Monday, August 24, 2009

The Mother of All Trail Races

I felt I was part of the send-off party today as I wrapped up my chat with today's guests. They're pretty much regular blokes like you and me - one's a hedge fund manager and the other's a safety advisor with an MNC. Yet both gentlemen who're in their thirties are just about to attempt, in the words of one of my guests Bernard, the 'mother of all trail races'.

Despite the North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMC) being only a 166-kilometre trail, it's not a stroll in the park. Based on last year's footrace, only 53% of runners who were at the starting line completed the race. The feat is neither for the faint-hearted nor flat-footed. Runners have to carefully navigate a variety of off-road terrain, some rough, narrow and jagged, some icy smooth, damp and moss-encroached. The entire race would require runners to ascend a cumulative height of 9,400 metres and complete it in under 46 hours. That means goodbye to sleep, hot meals and a glass of warm milk before bedtime. Temperatures in the day can be pleasant but it can dip to minus 10 degress Celsius in icy conditions as the racers plough through the mountainous Mont Blanc range that eats into France, Switzerland and Italy.

Worth a mention would be that Leow Kah Shin and Bernard Lew aren't professional nor full-time adventure racers. They don't make a living out of running for miles on end without sleep. Secondly, they haven't been training for years to get where they are today. For Bernard, he only started participating in triathlons since 2005. For his compatriot Kah Shin, it was only about three years ago that the adventure bug bit. Both of them met last year at the 250-kilometre Gobi Desert March and this year, they're jointly competing in this gruelling adventure together with a third Singaporean, Steven Wong who's in his fifties.

Bukit Timah Hill has been their training ground, where they run up and down the hill. They've been training for what's ahead, but to give you a clearer idea of the demands of the adventure to come, it is equivalent to ascending Singapore's tallest hill 94 times!

Despite the training and determination on the faces of both men, Bernard has you know that there is a real fear of muscle cramps setting in and his legs giving up. But they will find consolation and encouragement in each other. It will be a very quiet race, Bernard reveals, but the cheering and bidding to push ahead will come from "the physical presence of your friends just beside you".

How reassuring the ties that bind and bid you towards the finishing line.

Bernard, Kah Shin & Steven, we're backing you on your adventure. Go forth and conquer the trail...and don't forget to take some wonderful photos between the starting point and the finish!

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