Just when you think you're tough enough


Rumbling and exploding through Rembau Challenge 2014

Photo credit: Alicia Teoh
Writer Alicia Teoh (right) and partner-in-crime Agnes Chan. Photo credit: Alicia Teoh

Rumbling through the forest on a mountain bike, running the trails up to Gunung Datuk sounded appealling enough a reason to sign up for my first off-road tri race in this Rembau Challenge 2014. The idea of bobbing down the river in a tube wasn’t particularly enticing as I tend to get a bout of motion sickness, but therein lies the challenge, the fear I had to overcome. Every Bonnie needs a Clyde, and it was Agnes Chan whom tipped the scale and lured me to be her partner-in-crime for the Amateur category of this race.

50 kilometers of challenges? 

I might have bitten off more than I can chew, as it dawned on me there would be a total of 25km of Cycling on the road, 14km Off-Road Cycling, 12km of run and climb up Gunung Datuk plus Tubing for 1.2km. I’ve never done any of these distances let alone string them together all in the same day. Just over a year ago, Agnes and I had just started mountain biking, running occasionally albeit at a leisurely pace.

It was an impulsive decision which resulted in much anxiety over what to expect, how to prepare and of course, the typical last minute scramble to get in shape.

Thankfully I have friends who are veterans in the adventure racing scene. Their checklists, practical advice and moral support helped prepare me mentally, if not physically.

Photo credit: Alicia Teoh
Start Line of Rembau Challenge 2014 at Dataran Rembau, Negeri Sembilan. Photo credit: Alicia Teoh

D-Day, Race Day

On the race day, my team mate Agnes and I drove from Shah Alam to the starting point, Dataran Rembau and arrived just as the horn was about to go off. The starting line was abuzz with 300 amateur participants donned in the mandatory fluorescent yellow vest bib with their mountain bikes as Agnes and I quickly got into position.

About 5 minutes later, we were flagged off by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin while the Pro category participants had set off 30 minutes earlier.

The first leg of the race which is about 20km of road cycling to the base of Gunung Datuk where we would transition into 12km of trail running and hiking. After about an hour of cycling on the trademark hilly roads of Rembau and past quaint and colourful kampung houses, we reached a school which was the transition point, SMA Haji Mohd Yatim.

Photo credit: Alicia Teoh
Running towards Gunung Datuk’s trail head. Photo credit: Alicia Teoh

We parked our bikes and started the trail run towards Gunung Datuk through a lush clearing with several stream crossings and a beautiful view of the mountain.

As I huffed and puffed over the picturesque terrain, I couldn’t help wondering how nice it would be to riding on my mountain bike instead of running these trails!

Finally we entered the forested trail of Gunung Datuk where we slowed to a hike through the steep and dense forest. Too quickly (but glad to move on) we exited the cool forest and ran about 2km back to our bikes.

A quick drink from the water station and we continued to the Mystery Test segment of the race which involved striking a styrofoam cup with a rubber band before being allowed to proceed to the next stage which felt like child’s play.

What’s an adventure race without mud?

We had to cross a muddy marsh while carrying our bikes as we rode to the off-road cycling trailhead. After several minutes, we finally emerged brown and exhausted after struggling in knee deep mud where I almost lost my shoes in its sticky depths. Well it was an “adventure” race after all and anything with adventure must have mud in it.

The off-road segment, while non-technical, tested our endurance with its river crossings, rocky dirt paths and steep climbs through oil palm and rubber estate. We encountered several racers nursing their leg muscle cramps and I wondered when it will be my turn. I didn’t have to wait long as I developed the obligatory cramp soon after.

Photo credit: Alicia Teoh
Writer Alicia tubing down the river. Photo credit: Alicia Teoh

Exploding Tube Ride 

For the uninitiated, the tubing segment involves traversing downstream a river using a large inflated tube. Agnes and I were looking forward to this part as a respite from the continuous leg movement. We gaily jumped into the refreshingly cool water but soon realised it would not be effortless as we had hoped. A fair part of the river was only about one foot deep and to our dismay we had to regularly pick up our tube and wade to deeper parts of the river.

Halfway down the river, I heard a loud bang and it turns out, Agnes’ tube had struck something sharp and it literally exploded!

We couldn’t find the remnants of her tube so we continued on foot the rest of the way, about half a kilometre.

As high noon showed it’s might with the scorching sun, we collected our bikes after removing sand from our socks and shoes with one more cycling leg to go. Cycling the last undulating 6km road back to Dataran Rembau was difficult and I had to stop several times to rest my aching muscles and I was getting heatstroke too.

When the going gets tough, the Tough gets going

With much trepidation, we reached the starting point and I was ready to dump my bike and sit resolutely down. But of course, a race is never easy, and we still had 2.2km more to RUN before we can cross the finish line and claim our finisher medal.

Picking up my falling spirits and mustering my second wind for every last ounce of my energy to run-walk the final two kilometres. Agnes, who was fitter than I am graciously slowed down to accompany me. Well, she had no choice as we had to cross the finish line together to qualify! We had a last bit of fun at the second Mystery Test where we had to burst an inflated balloon between our chests.

Five and half hours over 63km of road, trail, mud and river. What a race!

The various segments were fun and challenging although I felt that there was too much road cycling for an “offroad” race. On the plus side, we were greeted and spurred on by many friendly residents of the houses and shops situated by the road. There were ample marshals and signage to ensure we didn’t lose our way. I must say that the marshals were excellent as they never failed to smile and encourage us despite having to stand under the hot sun for hours.

The water stations were well-placed, well-manned and sufficient. 100plus, Gardenia twiggies and bananas were provided at all water stations where medical assistants was present too.

The bicycles parking at the transition areas could use tighter security measures. So overall, the organiser did a decent job and I would definitely recommend the next Rembau Challenge to anyone who loves mountain biking, nature and doesn’t mind muscle cramps. I dared to #takeOnRembau, will you?

More about the author

Alicia Teoh is a nature lover and an intrepid adventurer wannabe. One of her goals in life is to ride her mountain bike until she’s (at least) sixty years old.