Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival – Lost my mind, discovered my soul, not once but thrice..Yeeehaw!!!

The Races and the moments that froze in the tales of the run by muscleontherun.
Day 1 – 5kms VK/1000m elevation gain

Day 2 – 50kms, approx. 2900m elevation gain

Day 3 – 13kms , 350m elevation gain 

So it was that time of the year when we step out of the country and expand our learnings in the sport of running. Travel and run is a concept curated for that very first reason to help you explore just not different terrains in distant countries but also the culture of running and food habits in particular. Asian food not being acclimatized has been experienced in the past and hence care ought to be taken as it had an immense effect on race days. However, carrying tons of ready food packets in your travel packs can also be a tedious task. So, what does one do in such cases? Choose to reach race venues closer to the D day rather than choosing to explore the food in touristy places. This way you can bail out on food after effects post the runs rather than having to fall prey to indigestion or bloating or for that matter diarrhea prior to the big day. 
We headed to Malaysia and with some research, it was found to be closer to our comfort zone in terms of food. The food places are run by Indians and the Malay cuisine has a tinge of spice for your taste buds especially if you are used to an Indian palate. 
Next, the weather conditions are a must-know. The regions in each county may vary from place to place. Here in Kuala Lumpur, the heat and humidity were a major turn-off, while in Malacca it did rain for a moment and helped cool off the heat. Guess that’s when we had the much-needed run to undergo acclimatization again. It was pretty humid too post the rains.
While that was on the bucket list, consuming lots of ice-based juices and water led to throat aches and mild headaches due to brain freezes. All this took a while to show up as we were hell-bent on gulping down the icy water because the heat was really getting on our nerves and we couldn’t resist the cold water and desserts.

The famous Cendol delicacy and a must-try. 

With just a few days in, I decided to draw that line and stopped consuming anything cold ahead. Also, the time zones making IST two and half hours behind Malaysia time was getting tricky too. As a result, the biological clock took some time to adjust to breakfast, lunch, evening snack, and dinner schedules. Sleep cycles were much affected but I could feel myself dozing off intermittently during working hours. This can be a struggle till you switch your routine to the local time zone.
So first stop, Kuala Lumpur.

And then comes, Malacca.

And now off to Taiping – The race venue for the North Fest Malaysian Mountain Trail Festival. 

You can plan your travels using city buses, metros, and trains. Cabs and food deliveries can be booked on Grab. Use the Klook app to book your tickets for tourist attractions. SIM cards with data plans and local calling can be bought at the airport exits from different carriers with customized or default plans. It’s worth it than having to enable your numbers with ISD and data packs as it turns out to be pretty expensive. 

Got Celcom for 45, sim charge was 10 MYR whereas the data pack was purchased for 35 MYR for 30 days. They also have an app just in case you want to top up your spends.

Enable your Visa credit cards for international transactions for ease of payment and keep some cash handy for local desires. An approx. of 1000 INR or less could be spent per day per individual for meals and sightseeing. 
Use BookMyForex or Orient currency exchange for foreign currency. You can either walk-in to the exchange office or get it home delivered for INR 100 to your doorstep which seems logical considering the vehicular traffic. 

For sports enthusiasts, Decathlon could be a boon to visit as a lot of gear and attires that are not available in India are to be found here. Visit the country-specific websites of the retailers to see what’s best in the house and of course for the offers and discounts. Other brands of sports apparel and gear could be explored too and a variety of things are up for grabs that you may not find online either. 
Now with stays, travel, E-visa, Wi-Fi connectivity, and currency set, feel free to pan around Malaysia to see what it can offer. After a day in hot and humid Kuala Lumpur, we headed to Malacca for a sneak peek at this Heritage city before settling ourselves in the race town, Taiping. Metros and buses are at your disposal to move around and have better connectivity. Ensure to explore the booking apps or walk-ins at bus stops and train stations to book your ticket in advance to avoid last-minute hassle and avoid getting seats that you may not prefer during the travel. Plan in advance to have a fruitful journey. 
In Taiping, it rains in the evenings hence, leading to an increase in humidity. This wasn’t great news for us. While the Sun was being handled by the clouds, the rains were a turn-off as they did not relieve us of the heat. A stroll in the morning toward the bib collection venue made me realize how mushy the ground is and also got an opportunity to meet the Race Director – Ewgene.

A quick sync up and then back by 2pm to collect the bib. Mind you, the mandatory gears checklist needs attention for you to be able to collect your bibs. You literally have to place the gears on the table to ensure you meet the prerequisites else you either get disqualified or face a time penalty of 15 mins. 

Just after the bib collection for all three events, i.e. 5km VK , 50KM, and 13KM, the reality check had struck and mind maps on how to tackle the fatigue after every event and be race ready for the next was a question that was left unanswered. The excitement levels were definitely up for day 1 event, the VK comprising of a 5km uphill trail run did bring us down to our knees. 
That’s Roshan, Pinto, Aman, Kireet and Bipin from left to right 

A staggered start for every individual due to the narrow nature of the trails was a thing that ensured every runner was cheered at the start line and the countdown was handled by the Race Director himself. 

The climb was indeed difficult but the entire manifestation of completing the run in an hour and a half to get back to the room for much-needed rest was totaled when we realized the travel back to the start point was not a part of the event. 

And that’s what we conquered !

Guess I missed the VK by 15m πŸ™ but still, a VK that I aspired to nail down. 

So now we ended up with a downhill stroll, walk, and a run of 10km. This also made us aware of the downhill run that we are bound to experience towards the last leg of the 50km run. Nevertheless, the run to the top made us feel the heat and humidity.
This also made us sink into the climate conditions that will be experienced on day 2. The climb in VK was no less than a technical speed hike with a fair bit of road run towards the finish line. 

The rain did not bother us much on day 1. With just around 150 people, our debut at the first-ever VK at MMTF was a success. With happy faces and good vibes, we head back to our rooms to rest it for the day.

It was time we returned and headed straight for a shower followed by Lunch.

A few glimpses of talking to the media team on day 1 making Team India’s presence felt in Malaysia.

BTW, the VK race started at 8am and we were down the hill by 11:30am. Home by 12pm and lunch towards 1pm. Back to the room by 2pm and packed the hydration bag for the next day’s ordeal of 50km with a start time of 10am. This was a little bit of a relief than having to rush in the wee hours of the morning. But the downside was that the Sun 🌞 was out and we had already started sweating at the start line.

Rains had done a few rounds in the night already. The start point in the ground was sluggish and muddy and in no time the shoes had gone dirty and mushy. 

With just minutes to go, sweat had already started trickling down, and to make matters worse, hunger had come knocking on the door. This was an odd time of course to begin the race and never had this comfort level. Post the start, the first 10kms had it all, by that I mean it had all the gimmicks of what’s in the store for us for the rest of the 40kms. Mind you, I literally finished a liter and half of my fluids on me till the 10th km checkpoint and it was that kind of heat that squeezed every drop of water and salt from your body and was no less than a furnace. Kireet just got wiser and appealed not to continue the race at the 10th checkpoint and that played on our minds quite frequently. Worries about continuing the race in such harsh conditions were in multiples after every km and every climb. 

After gulping down all that water and electrolyte, the journey to the next checkpoint of 20km commenced. The sun 🌞 was definitely harsh and the plains ahead were not making it any easy and were completely exposed to the sun. At around 14-15km, I had no other choice than to stop myself and look for a shade to cool off some heat. Just when I happened to reach the 20km mark, the hunger had kicked in so much that I was on the verge of a blackout and half a kilometer more to go to the aid station that served food felt like a daunting task. The first and foremost action taken by me was to sip some fresh water and stuff some ice on me not knowing what else would take the heat wave off me. I took my time to sit, relax, and recover before I headed for some porridge and veggies. I chose not to try out any food that was not known to me as a staple. The aid station was in the shade and helped us keep away from direct sun rays.
Having fed myself well, the journey had to be continued and the elevation map printed on the bib had very well come in handy as I like to know what was coming next and how much more elevation needed to be covered.

The only target set in mind was the last peak that ends at 33-34km post which was all a downhill path to the finish line. The 20km mark made me feel fresh again and this time I stuffed a lot of ice in my shorts pockets around the waist and a lot of watermelon slices. The hydration bag was filled with ice and water which was the need of the hour. I had also borrowed a 500ml refill from Kireet at the 10km checkpoint, thought it might as well come in handy when I felt like squeezing some water on myself. All this was indeed taxing enough and mind games to continue ahead without falling prey to mishaps just didn’t stop doing the rounds. By now, we were well aware of why 17 17-hour cut-off time for a 50km run was allocated. This run could have easily gone south any moment unless you take utmost care of the heat, hydration, nutrition and rest times. 

Okay, now the rains were out there making their presence felt every now and then, and the humidity quotient was getting out of control. I remember running all drenched top to toe from sweat and short dips from streams on the route. I just couldn’t help but indulge in random cooldowns in the heart of nature that was so necessary to avoid burnouts.
Post the 8km that included a 4km incline and a 4km decline under the shades of the tree here and there was a blessing but it still required a good amount of effort as the trails were getting narrow and slippery due to the rains.

Mind you this time or rather the time during our VK run, we weren’t sure why gloves were a part of the mandatory Gear. The reason was that the elevation was so steep, narrow, and slippery that it needed ropes as a support to climb. The surface underneath wasn’t able to give the much-needed grip to the shoes either and hence the knots on these ropes could give us that grip and help us pull ourselves upward. This was indeed a lifesaver for many who struggled with the sluggish uphill terrain. The 8km was done in haste only because the manifestation of the last climb was making its presence felt. The desperation to start the last climb had hit in early and the early you do, the early you tend to escape from the darkness of the trails as the sun was about to set too by that time. 

The peak towards the end got really tricky. The ropes were of great help and the moment you see that tar, a big relief but now the journey was only about letting your body follow gravity for the next 10km post which the dash to the finish line was a no-brainer.
The checkpoint on the downhill felt like the last supper. All the body wanted was some good solid food. But wasting time for yet another extended recovery was not the plan. The goal of reaching the last peak before sundown was achieved. The path to the bottom of the hill which was also a part of the return from the VK finish point was known. The twists and turns in the growing dark started getting difficult and the head torch became a must. Also, for a moment the body fatigue level shot so high that I couldn’t help myself from dragging my feet one after another. This felt different. Energy levels depleted drastically. I made that choice of stopping and resting for a couple of minutes. Drank some water and took the time to breathe in and out. After a while, up again on my feet, I continued the remainder of the journey. 
The city lights are in sight now. This indeed felt like an achievement and the celebration had already begun at the back of the mind. The last few kms also felt never-ending. Guess, it was the fatigue kicking in again. The ordeal has to be put to an end. The efforts and meticulous judgement of yourself for the past 10 hours led to a fruitful result and that was ending the race without injuries. 
With Roshan tagging and crossing by during the last leg of the run was a wonderful boost to sprint to the finish line and yes, we couldn’t hold our joys and gave it to lift those tired legs and fast pass the red carpet towards the finish line. This was it, the end of what had begun at 10am in the morning and we very well understood why a 17-hour cutoff for the whole race was assigned to a 50km category. The ups and downs in this terrain ruled over the strategies you may have planned but what wins overall is the past experiences you gained from such strenuous events and coming out as a successor of all to engrave yet another tale in the history of trail running at a distant geographical location on this globe. 

Well, this wasn’t over yet. There was another day to go to attend the 13km category event. I was overwhelmed with the finish line stories that 13km race did not seem any more stressful but all that was short-lived. Wasting no more time after crossing the finish line of the 50km run, we collected the medal and started marching towards our hotel. 

This was the Peking hotel which was one and only available when booked in advance at a reasonable price, so folks please make your bookings very well in advance. These bookings may be free cancellation till check-in or a day before just in case you change your mind or have rescheduled your travel dates close to the race day. So having a closer stay to the venue definitely helped. Otherwise, you could also opt for a grab taxi that can conveniently drop you at the start points. 
So now we are back in our hotel rooms tired and dirty and all we need is a hot water shower and some mouth-watering food. Post that, I headed back to the rooms and tidied up my hydration bag yet again for the 13km run that was planned to begin at 6am. This was an early-to-be, early-to-rise, early-to-start kind of run. 
Now guess who has been the partner in crime all throughout and could only share my sorrows with considering we both were on the same page. Well, that’s Pinto, one fine ultra-runner who can eat miles like no one’s business. 

Pinto post the 13km dash, 50k, and VK 5kms
The initial thought of registering for this event was a 100k category but having done the UTMB 100k at Chiang Mai, this was not appealing enough yet, maybe because this was a UTMB qualifier but not a UTMB run. Also, the run format of continuing to run for 3 consecutive days was something that was not tried yet. I had my shot at Solang Sky Ultra by doing the Patalsu Challenge of 14km and approx 1000mt gain followed by a 60km category run the next day and that indeed gave me the feels of what it’s going to take when you extend the play by a day more with fatigue in your body. So with that mindset, I was so up for it and was looking forward to it but all hell broke loose when we realized it was very hot and humid when we landed in Kuala Lumpur. 
So here we were again at the start line of yet another race at the Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival 2023 in Taiping, Esplanade.

The only thought prevailing was to get done with the race in the earliest possible and convenient time and of course without any injuries. That morning, the muscle soreness had begun talking too. The moment I started running, the muscles felt warmed up. Knowing that the elevation gain is only over 350m and post 8km the route is a downhill followed by the flat tar towards the finish line. Cutting the chase short here, hereby sharing the end result of the run.

The elevation graph had already been studied because mentally the courage to climb more peaks be it small or big was out of the syllabus. The first kilometer took us to the park like every other major category run and the climb from the 4th to the 8th kilometer was something that needed strategizing. As usual, I was carrying the poles but never had the push to have them for support during the race. The climb wasn’t that taxing that would compel me to use the pole, so I just ended up running with them on the back of my hydration bag.

I had also chosen Hoka Speedgoat to end the ordeal at last. There were no rains this time and the trail seemed a bit dry too and at places that felt moist, utmost care was taken to place your foot not just on the trail but also while crossing the slippery boulders at the water streams. The downhill was favoring the run and legs weren’t ready to stop moving yet. 
To our surprise, the route wasn’t just a 13km dash but had another approximately 1.5km to go and that didn’t go well with our anxiety that prevailed for the extra kilometres. But with no choice left, it had to be done to achieve the runners high at the finish line.

Phew! So done with these trails now and nope, I am not looking forward to a 100km run here anytime soon. That would really take some courage to stand up against all the odds in the hot and humid weather conditions. Until then, we continue to travel and explore new locations of interest and run events on this planet. 

Being in the middle of all the action that went on in those 3 days was an adrenaline boost but at the same time, I was suffering with sore throat and cough. The nights weren’t easy either as I continued to feel uneasy and experience episodes of coughing during the night. This had quite some impact on my sleep patterns. The cold and icy drinks and juices to save myself from the heat are something that enacted in a way that led to being unwell all throughout the event. It also becomes difficult at times to figure out the medicines with the local pharmacy and to add to it is the communication barrier you may come across from time to time. Some home remedies like hot water gargles and medical kits that we often tend to carry during our travels kept matters from getting worse. The idea was always to feed well, drink plenty of water, and of course, catch up on sleep cycles whenever possible. This helped in recovery too. Talking to friends in India made me realize that a few vaccine shots could help keep the immunity bar a notch higher when exposed to living organisms outside your home country. These vaccine shots could be determined with the help of your doctor and to be taken well in advance prior to the travel. 
Now, what’s the takeaway from MMTF? No second thoughts stating that this is one of the renowned events where the who’s who from the trail running fraternity from Asia are always expected to attend. You see your stars on live event channels and here you get to meet or greet them in person and feel the aura around them. Nevertheless, you can also tag along with runners from India and feel the oomph of learning the know how’s and where what’s about running, runners, and beyond which is also an important aspect of a runner where you see yourself wanting to do what we or other runners do but it also comes with a lot of work and life management on personal and professional levels. 
Ending this blog reliving the journeys taken got overwhelming too and cannot thank enough for the passion we carry towards running. The learning curves are just not restricted to the sport but also play a crucial role in one’s development. The barriers we come across in runs and the opportunity to work out on these hurdles bring out the best in you. You not only tend to apply these takeaways in yet another event but also happen to indulge in a mindset of a human being that can never let you down when in doubt. Things just start getting crisp from your respective vantage points and your judgements fall in place to answer all the intricacies of what we call LIFE

Until then, cherish the below details to plan your next run at the one and only The North Fest Malaysian Mountain Trail Festival 

Event website:-

Message from the Dear Race Director Ewegene Tan

Quote of the day:-
β€œTo be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month, or even one year, but for a lifetime.”