Thursday, September 11, 2014

Penang Ultra 100...

Event: Penang Ultra 100
Venue: Padang Kota, Penang
Date: 07 September 2014
Time: 9.00pm
Distance: 100KM (105.5KM by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Ride 7
By Frank

I initially registered for the 84KM distance for the Penang Ultra as the 100KM was already closed when I made up my mind. However, on one fine day, race director Andrew was at my work place and we chatted leisurely which resulted in my upgrade of distance to 100KM! Thanks Andrew! *grin* But before continuing, here's a marvelous video put up by Andrew and his team which describes this run.

After battling through Kuching Marathon which was a rather "hard" run for my body where recovery was a little slow, my aim for Penang Ultra was just to complete the run without any injuries or fatigue.  I even chose to wear the Saucony Ride 7, a higher profile more cushion shoe compared to my usual just to protect and pamper my legs. And this will also be my first implementation of the MAF method in an ultra distance after a very successful result at the marathon distance.

I journeyed up to Penang together with Jason and Yik Yee in the latter's brothers car on Friday noon arriving at Bukit Mertajam just in time for dinner with Jason's parents. Dinner was simple but yet awesome at the famous river fish stall. Highlight was when Uncle Tan ordered steam patin fish and when I am able to eat the fatty part, it will mean it's really FRESH! No fishy smell. Had a satisfying dinner before we returned to the hotel to rest. Instead, I watched Star Wars on the TV till it ended at midnight before I went sleep. Oops...

Had a reasonably good 9 hours of sleep. Could be better if the hotel's pillow isn't that high and firm though! Went across the street with Yik Yee for "wan tan" noodle breakfast as recommended by Jason's parents before we checked out from the hotel joining them for lunch at a nearby food court. Local favorites like char kuey teow, popiah, rojak and refreshing ambra juice was ordered. We then adjourned back to Jason's house to rest before heading over to the island at 3PM where we rendezvous with Dr Wong at Esplanade, Padang Kota. Collected our race kit and it's to City Bayview Hotel to rest while waiting for dinner time.

Dinner was a simple plate of fried rice at Padang Kota. It was then to check in  our halfway point essentials and to have ourselves registered in. However, due to lack of info, we left our race gear back at the hotel. Luckily, it was pretty near as we headed back. Fast forwarding, once everything is good to go, we hung around the start area to catch up with friends like CP, Ewegene, Zijill and some others.

With Zijill who will embark on her first ultra distance.

The race was schedule d to start at 9PM together with the 84KM distance, but however Chief Minister arrived only at 9PM.  The race only got underway about 10 minutes later after a short speech by him. The first task for the runners is to go through the busy street of Georgetown safely. Though the traffic police did a good job in manning the traffic flow, it was still up to the runners to navigate through safely. My blinkers were already turned on but not my headlamp was the area was brightly lighted. And once we arrive at the Jelutong Highway, we ran on the motor lanes before to the inner pavements.

I settled into a very comfortable pace, too comfortable for some I guess. It was just about average 145 beats per minute for my heart rate. It's a long distance to go and hence I thought of starting extremely comfortably to conserve energy and strength. Besides, this is my first time using the MAF method on this distance. I arrived comfortable at the first check point at Queensbay Mall. Took a gel here and refilled my bottle before I continued on to the second Penang Bridge via Batu Maung. A little scary here with constructions around and we had to run on the open road again. It was not until arriving at the industrial park that things got better.

I was till feeling comfortable here albeit rather lonely. I was thinking back about my run at Titi where I ran together with Susanah. We had each other for company and this time, I seriously miss it. I needed to think of something and the thoughts of those moments filled my mind as my legs moved. Somewhat of a motivational push.

Everything went well till the half marathon distance. The stretch here along the Batu Maung village is filled with construction sites and at certain stretches, there was no running lane. We just had to simply run hoping that vehicles will be able to see us and to move away. I was running my own pace when this runner caught up with me. He was following me so closely and fearing for his safety, I tried to move inwards only to kick the plastic barricade in the process. I came to a total stop as it hurt and this broke my running momentum. I continued walking trying to shake off the pain and slowly from there, I continued to run. And shortly after that incident, Zijill, Lai Ling and Vincent caught up. Together we, ran towards the second check point where David and Dr. Wong too caught up.

Andrew was there and I unwinded a little while having my first pack of jerky before resuming. It was run walk from now onward as legs began to feel stiff. Things began to become interesting at about 32KM as we attack the climbs there. It was so similar to the Inchanga climb at Comrades. And not only that, the road was leaning to one side. I literally walked up the climb together with Foo and had a great time chatting along with him before resuming my run at the top at Kampung Genting. From there, it was all downhill to the third check point in a school at Jalan Sungai Nipah.

With Foo climbing towards Kampung Genting.

Sean and Vivien was there supporting and snapping photos. I spent a little longer time here to have my legs stretch and massage. Siaw Hua was here too but she look battered. One after another, my friends like Yen Erl, Zhen Qi and Renee started arriving. I left the checkpoint walking while munching on my crackers. It was already 1AM plus and I was feeling sleepy. I needed to get to the next checkpoint for my can of Red Bull was there. But the problem was, this is the longest stretch at 15KM long. And not only that, it was dark, smelly and flat. I started alone but midway through, I was joined by Yen Erl and Zhen Qi. We did not run together until at about 45KM where we ran together till we finally arrived at the halfway point which is also the fourth check point at Jalan Sungai Rusa, once again in a school.

Our friends Jason, Zheng Yang and Alexa was there to help us out. Seng Heng who had called it a day was also there and he prepared a cup of noodles of me. Thank you so much Seng Heng! I had to eat and eat I did. Had some watermelon and cola too. The Red Bull energy drink I mentioned earlier was filled into my front bottle with some ice to keep it cold and diluted. It was a long rest and a moment of relieve for my swollen trapezius as I removed my backpack for the first time. I only resumed the journey when Yen Erl and Zhen Qi did. It was a long climb towards the Teluk Bahang dam and their company is much appreciated. We walked together in the darkness with only our head lamps and blinkers. Traffic was almost none and the only sound was dogs barking, our foot steps and sometimes the sound of water gushing. And fast forwarding to the top of the climb, we started our run descending to the dam. A few rain drops came but it did not help much. Zhen Qi was strong running downwards but as clumsy as I am, I took precautions. At one point, Yen Erl scream as she pulled a muscle. We stopped hoping it wasn't anything serious and was glad it wasn't, at least at that moment of time.

We finally arrived at the dam's jetty where a number of supporters and ambulance was there. We though it was the checkpoint but was told it wasn't. We were utterly disappointed that we had to run for another kilometer or so to reach there. Not having any choice, we continued on and soon got to the Teluk Bahang municipal hall.A quick refuel and off again we went, this time along the dangerous stretch of Batu Feringgi.

Dawn began to break and the morning traffic started. We had to share our running lane together with the traffic and it was the Rapid Penang bus that Jamie told me about that I fear most. I kept my blinkers on even though the sun is up. And surprisingly, like a solar panel absorbing the energy from the sun, I began to feel strong again. Both the girls asked me to go ahead and I did. But as the heat and dry wind came, my energy too subsided and both of them caught up again. I just wanted to get to the next check point then hence I pushed on and finally arrived. And here, I thought the organizers wanted to torture us as the checkpoint was located below a slope! Spent a little longer here than expected to relieve those sore muscles. My left trapezius was in no-man's land but I didn't want to know too much about it hence kept my back pack on.

I continued alone and the next task was to get to Gurney Drive. It was getting really warm and I started splashing myself with water from my front 2 bottles to keep my temperature down. At Tanjung Bungah, I spotted a drive-thru Starbucks and at that moment of time, I almost went in to get myself a frappucino but I did not. We were directed into Straits Quay and this was a nice place to run. However, this also increased the distance! I spotted a fellow runner name Pang sitting along the roadside. I told him to start walking and not just sit down for it's going to be even tougher to restart. He took my advice and started walking.

Exiting the Straits Quay area, I could see Gurney Drive and I pushed forward till arriving at the roundabout there. Seow Fung and Shannon was there to welcome me as this is the point of no return for the 100KM runners. From here, it;s the journey to the dreaded Penang Hill. Yes they are serving coconut drink up there but I told Shannon that even Gurney Drive has plenty of it! Hahaha...

I walked till Youth Park before resuming my run till the entrance to Penang Hill. Supporters and marshals were there as they welcome the runners. I ran up the first 100M or so before I realised that it is impossible to run. It was so STEEP that even by standing still, the body felt like tumbling backwards. Knowing it was impossible to run, I took out my second pack of crackers and started munching away. However, my taste buds were gone and it was so dry that I decided to ut them away. I met CP about 1KM into the climb and he reminded me it was a total 5KM climb. I've got another 4KM to go!

I climb and climb and climb and found a runner name Alan at the midway point. All his fingers were swollen probably due to blood flowing there. He wanted to quit and hence I flagged down a cyclist to ask him notify the volunteers below before I continued. Shorty later, a group of teenagers who are on their way up for picnic asked what was I doing. Told them about the race, and they gave me a bottle of isotonic drink. I was really grateful to them for I need something sweet at that time. This also helped me propel step after step as I caught up with Goh and Foo. And as we move closer to the top with about a kilometer or perhaps shorter to go, the terrain became slightly flatter and this is where I finally met Yik Yee. We were both so tired that we can only say "See you at the finish"! But as friends, this short conversation meant a lot to us.

I finally arrived at the viewing deck within the cut-off time. But the checkpoint wasn't there. Instead, its located 300M inwards! Another joke for the runners! Headed there, got our numbers check in before returning to the viewing deck for our well deserved coconut drink. As there is no cut-off time from here onwards with the exception of the final 18 hours, I took the opportunity to rest long here as I have about 3 hours to complete the remaining 15KM or so. It was doable! 

And just when I wanted to restart my journey down, Hailwa called out to me! I was really surprise to see her. She was a customer who then became a friend back at Titi this year. She apparently was there for holiday and what a surprise for the both of us indeed. We chatted a little before I restarted my journey alone. As I am pretty clumsy while descending, I was caught up by Alan who wanted to quit earlier. Was pretty surprise he continued though but welcome his company as we chatted and walked together. Soon Yen Erl caught up too and this is where both of us kept each other company. We arrived at the foot of the hill safely and spotted Zhen Qi ahead. We caught up with her at Youth Park and all 3 of us, reunited again push till Gurney Drive only to be broken up again by the traffic light. Zhen Qi went ahead while Yen Erl and myself was stuck while waiting for the lights to turn green.

Painful descend.

At the final stretch with Yen Erl.

At the final check point at Gurney Drive, it was about 5KM that stands in our way. We had about 2 hours and it was certainly more than enough. With Yen Erl and Poh Chye, we walked the entire Gurney Drive till Poh Chye decided to run along from the Northam Towers. Myself and Yen Erl only decided to start running from Citibank onwards. And we did just that till seeing the finish line at Esplanade.  Vivien and other supporters were there but we could not get to the finish although we can see it. We had to run around the field which is about another 400M to 500M or so! We walked around it with Chee Kin only to resume running at the final stretch. Holding hands, we ran the finishing chute and completed the run side by side in 17:31:26 hours!

Finishing it together with Chee Kin and Yen Erl!

One for the album with Yen Erl, Chee Kin and Zhen Qi.

Hung out at the race site to rest the tired body and legs while catching up with the others. Poor Yik Yee hurt his right knee and had difficulties walking. And when everyone has left, Jason drove us back to his house at Bukit Mertajam where his parent help Yik Yee out. Although I am proud of his achievement, it was certainly not a nice scene to witness a friend in pain.A light snack to replenish the energy and off we started our journey back to KL.

A very tough 100KM and frankly, I underestimated it. I even thought I am able to complete it in 15 hours or so! The route profile with the exception of Penang HIll was a little misleading. There were actually lots of hidden small climbs along the way. Coupled with a very humid weather, it made things even tougher. It was a lonely run especially the first half of the run as my mind was set elsewhere. The MAF method only lasted till the half marathon distance before the rest is up to my own survival mode. But I was glad to complete this very tough race without any injuries and met new friends along the way. And to Zhen Qi and Yen Erl, my grateful thanks for the company. And congratulations to Zijill for completing her maiden ultra distance!

A nice touch. Finisher's belt buckle.

The inaugural Penang Ultra despite being well organised is not without its flaws. And to list them down will be:

- The lack of information on both event site and Facebook
- Information on race day itself were not clear cut
- Long queue to have our mandatory gears check
- Lack of toilets at the race venue
- Food served at check points not really suitable.
- Checkpoints were under man powered and some volunteers were not entirely friendly.Was given a weird look by one of them when I asked him to refill my bottle which he asked me to do it my own.

But on the positive side:

- The team of Andrew, Seow Fung and Shannon has put up a relentless work to make this happen and they certainly deserves praises for it
- Good job by the traffic police in trying their best in manning the traffic flow
- Volunteers and marshals along the way for manning the checkpoints and critical junctions
- Strict check on mandatory gear and cut-off

And before ending this entry, my sincere thanks to the following:

- My parents for helping out back at work while I traveled or this run
- Jason, Zheng Yang, Alexa, Seng Heng for the support and care given 
- Jason's parent for their simple but yet awesome hospitality
- Yik Yee for the companionship and for borrowing his brother's car
- Dr Wong for allowing us to use his room at City Bayview to rest 
- Roy and Susanah back in KL, Chee Kong at Aberdeen and Junie at Vienna for their kind morale support  
- My friends, CP, Foo, Goh, David, Hong Lan, Renee, Lai Ling, Zijill and many more whom I met along the way. 
- Andrew, Seow Fung, Shannon and the entire team for a job well done!

* All photos here credited to the respective photographers. Many thanks to them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kuching Marathon 2014...

Event: Kuching Marathon 2014
Venue: Padang Merdeka, Kuching, Sarawak
Date: 17 August 2014
Time: 3.00am
Distance: 42.195KM (42.25KM by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Type A5
By Frank

As planned, the inaugural Kuching Marathon will be my first trial to get back to my marathon form found in year 2009. A mission to try to run my second sub 4 hours marathon starts with this. And with the campaign launch for next year's Comrades Marathon just few days ago stating that all runners will have to re-qualify again, including all finisher's of the 2014 edition, there was an extra twist to this run. though not important for me at all as I am pretty confident that a sub 5 hours marathon is achievable and that seeding is not a priority for me anymore.

I flew Malaysia Airlines and am proud of it.

I registered for the Kuching Marathon together with the accommodation at Merdeka Palace Hotel and Suites pretty early. However, I forgotten about my flight and only managed to purchase it with less than 2 months to go albeit expensive it was. I flew Malaysia Airlines on Saturday early noon and got to Kuching at mid noon. Upon landing, the MAS stewardess said "Welcome to Kota Kinabalu" which shocked everyone! But she quickly apologize where everyone then burst into laughter. There was a huge welcome banner for the runners and that was a nice touch coming from the organisers. This was my second time visiting Kuching (the first about 10 years back for Andersen's system migration) and the city was still a clean one. I proceed to the hotel immediately and upon checking in, walked to Plaza Merdeka which was nearby to collect my race pack which was a ll done within 5 minutes. For those who came earlier wasn't so lucky as I've heard of the chaotic collection. Met up with Mohan, Foo, Vivien and some other friends before I went to have my very late lunch at Secret Recipe. Yeaps, all the way to Kuching and I was eating shepherds pie here!

Welcome to Kuching!

Returned to the hotel to have my gears sorted out and to rest a little while waiting for Wong to arrive. Yes, we are sharing the room together and will be good to catch up with a fellow Comrades runner. He arrived just before 6pm, and we soon return back to Plaza Merdeka for a simple dinner at the food court before adjourning back to the hotel for rest.

I had a pretty miserable 4 hours or so sleep as I kept waking up in the middle due to noise coming from the field as the race organisers were playing movies on the big screen into the night. I personally find that this was inconsiderate considering knowing that many runners will be staying around the area. At least, keep the volume to a minimal! Not a good start to the morning as I felt tired and my left trapezius is still pretty uncomfortable. However, all my pre-race rituals went smoothly and my meal was a cup of soy coffee, Energade bar from Comrades this year and 2 vegetarian "foo chow" biscuit. Together with Wong, we only left our room at 2.30am as the race start is just below. Managed to find a good spot among the approximately 1,400 starters for the full marathon. And at 3am sharp, we were flagged off!

For this race, I was training under the Phil Maffetone method and hence this will be my first time implementing it in a race. My job is to maintain myself under the aerobic mode with a heart rate of about 145bpm to 150bpm for  as long as I can before going into anaerobic. And to help achieve this, even my diet changed.

I settled into my race pace shortly after starting which was a little humid from the earlier drizzle. It was easy to navigate as the roads were wide enough to accommodate the number of runners. Tony spotted me and we chatted a little before we went at our own pace. And as usual, I had my bottle of GU Roctane Brew with me to hydrate me during the early stages. As we exited the city into the village area, the path grew a bit darker as the lamp post were erected further apart from each other but I was relief that the road conditions were fine. And the good thing about running in the village at the wee hours is the fresh air and not to mention that  was surprised that the villagers are awake to cheer us on!

My heart rate was good and that eventually contributed to my pace. I was "auto cruising" well and my strides and cadence was consistent. Indeed a good sign from my training and I eventually arrived at the 10KM mark just under 52 minutes. I continued with my rhythm slowly sipping on my own drink at every 2KM till I finally finish it at the 15KM mark.

I started taking only water from the stations before downing my first GU Roctane gel upon arriving at the 21KM halfway point which I arrived in about 1.50 hours. Still in aerobic mode, I caught up with Lai Ling and we moved together at certain stretches. It was also here that a few but very mild climbs welcomed the runners which was rather a welcome sight for me. The urge to pee came at about 25KM. That's also when Jessica came into the picture and was hammering the pace. I told myself not be distracted by others and carried on till the 27KM mark when I went to use the portable toilet to relieve myself. I wasted a minute or 2 in there and found difficulty in resuming my pace later. It was here that I started to struggle and by the time I hit 30KM, I finally entered the anaerobic mode.

I took my second GU Roctane gel here and also increased slightly my intake of isotonic drinks at each water station. My pace dropped hovering just slightly above 6 minutes pace as I shouldered on passing Raymond at the 32KM mark. At this point, some runner which I do not want to mention the name started with his fartlek session with me slowing down just ahead of me. Just like driving, he can actually just slow down at the "slower" lane instead of the "faster" lane. Feeling annoyed by his actions, I just waited patiently for him to take off or slow down. He eventually took off.

Dawn began to break and I was loosing time slowly. But I kept running and eventually heard a familiar voice. It was Yim and he mentioned a sub 4 is doable at this pace. Yes, I know but I need to keep it at the current pace to do so. As we were pacing each other, a short but steep climb appeared at 37.5KM. Although I was caught by surprise, I still attacked it well only to watch it out a little on the other side going down. But it was here that I passed the "fartleker".

It was soon into the city again and Yim broke free. I grabbed a Red Bull energy drink at 38KM and was hoping the effects of it will kick in as soon as possible. Soon it did and I found my rhythm again as I chased my time down. I was reunited with Yim and a quick glance at my watch says it all, we are both under the 4 hours window. However at the final Kilometer, Yim gave a wake-up call to go for it fearing that the distance may be longer. It made sense to me and thus went for it like a rhino charging. The final turn appeared and the finish arch was there to greet and I eventually crossed it in 3:57:25 hours, my first local sub 4 hours marathon, and a second in my running career.

With Yim after the finish. Pic courtesy of Zas.

My second sub 4 hours marathon. Can't ask for more.

Waited for Yim to arrive and to thank him personally as I hung out at the finish area and took some photos with friends before returning to the hotel to clean up before proceeding to the airport. The legs feels ok and I am certainly convinced now that the Phil Maffetone method that I was following certainly does work. All I have to do now is to improve on it for the long term. But all in all, I would still like to thank my friends who have been supporting and training together with me and also to Yim for the push at the final 5KM.

My race gear that got me through. And a South African Buff.

The Kuching Marathon is certainly a run away success for its inaugural event. Distance marker at every Kilometer, ample water stations, the cheers from the locals and supporters and good traffic control (except for the final 2 Kilometers or so) were good for a local event. The only downside was probably the news that a runner passed away, the chaotic race pack collection and the RM5 luggage deposit charges apparently for some charity cause (note: charity is not something about forcing people to give).

Overall, I am happy and satisfied with my result as I thought it was over even before starting upon waking up feeling tired. Honestly, it came a bit unexpected to achieve a sub 4 hours timing by turning the focus from ultra marathon to marathon distance with only just 6 weeks of training. And also, this has earned me a D seeding for next year's Comrades Marathon hence it's a double joy indeed! Till my next trial...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Be Part of 90 Years of History. Bamba Iqhaza!

For immediate release 
The Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) launched its campaign for the 90th Comrades Marathon today (Thursday, 14 August 2014). Members of the media along with South Africa’s top runners, sporting personalities and stakeholders converged on Johannesburg to be part of the celebratory launch of the world’s biggest and oldest ultra-marathon.

The 2015 campaign is centered on the CMA’s vision of an all-inclusive Comrades Marathon, with the slogan: ‘Be Part of It - Bamba Iqhaza’. CMA General Manager, Chris Bruwer who unveiled the campaign says, ‘We invite every Comrades runner, stakeholder, volunteer and supporter to be a part of this iconic race in one way or another.’

Bruwer adds, ‘There are numerous ways to get involved and participate in the camaraderie while uniting the nation through this iconic event. Please visit our website to see how you can be a part of it.’

The 90th edition of the race will be run on Sunday, 31 May 2015. The ‘up-run’ will start at the Durban City Hall at 05h30 and end 12 hours later at the Oval Cricket Stadium in Pietermaritzburg, covering a distance of 87km.
1 September 2014 is the opening date for entries into the 2015 Comrades Marathon. The entry period will close on 30 November 2014 or as soon as the special entry cap of 23,000 has been reached. Prospective entrants are encouraged to get their entries in early so as to avoid disappointment.

Entry fees for the 2015 Comrades Marathon are as follows:

• Local Entries : R 380.00
• Rest of Africa : R 600.00
• International : R2000.00

South African runners will be eligible for the ‘early bird’ entry fee of R350 if their entry is received before 30 September 2014. The regular South African entry fee of R380 will kick in on 1 October 2014 until the entry process is closed.

Runners can enter as follows:

• online via the Comrades Marathon website:;
• by posting their completed entry form with proof of payment to the CMA Office in Pietermaritzburg:
P.O. Box 100621, Scottsville, 3209;
• by handing in their completed entry form together with payment at the CMA office in Pietermaritzburg.

Entry forms will be available at local running clubs, provincial sporting federations and the CMA; as well as selected qualifying races which the Comrades Team will be attending from September to November.

Qualifying for the 2015 Comrades Marathon will be applicable from 1 August 2014 till 4 May 2015. Runners are advised that the 2014 Comrades Marathon will not be an automatic qualifier for next year’s race.

Race Director Rowyn James says, ‘The reason for this is two-fold. We want to encourage runners to be fit and healthy for Race Day. Further, we want to support all other road-running races in the country, especially the Comrades Marathon qualifying races by driving Comrades runners to participate in those running events.’

The Substitution window period will be from 1 – 21 April 2015.

In a first for South African road-running, R1.5-million is up for grabs to the First Man and Woman respectively who break the current male and female up-run records thereby making the Comrades Marathon by far the most lucrative race on the local athletics scene. Leonid Shvetsov holds the male up-run record of 5:24:47 for his 2008 win while Elena Nurgalieva’s 2006 victory in a time of 6:09:24 stands as the female up-run record.

The first man and woman to cross the finish line will receive R375,000 each. The total prize money for the 2015 Comrades Marathon is R2.600,000; in addition to the respective R1.5-million incentives for the man and woman should they break the record.

CMA Chairman, Macdonald Chitja says: ‘We are pleased to unveil our 2015 Comrades Marathon campaign and invite the nation to be a part of it. The 90th edition of this world-famous ultra-marathon promises to be the best one yet.’

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Return To 4 - First Trial...

By Frank

It's been 2 months since my major race of the year at the Comrades Marathon. While I did not slow down from there unlike previous years, I continued from where I left off, but instead focused on speed and strength.

My next focus will not be ultra distance but instead reverting back to the marathon distance where like the entry's title suggest, am trying to get back to my best back in year 2009. I clocked my best and only sub 4 hours marathon back then before getting injured and then moving to longer distances.

First trial at Kuching Marathon 2014.

Training has been good but I don't think it will be enough to get me through this weekend at the Kuching Marathon in achieving a sub 4 hours timing. Perhaps close to it will be realistic but I will still definitely give it a shot. As long I don't get injured, I've nothing to lose and this will only be my first trial of a total 3. I will have other chances coming up which are more important so this will be good to see where I stand now, like a benchmark.

Training for this for the past 2 month with speed being gained at the MPSJ track through intervals and also some tempo runs with Jamie, Nic and the rest at the USJ route. As for strength, it was built at the trails of FRIM which I really enjoyed with Jason and occasionally Hong Lan, Renee, Yik Yee and Wai Hong. On average, I am running at about 55KM a week, a much reduced distance compared to my Comrades training. And not forgetting the resistance weight training at the gym too. I do feel good from all the training but I am hoping my slightly swollen left trapezius will subside in time or at least a little.

This weekend will see the Saucony Type A5 summoned back for active duty. My current fastest shoe in the Saucony stable, hope it will somehow, in a way help me achieve what I set out to do. I am not thinking much on the Comrades seeding for next year too, but should I managed to run a good time in improving the seeding, it will be a bonus.

Come "Get Some" at Kuching!

And yes, I know I've the Penang Ultra 100KM and Craze Ultra 161KM coming up in the next 2 and 4 weeks time. Though my current focus is on speed, I am banking on my fitness gained during the Comrades Marathon to lift and get me through these 2 runs. And I guess there will be a lot in my head to help me too. Gotta sort out my life!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saucony Virrata 2...

By Frank

The Saucony Virrata 2 (V2), the only zero drop shoes from Saucony after the discontinuation of the Saucony Hattori continues to do what it does best, to perform and to help strengthen the feet. My longest run in the first generation was a good 77KM while it also help me achieve some pretty good timings at certain runs. As the second generation did not change much from the first, it's better to go back in time to have a read on the first generation first over HERE.

The Saucony Virrata 2.

My first Virrata lasted me 488KM worth of running while the second pair at about 400KM (some uneven wear and tear on my right pair). Pretty good when comparing value versus cost. With the same outsole on the V2, the durability should be the same. 24 EVA+ pods build on a 18mm GRID midsole foam, the V2 retains the same build and ride over its predecessor, something which I am glad Saucony did. And yes, it maintained at the same weight of 184 grams too . A "barefoot" ride with just enough cushioning and protection is how I describe it. Deep flex grooves allows super flexibility and giving freedom of movement to the feet. The only downside probably from all these goodness is that the grooves tent to pick up small pebbles along the run, probably also caused by our dirty roads!

Comparing my second pair worn out Virrata compared to the Virrata 2.

The upper is where the V2 sees most the changes from the the first. But luckily, only minor tweaks
 which "almost" did not affect anything at all. The upper is now replaced with a new mono mesh. I did not experience any problems at all with original Virrata, no tearing what so ever, but Saucony chose to replace it with an entirely new one which they claim is stronger and more breathable. Frankly speaking, I do not feel any difference and I do personally feel that the original does look nicer and "neater" as the newer mesh looks a bit rough in appearance. The internal bootie remains which give a sock like feel to the feet and besides it, hold the tongue together.

One major aspect I noticed is that there is additional seams not seen on the original. Don't be mistaken though as the internal is still seamless. It just makes me wonder the purpose of it on both lateral and middle side at the mid span of the shoe. Not that I can feel any purpose of it as there was no structural feel added to it. Perhaps FlexFilm can help in this department and save weight at the same time?

Unnecessary seams.

Close up on the Virrata and Virrata 2 mesh. Notice the difference in eyelets too.

The next minor change will be the eyelets. The eyelets of the original Virrata is built as individual knots which on top of it, acts as a reflective too. Saucony chose to revert back to normal eyelets design found on general shoes like the Kinvara which sacrifices the reflective. Perhaps not as important as reflective on the back of the shoe, but it does help in a way to have reflective at the front to have incoming vehicles see the runner under low light conditions and hence this will be sorely miss. 

And finally, the biggest change or shall I just say an additional feature will be the inclusion of a plastic heel counter to support the Achilles region. The original heel counter on the Virrata was soft which I kind of like it. However, there were feedback saying that it causes Achilles discomfort. Therefore, the new TPU heel counter is a nice touch for those affected by the original and I welcome it for it may help in going the distance.

The new TPU plastic heel counter in grey.

And  as usual, the V2 comes available in a wide array of colours, most of them absolutely stunning to look at which gives the shoe its fast looks. And  foresee that I will continue to enjoy this shoe very much like its predecessor especially in fast runs whether during trainings or races.

The Saucony Virrata 2 is now available at Running Lab, Stadium and selected RSH and Studio R stores nationwide retailing at a recommending selling price of RM299.00.

Disclaimer. The Saucony Virrata 2 reviewed here is given as part of my sponsorship program with Saucony Malaysia.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Saucony Kinvara 5...

By Frank

The Saucony Kinvara 3 (K3) propelled me to my second Comrades finish in year 2013 and the adventure did not stop there. The Kinvara 4 (K4) then quickly become my training shoe for my third Comrades and also at the same time bringing me to the finish line at the Titi 100KM 2014 and also 90KM at the Twilight Ultra Challenge 2014.

The Saucony Kinvara 5 with my Comrades bronze medal.

My "love" affair with the Saucony Kinvara series became stronger over the two years and now the relationship continues with the fifth generation, and it became stronger than ever when it helped me to my third and best Comrades finish ever! And 2 weeks later, helped me to complete yet another 90KM at the Back 2 Endurance 2014 earning a third placing! All in the same shoe, the Saucony Kinvara 5 (K5)!

Lateral view of the Kinvara 5.

Medial view of the Kinvara 5.

The Kinvara series has retain much of its DNA since the first generation. Still at 4mm heel to toe drop with stack height of 22mm versus 18mm while retaining the same weight of 216 grams for size US8.5, minor tweaks has been made to make turn the good shoe into a great shoe. While many agreed that the K3 was the best among all with the K4 suffered some durability problem on the mesh, I must say that it isn't what you think until you try the K5!

I personally enjoyed the K3 very much with the first pair enjoying approximately 700KM running distance before I retired it. The second pair which was my race shoe for Comrades Marathon 2013 went through about 300KM before I decided to immortalise it due to the contribution it made towards my big race. No tearing issue and wear and tear of the outsole was reasonably good. The K4 however, though as enjoyable and performed pretty similarly to the K3, yes suffered from some tearing issues on the toe box's mesh. Mine started to show after hitting 400KM.

Across the generations. The fifth, fourth and the third.

Saucony was quick to respond to the problem with the K4 and that gave birth to the K5. The mono mesh used in previous generations is now replaced by a new stronger but yet light and flexible mesh. And yes, it is very breathable too and one does not need to touch it to know its new. It looks different too and in a good way as it gave the shoe a very clean look. Some minor re-positioning of the FlexFilm material is made to strengthen certain high wear and tear areas without making any sacrifices in weight and flexibility too.

Closer look at the new mono mesh and the re-positioning of the FlexFilm.

Hidden under the new mesh at the mid foot region is a new system call the Pro-Lock which is made by some plasticity spandex material, first introduced in Saucony's track and field footwear. As the name suggest, it's a system that runs at the sides of the internal bootie of the tongue to lock the foot down in the shoe while we run. And instead of going across the foot, it goes under it and it felt good as it dynamically move with the foot's movement secured by the laces.

The Pro-Lock system.

Next, the minimal collar is now plush with memory foam padding call RunDry all around it. Gone are the days when I had to take precaution in wearing mini crew socks to minimise the chances of chaffing at the Achilles region, The plushness of the new material is soft to the touch and grabs my ankle gently without any irritating issues. And I must say, this is probably the best upgrade in the "Feel" department!

RunDry pampers the Achilles.

Now with the upper and cosmetic department heading towards a positive change, next will be the outsole. The top of the range PowerGrid foam continues to cushion off the impact. And while I had no durability issues on the K3 and K4's outsole, Saucony decided to add additional rubbers on the lateral side of the mid foot area. Not that I can feel any difference but perhaps the outsole can last longer. One thing that I do feel or rather say hear the difference will be the suction sound from K3 and K4 whenever I walk on mosaic tiles. Gone is the sound from K5 and I suspect is due from the tread design of the rubbers which literary gives more traction especially on tile pavements.

The Kinvara 5 outsole (bottom) compared to the Kinvara 3 and 4 (top).

Many including Peter Larson aka RunBlogger has said that the K5 is the best Kinvara ever made. While I've not worn the K1 and K2 before as I find them too soft, I do believe Saucony is heading at the right direction with the K5 and it is much a superior shoe over the K3 and K4 and I am starting to see that some changes are made based on the racing heritage especially the Type A series. Hey.. After all it's the shoe that smashed by Comrades time!

The Saucony Kinvara 5 in a wide arrays of colours should be available nationwide at authorised Saucony dealers such as Running Lab, Stadium, Studio R and Royal Sporting House beginning September 2014 and will retail at a recommended selling price off RM399.00. And there may be even a special water resistant version call the RunShield series coming to our shores too.

Disclaimer - The pair of Saucony Kinvara 5 reviewed here is a complimentary media sample pair given as part of my sponsorship program with Saucony Malaysia.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Why Run the 90th Comrades...

By Frank

It's been 2 months since the Comrades Marathon 2014, and now we are just another month away before registration opens on 1 September 2014 for next year's edition. And to make things even more interesting and perhaps more memorable when the day comes, the Comrades Marathon 2015 will mark the 90th edition of this great run.

The 90th edition of The Ultimate Human Race will take place on 31 May 2015. It will be an "Up' run after many speculations that it will be a "Down" due to the anniversary factor. Therefore, it will be run from Durban to Pietermartizburg with an official distance of 87.96KM.

While most of my friends do prefer the "Down" run, I personally favour the "Up" run instead for it's my strength. Not being light weight or what so ever, but my legs and running style are more accustom to it. I don't generally run faster, but I am able to last longer on it compared to the opposite direction where I am needed to take extra care of my legs when descending.  However not to be confused with the word "Up", the run does consist of a lot of descends too and it will be a rolling affair. Not forgetting the climb at Inchanga and the notorious Polly Shortts.

So what is so special about the 90th edition? Honestly speaking, I do not have the details just yet. I've receive no marketing materials yet but knowing that it is the Comrades Marathon which is already special and with its rich history, the 90th edition is going to be a blast. With 18,000 caps each year, we may see an increase to over 20,000 this time. A run being a run, there is nothing much it can be done but perhaps special performances and extra cheers and supports along the race course will be implemented to commemorate this anniversary run. Then there will be definitely other specials events prior and after the race itself like perhaps a bigger expo, pasta parties, after parties and so on.

The 90th edition will also mark the third year I am taking the role of the international ambassador for my home country, Malaysia. Though my ambassadorship for the past 2 years has been a roller coaster ride especially where I had to witness 2 very close friends of mine not able finish the race, I still somehow manage to pick up my pieces and pull it through to share the story of this amazing run. Personally I do feel the amazing sense of achievement whenever I see my fellow countrymen stand on the start line of the race each year, and even though my 2 close friends did not finish their respective race, I am still VERY PROUD of them for taking up the challenge. They tried, and I know they did and that certainly shows the true Comrades spirit within them. I do not know if they will attempt the race again next year as I leave it to their own hands, but for sure, I do hope they will and that I will be there (I hope) to guide them together with coach yet again.

Anyhow, although it may sound too fast, but myself and Chee Kong are already planning our itinerary for next year's trip. We do have a few plans in mind but nothing is firm yet. But at least the mains are being finalized as I wrote this entry.

Therefore, get your credit card ready, mark down the date and time of 1 September 2015, 6am local Malaysian time and head on to when the registration opens for the 90th edition for the Comrades Marathon. Will we see a double digit figure from Team Malaysia standing on the race start line on 2015? I do hope so. And to those who have been asking and showing interest (you know who you are), think no further for I personally think that you are ready for this!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remembering MH17...

By Frank

When  Roy delivered the news to me last Thursday, 17 July 2014 regarding the crash of a Malaysia Airlines flight, I was totally shock! I was driving back home and was caught in the jam at Persiaran Surian after having durian with Jason and Soon Chung. I ask him where was the flight from and heading to and he told me Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and instantly at that time I knew it was flight MH17! Yes, for some reason, I do know this flight number by heart but at that time, I was hoping the news wasn't true. I quickly got home and turned on my television and saw the news. My heart sank and I was really sad when the news became a reality to me and upon seeing the images, it was heartbreaking. 

A week later, just yesterday, a vigil was held at Empire Shopping Gallery at Subang not only to remember flight MH17, but also the missing flight MH370. I was there to remember those who perish and to give my silence support to those affected. But as the ceremony was about to start at 9.30pm, I was told by Chee Kong of another aviation accident at Taiwan where a local domestic flight crash landed at Penghu claiming 47 lives. Indeed sad for there are just too many aviation accidents within this year.

Malaysian Airline flight MH17 meant a lot to me. I wasn't on board it nor do I know those who was. But it holds a special place in my heart, something which I only can understand myself. Today, MH17 is retired as a mark of respect and the duty taken over by flight MH19. Will continue to fly with Malaysian Airlines when needed for its a homegrown airlines, one that gives us fellow Malaysians a warmth touch to the heart.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Feeling 2009...

By Frank

2014 has been smooth sailing so far, at least in my running form. Though the year started off with just trainings and being pretty quiet in the race scene, with half the year behind now and with only 4 races in the bag with Comrades Marathon being the highlight of it, I do feel I am on a roll now.

Titi100 in February 2014 was done in a pretty comfy pace and while there was a little difficulty at the Twilight Ultra Challenge in March 2014, it was both fruitful enough to contribute to my best performance at the Comrades Marathon this year.

Comrades Marathon will always be my annual Class A+ race and hence everything will be paid attention to it. And after returning from a very successful one, one month ago, I am not stopping as where it is this time which was the mistake I made last year. I took 2 weeks rest and was back running again, completing another 90KM at the Back 2 Endurance. And from there, I continue on with the momentum and hope to bring this forward to some next races I  have on my calendar starting with Kuching Marathon where I will use it as my seeding race for next year's Comrades before reverting back to ultra distances especially on the illusive 100 miles Craze Ultra.

In terms of running, I am feeling great now, so much similar to the feeling I had back in year 2009 where I ran my fastest marathon at Macau. My one and only sub 4 hours marathon, I certainly hope I am able to do it again this year. It will be pretty impossible to out run my best time, but a sub 4 does sound possible. It has been close to 5 years since I started focusing on ultra distances hence it will be a challenge to build speed to challenge this. Therefore, I restarted with interval sessions, something which I actually did back then and seriously hating it till today. But ever since I returned from South Africa this time, I've somehow unleashed the inner "monster" in me in where being a sadist, my pain threshold somehow increased as I began my own torture. 

With the feeling of 2009 back in me now, I hope I will be able to roll forward from here and to achieve further. But what happened at the end of 2009 that destroyed the momentum with an injury will hopefully not happen this time round as I move towards my fourth Comrades. And whether will I crash and burn whether from injury or from other life event or factors, that remains something yet to be answered.

Monday, June 30, 2014

My Fourth South African Holidays...

By Frank

South Africa here we come!

It was my fourth trip to South Africa for my third Comrades Marathon. This time round, I travelled with Susanah and spent 13 days there, probably one of my shortest trip. My idea was to get there early, this time a week before the race day to settle down and rest up. It was to ease up the jet lag, breathing issues and leg strength before we tackle the big race. However, there is a concern as upon arrival at Durban as I was worried I am not able to fully make use of the available time to bring Susanah around. Durban hasn't a lot of attractions and most are at least long drives away, half a day long to be exact. However, I guess it had to be done as the race was the biggest priority.

As for myself, it didn't go down very well either as I did not recover fully from my cough. It had been a month and although it went away, it returned just before making this trip. And during the course of the trip, I am both grateful and thankful to Susanah for caring for me and providing me with Vitamin C and also to CP for buying all the way from Malaysia some cough lozenges. But anyway, to cut things short, let's get into the details of my holidays there.

Day 1, 26 May 2014
Flight was at 2am on board Emirates. So the plan was to arrive at Susanah's house at 11pm and her dad will drive us to the airport. However as dad was not well, he drove me to her house and I arrived early at 10.30pm and hence I waited. However, there was a little drama as Susanah's main luggage was locked up and the combination code wasn't working. We tried various numbers hoping that we will get lucky but to no avail. Without any solutions, we decided that we shall think about it upon arrival at South Africa.

We left for the airport together with Catherine and Moxie too. Everything went smoothly and upon checking in our luggage, we just hung around till we boarded the plane. Flight was smooth and we treated ourselves to the movies on the entertainment system before arriving at Dubai. It was a 5 hours plus transit there. We shopped for a while for nuts and drinks before finding a spot to rest till our next flight to Durban.

Surprisingly, the flight to Durban was not fully occupied. We finally arrived at King Shaka Airport at Durban at around 5pm. A little drama at the customs as our bags needed to be check and we still can't get Susanah's bag open. Finally, it was decided that we shall use a screwdriver to remove the zipper's latch and that finally worked and we got ourselves cleared.

Proceeded to collect our rented car which was the Nissan Livina before driving to Belaire Suites. Upon arrival at our hotel, a little drama as there was a beggar came begging for money and food immediately after I parked my car. He was crying and even I gave him some money, he wanted more. I couldn't make up what he was saying as it was in Afrikaans but the parking attendant chased him away. Unloaded our luggages and checked in our room at 202, a nice one though not high enough to enjoy the sea view. As we have spent almost a day travelling, decided to just have a simple dinner downstairs at Cafe Jiran before resting up.

Day 2, 27 May 2014
The sun rises as early as at 6.30am and that woke us up pretty instantly. Put on our running shoes and off we went to the North Beach for a run where we ran till the uShaka Marine Park entrance before heading back which gave us a healthy 7KM. A quick sower and it was breakfast, the most anticipated part of our stay at Belaire. It was still as good as my past 3 visits with bacons, scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, waffles, fruits and many more. The only difference this time for me is that we sat at the little garden which was nice and cozy. We certainly had our fill which was like a combination of breakfast and lunch.

Next on the itinerary was to drive to Umlanga Rocks, another beach. Though the sun was a little scorching and warm, it didn't dampen our walk along the beaches walkway which was rather a nice view of the Indian Ocean. Then while on our way back to our car, we stopped by a little craft shop to purchase some gifts before we headed to Gateway, Durban's largest shopping mall I guess. And yes it was huge!

Spotted the Springboks team bus at Umlanga Rocks.

Although the mall was huge, it was still like any typical shopping mall back home. I bought myself a First Ascent jacket hoping to use it for the Vibram HK100 next year. And from Gateway, we headed back to North Beach as we paid a visit to uShaka Marine Walk before heading to Piatto for an early dinner.

We returned to our hotel room early and I was worried. Durban's attraction wasn't a lot and we still had days to kill before the race day. I was worried Susanah was bored and hence tried to look out for places to visit. We found a hiking place call iSithumba near the Valley of 1000 Hills and decided to head there tomorrow and hence we rested early.

Day 3, 28 May 2014
We woke up early again and hence proceeded to North Beach for our 7KM run again before breakfast. Although it's only the second day, I think I can actually go by this lifestyle. Wake up, run, eat, shower and so on. A very carefree life.

Tourism Durban and the Comrades Marathon Association has organised a complimentary trip to Imflonzi National Park for the Comrades ambassadors today. It was certainly a good package for us but I opt to pass on it as I will rather spend time with Susanah., hence it was still according to our own plan.

First stop for today's trip was to a nearby craft market call Victoria Street Market for some local crafts at down to earth prices. I felt I was at Petaling Street there and it's really down to bargaining skills which Susanah was really good at, and I mean REALLY GOOD! I did not buy anything for myself as most were already purchased back during my first trip. However, it was still an eye opener for me and I was glad that we made this stop.

Once done, we set our GPS hoping it will lead us correctly to iSithumba. We drove along part of the Comrades race route for this and finally we got lost in some housing estate where the GPS guided us. Apparently, I think the place was huge hence it was plotted wrongly. Again, my worry came as we search for another place to visit and decided on a private wild life park near to Drummond. And upon arrival, it was sad to know that the park wasn't really attractive and the charges was pretty high. Another plan was needed and hence I brought Susanah to the Comrades Wall of Honour and also halfway point at Drummond before stopping over at The View for lunch or rather tea time while enjoying the view of the Valley of 1000 Hills. I ordered the Bunny Chow. I also brought her to the puzzle store to have some brain "exercise".

Bunny Chow and they are not made of bunnies.

We headed back to Belaire Suites to freshen up before walking over to Sun Coast Casino for dinner at John Dory's Seafood. We then visit the casino to try our hands on the slots machine and we won a few Rands, as in a few cents before heading back to call it a night.

Day 4, 29 May 2014
No morning run today. Instead, it's leg exercise at the race expo for it's the first day. Breakfast as usual and off myself and Susanah went. I initially thought the first day is going to be brisk and easy, but I was wrong. Though there weren't many visitors yet as it was a working Thursday, many of the international runners had already arrived which caused a long queue at the international race pack collection. Mark from the USA and Bruce from Australia, 2 of the most outstanding ambassadors were already there and were busy entertaining and giving out drinks to the others.

It took us almost an hour to collect our race pack and it wasn't an experience that I would like to remember. It was slow as they have trouble locating the race packs and the contents were inconsistent. Nevertheless, I was delighted to have met up with Kai Yuan whom I've met from Facebook first.

With Eric, organisers of the Year to Year 6 Days Circuit Race.

With Allan from New Balance. Sorry but I do not wear NB.

With Saucony South Africa.

Later on, it was shopping time and along it, I've met many of my dear South African friends like Eric, Philip, Allan, Spike, Anthony and Susan. Again, I bought myself an iFitness belt, the same as my previous 2. Can't leave South Africa without it I guess. Then some small gifts from the official Comrades charities like PinkDrive. WildLands and Community Chest. And not forgetting the official merchandise from New Balance which I have to say was disappointing. Susanah herself bought quite a number of things though and she was good in bargaining.

Anthony and Pierre, awesome and a little crazy South African friends.

I opt to pass on the ambassador's run, international meet-up and also the AIMS World Congress Dinner and we stayed on till about 3.30pm before heading to the airport as our friends Cham, CP and Selva are scheduled to arrive around 6pm. And after picking them up, we headed off to Ocean Basket at uShaka Marine Walk for a welcome dinner. Chee Kong and Mei-Ee soon landed safely too and headed to Belaire Suites straight where I met them later for some catching up before resting up as most were tired from all the travelling.

Cham, CP and Selva' arrival at King Shaka Airport.

Selfie with Xi-Ning.

Day 5, 30 May 2014
With the team almost complete now, we headed off for our morning run before the usual breakfast. Durban is now busier and also noisier than before with the arrivals of the runners. Expo was next and while the rest collects their race pack, it was shopping part 2 for myself and Susanah before we headed off to the Comrades Marathon House at Pietermaritzburg.

Team Malaysia's morning beach run.

Spotted Renee and Johann with family at the expo.

At the Comrades Marathon House, it was my pleasure again to meet Sian, the museum curator. Just a short stop here before we started our journey back to Durban via the race route stopping along major landmarks. It was also a preview for the novices. We made a stop at Drummond which was very windy and chilly before a stop at the fame Wall of Honour for some photography session and it was back to Durban from there.

With Sian.

A very windy situation at the Wall of Honour.

A short rest before we headed to Sun Coast Casino again for the Runner's World Pasta Party. As last year we went rather late and had a little difficulty with our seats, this time round we went too early. In fact we were the first to arrive. But this time round, the seats were already allocated and all of us were seated together. We even made sure we were seated with Susan and Caroline who arrived shortly later. The dinner started a little late but this time round, food was served first rather than starting off with the talk. And when the announcement was made, Susanah, Caroline and Chee Kong took the honours of being up at the "podium" for top 3 food grabbers. The food was better than last year that we took a few servings. Some of the food served was cheesy spaghetti and fettuccine, mushroom lasagne, mince beef sauce and potato salad being served. Fruits and dessert came at the closing stage though. And while eating, the famed Dr. Ross Tucker took to the stage with 4 of his speakers from the sports science faculty of University of Cape Town.

At the Runner's World pasta party.

They spoke about training, injuries, bio-mechanics and also the Comrades Marathon which was very interesting especially from Ross himself. We continued with our dinner while they talked and quickly enough, the event came to a close. Susanah approached the physiotherapist for some advise which back fired instead as the reply wasn't something favourable to her. At that time, I really hope it didn't dampen her spirit as we return to our room next to prepare our race gear before turning in.

Day 6, 31 May 2014
Today, the plan was to rest. No Youth Run as per last 2 years and I slept in. The other went for the Park Run though. I slept a little longer and woke up just in time for breakfast with Susanah, Cham and CP. Then we decided to walk over to the expo to have embroidery done on our event tee. Halfway walking, I asked Susanah on whether did we bring our tee and silly us, we left it back in our room hence we got to walk back. Take it as our warm up for tomorrow's race.

We got to the expo and handed in our tee. 2 hours was the waiting time and hence we walk around the expo hoping for some further reduction of price. However, nothing caught my attention and quickly enough, our tee was ready. Walked back to North Beach and settled at Wimpy for an easy lunch before heading back to the room to get our gears prepared and to rest.

As my gears was ready, I helped Susanah with hers and also to study a little on the race course before I started packing my luggage a little. It won't be easy to pack after the race as we are checking out the next day so I guess it's better to pack as much as I can before the whole body starts aching.

And quickly enough, it was dinner time at 6.30pm and this time, we have pre-booked Cafe Jiran downstairs for a simple but yet satisfying dinner of chicken chop. The mood was good though I can see in the eyes of especially Susanah and Cham that they were nervous. However, each of us kept positive, or at least tried to. By 8pm, everyone was back in their room and it was an early lights off after some final preparations.

Day 7, 1 June 2014
COMRADES MARATHON 2014  RACE DAY! Read all about by clicking the link.

Day 8, 2 June 2014
I believe most of them slept through the morning. However for me, I woke up pretty early and boy my entire body especially the legs were sore. And when I woke up, my phone was flooded with messages back from home congratulating on my success. Thank you my friends but at that time, I wasn't still very comfy as I was still worried about Susanah. She too woke up early and felt better already. We freshen ourselves up before heading down for breakfast with the rest.

It was the usual funny scene at the lobby where we see funny walking Comrades runners. Those wanting for a bite had to make themselves to the food. Some were seen wearing their medal around their neck too. We all enjoyed our breakfast for this was a meal that tasted so tasty after a hard run. Besides, this would be our last meal at Belaire this year before retuning next year so we better enjoy ourselves before our long drive later.

One for the album before we leave Durban.

After breakfast, we headed back to our room to clean ourselves up and to packed up before meeting downstairs for check-out. We hung around at Cafe Jiran for a while before I sent Cham, CP and Selva over to Gateway before I headed off to King Shaka Airport to return my car. Myself, Susanah, Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and Xi Ning will continue with our trips to Kruger National Park via Zululand and Swaziland while the rest will make their way home.

The journey to Zululand was on familiar roads. Nothing pretty to much to see so it's mainly chatting and sleeping throughout the journey. Chee Kong was a machine though as he didn't look very tired after all the running and was driving all the way without an complaints. Salute to him!

We stopped by a nearby small town to buy some food to braai for dinner later from the SPAR supermarket before entering the safari. Nothing much to see though and hence we headed straight to our lodge call the African Spirit Lodge. It was a nice place and we stayed over at a huge bungalow that came with a nice garden for bomo and braai.

South African Spirit Lodge.

I became the "guard" for the living hall this time. Don't be mistaken though as it was actually pretty comfy and with the huge space, I was king. The only worry was perhaps warthogs and baboons came invading during the night. Hahaha... We are in a safari after all. Settled down, and we started preparing dinner. Unlike last year where I was ill and did not take part in the preparation, this year I was all systems go, well except for my legs. There was a big step separating the house and garden hence it was difficult to move up and down there hence with the help of Susanah, we passed the food using the "conveyor" system. Chee Kong was doing what he does best, the fire while myself and Susanah cutting and preparing the salad in the kitchen while cooking the pasta. It was all a team's work and soon enough, a wholesome dinner was served. There was chicken, borewors, butternut, pumpkin, salad, macaroni and not forgetting Castle Lite too! Well, I only had a sip of the beer though.

Life's good and simple.

We sat around the fire enjoying our dinner under the stars twinkling at the clear sky. We chatted away and life was good and this was a moment to be cherish. It took things away from the mind as we relax in the cool weather. I will certainly remember the moment we all spent here.

Day 9, 3 June 2014
Next stop was Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland. Yeap, we are are exiting South Africa to another country. I woke up pretty early and though I had a good sleep, I though I heard sounds from animals during the night. However, Chee Kong mentioned that it was from Xi Ning. Hmmm...

Anyway, breakfast was just plain simple, bun and coffee and we were already on our way. It's about 2 to 3 hours drive so it isn't too taxing. We arrived at about 2pm, just in time for lunch and I had a shock upon entering! As the gates were all manually open, I had to do the honours. Did not noticed that it was electrified and without any precautions, I touched the wire which send a high voltage shock to my body. My body went numb and though painful, I didn't end up being braaied.

Got electrocuted here.


After checking in and registering myself and Susanah for the sunset drive, we had lunch there while enjoying the spectacular views of the rhinos at the water hole. Then we moved into our huge bungalow where each of us has a separate room. 2 issues with this park will be that there is no electricity hence candles is used to light up the night. Even the shower uses gas hence the inconsistency of hot water. And speaking of water, the pipe water can't be drink at all as its murky. Luckily we had plenty of mineral water.


With the ladies.

Rested for a while and soon it was time for the sunset drive. The truck used wasn't as big as those in Krueger and somehow, the view was distorted by a net. The only good thing is that it is almost guaranteed that we will spot the animals as although this is a wild safari, it is owned by the Swaziland King and the park isn't very big. Only myself and Susanah went though as Xi Ning wasn't allowed hence both Chee Kong and Mei-Ee stayed back.


Lioness among the pride.

Soon, we spotted the lions, both lioness and the cubs. Amazing sight. The male lion was actually around, just that he was sleeping and was showing us his bum. What a rude lion! Next stop was with the elephants, a lot of them and we were really close to them. I thought we were too close in fact! We stop near them and the ranger served us drinks while we ask questions and see them feed.


Beautiful Swazi sunset.

After a while, the sun began setting. It was a beautiful sight to behold. And before darkness came, we returned to the spot where the lions were. We waited longer this time and it paid off. The male lion finally woke up from his long slumber and with a kill with him, he began to feast. We also spotted a lioness feasting on a kill. We ended our drive here and returned to the camp. It was overall a fruitful one, a first for Susanah too and I hope she enjoyed it despite some uncomfortable stories about the difference between men and women in Swaziland.

The male lion is awake!

We headed back to our hut or rather bungalow to clean up before heading back out for dinner. We had to bring our lamps with us as it was pitch dark. Talk about candlelight dinner. Once done, it was back to the hut. Susanah rested early as guess she was tired from the drive while I chatted away with Chee Kong. A nice chat with a buddy face to face rather than our usual Facebook Messenger. Had a good time with Xi Ning too before we all grew tired and sleep awaits.

Day 10, 4 June 2014
Despite no electricity and the hut smack in the middle of trees, I had a good sleep. No sounds from animals, or at least I did not hear them nor mosquitoes attack. Everyone was awake at the same time and it was the same simple breakfast like yesterday. Life is just better being simple. Lots of warthogs were around though and after some photography, we were soon on our way to Krueger National Park.

Our entry point will be Crocodile Bridge Gate. Drive was pretty smooth including clearance at the customs back into South Africa. Had a few stop along the way for food before the usual stop at the petrol kiosk just outside Krueger where we stock up with some food for braai later in the night.

The Crocodile Bridge Gate river crossing.

Upon arriving at the Crocodile Bridge Gate entrance and having our registration done, a few warthogs welcomed us. We then took a short drive towards Lower Sabie Camp, a camp famous for the hippos and the nice view of the Sabie River. And on the way there, we spotted elephants, rhinos, impala, giraffes and so on. Once arrived, we were surprised to see that the cafe has been upgraded to Mugg & Bean and we had our lunch there while enjoying the lazy view of hippos sleeping away.

Hippos with one opening it's mouth!

We then moved into our nice cozy safari hut located by the river bank. After unpacking a little and rested for a while, we then went for an evening drive of our own, a time where the hippos come out and play by the nearby water hole. It was a fruitful drive but I wish my camera lens was longer. We then headed back, clean and freshen up and its time to braai again.

Sunset at Sabie River.

For tonight's braai, we had avocado salad prepared by myself and Susanah, while Chee Kong took charge of the fire department with steak, mushroom and sweet potato. Nice simple dinner as again, we chatted under the bright twinkling stars. The only thing missing was the sound of the hippos. Surprisingly pretty quiet compared to my last visit. So I guess it's going to be a pretty good night sleep as we turned in early to get some rest for tomorrow's morning drive.

Day 11, 5 June 2014
It isn't that quiet after all in the night. I did hear some sounds from the hippos but that wasn't the reason that I was awoke most the night. My mind was thinking or rather somewhere else. It's an on and off night for me. And soon, it's 7am, time for our drive. Except for the major cape buffalo road block, there wasn't anything much to see and hence after an uneventful drive, we were back at Mugg & Bean for breakfast before turning to our hut to clean up before leaving for our next destination, Satara Camp, famous for its lions.

Cape buffalo.

It was a pretty long drive there and the sun was rather scorching. We had a stop in the middle of our journey for snack but later, it was pretty fruitful as we saw a few big tusker elephants together and some interesting sight of them digging and drinking from the ground. The rest was the usual impala, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, giraffe and so on before we arrived safely at Satara Camp.

Young elephant drinking from the ground.

Big tuskers!

Waterbuck spots a white ring around their bum.

Though the Curio shop was open, it was only half in space as it was under renovation. Nothing much to buy here and after registration, we again ended up at Mugg & Bean for lunch before checking into our hut. It was nice little cozy hut but not as nice at the one at Lower Sabie. The usual unpacking and resting before myself and Susanah went for the sunset drive.

The sunset drive was 3 hours long and initially I gave up hope on spotting any of the big 5 as I thought the ranger wasn't really good. He was explaining to us birds and grass! But he had some instinct in him where later in the drive, when the sun has set, he stopped at a spot. And out of a sudden, appeared the leopard! After 3 trips to Krueger National Park, I finally spotted the leopard.  Everyone rushed to grab their camera and snapped away as this is one predator that is rarely seen. I only managed 4 shots and weren't very clear but was satisfied. And on the way back, we spotted the African black civet cat and also chameleon. Trust the ranger to be able to spot the chameleon which is so small resting on the tree branch. 

Finally, the leopard!

African black civet.

We arrived back safely at the camp after a successful drive and this is where I stop my entry for this day as I do not want to talk further from here.

Day 12, 6 June 2014
We left Satara at about 6.30am, or was it 7am?  It's going to be a long drive to Johannesburg hence the early departure from Satara. We exited Krueger National Park from Orpen Gate and proceeded to Graskop for breakfast at Harrie's Pancake. On the way there, we got flagged down by a traffic officer for entering the lane just a little too late at the traffic lights. The fine was R500 and Chee Kong needed to go over to the police station. And apparently, a ticket is to be issued on the spot where it can be paid at the post office. Apparently the lady officer didn't agree with it and we did not have the traffic act with us which can proof that we were right. But after a while, the officer I guess got fed up and let us go. Basically, I think she just wanted some side income for herself.

Arriving at Graskop, the town this time was clear without any mist unlike my previous visit and I had my usual trout pancake with plunger coffee. Bought my favourite dark chocolates from The Chocolate Shop before getting 20 packs of macadamia nuts from the locals. It was all down to negotiating again and Susanah and Chee Kong did most the job and we got a pretty decent price for it. 20 packs for R260!

We continued our journey via Panorama and we skipped Dullstroom and headed straight onto the highway before making another stop at Alzu's Petroport. Wanted Susanah to catch the view of the animal farm here which consist of the handsome Eland antelope, rhino, ostrich, emu and zebras. It was a short stop here as we needed to head to McDonald's at Witbank where Chee Kong is to meet up with his friends there before our final destination at Johannesburg where we need to check into our accommodation by 5pm.

After some drama of our vehicle almost running out of petrol, we finally arrived at The Fourways Guest Lodge just a little late. However, the owner was kind enough to stay back a little to process our check in. It was a nice cozy place, pretty similar to where Chee Kong stayed back at Springfield Park. After settling down and freshening up, we headed to Monte Casino. Though not much has changed, it was still nice to be back here again. We spent some time in Skoobs browsing through some books before leaving.

Next was dinner with the Fourway Runners at Lonehill. Great to meet up with Mark, Trevor, Andrew and the rest of Fourway Runners. I wasn't feeling too good and had a little too much Castle Lite till rashes appeared a little. Dinner done, and we headed back to have our luggage packed up before calling it a night as one more run awaits tomorrow before we leave.

Day 13, 7 June 2014
And so, after 13 days in South Africa, the trip comes to an end at Johannesburg. But before leaving, all of us managed to put in one final run at the MTN road race. Myself, Susanah and Chee Kong ran the 10KM distance while Mei-Ee ran the 5KM event pushing Xi-Ning in her jogger. The event was the usual South African weekly event, and although it wasn't as good as my previous 2 last year, it was still a good event. I ran with Susanah at a recovery pace. However, it wasn't easy due to the dry air and the high altitude. But surprisingly, the legs managed to move freely, not much of sore from Comrades Marathon and I managed to compete the run in 1:04:03 hours.

Cold start at the MTN road race.

We rush back to shower up and to pack our luggage up before going over to Fourways Crossing for breakfast and some last minute shopping. I bought a pair of Saucony Type A6 from Sweat Shop while Susanah bought some Castle Lite for her dad before we went to the airport to catch our 2pm flight back home via Dubai on board Emirates.

Before boarding out flight. Thanks again to Chee Kong and Mei-Ee.

We landed home safely after a long haul to this very hot and humid country. In a blink of an eye, our holiday was over. I wish it will have lasted longer and will be memorable. In terms of holidays, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing as there were some pretty poor planning especially at Durban in bringing Susanah around and I felt really bad. And also, one regret I had was the lack of photography opportunity during this trip hence I can only try to remember them in my mind. I hope that there will be another chance that we will be able to travel like this again, a chance that I can really hope for now. And till then, I can only hope for now.