Bitter with a Sweet Finishing

The 7th edition of the Ultimate Trails of Penang ECO 2023 took place over the weekend of 18-20 August 2023 at Bukit Mertajam, in the state of Penang, Malaysia. The inaugural edition of the Penang ECO 100km was the first ever ultra-trail event in West Malaysia back in 2015.

I signed on early for this race as I have not done it before, but more so because it is a part of the Asia Trail Master series and the 100km category qualifies as a race for the Grandmaster Quest. The Ultimate Trails of Penang ECO race has also been accorded the status of Super Trail of Asia Trail Master for the last 4 years. All the race categories of 30km, 50km, 100km and 100 miles earns qualifying points for Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) and Ultra Trail Mount Fuji (UTMF) since 2022.

Penang Eco 100km Route and Elevation Profile

The 100km category has an official published distance of 105.9km with 3,970m total elevation gain. The route takes runners through oil palm and rubber plantations, several villages, Indian temples and paddy fields before challenging hills of Seraya, Mengkuang and the iconic Tokun Hills. The race showcases the typical Malaysian geographical, social and cultural heritage where the runners meet ordinary Malaysian people and wild lives, flora and fauna in the small town and rural settings.

Runners gathering for the 10am Start looking at the Tokun Hills

95 runners registered but 87 started the 100km race. 48 completed it within the cut-off time of 30 hours (approx. 51% success rate). It was hard. The relatively lower elevation gain on paper fooled us. About 3,200m of the climbs around Cherok Tokun National Forest were packed in the second half of the race during the night. It rained heavy but briefly after midnight and made sections of the trails muddy and slippery. I could not decide whether the descents or ascents were harder.

The above would have been business as usual if not for the very hot and unforgiving sun that roasted us in the first 50km of the race during the day. The heat can take a lot out of you. Therein lies the beauty of trails. The same race and trail-circuit can present a very different challenge depending on the weather. Every 100km ultra-trail is tough for me, but this race has its signature brutality to it. It was very challenging but in so it also became a memorable one. Bitter, but sweet.

Mostly exposed trail in the first half of the race

It took me 27 hours and 27 minutes to complete the circuit (given cut-off time is 30 hours). I silently and secretly thought I could wrap it up under 24 hours. I was given a wake-up call instead.

Race results are as follows: 95 Registered. 48 Completed. 39 Did not Finish. 8 Did not Start. My position is 19/72 Male (74th percentile) and 25/87 Overall (73rd percentile). 

My training leading up to this race has been sketchy as work was hectic for the last few months. My priority has always been family, work and then only my ultra-running pursuits. My daily and weekly mileage has dropped drastically this year. But I do my best to train a little each day and get a longer workout in the trails on Saturday or Sunday consistently. Each session may be short, but I showed up. I try to at least maintain the minimum required fitness, if I don’t improve.

There is nothing much you can do as the race day approached so I worked on two strategies which I know would increase my chances of completing the 100km ultra successfully.

1 – Bank In Sleep

2 – Hydrate Sufficiently

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The organiser (Endurance Nature) did a fantastic job executing the race. Wonderful vistas and beautiful trails showcasing typical Malaysian geographical landscape in the rural setting. I have aspired to participate and complete both their Penang 100km races (Ultimate Trails of Penang and this one, Penang ECO) since I started trail running in 2018. These are both now my favourite trail races in Malaysia. Highly recommended.

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