(From RD) 2017 Bromo Tengger Semeru 100 Ultra | 3 – 5 November 2017 | East Java, Indonesia
170km / 102km / 70km / 30km
Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra Run race is a unique event that aims to challenge your inner spirit and physical state, as well as to provide race participants with magnificent natural beauty and environment of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java – Indonesia at various altitude level. Running at the high altitude region of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, you will experience tracks with various sceneries in the background, such as sea of volcanic sand (2.200 masl) with low temperature and strong wind. You will be running through rural back roads, forest path and prairie with a distant magnificent view of the highest mountain in Java, Mount Semeru (3.676 masl) and the tranquility of Lake Ranu Kumbolo (2.400 masl).
Road To BTS
BTS 102 km was my final big race in 2017, and was supposed to be my big bang closure of 2017 race. Failed!! I have been struggling with ankles injuries since June till late September, once on the right ankle and twice on the left ankle. So I was pretty much have no training between those three months. And in October, I only had been running on the gym and road, with two 30 km-ish run back to back as my longest run. But I decided to put my toes on the line anyway, since I needed the points for UTMB registration. Finally, I felt ready to have my revenge in UTMB. I knew the race won’t be pretty nor as glamorous as I wanted to be, but I had a job to get done, even if I had to crawl to the finish line.
We arrived in Surabaya on November 2nd, where we made a carpool from the airport to our hotel, Jiwa Jawa in Bromo. It took us almost half a day that we arrived at the hotel just a few hours before the sunset.
The next day, we went to the race central in the morning to check in and pickup our race package. The process was a little bit frustrating and long, since we had to wait in the long line for 3 times, so at least we spend an hour or two before we were done. The 170 km peeps started around the sunset time. I didn’t go there to witness the gun off, I decided just to stay low in the hotel, and getting as much rest as I could. The last good sleep on a real bed, and the last real meal for the next few days. For me, the 102 km distance, I would start at midnight, the 70 km an hour later, and the 30 km would be the next sunrise. Oh I had a little incident that almost became a disaster. I was that close, well I had already, missed the deadline for dropping my half way drop bag. My driver tried to drive me to the race central, but there was a Jeep drop dead in the middle of the one lane road. We had to go back to the hotel and asked the hotel guy to give me a ride with motorcycle. Fortunately, the organizer still accepted my drop bag, since there were plenty people, who came with the organizer’s buses, still arriving to the race central for registration. After our last big dinner, seriously, people came in to the dinner with more food one after another, I went back to my room to get a few extra hours of sleep.
Getting Lost Is My Middle Name
I was a little afraid that I would get a bad traffic again to the race central, where the starting line would be. So I decided to get there a few hours early. And I got there too early, so I went into the restaurant building that was opened, yet the kitchen closed, and took a nap there, or tried to. After awhile, I abandoned my sleeping mission, and ended up chatting it up with a photographer from Malaysia and Canada. A few minutes before the gun time, I walked out and the temperature was still a bit chill, I was debating to use my jacket or not. I gambled it out not to put it on, I would get warm soon and I would just need to huddled up in the starting line.
When the gun off, I was surprised that everyone was running pretty hard, even on the fake flat road. As I remembered the first part was a little uphill on the road or dirt road, so I prefer to have an easy jog. I was taking it easy, since I was not in a good place to race. Three months off from my trail running shoes, would not be a good idea to start the race with my zoom zoom ego. After a km or two, on my fast hike, I started to pick up some runners on the B29 uphill section. I skipped the water stations on the top of the hill, and continued onto some rolling hills, before the course going down hill. The rolling hills and the downhill were a bit tricky, since they were on a single track of motor trail. So the footing was a bit tricky without twisted my ankle. It was hard for me to pick up my pace since I had second thought of twisting my ankle. Then we came out of the woods and ran on the road till I arrived at the water station 2. The road to AS 2 was a little steep downhill that I ran a bit faster than I wanted to. At the aid station 2, I filled up my water and grabbed a banana to go. I met Mahdi at this station and he mentioned about some stomach issue. Later on after the race, I found out there was a “rawon dinner” drama, still not sure it was the culprit or not, but there were plenty runners got stomach problem. I continued my run right away while I was eating my banana. I was a little zone out and enjoying my comfortable pace, and not to realize that I had been by myself for quite sometime, also it s getting super quite. I kept going, maybe I was just sleepy. And a few minuter later I had not seen any course marks. I second guessed my thought for a few times more before I decided to stop and pulled out my phone to see the course’s GPX. And I was so mad when I found out that I was way off the course, it was probably a good 30 mins or so downhill, some part were pretty steep, so it would be a long way up. I walked back up and started to do my power hike. I was so upset to myself, and how much time I lost. It crossed my mind a few times, to pull myself out of the race, but it was just too early. I decided to play it out and see how it goes. An hour pass and I was not seeing anyone yet, or any course mark. I looked at the GPX again, and I was probably still have 1 or 2 miles more. The sky was not so dark anymore, and I thought I heard someone talking. Maybe it was my sleepiness playing with my head. But 10 minute later I saw a guy was running to me and immediately I yelled at him, “this is a wrong way”. It was a huge relieve to see a person after got lost for a few hours, 2 hours to be exact. I remember it was around 3 am when the last time I saw a course mark in the village, and now it was around 5 am. SO, I found out that I missed the right turn of the course, maybe that was the time when I was looking down and eating my early breakfast. I picked up my pace and tried to make up my lost time as a much (little) as I could. Again, the course was running on a single track from motor bike, so it was super narrow and kinda tricky to run it fast without twisted my ankle. Then I got into a wider trail with plenty rolling hills and switchbacks. When I got into Ranu Kumbolo Lake (2389 m asl), the Sun was up already. It was such a beautiful scenery, but like in any other places in Indonesia, there were plenty trashes. It was really saddening that plenty of my fellow Indonesians have a pretty low respect to the environment, and preserve mother earth.
Burn Baby Burn
When I got into the Aid Station 3, Ranu Kumbolo, I looked through the food, but nothing was appealing, especially too many flies swarming the food table. Probably because there were so many piling trashes here and there. I just refilled my Tailwind, drink some cokes, and grabbed bananas before I continued my journey. The next section, it was a short steep hill before a wide savanna. Then, the course became a fun rolling hills, too bad I was spent already, it would have been cool to blast this trail. I met Vincent and Scott on this out and back, and they were on the way back to the lake already. After a few minutes of jogging and fast hike, I arrived in Kalimati check points. Kalimati was a beautiful grassy savanna with Mount Semeru peak, Mahameru, as its background. And again, the same like at the lake, this Kalimati post was decorated with a spreading trash piles, kinda smelly too. What a sad scenery in beautiful place.
I turn around right away to continue to trace my way back to the lake. Along the way, I met my other friends who did 70K, from Alex, Yurbi and Bernard in sequence. Bernard twisted his ankle on B29 downhill, but he powered it through and he did finish at the end. When I was back at the Ranu Kumbolo Aid Station, I quickly refilled my water and grabbed some bananas to go. I did not want to spend too much time there. Too many people and too many trashes that really bugging me. The course continued slightly to the left, going uphill. It kept going on the nice run-able rolling trail until I got into the Mount Ayek Ayek. Mount Ayek Ayek was a little mountain with a super steep hike. It was a pretty nasty climb, super steep and a bit slippery from the plants and roots and sloppy dirt. I was so happy that I reached the top of the mountain, though it was nothing special, no stunning view, so I kept moving. The downhill was as bad (worse) as the uphill. It was so steep and slippery that they put webbing and ropes to assist us for rappelling down. I think, there was a pop up aid station to assist us with water at the foot of Mount Ayek Ayek, before we climb to another mountain, thanks God it was less crazy, but still it was far from easy walk in the park. The next downhill was run-able and a bit long switch back at the end. I saw a parking lot across the valley, and I was super excited that I though it was the aid station. After make a horseshoe kind of left turn, I hiked up to the parking lot, and it was such a disappointment that it was just a parking lot where tourists were taking pictures. So the course, unfortunately, was still going on the road and looong uphill, probably it was another 3 miles. I was getting grumpy that I had to be on the road, next to the cars. I was almost got smeared by a few tourist jeeps, not cool. The Sun was getting higher, and being on an exposed road for 2-3 miles was kind of taking a toll on me.
So when I got into the Aid Station 5, Jemplang, I decided gonna take my time. I grabbed my drop-bag and started to do my thing. Then, I met Ishak there, unfortunately he got cut off. He took me to shaded area, God bless him. I started to eat my potatoes and pop mie for my lunch, while I was changing my clothes and refilled my snack, tailwind and water supply for the next half of the race. I bid a farewell to Ishak, bid my thank you to the aid station crews, and continued down on the road towards Mount Bromo and its desert sand. On the downhill, it felt pretty nice since I could get the breeze. But immediately when I entered the desert, I could feel the furnace from the direct Sun and blistering hot sands. The view was amazing tho. For a 10 minutes, I tried to pickup the pace, but I failed. I felt pretty miserable to be honest. Dust from jeep and motorcycle passed me, the shoes collecting hot sands that made it hard and pain on every steps, plus I felt my skins were sizzling. I decided to do a fast hike. Pull up my Swiftwick arm socks, and cover up my whole face with my buff. These furnace desert, what they call “pasir berbisik” (whispered sand), felt like last forever, and getting hotter. Then I arrived at the sand dunes formation. I was so happy not only because it was a stunning view like the “Wave”, but also, I finally got a solid ground. I stopped for a minute to clean up the sands from my shoes. Ugh I wished they were gold sands. Despite some sections could be a little dangerous, especially the one closer to stairs section, but these sand dunes formation were really fun and breathtaking. No words and pictures could do the justice. The trail was on a soft loose sands, with a pretty steep slope on my right. If I slipped and fell, it would be few hundreds meters of suckiness. When I got into the Bromo Aid Station, I did not stop since they did not have anything anyway.
I continued to the stairs section, where it led me to the peak of Mount Bromo. The stairs were pretty steep with high step, but not too long. Probably less than a km long. At the peak of Mount Bromo, it was so windy that I could hear the wind. I stopped for a minute to clean up my shoes from sands, again. The course went to the left, running along the lip of the crater. I stopped again for a minute to take some pictures, the view was stunning, yet a little scary. Some of you might know already that I have height-phobia, so looking at the steep slope on my left that goes straight 400 meter-ish down to the desert and active crater on my right were enough to give me a jelly legs. I braced myself and continued my race, carefully, focusing on the flags and the trail line. Such a whim I was. After a few minutes I met the Malaysian photographer, William, and the Canadian photographer that I hung out at the starting area last night. We chatted a little before they wished me luck and I kept on my journey. There was a check point where I retrieved a bracelet. After half circle of the crater, I looked across the crater, it was so cool that I could see the little human dots moving across the ridge.
Now the terrain changed gradually from dry sand into some tall grass vegetation. The rain and wind were starting greeted me at this point, at the same time I met a group of 2 guys and 1 girl. They told me the next section would be pretty dangerous that we should not went through it alone. I was very intrigued what was it about. This 2-3 miles section was running over a few multiple peaks with very dense bushes and wild plants on my left and right. It was a challenged to move fast, never mind running, since I was not sure what was beneath the bushes, and the thick tall bushes/grasses became obstacles to look beyond me. I did not want to sprain my weak ankles with still over 30 km to go. After an hour or less, probably, the vegetation became less and I arrived at the sandy ridge again. By this time I was alone again since I stopped to put on my jacket and could not keep up with those guys. The course went over a very steep soft sandy ridge, with no hand or foot holds, the ridge back probably only as wide as my palm. Probably over 60% incline on both side. I was genuinely worry about to slip and die, and I could not really see how they could rescue any disaster in this section. Also there were no race marshal around, probably because this spot was pretty remote. I really dislike this section, and I could not imagine the 100 miles folks that would go to this section at night, already beaten up, and probably cramped up from crossing this soft sand ridge back, a perfect recipe to disaster in my point of view. Thanks God it was just a hundred or few hundreds meter short. Then the following section was not less treacherous. It was on a solid rocks, good Lord, but they were pretty technical with pretty high drop. Some of them were using stairs. The day was getting dark, and I was not happy to run this section in the dark. If I broke my ankles or skull, I would be screwed up, it would take them hours to evacuate me. Now, I could understand why those guys told me that I should not be in this section by myself.
Cat On The Street
When I got into Mount Batok Aid station, it was dark , pretty beat up, and so much dark side in my mind. I remembered what my former coach, Elizabeth Azze from Mountain Peak Fitness, whenever I got dark thoughts, I gotta eat, most likely I was calories deficit. So I stopped for a moment at this aid station, drinking some coke and eating probably 2 popmie cups. I prepared my headlamp battery, refilled my Tailwind, clean up my shoes and ready to continue to the next section. Mount Batok. Within minutes, the trail become super steep, and the sands became finer. The hike was really challenging, I slipped and slid straight down plenty time, probably it was over 60 degree incline. In some spots, where the steps were high, I had to lean a little bit forward to the ground, to avoid of slipped and flipped on my back. Thanks God the hike was not too long, and I swore that if there would be another one Mount Batok, I would DNF-ed. Again thanks God the rest of the hikes on the rest of the race were pretty tame. The downhill was not as steep as the uphill, but was steep enough with soft sands that I did slipped and slid once or twice. I think I started to fall asleep while I hike down the hill. When I got to the bottom of the mountain I met the course marshal and obtained another rubber band. The course continued to left, it was another desert to cross. Crossing dessert at night was so much better than during the day. But the problem was, I was super sleepy. I think most of the way in this section I was sleep walking, and I had a bizarre hallucination of monsters surrounded me, or… maybe they were real. I woke up a few times just because I twisted my ankle. It was a miracle that I did not go off course and got into the aid station. I sat down for a minute changing my batteries while waiting for my noodle soup. I think I ate two cups before I refilled my supply and continued my journey. I also filled up one of my flask with coke. I, somehow, revived from my zombie mode. I became alert and moved more fluid compare 30 minutes ago. I could do a fast walk again. The course was running flat on a curvy dirt road for a half of mile. The hike was on a single trail on the back of hills across the Mount Batok. It was not bad at all, actually I could do my fast hike again. The view was amazing. Under bright moonlight, I could see the stars on the clear black sky. Surround me, I could see multiple layers of mountains/hills silhouette, with small small lights from other runners moving from multiple direction from the hills, mountains, or across the desert. I walked a bit slower while soaked in the scenery. Probably after a mile, the course became a rolling hills again for the next 3 miles. Some of the hike was steep but most of them were not. I was feeling pretty good, and I actually could do some jogging on the downhills. After the last peak, I thought I saw something moving in front of me. I was doubting myself, I was pretty sure I saw something, but I thought I could have been hallucinating again. I started to run on these downhill, while I felt good. And suddenly there was an Indian (kahahanehi kind of Indian) runner came out from a bush or side trail, and went zoom zoom. What an odd, but at least I was not hallucinating. And after a few minutes he did it again, and it kept going on. I thought this weirdo playing chasing rabbit with me, what was his goal tho. Awkward. After awhile I did not see him anymore, until I got into the aid station. And again he immediately bolted out. Hummm maybe I was too smelly. This aid station was on the road side, the volunteer was by himself with a tent full of supply and a camp fire. He told me he had been there since in the am, I was feeling grateful and feel bad for him. Yet he helped me with kindness and smile, while making me a noodle soup. We chat a little while waiting the boiling water, it kept me awake and gave me a time to refill my supply. After I finished the noodle, I said my grateful for his help, and I continued my race. The race continued on two-way road lanes, and it went uphill and a bit steep too. After half a mile, surprise surprise that bolting guy again, he was sitting on the side road, this time he did not bolt out, instead, he was asking whether I sleepy or not, how could I keep moving. Ah, thanks for the reminder, and now I was thinking about sleepy again. I think by this time, after a bunch of ultras, I became a master of sleep walking in the mountain. So, sleep walking on the road should be an easy peasy. Actually halfway the hike I really did sleep walking. Suddenly I saw something very bright in the middle of the road, like two glowing eyes. I was wondering why this cat kept looking at me without blinking. I was actually walked a little to the sideline just in case it would jump on me. This a few meters felt like forever, but finally I got close and literally what I saw was a road reflector, I was laughing to myself pretty hard. There was a three ways road, the turn was kinda bent on my right side. I was not sure if I should make a turn or not, but I look at my GPX, and it said it should be a little out and back to the last aid station. Thanks God I check, if not I would miss the aid station and the last check point.
So Close Yet So Far
I arrived in the aid station with super sleepy condition. I drank a lot of coke and ate two cup of soup noodle. Unfortunately, I was in this aid station a little bit too long since the volunteer needed to boiled the water from cold mineral water bottle, and I did sleep for a minute or two actually. So when I left the aid station I was pretty cold and all my joints were jammed up. At the junction, I took the left turn through street market, well, all the vendor were just started to open the shop and brought in the goods. Boy… they started their day so early. I saw a guy ran back towards me, and I found out that he accidentally made the turn without going to the aid station for the check point. I started to run when I was on these market street and ended up in the look out dead-end, I think, and I did not see any opening to go the trail. Well it s a look out, so the edge was kinda a dead drop. I re-trace my way back up and found that there were a streamer marker on my right behind the fences. I met another runner, he said we should just jump the fence since he did not see any entrance. I was with this guy for an hour or two, he said he out of battery already, and he was ok with my turtle pace. But this guy was a little energy vampire with all the complaints and negative comments about the race. Yes I hated that dangerous section before Mount Batok, and I think that was a bit crossing the safety boundary for a race, since I could not see any fast rescue scenario or extraction. But I was too tired to deal with repelling his negative words infiltrating my mind. And also, his headlamp was working after all. So when we hit the junction where we got into a main road where all the jeep were parked, I picked up my pace and decided to run by myself again. The course continued into smaller road, more like a village or private road. I took out my jacket off, it was getting warmer and the dawn was getting near as well. I continued to pick up my pace. Finally I got off to the main road again, and it was uphill all the way to the finish line, which I could see the building clearly from far away. I though I could be there in 15-30 minutes if I did my fast hike. 30 minutes passed awhile ago, and the sun was up already, yet the finish line felt like not getting any closer. An old lady cheered me up, some bystander and cars were also lifted up my spirit, so I kept pushing my pace closer to the finish line. Probably about an hour later or more I finally got into the gate entrance to the finish line area. I picked up my pace into jogging mode. The sooner it ended the better I would be. 29 hours 16 minutes on the clock, I did finish this race. My longest time for a 100 km race, not the prettiest, far from fancy, 60 km painfully boring of walk march, but I did happy that I finished. I met Lubeck and Scott at the finish line and took some pictures. An old lady gave me a nasi bungkus, man… that was the best meal ever. It was a good weekend at the office after all.