The press conference for the inaugural Compressport Combo Challenge 2016 had everyone pumped up about the all-new Trail and Road events that would take place at MARDI-MAEPS and Cyberjaya respectively in 2016, and the events did not disappoint!
Compressport Trail 12K (January 2016)
During the press conference, where I was one of several ‘ambassadors’ for Compressport that were introduced, I had mentioned that Compressport Trail 2016 would be my first attempt at a trail run.
(For the uninitiated, ‘trail running‘ refers to running and hiking on hiking trails, often in hilly or mountainous areas, and usually with more significant ascents and descents; as opposed to road running or track running which are on road or track surfaces.)
While trails are not entirely alien to me – my ‘first love’ as far as outdoors activities are concerned was hiking – trail running required a different set of skills altogether (not to mention gear – hiking shoes are to stiff to move swiftly; (road) running shoes may not offer sufficient protection).
My last major trail was the Summit Trail of Mt Kinabalu in 2010. I was amongst the last of the hikers to get to the summit that morning, and also the last to finally arrive at Timpohon Gate after 6 hours of gingerly stepping downhill almost using hiking poles as crutches (I have ‘bad knees’ from old knee injuries) before the gates were literally shut behind me. Despite all that, I actually do enjoy hiking. However I have always had the luxury of taking my own sweet time (within reasonable boundaries, ha ha); I didn’t know how I would do running on trails!
The warm-up session before flag-off wasn’t your regular Zumba – it was a proper runner’s dynamic stretching and warm-up, led by fellow Compressport ambassador Lorna, who is a personal trainer, and muay thai fighter Zukhairi. Race director Karen Geh led the particpants through a safety briefing, and off we went.
We sped down the tarmac, turned a corner, crossed a carpark, and slowed down as we encountered our first patch of mud before disappearing into the foliage. The trail had officially begun!
The trail route turned out to be quite a treat – one would never have known that within the grounds of the MARDI-MAEPS in Serdang (MARDI is the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institution, and MAEPS is its Malaysia Agro Exposition Park), a network of trails in a variety of terrains would exist just at the fringes of the parks’ buildings!
The route was picturesque and offered plenty of challenges, from a small stream-crossing to a steep laterite downhill (where I clung to the sides, walking down like a crab), as well as a steep, lung-crushing ascent towards temporary refreshment at a water/isotonic station that would be followed almost immediately by a stair climb from hell (dubbed ‘The Stairway To Heaven’ by MARDI-MAEPS trail runners – I’ll assume they’re Zeppelin fans :D).
The weather was great, and the route had just the right amount of craziness to whet your appetite for more, and I can safely say I may be hooked on trails (again)!
Trail running gear
While I wear minimalist shoes for road running, I decided against minimalist trail shoes as I would need more structure and protection, particularly since my knees are probably still weaker than average. I eventually settled on a pair of Merrell All Out Charge trail running shoes, and I was satisfied with their performance during tryouts in neighbourhood trails. I also tied the shoelaces in a way that would anchor the shoe at the ankle to ensure my toes didn’t hit the toebox with every step, and that worked very well to prevent bruised toes/toenails.
For the trail race, I wore a Compressport ‘Run & Trail Tank Top’, Compressport Trail Running Shorts, and Compressport R2 (‘Race & Recovery’) Calf Sleeves. Despite the ‘compression’ billing, I was pleasantly surprised to find the top and shorts to be very lightweight. The length of the shorts went down two-thirds down my thigh in my case (they may well cover the knees if one is petite). Along the shoulders, the fabric provided sufficient cover to prevent chafing from the straps of the backpack I was carrying. I also had a Compressport visor (might as well complete the picture, right?) which fitted comfortably and the absorbent material helped keep dripping sweat away from my eyes (I sweat tonnes, so you’ll have to believe me! :-D)
This was my first major outing with the trail shorts and the calf sleeves, which I felt did in fact help ease fatigue during the race and during recovery – ordinarily, the exertion on the route, particularly given the steepness of the slopes, would have given me some fairly significant DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) on the thighs and calves, but this time the DOMS was practically negligible (no exaggeration here I swear!)
Compressport Road 12K (April 2016)
Between January and April, the heatwave had worsened somewhat, and a haze had started to envelop KL and its surrounding areas. A midnight thunderstorm right before the Compressport Road race offered hope for better weather on the Sunday morning.
Cyberjaya, the Silicon-Valley-aspirant town where the Road race of the Compressport Combo Challenge was held on April 24, seemed relatively haze-free during the start. The Start Line was at the Cyberjaya Fire Station on one of the main streets, which turned out to be a great venue for a moderate-sized event as there was a covered and lit-up space suitable for the warm-ups, announcements, as well as an open area immediately behind where the post-race breakfast would be served and runners could mingle – all within a mid-sized contained compound.
Lorna and Zukhairi again led the runners’ warm-up, and Race Director Karen Geh led the participants through various safety announcements, primarily related to watching out for traffic and heeding the directions of policemen at the many junctions we would encounter.
The route itself wasn’t particularly striking, with many sections passing by empty land – Cyberjaya being a sparsely-populated still-growing suburb after all – but it did manage to pack in some undulating sections, culminating in the slope up to the Shaftsbury Residences at the final few kilometres before heading back down to Persiaran APEC and back to the finish.
I was pleased to see Lucozade available at the water stations (Lucozade, while popular in countries like the UK, has been in Malaysia only for about a year or so) as I much prefer uncarbonated isotonic drinks. Both water and isotonics were available in abundance. At the finish line, the fire station grounds were bustling with activity. I located the start of a queue for drinks and was glad to see that the queue moved fairly quickly.
Many would probably consider the one of the highlights of the event to be the post-race breakfast spread (what am I saying? Of course runners (and Malaysian runners at that) love food!) – Nasi lemak, coconut water, ice-cream, fresh watermelon slices. And more bottles of cold Lucozade. I claimed my packet of nasi lemak – and that was enough post-race bliss for me, I didn’t need any ice-cream or coconut water or anything else…
Both the Compressport Trail and Road races were not officially timed. This may just be a side observation, as many runners probably wouldn’t mind just using estimates from their own watches or smartphone apps; though some participants did wonder whether they had missed out a chip in their packs during the race kit collection. For the sake of discussion, let’s look at why many runners want, or would expect, to have a race (we’re talking about non ‘fun-run’ races) timed:
- Runners, regardless of level of ability, would certainly like to find out how they performed – indeed, getting such feedback in race conditions is useful information for training purposes.
- The use of RFID (chip) timing systems has been credited for reducing cheating, as runners have to cross certain checkpoints. The risk of cheating increases in an untimed race where the organisers would then resort to the use of manual effort (ribbons at checkpoints, etc).
Runners’ expectations aside, we also know that race events are business concerns with budgets and priorities to handle. Timing systems cost a lot of money, and may translate to a higher entry fee for participants. Could it have been a trade-off due to the fact that the race entries were already more costly than typical road/trail run entries as they were bundled with merchandise? (The lowest-priced Compressport Combo Challenge entries were RM59 for 6KM and RM89 for 12KM.)
We contacted the race organisers, mytriathlonshop, for their comments. Mr KC Tan responded as follows:
“Our priority has been on the safety and well-being of all our runners. Also, we want runners to believe in our brand and what we offer to runners compared to other events. There are costs involved in timing chip systems, and for this first Combo Challenge under Compressport Malaysia we felt the packages that we came up with offered the best value. Moving forward, in future events we will be introducing 2 packages where runners can choose whether or not to opt for bundled merchandise. We will work on including timing chips in future events.”
My take on the matter is that it may be a matter of managing expectations. In this case, participants probably expected, or even assumed, that a run associated with an international specialist sports brand (and which is clearly not in the ‘fun run’ category) would be timed. While it is acknowledged that the event website did not state ‘timing chip’ as part of the runners’ entitlements, perhaps (and this could just be an occupational hazard of a legally-conditioned-mind) stating expressly upfront that a race would be ‘Untimed’ could save the customer-relations hassle of having to deal with enquiries later on?
The Compressport Combo Challenge was the first Compressport event to be held in Malaysia. Stay tuned on the Compressport Malaysia Facebook page for a 21.1km Road Challenge coming up later in the year, as well as a hybrid/cross-country challenge that will incorporate both road and trail challenges in once race!