After enjoying my first experience of an “ultra” race in Mongolia, I felt a bit more confident to up my distance in running. Thus, I signed up for a 70km distance on a local race in East Java, Indonesia which was held in early November 2015. Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra (or more well known as BTS ultra – or also nicknamed as “Brutal Torturous Sadistic” race) was first held in 2013. It is one of the most scenic race in Indonesia as the route crosses several mountain ranges, from Mount Bromo to Mount Semeru, and to Mount Batok for the longer distances. It offers several distances: 10km, 30km, 70km, 102km, and 170km.
The 170km is quite notorious as the finishers’ rate is generally low, ranging around 20-45% finishers out of the number people who started. I chose the 70km as it seemed to have a “reasonable” altitude gain of 2,950m for the distance and it is supposed to be very scenic, passing the scenic highlights of both Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru area.
For further information on the race, you can visit its website at: http://www.bromotenggersemeru100ultra.com/
Hmmm, how did I prepare differently for this race than others? Prior to BTS’ training, my weekly milleages was around 40km, which consists of:
– Two weekday runs of 8km
– 7-10km run on Saturday if I do run on this day
– 15-20km run on Sunday
I felt that I should be okay to finish the 70km race if I keep this milleage and do a few modifications to my trainings:
– Do at least one trail run per week
– Increase my long runs up-to 30km per run
– Do a few back-to-back long runs to train running on tired legs (Also I figured I would not have the chance to run a 40-50km run at one go)
– Hills training once a week which for convenience sake I only did at home (up and down the stairs) or on treadmills for around 45-60 mins per session
Unfortunately, the haze condition affecting Singapore a few weeks prior to the race affected my training plan. As I could not run outside when it was hazy. And I could not run more than 10km on treadmills as it is extremely boring.
Luckily, I made a very good decision by making an impromptu travel to Copenhagen and Norway in early October. During that trip, I managed to catch up on my long run training. I think the average weekly milleage I did during the trip was around 80km. The cold weather was just a nice addition. That provided a good chance for me to test which gears would be most comfortable to wear during the cold mountain night in Bromo when the race started.
Second, Gear Selection
Part of the fun of running is the gears, well, at least for most of us. I do think most of the gears we use were not only essentials but also make us look pretty cool. So, here were my selections for the race:
Clothings and Shoes:
While I generally prefer neutral or light colors for my everyday clothes, I always choose really bright colors for my outdoor gears. I want to be seen in the mountains if I ever get lost, by a goat at least.
– Icebreaker merino panty – comfortable and antibacterial which keeps any odors away
– Lululemon run-for-days bra – comfortable, stylish and also antibacterial….can you guess what I’m trying to avoid here?
– Icebreaker light longsleeve tee – I learned from my trip in Norway that merino top works best for me when running in cold weather. I chose the lightest version from Icebreaker as it gets pretty warm when the sun was up
– 2XU compression pants
– Injinji trail running socks – I wore double layers on my right foot as it is 1.5cm shorter than my left
– A buff headwear worn around the neck – on hindsight, I think I should have packed another one since this got extremely dirty in the middle of the race. A fresh one will be helpful to wipe dirt off my face
– Asics running cap
– Salomon Speed Cross 3 – this was a last minute change from my previous plan of wearing my Altra Superior, which I love but I still found them difficult to run with on sandy ground. As most of the trail will be sandy, I feel the Salomon pairs give me the easiest lift off the ground. Another upside was its very tight weaving on its upper mesh helped to prevent more sands from getting into the shoes.
Due to my shoes selection as well, I decided not to wear any gaiters as I found them too complicated and I did not have the chance to try them out either
– Salomon S-Lab ADV Skin3 12L – a good and very light vest with huge capacity and thoughtful design as we don’t need to take it off getting into anything. However, I was having problems with its fit. I already wore the smallest size of XXS and adjusted it to the tightest possible but I still had some chaffing problems which was not fun
– 3 x 500ml Salomon soft flask – I brought 1 extra bottle and kept it full during later part of the race when the sun came up to make sure I have enough hydration throughout.
– Black Diamond ultra distance carbon z-poles – very handy in the last 10km in the sandy area
– Silva Ninox II headlamp (140 lumens) – Personally I think this was not bright enough for the race (note: I did not bother to change the battery after 4 hours)
– Garmin Fenix 3 watch
Nutrition and others:
I feel this is one of the most important part of the race preparation
– 18 x Gu Gels Salted watermelon and salted caramel flavor – love the salted flavors! I took one gel every 45 minutes
– 4 x Tailwind Stick (each has 200 calories to be mixed into water as additional nutrition)
– One pack of Japanese salt tablets – I think anyone should stock up on these whenever they visit Japan
– Avene Spray to clean my face and hands prior to applying sunblock
– Dermatone Sunscreen lotion SPF 36 – starting at sunrise I applied and reapplied sunblock at every water station just because……
– One pack of first aid kit
– Additional preparation to prevent blisters: I applied Compeed blister prevention patches on my foot areas that are proned to blisters, e.g. the side of both toes just before the race (Compeed is a hydrocolloid patch that absorbs moisture and forms a protective cushion to prevent blister and help to heal blister faster if you already have one). I think if I had not done this, I would have blisters but I survived the race without any.
Before The Race
One great thing about a trail race is the people. For this BTS race in particular, I was very excited because my two good friends were joining. Sara, one of my best friends from school who was the first person who encouraged me to run. And Jia, a super sweet and laidback gal from Singapore who is always up for an adventure.
In addition to those two, we also picked up a young aspiring runner, Angga, to join our van from Surabaya airport. We got lots of tips from Angga’s “master”, on the strategy for the race. Basically he said: start slow, be very discipline on your nutrition, go fast on downhills.
We arrived on the morning of the race day (the race started at 23:30pm for the 70km distance). So after a 3-hour drive from the airport, we quickly made ourselves comfortable and just stuffed ourselves with whatever food we can find, while waiting for the race briefing.
The big news before the race start was the change of route due to the forest fire that was still affecting parts of Mount Semeru area. Instead of one big loop, we would run 2 loops around Mount Bromo before crossing the ocean of sand towards Bromo crater. The overall distance was also reduced from 70km to around 66km. The altitude gain was also reduced from 2,950m to around 2,400m.
I was honestly a bit discouraged with the news. Running two loops would be a mental challenge. The worst part of it was the fact that I would not be able to enjoy sunrise at Ranu Kumbolo in Mount Semeru area. But we were all there and we did our trainings, so no reasons to back-up. We all just went to bed at around 4pm to make sure we would get enough rest for the race.
Finally, The Race
To avoid super long write-ups, I will divide the race into a few sections:
The first 6 km in the dark leading up to B29
I do not remember much about the first 6km of the race as I was just following the crowds and trying to stay together with Sara. We did not push hard at all and reminded each other to take our nutrition. I remember trying to use my poles during this part but felt they were not helpful and decided to put them back. The course was mostly soft downhills on sandy and grassy grounds. I felt a bit scared at times as I could not see whether we were by a cliff or something so I just basically kept on moving.
I spent approximately one hour for this part.
B29 hill, the first water station, and a nice long downhills to our second WS at Jemplang
You know you are at B29 when you see the long line of people in front of you looking like a big snake. Don’t look up just keep on moving. It is a 600m climb over 2km so it is quite steep but not too difficult. The course is mostly rocky and you can easily use your hands to scramble at some parts. We spent another one hour going up this hill.
The sight of the light from the first WS towards the end of B29 was a relief. Both Sara and I did not spend much time here, just quickly refilled our two soft flasks, and headed off again.
At this time, we were quite at the back of the race. The next 4km after was a soft uphill on sandy uneven ground. I did not particularly enjoy this part as the uneven ground made it very easy for us to twist our ankles. And in the dark through the light of our headlamp, we could see how much of this fine sand must have gone into our lung. Note for our future health.
During this part, I somehow lost Sara but I also managed to pass many runners, at least 20-30 of them. I felt quite energetic and tried to maintain my good momentum by not pushing hard. Then I bumped into my roommate for the race, Madam Lily, who was joining the 102km distance. So I ran with her for another 5km on sandy downhill course. After km 16, we hit a tarmac road, which was a good change for a speedier downhill then I lost Madam Lily, passed another 20 something runners and caught the sight of Jemplang water station, filled up my flasks and just headed off. I was still trying to find Sara here but could not locate her.
I think I spent around 2 hours 15 mins after B29 to Jemplang.
The Savanah and Back to B29 again
After Jemplang,the next 10km was a short downhill and a long stretch on a dark savannah. This was my loneliest and coldest part of the race. My headlight was starting to dim and I did not bother to change the battery. I did not come across anyone I know during this part and for most part I ran on my own in the dark cold savannah…(hahaha I know I am being dramatic but that was how I felt). This is also when I started to feel burning sensation on my urinary tract (not sure if it was real or just in my head) so I did stop a few times to do no. 1, luckily it was dark and I was completely by myself that I could just stop by the side of the track.
Then I started to see some runners coming by and starting to chat one of them. Just because I felt so lonely. He was an Indonesian guy working in Malaysia. And I was really thankful that I found him that I had a company to push me climbing through another round of B29, which was suddenly right in front of us.
So that was another 1 hour and 40mins for the part
Second B29, Sunrise and the second loop to Ranu Pane
Surprisingly, the second B29 climb was not too difficult, my newfound partner was very supportive and we could see the sun started to rise in the distance. And what a beautiful sight!
We spent around 50minutes climbing the B29 but then I spent around 10 minutes at the top to put on my sunscreen and reorganize my pack. This is when I met some fellow runners from Bandrex, Kang Dian, Kang Dwey, Novita, and Monah.
The next stretch was the same route we already passed earlier but now the sun was up, we could see how beautiful it was. Check it out.
I managed to catch up on a few female runners on this route but I started to run out of energy. Then I heard someone called out my name and Sara came from behind, power-walking very fast and passed me by.
I spent the next few km to Ranu Pane motivating myself, running with a group of people: Monah, the guy who lives in Malaysia, and Kang Dwey. My right knee started to hurt when I hit the tarmac road so I did not dare to speed up.
Then, I was glad to spot Angga in Ranu Pane relaxing. Angga enthusiastically told me how Sara sprinted him by. It was good to meet familiar faces. This was quite a complete water stop too where I enjoyed my two glasses of warm sweet tea and had a toilet break. And of course, reapplied my sunscreen.
The road through Mt Ayek-Ayek
I realized I still had another 25km to go before finish line. And at that time, I did not know if I could finish it. My legs were heavy, my body was tired, and I felt really dirty. Just when I left Ranu Pane, an older runner told me, “You can get a podium place, you have the chance”. And I was telling him “Really? But then I need to push hard?”
So I started to ask myself if I should do that and somehow regained my energy. Miraculously, seriously, it is all in the mind.
It also helped the next few km of the run was pleasant, we went pass dirt road through villages and into the woods. Then I started to pass a few runners again and gained my confidence. Till I reached a short steep hill, took a deep breath and just started to climb up using both hands and legs. After the top, I started hearing someone screaming. Once I looked down, I suddenly understood why people were talking about this “Water pipe Route” or “Jalur Pipa”. It is a short 250m drop downhill route with a waterpipe crosses down in the middle of it. The course is made out of loose dirt with small rocks, which always slide down when you step on them. The only way to go through it was by sliding down on your butt. FUN. At that point I thought I was already very dirty, but then I know what dirty was after passing that.
Somehow, that water pipe route made my day and I was completely energized after. I just started to run and run, and passed by a few runners until someone called out my name. Angga was sitting by the road, looking a bit saddened holding one of his shoes, Hoka ATR Challenger. Apparently he caught some roots during the climb and tore the mesh. After giving my sympathy to his situation, I continued on.
That is when the route was changing from a nice village road to a steep tarmac uphill. But I was high on sugar (thanks to my Gu Gels) and kept on marching. I chatted Vianney, a French guy living in Singapore, while I passed him. Then, I caught the sight of my old friend from NYC time, good old Gary, and that made me really happy. We walked together with Eni all the way to Jemplang water station where they took longer breaks and I continued on.
“Pasir Berbisik”, the Sand Dune, to the Finish Line
I was not sure how many more kms we had left at that point to the finish line. One marshall said it was only another 7km and another said it was another 15km. The sun was already high at that time, and it was starting to feel hot as the sands reflected the heat. And after running 55km, sand dune was not the first thing you would like to see. I was starting to feel annoyed with the heat and the sands, but then Vianney, the French guy, was nicely motivating me. I think he said something about lunch time. And I remember that my target was to be able to make it during lunch time, so I gathered my last drop of energy to cross that dessert.
Towards the end of the route, I started to lose Vianney, but found another Bandrex runner, Imam. He reminded me about my walking poles and why I was not using them. So I offered him to use one, while I used one myself. That was before we hit the endless ups and downs in the sand dunes. Haha, I think the race director was very humorous by making that kind of route. Each time I had hope that it was the end, then I would see another uphill hike.
Luckily, I finally got to the last checkpoint, gladly collected my bracelet, took my last gel and marched on to the finish line which was another 4km from there. Somehow I lost Imam halfway, and continued to walk on my own to the finish line. I was really happy when Lexi told me it was another 2km and tried to speed up more. Then finally I crossed the finish line after 13 hours and 36minutes, just in time for lunch.
After the Race
That was my first real ultra race where I ran more than a marathon-distance in one day non-stop. Interestingly, it did not feel too bad. I would look forward to another experience like that. At the end, I found out that Sara got the first place for female, and I got second! We were quite happy.
Conclusions about the Race
Event Name: Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra
Distances Offered: 30km, 70km (2 UTMB Points), 102 km (3 UTMB Points), 170km (4 UTMB Points)
Logistics: closest airports: Surabaya and Malang. Additional 3-4 hours car drive from Surabaya/Malang to Bromo
Closest accommodation: Lava View Hotel where the race starts and finishes
Statistics for the 70km distance in 2015:
Finishers: 116 out of 140 who started
Cut-Off Time: 18 hours
Elevation gain: 2,950m (original course); 2,400m (in 2015)
Distance covered: 66km
Minimum temperature: 11 degree Celcius
Maximum temperature: 34 degree Celcius
Will I recommend this race?
I would recommend this race if you are looking for a scenic adventure race in volcanic area because the views are completely breathtaking and the people are really friendly and nice. But I would highlight that the organization of this race is not yet up to international standard. Things that can improved are among others:
1). Information prior to the race: Despite the fear of forest fire and eruption, the organizer did not make any initiatives to inform the participants what were happenings and what would be the options given the situations.
2). Timing and checkpoints checks: The organizer made a blunder by announcing my DNF-ed friend as the first female finisher. She did not even have any checkpoint bracelets when she crossed the finish line. But obviously, the organizer did not check on that and also did not check with the stations before announcement.
3). Water Stations: For local standard, the organizers have tried to supply enough water and nutrition at each of the water stations. We understand the challenge in the logistics but I think participants will highly appreciate the availability of more easy-to-digest food at the water stations like fruits or even honey.