Race Report

RACE REPORT: 52K MOUNT RINJANI ULTRA

Back in April, I decided to register to the “52K Mount Rinjani Ultra” in Indonesia. Looking back, I remember discussing this matter with my parents because I was willing to join a 100K ultra-trail race to prepare next year “160K Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji”. Complaining that registrations to most of the races were closed for the summer, I was considering to join the “100K Sunrise to Sunset” in Mongolia or the “111K La Ultra – The High” in India. For several reasons, I ended up joining MRU without looking thoroughly to the race details.

As race day approached, I started to dig deeper and realized that it would be a real adventure. Indeed, the race had been described as one of the hardest ultra-running races in “Asia Trail Mag”. With 52 kilometers and almost 6,000m D+, the first edition of the race had seen only 10 runners crossing the finish line. This is exactly what got me really excited about it!

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Pre-Race

After a 7.5-hour flight from Tokyo to Jakarta followed by a 3-hour layover in Jakarta and a 2-hour flight from Jakarta to Lombok, I finally reached my destination on August 6th. It was about 10:00 PM on Wednesday when I arrived to my hotel in Senggigi Beach. I have to admit that I went to sleep directly knowing I had lost 1-hour of rest in the process. The next day, I headed for a short 12-kilometer run to relax my legs; but I also made sure to arrange my transport for race day.

Waking up at 7:00 AM on Friday, I jumped into a taxi around 8:00 AM. It took me about 1.5 hours to arrive in Senaru. As I arrived in the village, I quickly figured out where was the race reception. Coming into the hotel patio transformed for the occasion, I realized there were about 150 people lining up to get their race package: race bib, tee-shirt, GPS, etc. I took advantage of the messy situation to get ahead of everybody with only one idea in mind: get my race bib to go and sleep before the race. After about 30 minutes meeting with a French lady living in Singapore, I finally collected my race bib: #237. A short while after, the organizer did a rapid race briefing where he explained two important things: 1) “very few participants are going to make it within the imparted time” and 2) runners will need to collect bracelets at “Rinjani Summit” and at “Pos 2 Tengengean” to certify that they completed the whole course.

52K Mount Rinjani Ultra 37.JPG

After digesting all the information as well as some pastas at the hotel restaurant, I chatted with the owner who proposed me a sun-bed to sleep in the afternoon. I accepted the offer and installed myself in the shade next to the pool. It was very noisy and warm, but I felt asleep almost instantly. After a 3-hour nap, I tried to progress in my readings (i.e. “Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon  Northup); unfortunately, I was really impatient to start running. Moving a few hours ahead, I shared my lunch with a few other runners before preparing my gear.

As I finished gearing up, I met two other runners coming from Singapore. They were looking for the storage room to dispose their luggage. After searching for a few minutes, we made our way towards the end of the village at the organizer HQ. He invited us in, and we remained there for the next hour sleeping and resting before the big adventure. At 11:30 PM, we moved to the starting line where a ceremony was being held. There were local dancers and lot of people hanging around. About 10 minutes before the start, the Indonesian anthem started; this was a very emotional moment for everybody. With 5 minutes to go, I moved in front of the pack.

START > W1 [5.8km | 933 D+]

(i.e. Senaru 600m > Pos 2 Senaru 1,533m)

At 0:00 AM sharp, the gunshot sent us off towards the “Rinjani Summit”. The start of the race was easy to run with a wide path for about 2 kilometers. I tried to be conservative knowing that I had a long journey ahead of me. However, it was really hard because everybody was excited, thus running fast. I lost sight of my two new friends very quickly, and we entered the rain forest. We started to run on very difficult terrains: not for the steepness of the trail, but rather for its technicality. We had to go through tons of roots and climb a lot of natural stairs. The good part was the cool temperature at that point in time. It was a very enjoyable moment as we were hearing various animal sounds as we passed with our headlamps. About 10 minutes before reaching W1, I heard gunshots announcing that leading runners were passing the checkpoint. Continuing my progress, I arrived at W1 where one of the volunteers asked me to pose for pictures.

52K Mount Rinjani Ultra 41

W1 > W2 [4.7km | 1,067m D+]

(i.e. Pos 2 Senaru 1,533m > Plawangan Senaru 2,600m)

Continuing on a steady pace through the rainy forest, I was passed by Mark (i.e. the English runner). He was flying, but I stayed calm and continued with the same pace. After a short while, I started to see the stars and realized we were getting out of the forest. We arrived on a very steep climbing section with sandy trails, where I lost myself for a short while. In fact, the trail was not so clearly marked and I guess I made my way through the climb straight ahead. Followed by another runner, we were quickly called out by some volunteers as we reached W2.

W2 > W3 [3km | 600m D-]

(i.e. Plawangan Senaru 2,600m > Segara Anak Lake 2,000m)

After filling out one of my 500ml flasks with water, I made a quick transition and started the descent. I realized this would be a very hard section – i.e. big stairs and a lot of places where we would have to rappel. I was passed by two runners that were taking a lot of risks. I am usually good ay descending trails, but I wasn’t really willing to go fast so early in the race and in the dark. As I arrived at the bottom of the mountain, I started to have digestive discomforts. I’ll spare you with the details, but I lost about 10 minutes in the process by stopping on the side of the trail. Not feeling better, I still made my way to the lake towards W3. This was not an enjoyable experience because we had to get around the lake among big rocks that prevented us from progressing fast.

W3 > W4 [4km | 600m D+]

(i.e. Segara Anak Lake 2,000m > Plawangan Sembalun 2,600m)

Arriving in W3, I tried to take care of my digestive problems once more. It really is an ordeal for me every time I run an ultra-running race! Anyways, as I came back to the table to grab some isotonic drink, I met with Romain (i.e. the French runner). He was coming back strong and we decided to leave the aid together. Cruising with another runner is always more comfortable and more interesting since it gives you a chance to chat and exchange experiences along the way! As we left the aid station, my Petzl Nao started to blink. Only 3-4 hours into the race and I already had to switch batteries – i.e. I guess that I will need to change the parameters of the lamp to maximize my battery life in the future. Looking back to the elevation gain only summing up to 600m D+, I can tell that it was still really hard with a lot of high stairs to climb. However, we made our way to the top together with Romain. We were both pleased to learn that we were in the top-10 as we arrived to W4! We also caught up Mark who had been struggling to find his drop bag.

W4 > W5 [4.7km | 1,126m D+]

(i.e. Plawangan Sembalun 2,600m > Rinjani Summit 3,726m)

Looking back to my race plan, it felt like I was in the hunt as initially planned – i.e. I wanted to get to the summit in about 7 hours. I grabbed some coco water and ate a Gu Energy gel to get the right amount of energy in my body for the final ascent. Mark and Romain left the aid station ahead of me, but I easily caught them up. I was feeling good and really pumped up with the perspective to be in the top-10. We started the climb by slaloming between tents installed on the side of the trail. We then made our way in a very sandy, steep and technical terrain. I felt good and pulled away from my fellow partners. I also passed one of the other French runner in the process and was joined by Romain again in the process. The sun was rising and we started to have a clear glimpse of the summit. It felt so close, but so far away at the same time! Also, the terrain became our worst enemy with volcano ash everywhere. This basically meant two step backward for one step forward! At that point in time, the race leader passed us on his way down. He probably had a comfortable 1.5-hour lead on us at that stage. In shorts and tee-shirts since race start, I decided to stop and use my Gore-Tex jacket. It was starting to get really cold; but it got warmer when I reached the summit and understood I was ranked 6th overall!

52K Mount Rinjani Ultra 46.JPG

W5 > W4 [5.2km | 1,126m D-]

(i.e. Rinjani Summit 3,726m > Plawangan Sembalun 2,600m)

I collected my first bracelet that would act as a proof that I reached the summit. Joined by Romain, we took one or two pictures very quickly. We didn’t really spent time admiring the view, but were told we could see as far as Bali from the top. It was freezing cold and I had the bad idea to wash my hands. The water froze on my fingers and I decided to put my gloves immediately. This wasn’t such a bad idea because we were about to hammer down a long descent of nearly 2,200m D-. The descent was really easy to run because the ash was diminishing the impacts. I was proud to stay on my feet until W4, which was a first for me! Yes, I am usually the first one to fall and get dirty during races. As we came back to W4, I decided to change my socks and empty my shoes that were full of sand and ash despite my gaiters on.

W4 > W6 [3.8km | 1,030m D-]

(i.e. Plawangan Sembalun 2,600m > Pos 2 Tengengean 1,570m)

Not really keen to lose time at this aid station, I decided to eat and drink on my way down to W6. I enjoyed some fresh Pocari Sweet and hammered down the steep descent to the valley. It felt like I ran 10 kilometers to reach W6. I was seeing tents far away down in the valley, and every time I reached those tents I realized there were not from the race organization. Also, the heat was starting to hit us severely as it was about 10:00 AM. After descending at a good pace, I finally reached W6 were I collected my second bracelet of the day. The digestive discomforts stroke me again, which bound me to stop. It was also time for me to feed a bit more as I had been running for about 10-hour straight.

W6 > W4 [3.8km | 1,030m D+]

(i.e. Pos 2 Tengengean 1,570m > Plawangan Sembalun 2,600m)

Despite seeing one of the runners coming in at the aid station and leaving immediately, I decided to take my time. I knew the race was still going to be long with more than 6 hours to reach the finish line. Also, the prospect of going back up to W4 was quite scary for me. I knew that it would be a long and tough climb without any shade to protect us from the sun. As Romain arrived at the aid, I decided to stand up and leave. I started the climb and met all the other runners coming down behind me. At about halfway up, I had a chance to meet face to face with wild monkeys. Keeping a steady pace, I was joined by both Romain and Mark as we reached the top. We didn’t know about it at that point, but we wouldn’t leave each other for the remaining part of the race.

W4 > W3 [3.5km | 600m D-]

(i.e. Plawangan Sembalun 2,600m > Segara Anak Lake 2,000m)

Arriving at W4, we were told that there wasn’t any water left. A bit upset but determined to continue, we did a quick transition knowing that we had a lot of descent and only one climb to reach the finish line. We left all together cruising along and heading back to the lake. Unfortunately my digestive issues came back, and I eventually had to pull out on the side of the trail again. Hopefully, my legs were quite fresh, meaning that I could easily catch my friends up a few minutes later.

52K Mount Rinjani Ultra 42.JPG

W3 > W2 [3km | 600m D+]

(i.e. Segara Anak Lake 2,000m > Plawangan Senaru 2,600m)

A bit thirsty at that stage, we were lucky enough to share the last two bottles of Pocari Sweat of W3. I have to admit that I was also quite attracted by all the hikers lunching around us. Anyways, we didn’t spend much time at the aid because we were anxious to finish in the top-10. We went around the lake and started the climb of 600m D+. I had it in my mind for a while because I remembered having a hard time descending it in the morning. I wasn’t wrong; especially since I felt I was rock climbing rather than running. My poles that had been so useful since the beginning of this adventure were now bothering me. Eventually, we all made it to the top under a 2-minute interval realizing that W2 was also out of fluids.

W2 > W1 [4.7km | 1067m D-]

(i.e. Plawangan Senaru 2,600m > Pos 2 Senaru 1,533m)

With the finish line down 2,000m D-, we started the descent on a very fast pace hoping to close our race under 16 hours. We all felt really good at the beginning, and even took relays to progress quickly. The descent was fun, but very demanding since we had to avoid all the roots. It was too much for Romain’s blisters that started to take a toll on him. As we arrived in W1, the runner in front was just there and started sprinting afraid that we would overtake him.

W1 > FINISH [5.8km | 933m D-]

(i.e. Pos 2 Senaru 1,533m > Senaru 600m)

Cruising along and enjoying our adventure together, we didn’t try to follow the runner in front. We continued our progression, but really started to feel tired. Out of water, with 15 hours of running behind us and with more than 1,200m D- descended during the last hour, I eventually pulled away from my friends. Seeing me running faster, they kindly proposed me to go and leave them. Happy about the last 6 hours, I decided to stay with them as finishing one spot above in the ranking wouldn’t make me happier or better. With homes in perspective, Romain then heard steps behind him. Runners coming back on us, hikers coming down or maybe nothing, we nevertheless engaged the second gear to keep our top-10 spot. We probably ran on a 4’30-5’00/km pace for the remaining 2 kilometers, which felt traumatizing. With the finishing line just in front of us, we passed the line arm in arm in 16:24:43 ranking joint 8th place!

Post-Race

With this joint 8th place, I felt happy and blessed to be able to enjoy this race with two amazing guys. Unfortunately, I ended my journey in a local ambulance completely dehydrated. I had to remain there for about 30 minutes drinking like crazy. Looking backward, this was neither the farthest nor longest race I have ever done, but definitely among the hardest!

52K Mount Rinjani Ultra 48.JPG

Coming-Up 

Next for me is a trail race in Ibaraki Prefecture: “Tsukuba Mountain Trail Running Race”. Only 48K with 2,400m D+ where I will try my best only 3 weeks after this amazing journey in Indonesia!

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