order to avoid accidents or injuries.
At km4, there was a small square hole on a fence. It had a marker on top of it but there was no direction signage. This confused me. At that point, there was no one in front of me but quite a number behind me.
I climbed the hill next to the fence, thinking it was the correct route. After climbing about 20m, I realised that there was no trail in front of me and the climb got more difficult. Probably 15 runners followed me along this wrong route.
One of the runners called his friend who must have passed by the area and was told that we were supposed to go through the small square hole. What a waste of 10 minutes of navigating the difficult hill climb! Going back down to the hole was tricky because the soil was wet.
The markers and direction signage were unclear in some places. I was not the only one who got lost. A few, including an elite runner, also lost their way and did not complete the trail. It was difficult to guess which way to go when you couldn’t see the runners in front of you. Since the run was already challenging, losing the way was very frustrating.
GOING THE DISTANCE
I know through experience that an actual run distance can be different from the one advertised.
Normally it can be a distortion of about 200m to even 1km. This trail run was 15km. We were informed that there would be two water stations at km5.5 and km10.5. Runners must reach the second water station before the four-hour cut-off time to continue running. Many runners were told to make their way through another trail when they did not meet the time limit.
My friends and I depend on our fitness trackers to know our running statistics. Overall, our fitness trackers recorded 6.5km at the first water station and 12.5km at the second one.
Considering the hills ascended and
descended (there were eight in total), most of us could not maintain our pace. But we tried to meet the cut-off time.
It was frustrating because despite reaching km10.5 on our fitness trackers, we had to run about 2km more to reach the second water station. We felt cheated. The organiser must have used a different GPS system!
In the end, only two completed the race and both their times were below four hours. For the rest of us, we did not meet the cut-off time, so we made our way to the finishing line. Some of us were slighted by the rudeness of a few race marshals who were too strict in not allowing runners to continue after the cut-off time.
We understood that it was their job to ensure rules were adhered to but they should remain courteous and polite. They were probably tired and stressed out but so were the runners who had to run the punishing trails.
AT RACE’S END
While the six of us did not meet the cut-off time, we crossed the finishing line all the same. We knew that we did not officially complete the race but for all our efforts in this race, at least we should bring the medal home. It was a big medal, enough to make us smile despite the unaccomplished aim.
I was too tired to think about whether to join the event again if it is organised next year but the majority of my friends were thinking about joining again next year, and to be mentally and physically prepared to beat the cut-off time to make up for this frustration.
When I looked at the race results, only 460 out of about 800 runners had completed the race. Almost half of the runners were categorised as “did not finish” (DNF) or “disqualified” (DQ) and this showed how tough the trail was. It is something the organiser should look into. Perhaps they had overestimated the trail. My friends also hope that the attitude and politeness of the marshals and crew will improve.
For now, I have only one word to describe the NR Conquer the Trails @ Kiara 2018: Punishing.