The North Face 100 2011: A Test of True Character
The RunSociety Team was down in full force to lend its support sometime past the stroke of midnight to see off the 100km Soloists – the tough lot who chose to brave the dark of night. Unlike previous events we’ve been to, this one had a quiet and reflective pre-race mood attached to it, even poignant we might say. Our guess is the athletes were psyching themselves for what would be one of the most demanding races yet – at least in the 2011 calendar. And it was. We’ll get to that a bit later.
First things first, we’d like to introduce you to Ong Kai Seng, a 38 year old self-employed gentleman. He’s the guy who startled us to the point of disbelief when we learned he was going to run all 100 kilometres, BAREFOOT. Yes, you didn’t hear us wrong. We made sure to ascertain his claim at the starting point. Sure enough, Ong was "shoeless"! We probed him further to find out why. Apparently, he’s had an Achilles tendon problem for ages. The culprit, shoes – even the Vibram FiveFingers didn’t cut it. Before we get carried away, we just thought guys like him should be recognised for their tenacity.
Okay, down to the crunch. The winner this year was Yang Jiagen, 26, a Chinese student from Beijing. If you’ve been following The North Face 100 (TNF100) series closely, you’d also know that he clinched top honours at TNF100 China’s Solo category. Yang clocked a time of 10 hrs 04 min 55 sec, a little over two hours more than his winning time of 08 hrs 01 min in China. (Look out for our exclusive interview with Yang Jiagen, slated to be released at a later date.)
"The weather was hot and humidity was a problem," says Ansgar Hempen, 31, a '50km Duo' German participant who works as a Food Technologist in Singapore, “I had some trouble finding the last checkpoint but still managed to make my way back 'cos I jog here (MacRitchie Reservoir) frequently."
It’s evident that runners had an onslaught of obstacles to battle in order to reach the FINISH line. What came up most prominently was a case of 'sabotage', where the organisers suspected foul play in the removal of directional signage and the covering of fluorescent lamps.
"I had to backtrack four to five times at 2am in the morning, alone in the forest, because I was clueless where I was headed." asserts Yim Heng Fatt, a Malaysian who specially came to Singapore for the race.
Our take is that you can’t entirely blame the organisers. Look at it logically. Putting a marshal at EVERY directional signage – to ensure no one tampers with them – is just not feasible especially for a race of this magnitude. The problem lies not so much with organisational negligence but a matter of human integrity. The values of sportsmanship need to be adhered to if a competitive race is to run its course seamlessly.
Looking past that, we still have to give credit to the 'Red' warriors who wore tees labelled 'CREW' on the back, having worked tirelessly behind the scenes overnight, to the following night – it’s a 100-kilometre race mind you. We’re sure many of the athletes who hit the trails feel the same way so THANK YOU.
To all you 100km Solo, 100km Duo and 50km Duo runners who crossed the FINISH line, we’d like to congratulate you. You’ve passed the true test of character amidst the harsh elements at play.
Till next year then!