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Thursday, August 11, 2016
A Reflective Journal: Running Scared

By Omar Agoes

Five years ago i went to mount Rinjani and turned back after climbing two thirds up. I turned back at the rim of the volcano when I discovered at that rim that I was affraid of heights. At the time, it only took me three minutes to decide that I will stop and turn back down. The six other climbers continued up, and like a scared little puppy I turned back down alone.

That incident of turning back had always bothered me. For someone who generally don't like U turns, this was one shameful U turn. It awoken me to a phobia that I didn't know I had. Its normal to be afraid of heights, but to turn back because of it made it a legitimate handicap.

Last weekend I was at that same spot I turned back five years ago and I decided that I had to face this fear and just will myself to conquer it.

Three months back, i was in the elevator with Hanyu; one of the bank's youngest joiners and I noticed her huge running watch which looked like a laptop she wore on her tiny wrist. Going down 19 floors we talked about how we both like to run. In that short ride, she convinced me to join the Rinjani 100 trail run. An hour later, she came by my desk and printed me the map course, and I signed up knowing i had to face that fear again. Talk about a great elevator pitch!

I convinced my cousin indra Uni to join me as well. Lo and behold, although he has not registered, he already has a room booked by his friend and founder of the race Hendra Wijaya. The last time I ran a race with Indra was last year in the London marathon where he walked alongside me when i "hit the wall". He waited for me and we finished together.

When i arrived in Lombok airport with Indra, we shared the car with two other runners; Nanang Handoko and Herry Sukardi. In the car i found out that all of the three guys had did this race and did not finish! Nanang and Herry even did it twice already. All three of them are fit guys, but what amazed me is they all came back for more pain despite their failures before. I was in the company of stubborn bastards. Indra told me how he passed out at 15 hours in a hut along the course two years ago.

Our course was the 36 km course, it starts from the hotel in Sembalun village straight to the summit of mt Rinjani and back down with a time limit of 15 hours. Start time was11:30 in the evening, the idea of running in the woods in the middle of the night felt so reckless but damn liberating! Here i am on the start line with all these people doing something that all their mothers warned them not to do since they were kids; "don't go in the woods at night".

An hour into the trail, Indra who was leading in front stepped into hole and twisted his ankle. He limped a bit, but kept going at a slower pace. After almost two hours of flat ground we started our steep ascent. We both arrived at the 2d post in Pelawangan, ate a banana refilled our water bottles and started the steeper climb to the summit.

And there it is, the place I did a U turn five years ago. This is the rim of the volcano. No vegetation, just volcanic sand and a steep climb up with hundreds of meters drop to the right and left. I did my morning prayers there and told Indra i need to focus and will have to do this alone and leave him.

I put my head down looked to the ground and kept fighting all the terrifying thoughts which was going to drop on my head if I let. Even though I had that weak tingling feeling in my legs when I am high places, I just forced my legs to keep moving. In that three hour climb, I did not look back.

The guy in the car from the airport also said, "don't look up". However I had to look up twice. For people the sheer challenge to go up is what make them turn back. For me, it was fear, for me it was all in my head. Along the way you see people sleeping, sitting with their head down, everyone was struggling.

The sand going up hill is the type you make two steps up and slide one step down. Here i learned the value of having two trekking poles. Trekking poles are very useful. It helps you with balance on uneven surface, it helps you take some impact from your knees going downhill, and it keeps you upright and not slouch. Slouching and bad posture leads to a tired back. I use a folding raid light carbon fiber poles, super light and easy to stow.

I reached the peak in 9 hours from the start line. I finally made it to the summit after five years doubting if I had the guts to do it or not. It was a special moment for me to overcome the intense fear which I gave in to five years ago. For many it just meant reaching the summit, for me it was conquering myself. It was deeply personal.

I waited for Indra at the summit for quite sometime, until I spotted him two hundred meters below on the ridge strangely standing still for about half an hour being passed by several climbers. He seemed to greet those who passed him but he just stayed there. You get a bit worried when someone just stands still on a volcano ridge with high drops to the left and right, after about half hour seeing this I put my pack down and fetched him. Once i got down to him; he just looked up gave me a wide smile and said....."I ran out of batteries bro".

He eventually got his energy back after replacing some of his depleted carbohydrates from non-stop climbing and running for over nine hours. We both reached the summit, come to think of it because of this, I summited twice! I was very proud of Indra pushing himself to the top digging everything he could find inside him. That Saturday 31 July 2016 was the first time both of us summited Mt. Rinjani. The race didn't matter anymore.

Indra told me that he was thinking of doing a U turn despite being so close to the top. That was what he thought about standing there for half an hour. But he didn't change his mind.

People usually go up Rinjani in several sessions and camped overnight before going to the summit. Mt Rinjani is the crown jewel of Indonesian mountains; it is the most attractive with its crater lake, the terrain is challenging enough to keep most people away, but accessible enough that you can call it a trek.

However I am beginning to like doing climbs in one go. Im beginning to like this thing called altitude gain, I'm strangely attracted to hills now. Or as my run buddy Andre Barlian says; "you wanna own that hill man....".

Indra and I walked back down. My foot hurts because for steep declines I just realized this shoe i had worn for three months is too small. When buying trail running shoes, consider getting one with extra room for your toes. Both of us went down like grand-mothers. It took me 9 hours and 5 minutes to the top, but another 10 hours and 20 minutes to get down. We were disqualified for passing the 15 hour time limit. Both of us didn't care, because we reached the top.

Indra introduced eating dates. I had energy gels, energy gummy candies, and bars, but dates did the trick for me. Indra bonked because he refueled late. I am sloppy and undisciplined at many things in life, but making sure I drink and eat enough during a run is one that I take seriously. Because last year i learned, "bonking" sucks!

There were four people in the car from the airport, only one finished and "passed" this year. Herry didn't pass for the third time, yet promised to come back next year.

The race standard is kept "hard" by the organizers. Completing this race qualifies you to earn point to race in the "100 mile Ultra Trail Mont Blanc". This race had a 100km category. Out of 84 entries, only one crossed the finish line.

Despite saying I wasn't coming back, I changed my mind and will do this again. I find comfort being around other people who don't give up and keep doing hard things together.

It inspires me.

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