How to prep & do a trail race 
with limited time & budget!

Hui is the founder, designer & CEO at ash be nimble and was Women’s Open Champion for the recent P.S.P King of Forest 2017 7.2km race at Taman Lembah Kerinchi. Starting on a slight back foot during Wave 2 at 7.30am (Wave 1 started at 7am), Hui completed the 468m elevation course in 1 hour 15 minutes 11 seconds. 

I love trail running and its no secret that I love hills. I have a 1.5 year old & running a business on a shoestring budget so I understand how challenging it can be to find the time and motivation and money to train and race, so here’s my down-to-earth guide on how to prep and do a trail race with limited TIME & BUDGET! 🙂

I wrote this because:

  • I want everyone to know you don’t need expensive gear to trail race & to get good at it – save that money because petrol prices ain’t coming down!
  • I want to encourage mama’s out there its possible to get back into running & racing, slowly, steadily but surely!
  • I’d love to see more girls in the trails – loved that this race saw 44% female participation out of the 700+ total runners
  • I want to tell men to think twice before you say ‘its easier for women to podium’, yes men have more competitive timing but you don’t have to breastfeed or go through childbirth or have your menstruation on race day
  • I love my city Kuala Lumpur because there are so many luscious trails & beautiful terrain just minutes away
  • I want my baby Asha to see that its the norm to get outdoors, get muddy, push yourself 150%, make some friends, be a girl who loves pretty things like shiny trophies, then come home in one piece for brunch

I’ll start with my race report, and if that intrigues you to try a trail race, read on for my training routine, gear preferences and race tips!

RACE REPORT

Race Name: PSP King of Forest 2017

Organiser: CentriSoh MY

Race Director: Ronnie See, Pacemakers Malaysia

Distance: 7.2km 

Elevation Gain: 468m

Difficulty: HARD (the last race I did was 534m elevation but over 13km!) 

If you’re going to walk the whole thing slow you’ll need 3 hours!

Composition: 22% road, 78% single-file trail

Location: Taman Rimba Kerinchi (behind Bangsar South)

 

On Sunday July 16 at 530am, I woke up to my alarm and quickly shut it before the baby woke up. Stomach queasy, I headed to the toilet. Day 2 of menstrual cycle is not fun. I made a hot cup of Milo, chugged down a lot of water and sat with 2 pieces of wholemeal toast to try and wake myself up. Headed to the toilet again. Got changed just in time and Asha woke up crying. Quickly fed her, then turned on the Wiggles on TV so I could sneak out while Ashish took over. Glad I had pre-packed everything I needed into my bag the night before: shoes + bib + gels + water + change of clothes + wet wipes.

Parking as easy, a lot of space was allocated, and the Rela volunteers were helpful in directing us. I got into the compound as the Wave 1 7am runners were flagged off. Went to the toilets one last time, and bumped into some friends!

*NOTE: race organisers split runners into 2 groups running 30 minutes apart to ease the flow, and final results would be determined by chip timing, after Wave 2 runners have completed their race. I signed up late so I had to run in Wave 2 at 730am. Wave 1 started at 7am.

Resolved in my head to ENJOY the race. BE nice & polite. RESPECT the jungle. THINK with my feet. RELISH these hours I’ve got to yourself. CHEER my fellow runners. MAKE friends. THANK the volunteers & crew. SMILE for the camera. Even though I didn’t know anyone and I knew it was going to be tough weaving through hundreds of Wave 1 runners who had started at 7am, EVEN though my period came yesterday and my back was sore and my stomach uncomfortable, I knew I’d soon forget about it. There were a total of 700+ runners who ran on the day.

ash be nimble founder hui mathews finishing her 7.2km race in first place - PSP King of Forest 2017
 
 
KM 0-1.1 tarmac till trail head: many runners surged ahead. It was mainly downhill so I used it to keep to a sub-6 minute pace. I didn’t want to fall too far behind but I didn’t want to tire myself out before we hit the trails.

 

KM 1.1-1.5 (big 100m climb): hit the hills and a bit of traffic. I resolved not to get agitated and kept politely saying ‘excuse me! sorry! thank you!’ It’s tiring talking while you’re huffing & puffing uphill but I told myself its a good distraction. I try and smile while I say it so I sound friendly. I know what its like getting yelled at rudely by runners as they overtake so I’m determined not to be like that.

KM 1.5-2.2 (big 60m climb): I pummel it downhill and have to chart my own path to overtake many runners doing it slowly and safely down. Another runner helps me pave the way as he runs ahead laughing and yelling he’s VIP. Then we hit the 2nd big climb and I dig deep, breathe evenly and try not to drop my pace. I make it a point to greet each volunteer with a good morning or a thank you. They’re standing around getting bitten by mosquitoes so we don’t get lost 🙂 2 big hills upfront done and dusted with enough to smash through the other 5 smaller ones.

KM 2.2-3.7 (2 small 20-30m climbs): I keep my routine to power-hiking up hills, running on the flats (actually there were none haha) and flying downhill. We pass water station 1, I take a fruit gel and refill my little water bottle I have kept snugly in my side pocket. Feels good to run light. Legs are like jelly but we hit the little stream crossing, I purposely run in the water to cool my feet down and test my new Altra Superior’s drainage. The distraction works. My legs forget they’re meant to be wobbly. I find 2 guy runners – 1 ahead (‘Yellow Tee’) and 1 behind (‘Green Tee’) who seem to be keeping pace and helping us form a little platoon to make space and overtake other runners (its easier to overtake in a pack when there’s one person saying excuse me, another saying sorry, another saying thank you). I try to keep pace with Yellow Tee. Suddenly I recognise a bit of the trail as the back of Bukit Gasing. I also realise that I haven’t slipped once on the mud, even though there are so many skid marks other runners have left behind – these new shoes are awesome!

KM 3.7-5.3 (3 big 70-80m climbs): Now my legs ARE jelly and I’ve got no way of distracting myself. I just doggedly follow the Yellow Tee in front of me. Small steps, then when my lungs are not burning, I quicken my steps. I push until I feel a bit lightheaded then only I cut my pace back. I take 2 seconds to enjoy the view of KL Tower and KLCC Twin Towers on top of giant hill #2. Then we get to the mother of all climbs all the way up to the water tank. I adjust my breathing, deeper inhales, slower exhales. I draw courage from an Uncle ahead of me with a head full of grey. I can do this. We can do this Uncle! We get to the top. Another spectacular view. I hope no more trees get cut down and no more high rise apartments will ruin this view.

KM 5.3-6.6 (1 small 20m climb): On the way down from the water tank we pick up our red ribbons at the check point on the tarmac. I lose Yellow Tee at this point. We reenter the trails downhill. I love this part. No more traffic jams. I get to run freely. My shoes are responsive to the rocks and uneven dirt pockets downhill. I gather my breath. The other mini climb is nothing. I know we’re close. I see the giant steel bridge. Pretty cool thing, I start running gingerly in case my shoes slip on the man-made terrain, but they claw into the grooves and I pick up my pace.

KM 6.6-7.2 home stretch: Its tarmac all the way back! All the photographers are here – they should have been in the trails! 🙂 foliage make for a better backdrop I think. I keep a steady pace as its a slight uphill slope. Once I see the parked cars I widen my stride and gallop to the finish!

My Strava app on my phone tells me I’ve finished in 1 hour and 15 minutes! What a race! I go to get some free 100 plus and sit in the sun for a bit to wait for the results. I get talking to Ryan, one of the technical volunteers who introduces me to Ronnie, the race director. I thank him for the well-organised race and all the volunteers in the trails who did their jobs so well, no one got lost and there was no need to look around to second guess where to go. Signs were more than adequate and the water stations in the right place. Makes a difference as Ronnie and team are all runners themselves!

ash be nimble founder hui mathews - strava race analysis
ash be nimble founder hui mathews - strava race analysis My Strava race analysis showing elevation, pace and time elapsed (blue line at the top is pace, grey shade area is elevation – a clear inverse relationship!)

One of the top 10 men runners TeckWai came over and told me to go check the results as he saw my name on the list! I was hoping for a placing in top 10 and was genuinely surprised and ECSTATIC to learn I came in 1st place!

While I was waiting around and making friends and waiting for the prize giving ceremony, one of the guys said, ‘wah actually to get podium as a girl easier than for guys lah’, in the context that the overall men’s champion ran the 7.2km race in 53 minutes 26 seconds, compared to my time of 1 hour 15 minutes. Now while I was busy trying not to get offended at his comment, I was also holding my tongue to tell him to try run while you’re menstruating, or maybe after having a baby exit your nether regions (childbirth, labour + pregnancy). These are not excuses, just like how safety is not an excuse, just extra hurdles girls need to get over to just get out and run. I’m not saying I can’t train harder and get a faster time, I definitely should and would love to know how it feels like to run up every single one of those wicked hills. Overall I ranked 24th out of all 725 runners, male & female. I was happy to note that there was almost 44% female participation – usually for trail races its a lot less!

PSP King of Forest 2017 Results

ash be nimble founder hui mathews wins PSP King of Forest race

Took home a GORGEOUS trophy, a Garmin Vivomove watch, a pair of Merrell shoes (redeemed a pair of All Out Rush) – what a good RM65 spent on the race so I now don’t need to spend RM300+ on more shoes for training & racing!

ashbenimble ceo hui mathews wins local trail race

After the prize-giving I bumped into a few more people I knew: Christina Low from The Star, Sumei who’s interning at Spinefit Chiro, and made some friends with Kim Starchuk and Wendy from Daily Muscle Bootcamp!

 

That’s what I really enjoy about trail running: making new friends, meeting old ones, getting deep into the jungles & streams around KL, clearing your mind for that 1 hour+ to just focus on your lungs & legs & what’s in front of you. Especially when you are experiencing challenges and tough times in life, getting outdoors and just thinking about running is a good rest for the mind! It felt really good to just get out there, run, race and bring back such a gorgeous trophy.

In case that got your blood pumping and you’re keen to get into trail races, I’ve put together my thoughts about how to train & do a race with limited time & budget! 🙂 Read on!

TIP #1: FIND A RACE CLOSE TO HOME & BELOW 10KM

Saves you time and cost of traveling to the race location and accommodation. Plus the further the race is, the more expensive it’s going to be, as race organisers will factor in their travel costs too. The PSP King of Forest 2017 was just RM65 for a 7.2km race, which included race tee, finisher medal, freeflow 100 plus, nasi lemak + some pretty cool prizes (no cash).If this is your first trail race, start with something 10k or below so you can get by with a minimum of 1-2 hours of training per week! Don’t be fooled, anything in the trails is at least 1.5 times or 2 times longer & tougher than a road race. A short 5km training session with some hills, flats & downhills at Kiara will take me 1 hour at a constant running pace.

If you’ve got a young baby or kid like me, racing close to home means maximum 4 hours of babysitting dollars (or favours) required! I left home at 630am for this recent race which was just behind Bangsar South, and was back home by 1030am in time for brunch!

founder of ash be nimble hui mathews brings back the trophy for baby asha
My baby girl Asha put on the medal + winner tag immediately when I brought it home. She also managed to chip off the bottom corner of my trophy already.
 TIP #2: (WORSE-KEPT) TRAINING SECRET: HILLS FOR BREAKFAST & DINNER!

There are plenty of training plans out there and you can get super technical, but an easy-to-remember rule: you should replicate your race distance + elevation in your weekly training (at the very least!). So you get your heart, feet, legs, stomach & mind in condition!

Leading up to PSP King of Forest, to replicate race distance of 7.2km + elevation of 400m+ I was doing about 8-12km’s per week split across 2 days per week, more during Raya as there were more babysitters available =D Each run of average 5km I’d try to achieve at least 200m of elevation gain. Each run lasted about 1-1.5 hours long – depending on how much time we spent taking breaks & chit chatting!

There is no short cut, you MUST DO HILLS, and a lot of them. Even if you brisk-walk most of it, make sure at least half of your training is spent going up hill. Take small steps, and when your breathing & heart-rate allow it, quicken those small steps.

Some people have said to me, ‘it must be genetic’ or ‘you’re so lucky’. Yes I’m lucky to have parents who made sure we watched less TV and played outdoors, but it’s not luck that I make sure I do a LOT OF HILL TRAINING, even when my lungs hurt. I’d rather do a 45 minute hike than a 45 minute flat run without elevation.

So you know I’m not just making it up, here’s a more technical article from Runner’s World about why & how to train with hills. Snippet: “If we want to get stronger and faster, we must increase the force requirements of our workout. Tempo runs, time trials and fast reps on the track are good, but they don’t generate maximum force. Hills do.

“Running up hills forces the knees to lift higher, one of the most desirable developments for any runner, because this governs stride speed and length,” wrote Lydiard (with Garth Gilmour) in his book Running With Lydiard.”

It also develops the muscle fibres, increasing power.”

ash be nimble long sleeve tops for hiking and ultrarunning

When I get tired of running uphill, I stop and take a photo of my training buddies. 🙂

TIP #3: TRAIN WITH A BUDDY & MAXIMISE EACH SESSION TOGETHER!

Inviting a friend (or inviting yourself along to a run) motivates both of you to get out and run and train, you don’t have to do it alone and you shouldn’t! 🙂 Most of my training sessions are also half for socialising, because that is what I love most about trail running 🙂 And yes for the most part we run at a chit-chat pace, BUT that doesn’t mean you don’t push hard!

Being married to a runner means that when I train, he misses out on training, or we have to pay extra for a baby-sitter, so you can be sure that I MAXIMISE my training sessions because I’m basically paying per hour to just get out and run! Some times training has to get canceled if baby falls sick, or husband gets called into work on the weekends (which happens a lot) or babysitter is not able to make it. That helps motivate me to go all out when I do get a spare 1-2 hours to run!

I try to plan 1 weekday run + 1 weekend run. At max I get 3 runs a week if there’s a public holiday and extra baby-sitting options! 🙂 Otherwise it’s a 4km run during the week + 7km run on the weekend at best! I usually train at Kiara as it’s less than 10 minutes from home. would love to visit Nuang and other hot spots with trail runners but unfortunately time does not allow.

ash be nimble founder hui mathews and the kiara trail fairies

TIP #4: REST & STRETCHHHHHH WHILE WATCHING NETFLIX

Being pain and injury-free is a better option than getting enough mileage and risk being uncomfortable during a race. I had a little bit of pain behind my heel in the 3 weeks leading up to the PSP King of Forest race and decided to rest it for 1 week and cut down my training. I did some squat jumps at home and a few yoga sessions instead. I tried running again 1 week before the race to just make sure the pain was minimal or close to zero, and then did a hike + jog 3 days before.

Despite TIP#2, you shouldn’t do more than 2 session of hill training per week, and try not to run 2 consecutive days. Your muscles & joints need time to recover and heal. When I’m tired, thats when I find myself tripping over roots and stumbling over rocks.

Here’s an article we did on 4 of our favourite stretches targeting the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors and quads which are the usual suspects when it comes to runner’s getting stiff! Do it for 20-30 minutes while you’re watching Netflix / iFlix!

If you’re just starting out, give yourself 3-4 days of rest leading up to race day. Do a light run half / hike as your last session.

founder of ash be nimble hui mathews - 3-legged downward dog

One of my favourite stretches is the 3-legged downward dog: you work on flexibility + strength in your hamstrings, calves, shoulders and hips

TIP #5: DO YOU SEE KENYANS WITH GARMINS & COMPRESSION?

You don’t need an expensive watch or fancy gear. I don’t have a GPS watch so I download & use STRAVA app on my phone to track distance + elevation. I’ve resolved that until I’m good enough to win one, I don’t need one! 🙂 I get by with my Strava app + old school retro Casio watch to just count the time! When you start heading for longer races and training more than twice a week then you can start thinking about spending more!

To be honest I’ve never tried running with compression and I’ve always been under the impression that it’s best for recovery. The fastest and fittest runners I’ve seen don’t wear it so I can’t personally recommend that you need it! It’s the guys in the adidas kampung shoes, tee shirt, short shorts and school bag that you want to watch out for, who will kill the race!

For your first pair of trail running shoes (or just in general) you can find them for under RM300! Even my wedding shoes didn’t cost that much! And if you plan to make this a regular affair, you will go through a pair every 6 months, or even more frequently! Each pair of shoes should last you about 200km. Search for reviews of ‘top trail running shoes + last year’ – usually they’ll be going for clearance at your local sporting house (in Malaysia: Royal Sporting House / Stadium).

Get your feet assessed for the right type of shoe for 1) whether your heel or forefoot strikes first 2) arch strength. Running Lab shop in KL does this and recommends types of shoes that suit based on 1) drop of sole from heel to mid foot (measured in mm) 2) padding provided. I like getting shoes with good flexibility so I can feel the ground and grip over rocks & roots. I don’t mind a minimalist cut with 0mm drop and minimal padding as my races are mainly short ones now. Don’t get heavy hiking shoes with leather bits that can’t get wet as many races in Malaysia involve stream crossings. You’d want a pair with some mesh that is fine enough to let water & air out, but prevent rocks and sand from getting in.

Always buy half-size up as your feet expand during races, and if you’ve got broad feet like me, I like shoes with a wider toe-box. Not that flattering but I never get bruised toes or torn nails with this!

My current shoes are the Altra Superior 2.0, yes its slightly on the pricey side but they were a gift! I love them because I never slipped once during the race despite the wet & muddy sections and river crossings, which saw lots of shoe skid marks! Shoes dried out real quick after sloshing in the stream for 20 meters. They are minimalist with a 0mm drop but my feet still feel well supported. When running on the steel suspension bridge and even some of the wooden platforms the grip held well and didn’t slide. If you’re keen on purchasing Altras, use code online ALTRAASH for 10% off all full price, new shoes.

ash be nimble founder hui mathews wins the 7.2km womens open PSP King of Forest 2017
Photo by AKU WONG – you can see the base of my Altra Superior 2.0 in this photo – its so cushiony yet a minimalist, zero-drop shoe! Also note my trusty ash be nimble running shorts with side pockets – so my little La Juiceria water bottle can fit in snugly, just nice! Run light & free!

TIP #6: LOVE IT ON RACE DAY! THIS IS IT, YOUR MOMENT! LIVE IT, LOVE IT!

Get lots of sleep the night before + pre-pack your items because it’s going to be an early start! Especially if you’re a mum and baby wakes up a few times during the night (Asha does, about twice, to suckle), AND if its that time of the month, you just need the extra hour or two! Set your alarm (or 2) and remember to cut your toe nails!

ENJOY the race. BE nice & polite. RESPECT the jungle. THINK with your feet. RELISH these hours you’ve got to yourself. CHEER your fellow runners. MAKE friends. THANK the volunteers & crew. SMILE for the camera. RACE strong.

Take a moment just before the gun goes off to remember why you do what you do. You’ve trained and prepped to the best of your schedule and budget allows. That it is YOUR race and what matters is that you push yourself to do your best, and you create memories you’ll look back on and smile about!

Now to sign up for another trail race …

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