Monday, May 23, 2016

My Fifth Comrades...

By Frank

And so, I am finally here and certainly am glad I am. The end of the fifth month as the training for Comrades comes to an end. With 1,688KM covered by those legs of mine over here, the work is done here. Just a couple of runs more to round up the distance to 1,700KM over at Durban's North Beach when I arrive there to keep my legs going and that should be it, for my fifth Comrades will take place this Sunday, 29 May 2016. And this year, only myself, Chee Kong and a novice Chris Yeoh will be running the race as Malaysians.

Yeap, time certainly passed swiftly as I remembered my very first back in year 2012 and in a blink of an eye, it' half a decade already. This year's training was the toughest of all due to the combination of the West Highland Way Race 3 weeks later. I only had a month's of off-season in December last year. Not a total rest and with that, I managed to maintain my fitness and swing my momentum into January where it all officially started. With a training regime given by coach with a mixture and not to mention an increase of intensity of running and strength training, I had doubts if I can pull this year's training off. But with a  positive mindset, I set myself off cause knowing with will, confidence and discipline, I know that even if I am not able to hit it spot on at 100%, I should at least able to get near it. And those who knew me, knows that like previous years,  I've used running to run away from my thoughts and problems I faced, and that may indirectly help. And to quickly recap, here's what happened in the past 4 months since training all started.

January started almost with a bang. With my unsuccessful ballot for this year's Hong Kong 100, I opt for the local Watergate 16 Hours instead. Didn't do very well in that though as sleep got over me again, but it was still good indicator. It was also from this event that I stopped sharing my blog entries on my Facebook due to some very negative people. A couple of weeks later was then the Cyberjaya Twincity Marathon. I did well on this one cruising through the entire course without any difficulties. With that, I knew I had already had a positive start as I conclude the month with 346KM covered. The link to January 2016 report card HERE.

February was a tough month to forget. Though it all started positively continuing from January, things got rough during Chinese New Year when mum and Bailey was injured during a dog attack. That derailed my training a lot as family will always comes first. But by the third week after both of them making their full recovery, I slowly made my way back into training with some proper time management and ended the month with the Gunung Nuang Ultra. With that, it was a surprise 352KM for the month where I told myself how much I wanted it! The link to February 2016 report card HERE.

Next, the much dreaded month came, known to most Comrades runners as Hell March. 400KM was needed and not forgetting strength training too. I asked myself on how am I going to achieve this as I know I can no longer depend on the training group. But looking back at last year, I actually managed to do it and that certainly gave me a motivational boost and coincidentally, it was the month where I hit the milestone of a decade of running injury free too. *fist pumps! However, with the legs still sore from the Gunung Nuang Ultra, I started the first few days of the month by resting before resuming. The rest though took some much needed time away, did proof beneficial as I felt it help me build my quadriceps which will be important for downhills. With Twilight Ultra Challenge at the third week of the month, I knew at that time that 400KM was possible. However, my left shoulder blade issue returned during the run and I struggled with it towards the end of the month before it subsided. But all in all, 415KM was covered and I felt not only relieved, but strong. The link to March 2016 report card HERE.

Moving into April, though the distance and the intensity is reduced, it was still a tough month. With the shoulder blade issue out of the way, came the "dead" leg syndrome on my left. Not sure what happened but it eventually went away just in time for my final long run at Route 68 Challenge. Knowing that my big races are nearing, I held back throughout the race and surprisingly felt good completing 70KM injury and soreness free, and in a very decent time too. With this, I knew that I was on the right track and I carried on with the rest of the regime given. 375KM was covered and it was time to taper. The link to April 2016 report card HERE

I welcomed the fifth month May with much anticipation for it's tapering month. After all the hard work, it's time to slowly decrease the running mileage and intensity. However with the expiration of my gym membership, the handover process of my work and also the presence of an unwelcome guest fro Singapore office, it was not an easy tapering period too, especially for the first couple of weeks. I id most of workouts at weird hours and managed to survive that before it got better as the third week arrived. And by then, everything was smooth sailing except with one problem, my nagging issue of my left shoulder blade returned. I couldn't turn my upper torso and head properly for about a week before it finally subside. Hope it won't happen again though, especially for the next 1 month ahead. And with all of this, 200KM was covered for this month, a dramatic drop compared to last year, but I believe there is a reason for this.

1,688KM of pain, soreness, tears, blood and many thoughts.

Overall, the result of from the past 5 months has been really positive and I am glad training is all over now.  I felt throughout the months, I have greatly improved on my uphill strength while improving slightly on running downhills. And not only that, after 2 years on the MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) Method by Dr. Phil Maffetone and LCHF (Low Carbs High Fat) diet, I am finally feeling the results from it for I am able to cruise better now at a very manageable heart rate. And those are all performed in the very hot and humid weather of Malaysia. Hope it will be even better over at South Africa and Scotland where weather is much more forgiving. What is left now is to implement what I gained from the training and to remember what I have learnt from these past 10 years of running into the 2 biggest race of my running career.

And so with that, concludes all the training needed for Comrades here as I fly off tomorrow morning (Tuesday, 24 May) to Istanbul on board Turkish Airlines (shame on Emirates for charging a premium this time) for a 7 hour transit before landing at Durban. 5 months since it all started for my fifth Comrades. And during the process, 2 pairs of Kinvara 5 and a pair of Zealot ISO met their end of life with the Kinvara 6, Kinvara 7, Ride 8, Peregrine 5 and Peregrine 6 being my other workhorse. And not only shoes, my body fat percentage took a dive too with the lowest reading at the end of April with a record reading of only 4%! Even a 27 inch jeans is loose for me now. It's going to get extra tough to be shopping for apparels now. Sigh...

However, during the tapering month and 2 weeks into the month of May, I managed to increase my body fat percentage back up to 5.8%. And not only that, my muscle mass increased too and that was certainly positive. I hope this will continue to build up though I may lose a little more during Comrades.

Though I am feeling strong, I am not looking for an improvement of time at Comrades this year unless some miracle happens. More importantly is to get myself to the Kingsmead within the cut off time safely and without any injuries. And this year being the down run, I have to be extra careful. So in other words, Comrades this year is more about a long training run for the West Highland Way Race though the 5 big hills and the countless nameless ones still needs to be respected for it will shatter even the strongest runner.

There will also be no plans at South Africa after the race this year as myself and Chee Kong will leave for Scotland the day after. Therefore, apologies to my South African friends just in case we are not able to meet up this year. But I think this will be good for me to rest up and recover, and at the same time to acclimatise myself with Scotland's summer. That however, will be under another separate entry for now, it's all eyes on my fifth Comrades Marathon.

So before signing off here, here are my thanks to everyone who had help me got this far. And to my sponsors Saucony, I will race in your colours proudly and strongly! Till my race report, wish me luck this Sunday, 29 May 2016!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Me And My Saucony...

By Frank

Saucony... Pronouced as "Sock A Knee", a running brand from Boston, US is a brand that I never thought that I will be associated with. To start off with is because I didn't had a pleasant experience with my first pair which is the Saucony FastWitch 3 back in year 2009 where I ran my first ultra marathon with. Suffered cramps badly which at that point of time and being a newbie runner, I blamed the shoe for it due to the extremely soft cushioning. Since then, I stayed away from this brand until another opportunity came in year 2012.

I was really fortunate and lucky to be spotted by the then Saucony brand manager and my friend now Alicia who offered me the opportunity to be representing the brand here in Malaysia. I was skeptical back then due to my first experience but at the same time matured through time that it wasn't the shoe's fault back in year 2009. I shared my concern with Alicia and she fully understood my situation at that time and hence handed me some key models, in this case the Kinvara 3 and Mirage 3 to try out first.

After close to half a year, when I was a free agent again, and being impressed by the Kinvara 3, I finally agreed and put ink on paper as I accepted the Saucony sponsorship. I was grateful to Alicia too for keeping her promise and waiting for my availability patiently. From there, not only I was representing the brand, I was also working closely with her in matters of branding, marketing, ordering, training and more. It was not all smooth sailing for Saucony isn't a brand well known here yet and with tight budget, it makes things more challenging. Understanding the issues we were faced with, both myself and Alicia used whatever resources we could find back then. I didn't push for my sponsorship either and just used whatever gears that was made available. We were working very tightly but at the same time, safely but yet happy. And probably from there, we turned our business relationship into friendship.

Product training.

But we overcame it with the help from a dedicated team and a year down, we made our first media event by launching the Kinvara 4 and at the same time expanding the ambassador team to 3 with Zijill and Jason coming on board. Then came the running clinic where we presented ourselves to the running community here to share our knowledge and experiences.

The launch event of Kinvara 4.

Moving on, as I explored the world, I also met up with the principals of Saucony from various countries being South Africa, Netherlands, United Kingdom and of course Jimmy from Asia's regional office at Hong Kong, the principal we have been working with. I was really touched and grateful for their support in my day to day adventure which eventually helped me a lot in my upcoming race at West Highland Way with gears made available through them.

With Saucony South Africa, whom we meet every year at the Comrades Expo.

With the hilarious guys from Saucony Netherlands.

A pleasure to meet up with Eric, Product Specialist from Saucony Scotland.

As time passes, Alicia had left the company for greener pasture. In fact, most of the team from the first day had eventually left too. I really miss the the original team for their efficiency was well, efficient!. And before Alicia left last year, she was kind enough to arrange the pro team's kit for me which I am forever grateful for. With a new manager and team to work with, we started from where we left off, only at that time, Saucony had already established itself among the runners here. Sales has picked up and awareness is there but there was still a problem, the budget.

In Kinvara I trust.

At a recent outdoor photo shoot.

Studio photo shoot.

Over the years through the Saucony gears, I ran better Comrades each year, clocked my best timings in various distances such as 70KM and 100KM, did my first 100KM trail with it and also ran my second fastest marathon with it. And next will be my half decade of Comrades and my first longest trail run with it. With the accomplishment I had with the brand and the budget problem still persisting, I thought through it and decided that for the brand to grow further, I will step down as the ambassador to allow the budget to loosen and flow, and also for new talents to carry the brand. That explains the number of Saucony related photos I've been uploading on my Facebook lately, for those who suddenly felt there was an sudden overflow of it. Yes, I have a soft spot for this brand and it's not an easy decision especially when I was sincerely asked to stay on. But I guess new faces are needed and with that decision mutually agreed, Zijill remained and I hooked Jamie and Nick up for the new team.

When the outgoing ambassador meets the new ambassadors.

I will have 2 more races under the ambassadorship program before my contract ends officially. My fifth Comrades at South Africa and the 95 Miles West Highland Way Race over the mountain of Scotland. For the final 2 times and for the first time ever, I will be in racing in full Saucony kit. It is certainly a pleasure to be in it and I will race proudly and confidently in them.

One final race at the highlands in the colours of Saucony.

Hence at the end of this entry, I would like to thank everyone from past and present of Saucony Malaysia from Alicia, Razi, Cheryll, Khiem Khiem, Amy, Alice, Yi Xuan, Kiki and many more from the retail team for their gracious support and understanding through these 3.5 years. A new chapter awaits for me with this brand and I know it will be a great one ahead. As for Saucony in Malaysia, I hope the new team including the ambassadors will take good care of it as a new era will begin soon as we all continue to "Find Your Strong" together!

Thank you for the 3.5 years.

Always part of Saucony.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Be Frank 2016 Isn't Happening...

By Frank

Since I've received queries on this year's Be Frank campaign,  I guess it's much better that I explain it here. And I am sorry to share that the Be Frank campaign isn't happening this year, well at least under my annual Comrades Marathon fund raiser. Don't be mistaken though as the Be Frank campaign is always happening every day of the year, just that it's under a different way whether through seminars, boot sales and more.

A lot has happened since late last year and that played a significant role in my decision not to fund raise this year. With the passing of friends locally and around the world due to cancer, the somber mood continues to affect me. Experiencing the pain of being diagnosed with the disease was already painful enough but yet with a passing each month since the month of December last year isn't something a survivor would like to know or go through. I shared my thoughts with Dr. Teo, CEO of Cancer Research Malaysia back in February 2016 and she respected my decision and was supportive of it too. I just hope I didn't let her and the rest at the foundation down with my "selfish" decision.

And knowing that to fund raise, lots of work needs to be done especially on the marketing side. However, I am not a person who likes to be marketed and instead prefer to stay low profile. Probably that was the reason the funds didn't flow in really well the past few years, which left me pretty frustrated. And there was this issue where people started asking on where did the funds raised goes to and not in a nice manner too. Am not mentioning names but if you are reading this, you should know that it was you or who was it. And for your info, all the funds raised benefited cancer research at Cancer Research Malaysia, previously known as CARIF for a better tomorrow and every cents is certainly worth it.

However the good news is, if that you believe and agree with what I've been doing and am still doing in trying to raise awareness and to fight cancer, you can still lend a helping hand by little gestures such as helping to spread the word, through donations of any amount or even by purchasing gifts such as collar pins, badges or even the book "From Cancer To Ultramarathons" which I wrote last year as all the money received there will be channeled to Cancer Research Malaysia for cancer research purposes.

Therefore, yes. Despite being my 10th year of running, my half decade of running the Comrades Marathon and also and extra race 3 weeks later to fulfill my running bucket list at the West Highland Way Race, I will not be campaigning under Be Frank this year. I hope all of you will respect my decision and understand my situation, and hopefully it will return again the next year. And for the past 5 years of fund and awareness raising, I thank all those who have supported from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

After 121 Days...

By Frank

It has been 121 days since the year started. And it has certainly been those days that training for this year's 2 major races has since started. Am I tired? No doubt yes. Am I feeling strong? Hell yeah! Am I ready? Oh YES! That sums up my feeling I guess.

4 months has passed since all the training officially began. Continuing from March, April is the month to keep the momentum going with a slight reduce in intensity in order for the body to start recovering. It is also the month to identify any areas to improve on and to test out the race gears.

However, April didn't start off really well as there were signs of a "dead" left leg. My initial thoughts was that I may have overused it last month especially towards the final week of it. But to think of it realistically, ample rest time was given to it for recovery before continuing with April's training. Then I got really worried when I thought of some nerve issues. Yes, it was all self assumption and instead of resting completely, I did short and light workouts while taking in more Vitamin B enriched food for it helps with the nervous system. The leg return from the "dead" after a few days and I was glad it was just a scare. Phew...

With no fitness lost during the "dead" leg scare, I was feeling strong and that was just in time for the 70KM Route 68 Challenge on the second week of the month. I held back throughout the entire race to minimise any risk of injury and manage to complete it with my best 70KM result without thrashing out myself, and that was indeed a really positive sign.

Continuing my training with the strength and confidence gained, I was glad that some of my friends are slowly making their return from their injury. And a week after Route 68 Challenge, we were back running together at some of our favourite places and those favourite involves hills! We continued to roll towards the final week of the month together which almost got derailed a bit due to the return of the notorious haze, which was our own Malaysian pineapple farmers doing. Nevertheless, I was glad I successfully followed my regime and went through the final week of the month without any issues. I was really happy about that not only cause confidence is building but will also mean no more tough 100KM weekly mileage too. Phew...

Transfer of timing chip from last year's Kinvara 6 to this year's Kinvara 7.

The big boys turn to play.

I also began to try out my race gears. Due to the different nature and weather of both races I will be racing in, there will be 2 separate race gears for this year. One set for Comrades while the other for the West Highland Way Race. But there is one similarity for both sets as for the the first time, I will be in full Saucony colours. Many thanks to Saucony for this arrangements. The following are the breakdown on what I will be wearing and using.

Part of my race tops.

Comrades Marathon
Race top - Saucony pro team tri top
Race bottom - Saucony pro team tri short
Race shoe - Saucony Kinvara 7
Quad compression - CEP Quad Sleeve
Calf compression - CEP Progressive Calf Sleeve 2.0
Race socks - Balega Ultra Light No Show
Race watch - Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire

A new Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire for these 2 race. And in blue too.

West Highland Way Race
Mid layer race top - Saucony Run Strong Long Sleeve Top
Back up mid layer race top - Saucony Nomad Long Sleeve Top
Race tights - Saucony Omni LX Tights
Water proof outer shell - Saucony EXO Jacket
Back up water proof outer shell - Saucony Razer Jacket
Race shoe - Saucony Peregrine 6
Back up race shoe - Saucony Xodus 6
Beanie - Saucony Drylete beanie
Head gear - Buff
Wind and water resistant gloves - Saucony Nomad gloves
Base layer - BV Sport Anatomical Top
Quad compression - CEP Quad Sleeve
Calf compression - CEP Progressive Calf Sleeve 2.0
Race socks - Drymax Max Protection Trail Sock
Back up race socks - Drymax Trail Sock
Hydration vest - Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin3 Set 12
Headlamp - LED Lenser H14R.2
Race watch - Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire

Let there be light at the highlands!

The fourth month gave me 375KM and hence after 121 days of hard training with a total of 1,488KM, it's time to recharge, re-energize, repair, recover and be ready for my fifth Comrades in 28 days time and then the important long one at West Highland Way Race 3 weeks later. The fifth and final month is next and it's time to enjoy the taper for the "monster" (a nick given by a friend last year due to my commitment to the race and my heavy training mileage) is back!

The journey after 18 weeks.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Route 68 Challenge 2016...

Event: Route 68 Challenge 2016
Venue: Dewan Serbaguna Komuniti Orang Asli, Gombak, Kuala Lumpur
Date: 10 April 2016
Time: 6.00AM
Distance: 70KM (70.3KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

My last super long run as part of my training, I am really excited to be able to run Route 68 Challenge (R68) this year after missing it last year due to race date being too near to Comrades. I was only introduced to R68, the name of the road late last year by my "mountain friends" when we had one of our runs there. Though I only ran part of it till the telco tower at 11KM, I really like it very much due to the climbs there and knew it will fit very well into my training. The only 2 problems, it was too far away and really dark with plenty of blind spots which is really dangerous considering there are many reckless drivers these days. But I guess with approximately 800 participants for this year's edition, there will be at least some safety elements put into place though there will be no road closure.

I chose to wear the Kinvara 7 over Ride 8 as the Kinvara 7 will be the shoe I will be wearing for Comrades next month. With 48 days to go, I thought it will be nice to have the legs ready with the "feel" of the shoe. I did not wear the actual pair but instead the pair that I wore for Istanbul last year. With the shoe already seasoned, it has the "feel good" ride in it. However, I had to hold back as this was suppose to be an easy long run with a plan of averaging 6.45 minutes per Kilometer for the first half before reducing it to walk run pace at the return leg. If everything goes to the plan, I should be able to complete the distance below 9 hours, I hope.

The starting point located in the very sleepy Orang Asli (natives) village in Gombak is about 40KM drive away from my place. Knowing it will be tough to secure  a car park spot, my idea was to arrive there at about 4AM, 2 hours before the race start. The night before, though managed to arrive back home early from work, I had a tough time trying to get myself to sleep. I was still awake though my eyes were starting to close at 1AM, I knew there was nothing much I can do and hence started preparing myself. Everything went smoothly and I was feeling strong. Was on my way at 3.15AM making a detour to McDonalds for a filet o' fish and black coffee. Arriving 15 minutes later than my actual interned time, the place was already swarmed with people. I managed to secure a spot for my car which isn't far away and rested in there having my breakfast before gearing up and proceeding to the tentage area.

Friendly familiar faces to be with.

It was good to meet up with some regular faces like Kim Song, Amanda, Keng Koon and Dr. Wong. And just before the 70KM distance start, there was a short briefing by Jason followed by reflective vest, headlamp and blinkers check. And at 6AM, the siren to signal the start woke the sleepy village up and off we went. I started from behind with Dr. Wong and took me close to minute to cross the the start gantry.

With 253 runners for the 70KM distance, it was a little tough trying to find space to cut through as safety was a concern in the very dark environment. The last thing we want is a speeding car appearing out of nowhere and knocking someone over as there were lots of blind spots due to the winding road. But after a Kilometer or so into the distance, with runners breaking free, I managed to find space and hence "officially" started my run. With the start already a climb though not steep, I knew it was a long one. It will slowly sap away the energy and strength if not managed well and hence I took it easy.

I was familiar with the first 11KM or so till the telco tower. It was dark with winding roads but the environment was cooling due to the very dense tress there. The first check point situated at the Indian temple some 5KM into the run appeared pretty quickly but I skipped it and proceeded on to the next at 10KM with ease. Upon arrival with dawn breaking, Wai Hong was there to greet the runners as the supervisor there. Visited the loo quickly, grabbed a few watermelons and off I went.

The next following areas will be stepping into the unknown for me. I  heard from friend that the next 5KM will involve some steep climbs before dropping into the valley at Genting Sempah and hence dropping a "gear" there. But as I continued on, I felt that the climb was still manageable. Didn't want to get carried away, I stood with my pace and eventually got to the top, with a rewarding view overseeing Karak Highway.

Overseeing Karak Highway.

Feeling "Scotland" with the mist.

And from there onward, it was about a Kilometer drop with spectacular misty view of the hillside, and not to mention cooling too, into the third check point at Genting Sempah where Hong Lan and Seng Heng supervising. Suzie was there too. Upon arriving there in 8 minutes under 2 hours, I took off my reflective vest and headlamp, stuffing it into my hydration vest. Readjusted my phone in there too which has been irritating my lower back since the start before grabbing some watermelons and it's off I went again.

Happening third checkpoint.

With supervisor ala 200KM finisher Seng Heng as I was munching on watermelons!

It was the start of the descend to the u-turn point which is another 18KM away. Though it's only a very mild downhill, I still played it safe causing many other runners to pass me here.. Despite leaving the third check point with Azlan, it was not long before he went ahead of me. The fourth check point situated near the turning to Janda Baik was supervised by Barkley. Great to see another familiar face but the same routine here with some watermelons plus a gummy candy here before I continued on.

Leaving check point 3 with Azlan.

Despite the weather getting warmer, I was still feeling good. I took small sips of water and sometimes gurgling it to keep my throat wet. Winding roads with blind spots was an issue for safety here, while another was that the downhill got a little tougher. The thighs were starting to feel some impact from the earlier descent though not as bad as I kept reminding myself to managed myself.

A word of caution to the drivers.

After 2:47 hours, I finally arrived at the fifth check point, supervised by Kelvin and Kavien (their name rhythms!). I managed to joked with Kelvin about the steam chicken and roast goose, a prank I made with him back at the Gunung Nuang Ultra a month ago. Was certainly delightful to be able to still joke at this stage of the run.

The next sector was pretty scenic with some view of rivers and a waterfall along the hillside. However, the nagging problem of my phone rubbing against my lower back was still there and I had to stop a few times to readjust it, allowing Razif and Gilbert to pass me. Despite a couple of tries, the discomfort was still there and I literary gave up trying to readjust it during my run. I just have to bring myself to the next check point and do it properly there.

A small waterfall out of nowhere!

Check point number 6 was supervised by Jason Thai. I have to apologies to him here as I rejected most of the food and drinks he offered me. Sorry my friend, but I just needed water as I am worried other food especially sugary ones might cause some tummy issues. However, many thanks for helping me with my phone as I finally settled the very irritating "phone rubbing my lower back" issue. Watermelons and it's off to the u-turn point near the Bentong hot springs.

Towards the hot springs.

The u-turn point was just under 5KM away but I could already see the front runners making their return. One of them was Ben who was filming with his action camera. During my journey, Jason Tan called out to me as he was driving towards Bentong. Hazel too was making her way there on a pick up truck! Eventually after passing a struggling Gilbert, I arrived there too, just 8 minutes under 4 hours.

I was pretty happy with myself at this stage as I ran all the way here without much issues. Rested a while here as I wasn't in a rush to make my way back. But a mistake I made was the amount of watermelons I had here. Too much and I had trouble restarting. But that was fine as my plan was to start my run walk strategy from here till the finish.

Suzie was here too as she handed me an ice cold assam popsicle before I restarted. Thank you Suzie! As I was enjoying it, I noticed a few lucky runners to receive the same too throwing the plastic wrapper away by the roadside. No names are going to be mentioned here at least for this entry but what I can disclose is one of them was my friend wearing a orange top. Shame on you! The race course isn't exactly clean with much rubbish along the way and by throwing even just a single energy gel wrapper or just even the tip make things worse! Runners were made to run with a hydration vest or even a belt, so if one is able to carry their snacks with them, it is no excuse that one can simply just hold on to it after consuming it while waiting for a rubbish bin to appear later. It's not a tough task.

Anyway, back to my return journey, I basically had to walk about 2KM before the watermelons settled in my tummy. By the time it did, I was only left with less than 3KM to arrive back at where Jason Thai was. More watermelons here (oops...) as I refilled my bottle with water as I needed it to splash myself with to keep my core temperature in control along the way later.

A super helpful supervisor, Jason Thai.

The weather was indeed warmer as more runners seek shelter below trees. But as the journey now is of an uphill direction, it works to my strength. All I had to do was to keep my heart rate and my core temperature in range. It was all about control and control I did as I made it back to where Kelvin and Kavien was in 5:24 hours. Sam Sam was there too helping out and what I didn't know that time was that she had already threw in her towel for the 50KM distance. Managed a quick laughter with them before I went on again.

The ascend to Janda Baik was next on the list and I managed my pace very well here powering up the hills with ease. During the journey, I managed to catch up with both Phand and Razif and managed a quick conversation with them before continuing on and arriving at the check point where Barkley was. Refilled my tumbler with water again, a sip of Root Beer and off I went for the final 5KM or so climb before the drop.

The next check point at Genting Sempah and I remember Hong Lan mentioned earlier that she will pass me can of ice cold coffee. That was certainly my motivation to get there. Despite a few walks in between my runs, I managed to pull ahead of Razif. But knowing he was strong at the descend, I know he will eventually catch up later.

Hills, hills and more hills as I literary grin as I made myself up. Nope, it wasn't steep and that was the reason I could still grin. Hahaha... Met lots of 50KM distance runners and suddenly, the race course became more crowded. Soon a concrete bridge came into view followed by a white structure and I knew what lies ahead. I am almost to the top and coffee awaits there.

6:42 hours was how long it took me to arrive back here, some 54KM into the race. Hong Lan quickly passed me the can of coffee as promised as I gulped it down instantly. It was refreshing indeed as I quickly continued on as the check point was really busy and I didn't want to hold Hong Lan up for too long too.

A 1KM steep climb was what stands next before the 15KM drop. Like the Polly Shortts of Comrades, I decided to walk the entire of it to conserve some leg strength and energy for the drop. Besides, it will be a good idea to let the coffee settle down in my tummy too. Arriving at the top, I was offered either a can of Red Bull or Livita by some prominent figure of some running "club", but had to decline. I had long stopped drinking those energy drinks for it's really bad for the body especially during intense exercise like these.

Successfully conquering the climbs, it was time for the final 15KM drop. I resume my run, saving at least "2 gears" to protect my legs. It was important that I did for it's a critical time now. And as expected, Razif caught up. He asked me to follow him which I did albeit only for a while as he was pushing the downhill. To follow him will be to fire my next "gear" and risk an injury. I had no intention to do so and hence, he disappeared slowly into the distance.

Took my time with my descend not only paying attention on my foot strike but also the traffic as it was getting busy along the winding road. the second last check point with 11KM to go till the finish soon appeared. Wai Hong was busy cutting the watermelons for we still had time for a little chat, particularly about the watch we are using, Suunto. I also took a little time to sit down as I spotted a chair before resuming.

The next sector to the final check point at the Indian temple can be considered a homestretch. Though the downhill wasn't very steep, I still had to be careful albeit I don't deny I went a little faster. As I approach one of the big corners near the telco tower, there were lots of people surrounding it with police. There was also the police line which indicated some sort of accident or crime that had happened. I didn't see anything and didn't want to be a nosy parker and hence carried on, only to find out later that a corpse was spotted at the ravine below. Yikes!

As the hills becomes more manageable, I also arrived at the final check point. That should be another 5KM or so till the finish. Took small sips of water and I continued on as I began emptying the bottles on my hydration pack to lighten my burden. I didn't run any faster though as I wanted to enjoy the final sector. And besides, traffic was really heavy as the finish nears.

Final 300M or so.

Happy to complete 70KM.

As the traffic got heavier, I knew I was getting nearer too. With the sights of cars being park by the roadside and with Tey snapping photos along the final straight, I finally saw the white tentage and some other buildings. I was "home" and with one final left turn into the field, I managed to complete the 70KM distance in a of 8:43:48 (nett time), a new best for me!

YES! A personal best!

My splits.

Collected my entitlements and hung around with my friends for a while before heading off to cheer for the other runners. As I begun feeling sleepy, I decided to leave at 4PM, the cut off time for the 50KM distance and that was before cheering the runners from my car. I could see the many faces of determination as the clock started ticking down for them. Most made it, while some did not. But most important, accept defeat gracefully and try again.

Another best for the Kinvara 7.

Overall, it was a very productive run and at the same time I really enjoyed the Route 68 Challenge. I managed to stick with my plan and held back for the entire course, thus managing to save the legs from any potential damage leading into the final month of training.. I felt good and strong throughout the entire run and the same too upon completing it, without having to limp or walk awkwardly the next few days. It was indeed a confident booster for me and I really felt I am ready for my big race soon.

Many thanks to Jeff and Jason Tan for a very successful second edition of Route 68 Challenge. And of course not forgetting to the team whether official or unofficial behind it from Alexa, Hazel, Hong Lan, Barkley, Seng Heng, Wai Hong, Kavien, Sam Sam, Kelvin, Maxon, Raymond, Jason Thai, Suzie, Maui, Tey and many others for helping out. Till the next edition!

My reward the next day. Main reward was a different kind though.

* All photos here credited to their respective photographers. Thank you.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Of 3 months, 10 years and 24 years...

By Frank

I made it through again! YES (*inserts fist pumps into the air), as once again, I successfully tackled March, the toughest third month of training leading up to Comrades Marathon and this time West Highland Way Race.

As usual, when I saw the training regime given, I will ask myself if it can be done? The distance that needs to be cover, the intensity to be put in, the time needed for it plus some other side training, all of it seems so difficult and even "painful" by just looking at it. But I know that it needs to be done and hence just hope that I will be able to follow it as close as possible and survive it. Besides, I can't be complaining as these are 2 races I am totally committed to.

March didn't start of very well though as my legs were pretty thrashed up from Gunung Nuang Ultra which took place on the last day of February. Talk about perfect timing! Walking straight seems to be a problem for 3 days and hence I could forget about a short recovery run. But when the soreness had subside, it was business as usual as I punished the tarmac and treadmill as per the regime given.

However, there was another problem. With the most from the Gold Coast training group participating in Powerman Putrajaya on the first weekend of the month, my first weekend long run of the month seem to be hanging on the balance. But with some planning, I still managed to run it before and during the event while still able to support my friends. Moving forward, with some of my friends laying off running from injury and also taking note that the Gold Coast training isn't suitable for me, I had to improvised. Weekend long runs were still long but they were at reduced intensity on flat routes, while weekday shorter runs became more intense with speed and hills incorporated into it. Flexibility is the key to a successful training regime and I am glad mine can be done this way. And with that, 415KM was covered for the month of March 2016 bringing the year's running mileage up to 1,113KM, the one thousand barrier broken in my personal record time. A successful third month of training reaping positive benefits from it.

Midway into March, while out on one of my runs, I realised that I've been running for 10 years. And that's 10 year's of injury free running! Time has passed swiftly from my first marathon till my ultra adventures today. And I am glad that this year will be my half decade's of Comrades Marathon and also my first West Highland Way Race, a race that will fill my bucket list to the max. I guess that explain the reasons I am feeling "tired' already from all this running.

And finally. March is always remembered as the month I was diagnosed of Rhabdomyosarcoma some 24 years ago. No, it's not something to celebrate, for it's nothing proud nor happy about it being diagnosed, treated or surviving it. Rather, it's a month of remembering on what this deadly disease can do to all living beings and also to those who have fought or affected by it.

For now, it's time to move on to the fourth month of training. Again the same old question of how am I going to survive this month? But am sure I will and by the month's end, it will be something to be rejoice. Onward to April!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Twilight Ultra Challenge 2016...

Event: Twilight Ultra Challenge 2016
Venue: Sengkang Riverside Park, Singapore
Date: 19 March 2016
Time: 7.00PM
Distance: 5KM per loop (maximum distance in 16 hours)
Shoe: Saucony Ride 8
By Frank

In a blink of an eye, Twilight Ultra Challenge (TUC) is now into it's sixth year. A no frills looping based ultra running event by Ben and his team behind Running Guild, this is one event that I've never miss and it's one that I started running a year before Comrades too. Treating it as one my longest run in my Comrades training, the sad news is that I have never excelled in TUC due to sleep issues. Yeap, 5 years of trying and never really hit the 100KM mark. Maybe in this sixth edition I will, or will I?

The sixth edition of TUC sees a change of race site to Sengkang Riverside Park due to renovation works at the original site of East Coast Park. Certainly a welcome change after half a decade of running there. And besides, the new site's running path are built on the softer tarmac surface as per compared to concrete at East Coast Park. Certainly much more friendlier for the good old legs.

Unlike previous years, this time round I will be travelling alone to Singapore. With the Malaysian currency so weak, even staying at backpackers inn is pretty costly. Ian and Teck Sim did mentioned that I could always stay at their place whenever I am in Singapore but the problem is, I am not the type that simply likes to intrude into others privacy and personal time. However, I guess this time I needed their help and besides, I guess it will be nice to actually agree once. And so, I traveled down to Singapore on board First Coach from One Utama on Friday morning only to spend almost 2 hours at Singapore's immigration. For reason I do not know why, it was packed with people and the officers weren't very efficient that day. Took me almost 8 hours to arrive at Novena and it was almost time for dinner. And during the bus journey, my troublesome trapezius starting aching and it will proof to be a nuisance for days to come.

Ian and Teck Sim came and pick me up and straight away we went for an early dinner at Monniker located just next to Balestier Food Court. It was a nice little cozy restaurant and the people there were really friendly, and not to mention their awesome food. I needed some fat for the ultra next day so I ordered a pork dish call Porketta (not sure if it is spelled correctly) and a banana bread beer from the UK. Both were really good.

Delicious food at Monniker. Porketta on far right.

After a satisfying dinner, we returned to their place, IResidence which was nearby. Rested for a while before a quick dip at the warm jacuzzi and it's off for dessert next at United Square. A very rich durian sago dessert with pamelo was what I had. A little risky considering my sore throat due to overdose of chocolates 2 days ago, but it was just too tempting. After satisfying the stomach, it's back home to call it a night.

I've planned for a deep long sleep. However, that did not happen as the weather was pretty much hot and there were neighbours talking through the night which kept me awake in between sleeps. I woke up at 8.30AM and knew that the run later at night will be tough due to once again sleep issues. While going back to sleep will be tough, I cleaned myself up and joined both Ian and Teck Sim for breakfast at Balestier food court while waiting for time to pass. Back at their place later, I tried to catch a 2 hour nap which I do not know if I did, and eventually made my way to Novena for an early dinner at 4PM before catching up with colleagues from Singapore.

Found myself back at Ian's place at 5PM and proceeded to freshen myself up. He was back by 6PM and we were then off to Sengkang which is about 20 minutes drive away. Collected my race number and saw many familiar faces in the process from Ben, Yee Hua, Roy, Si Main, Kim Lai, Eu Gene, Barkley, Hong Chew, Kim Song, Karl and many more. Was certainly nice to be seeing them again. Weather though was hot, was in fact greeted by a much welcome light breeze.

Bibs Third, Second and First!

At 7PM, the sixth edition of TUC was flagged off with Ben, the event director leading the way. Although I knew the surface was of tarmac, I chose the Saucony Ride 8 as my shoe of choice. Though a tad heavier than my everyday Kinvara, it offers much more cushioning, something I needed a little after a very intense and heavy workout last week. And instantly, I can feel my legs being protected already as I try to settle my rhythm in.

Off we go at 7PM!

The run which is of 2.5KM along the canal or was it reservoir at the Sengkang Riverside Park was part of the Craze Ultra 100 Miles route and all the memories or rather nightmare came flashing back. At the far end where the u-turn point was, Yek Bun was leading the team there. A run back to the start will complete the 5KM loop. As simple as that over the next 16 hours and I planned to have small intakes of watermelon and water at the end of each turn to keep me going, filled and hydrated.

I was struggling with my sore left trapezius at the start. I can hardly turn my head and hence not able to reply to anyone calling me from behind or the side. The pain had actually ease a little compared earlier but it was still uncomfortable to be running with it with the constant pounding of the muscles. At that point of time, I was just hoping that my pain tolerance will take me through the distance or the pain will continue to subside. And moving forward after completing 20KM equaling to 4 loops, the pain started to subside a little. And although it was a little breezy especially towards the first half, humidity was actually on the high side.

I had my first cup of black coffee courtesy of LiveCoffee who is on site to serve the runners. Operated as a complimentary beverage for the runners by a a group of coffee lovers, their coffee was actually very good, and not to mention strong. I told myself to "recharge" with a  cuppa after completing every 4 loops and this was certainly a motivational push.


As the pain on my left trapzeius continues to subside, run and walks with friends like Karl and Rozman at certain stretches did help to cope with the time and distance. I continue to push using landmarks like the flyovers to guide me. Running from flyovers to flyovers ranging around a Kilometer in distance did help with managing my leg strength as it gave ample time for them to recover before resuming my runs.

Lonely in the dark.

40KM covered in slightly more than 5 hours and already pass midnight, it was time for my second cup of coffee. The legs were hurting but it wasn't as thrashed up compared to the old venue at East Coast Park. I do not know if its the surface, the shoe of the legs being stronger but I certainly hope it was the latter.

With the second dose of the much needed caffeine, I continued on. Nothing much happened for the next 4 loops except for me going slower and slower. Hahaha... But I did meet up with Samantha who recognized me from my Putrajaya 100 blog last year. We chatted while running behind Hong Chew, Yee Hua and Kim Song, and it was great to be sharing with her some of my run experiences.

Was looking forward to my next cup of coffee after completing 60KM as the critical part for me is from 3AM to 5AM, the time when the body is the weakest and when sleepiness starts to set in. And upon completing 60KM at about 4AM, I met Gary at the race venue and share with me on his daughter's story of fighting osteosarcoma. I would really like to hear a happier version but sadly, she lost her battle. But nevertheless, I was glad that Gary accepted the fact and that life goes on and believes that cancer treatment, research and treatment is going the positive way.

Before pushing off for my next loop for 65KM, Ian arrived just in time too with my much needed early breakfast. I didn't know what I wanted when he asked earlier, but I did mentioned that perhaps a roti prata (canai) will be nice. And that was exactly the food I had in my mind when I was out on the run. Sat down and chatted away with him while having the actually pretty delicious prata with hot coffee. That gave my legs a little time to recover too.

With the breakfast settled down in my happy tummy, I push forward. And surprisingly, I managed to complete the next loop without stopping with quite an healthy pace too. The prata had worked it's magic, well at least for this loop. A short while after starting my next loop, there was an urge to visit the potty. I was already almost a Kilometer away from the starting point and hence to decided to "nurse" myself all the way to the other end. Runners who passed me tried to pull me along but I didn't want to risk running with that urge in me just in case of an unwanted "explosion".

Eventually, I got to the u-turn point and made my deposit in the small but clean potty. Took me a while but what had to be release, just got to be release. But in the process, I think I strain or pulled one of my ankle muscles. It became a little stiff and even walking feels a little painful. However, I still caught up with Hong Chew and Kim Song just before completing our 70KM together.

I was tempted to stop after completing 70KM as I knew I have broken into the 1,000KM distance milestone for this year's training. In all my Comrades training across the years, this was my shortest time that I got to here and indeed it was a personal achievement. But the show had to go on and I continued with Hong Chew, Kim Song and Kelvin with the sun now shining bright.

The pain on my right ankle become more irritating upon completing 75KM but the 4 of us decided that we shall make it 80KM before deciding to call it a day. We walked and ran together using lamp post as indicators and after 12:59:44 hours, 80KM was completed by my dear legs. And together with Hong Chew, we decided to stop here, with Kim Song and Kelvin still going for it.

I was a little disappointed that once again I could not hit the century distance after 6 attempts. Despite still with 3 hours to go to hit that desired distance, I just didn't want to risk any injuries on my right ankle. Just worry something might snap in there. Nevertheless, this was my fastest time with this distance in TUC and it's certainly a positive sign.

Ian and Teck Sim came just before the closing of the event as we cheered the remaining runners on. We left soon after everyone completed their run and headed back. A refreshing shower before resting up a little and then it's off to Novena for lunch and for my coach back home at 3PM. The journey home was once again like the journey into Singapore 3 days ago. Immigration was really slow with 4 ladies cutting into my queue despite being told off. But luckily, traffic was smooth and by 10PM, I arrived safely at One Utama with dad picking me up from there.

Overall, I enjoyed once again the Twilight Ultra Challenge, now into its sixth year. With the introduction of Sengkang Riverside Park, it adds a new dimension and challenge to this event. Besides, my legs didn't feel so thrashed up compared to be running at East Coast Park. I could still walk properly after the event. The only downside, no proper toilet and shower area, despite the community centre nearby.

Thanks Ben, Yee Hua, Phil, Yek Bun, Tee Li and the team at Running Guild for yet another successful edition Twilight Ultra Challenge. Ant not forgetting to the friendly people behind LiveCoffee for being there through the night serving the runners great coffee which kept us going and going. I had 4 cups and I could drink more actually cause it's just so good. And to the rest of the runners, it was really nice to have catch up and befriended some of you. And finally, to my host Ian and Teck Sim for your awesome hospitality. I didn't expect all that is provided and now I owe you both a Porketta and a bottle of banana bread beer! Till the next edition!

* All photos here credited to the respective photographers. Thank you.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Saucony Kinvara 7...

By Frank

My to go road shoe, the Saucony Kinvara which I have been relying since the third generation till the sixth has been serving me very well from short distances up till 161KM to multi stages event, in my training and also races. It has been the shoe that had allowed me to run from strength to strength at the Comrades Marathon and I believe it will continue to do so. I really like the fact that Saucony only gave the Kinvaras some minor tweaks and changes for the past sixth generations with the third and fifth being the biggest overhaul but yet still maintaining its DNA. That's a good thing for me, but I guess to meet market demands in the very challenging running shoes sector now, Saucony needed to up their game and take the risk and challenges in making the Kinvara an even better shoe, or risk a downfall for one of their most successful model.

Enter the Saucony Kinvara 7 (K7).

The Saucony Kinvara 7.

I was lucky enough to be part of the test team for the yet to be launch K7 back in September 2015. First in Malaysia to receive the shoe, I had my big plans back then to run my Comrades qualifier with it after just a few runs in them. The reason was simple, the shoe is awesome!

Lateral view of the Kinvara 7.

Medial view of the Kinvara 7.

While most of the K7 upper looks pretty much the same to the naked eye, one will notice the big change when they look closer and feel the "foam" texture on the lateral heel and also by turning the shoe upside down paying attention to the outsole. The big overhaul are there!

Same but not same? Kinvara 7 on the left vs. Kinvara 6 on the right.

So let's start with the outsole. From triangular pods at the forefoot section that acted like trampolines in the previous generations of the Kinvaras, the K7 now see a design call Tri-Flex reinforced with XT900 carbon rubber for extra durability. It basically are flex grooves designed like some jagged arrows in allowing for more flex. And according to Saucony, this new design will also allow more impact absorption but yet still providing one of the industries highest rebound rate when worked together with it's new midsole material which I will explain shortly. Honestly speaking, I wasn't really convince on it upon first seeing it back at the trade show in June 2015 as it I felt traction will be compromise. However, my runs in them had proved me wrong. Not only the shoe feels more lively with a slight increase in flex, it's actually more tacky too. Traction has been improved, most noticeable on smooth pavements such as cements and those red inter-lockable bricks.

New Tri-Flex outsole.

Next, the main highlight of the K7, the midsole material. Gone is PowerGrid which had been the driving force since the 4th generation. Introducing EVERUN, a foam like TPU material which is not only more durable, but more efficient in absorbing impact but yet at the same time, lively in giving back with up to 83% of rebound rate from the impact it absorb. However unlike the plushier models such as the Hurricane ISO 2, Triumph ISO 2 and Guide 9 which gets a full length EVERUN midsole insert coupled with a EVERUN topsole, the K7 only gets its insert on the heel. This according to Saucony is to give the K7 a fast feel without being over plush. To me, it does make sense. And the rest of the midsole material are made out of Saucony's SSL (Saucony SuperLite) EVA rubber, the same as its predecessors.

Different setup of the EVERUN insert across its models. 
Kinvara 7 setup shown on the lower far right which is the same setup as the new Peregrine 6 in the heel.

"Foam" like texture on the heel indicating where the new EVERUN material is. 
It's hidden inside though.

Now moving to the upper. Again, first time impression upon seeing the K7's upper was not exactly promising.  It gets a new open mesh looks which looks rather weak. It looked pretty much from the good old days of the Triumph and Hurricane series which has toes busting out from the top and side. However, upon a closer inspection, it actually has the quality from the same mesh of the Triumph ISO. And together with FlexFilm, a light weight synthetic film that replaces stitches and to give the shoe some lock down and structure, the K7's upper is indeed a different class from its predecessors.

Close up on the new open mesh.
Yellow and Green pair are Kinvara 7. Grey is of another shoe.

The mid foot locking mechanism call Pro-Lock which was introduced back in Kinvara 5 sees a slight upgrade. It doesn't look like much of it but it does feels shorter especially from the forefoot point of view. This means less irritation with the correct wrap location around the mid foot area. And for the collar, the moderately padded RunDry collar has been retained to soak up and wick away moisture such as sweat flowing down from the shin and calves.


The RunDry collar.

So with all the mumbo jumbo technical aspects of the shoe explained, the most important question right now will be its ride. The initial testing phase was primarily all done at the dirt road at the Old Deeside Way at Aberdeen, Scotland during the end of autumn and I must say that the first few ride was rather firm. It was firm enough for me to be comparing it with the Type A6. However, after covering about 50KM in it, the shoe felt ready. With the shoe broken in especially the EVERUN TPU foam at the heel, the cushioning of the K7 felt like no other and it was noticeable different from its predecessors, for a good reason. Good protection for heel strikers but yet still bouncy, that is what the EVERUN is all about I guess.

The toe box built with the new upper mesh was roomy and stretchy, even better than the fifth and sixth generations I must say which was already very good. The only downside, it was hard to clean especially when you have dirt and mud sticking to it as I was running on the dirt road of the Old Deeside Way which is always affected by the typical wet Scottish weather.

Dirt on the yellow Kinvara 7's mesh is tougher to clean compared to its predecessor.

The lock down of the shoe provided by the Pro-Lock felt a bit more comfortable compared to the sixth which I had some issues during my fourth Comrades Marathon. On the K7, I did not feel any rubbing at all and it's double thumbs up for this for it felt much more like the setup on the K5. If I had one complain for the K7, it will be the collar which I felt it was built a little too high. My ankle ball was rubbing on it a little, a sensation that I do not feel on previous generations except the K3. I managed to minimise the sensation by wearing mini crew socks though. Oh and yes, the laces on the K7 remains the same as its predecessor which comes undone easily. I can't seem to understand on why Saucony can't change them to flat elastic laces found on their other models. Sigh...

My ultimate test was done at my Comrades qualifier at Istanbul Marathon last year. The K7 performed so well that I ran my second career best marathon time with it and hence the shoe easily gets a 5 star rating from me! And today, at time of writing this, my K7 has covered approximately 350KM and durability is definitely holding up. Overall, I felt the K7 will show its full potential at fast pace while still providing enough protection at slower pace and hence, my second pair will take on this year's Comrades!

Kinvara 6 (400KM) vs. Kinvara 7 (350KM) wear and tear.

With all these upgrades, the K7 still remains at it's legendary light weight of 218 Grams offering at the same stack height of 22MM at the heel and 18MM at the forefoot, a sweet 4MM off set. That's the same over 7 generations of Kinvaras. And the Kinvara series has gone from strength to strength as I continue to improve on my runs at the same time. So by overhauling an already great shoe, is this gamble worth it from Saucony? I bet it is and I am already very excited to see how much the Kinvara can still be evolve into. Amazing work there Saucony.

The Saucony Kinvara 7 will retail at a recommended selling price of RM429.00 and will be available nationwide at Running Lab - Tropicana City Mall, Stadium and selected Royal Sporting House outlets this April 2016 in 3 colourways for the men and 2 for the ladies. Like Max ad Miles from Saucony says, "You should get your feet on this stuff!".

This pair of the Saucony Kinvara 7 is kindly provided by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, the authorised distributor of Saucony in Malaysia for test and review purposes and all opinion are based solely on personal takes.