Thursday, September 29, 2016

Go West...

By Frank

Since 2015, the word “West” has played a part in my running career. The decision to enter myself into the West Highland Way Race 2016 and missing the opportunity to qualify for the world prestigious and oldest 100 mile trail race, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (WS100) by 5 minutes 8 seconds at HK100. A couple of weeks back, the word returned into my head in trying to persuade me to “Go West” again, and thus, there has been a little brainstorming for me since then as I found out that through the West Highland Way Race 2016, I have finally qualified myself for WS100.

Regarded by many runners as the “Must” run or their bucket list run, I don’t deny that I would really like to run it myself though it isn’t on my to do list. In fact, all the runs that I wanted to run has now been ran and that I have nothing left for. From road to trail and mountain, the marathon distance, to 100KM to 160KM, Comrades Marathon and the West Highland Way Race, I am happy with what I have achieved myself and where I am today. In fact, I have slowed down a lot since returning from Scotland this year and have just gained that little weight in me as I took some time off from running.

I knew that the WS100 is always held in the month of June meaning that it will be really close to Comrades Marathon. The concern isn’t about being able to run it or not after the demanding Comrades as I have done it this year with the West Highland Way Race which was 3 weeks apart, but rather the hassle in travelling to the United States since there is a need of Visa application for Malaysian passport holders and also the logistics for the entire travel itinerary.

Then of course, the West Highland Way Race which falls on the same exact date as WS100 next year. Yes, I have successfully done it but that doesn’t mean that I will not be making a return (*hint hint) for a second time as Scotland is just so worth my time. My friends, the highlands, loch, food, etc…, they are all worth it. Nuff said. Besides, the goblet is feeling lonely and may be a good idea to find it a companion.

And so yes, it’s not a difficult decision after all as I decided not to enter myself into WS100, at least for now. Yes, it may be a chance wasted but again, it’s not exactly important to me. And of course, Scotland is just too way hard to resist and I rather be there surrounded with good vibes (not midges).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back 2 Endurance 2016...

Event: Back 2 Endurance 2016
Venue: Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur
Date: 04 September 2016
Time: 6.30AM
Distance: 2.3KM per loop. To run as many in 12 hours.
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

The 4th edition of Back 2 Endurance, my third since I missed the first 3 years back saw a shift of month from the usual June to September this time round due to the fasting period and probably risk of haze. I was quite happy to learn about this cause if it remained in the month of June, I will have probably missed it since I probably be still at Scotland back then.

Despite being a tough event, it's one that I do enjoy as a looping race brings together the running community. And being my third in a row, Jeff, the race director told me that I had a shot to be included into their "Hall of Fame" should I managed a gold award again by running at least 37 loops which will total up to 85.1KM in distance. Though I wasn't in pursuit for that famed title or race positions, I had my own goal in running 39 loops which will total up to the Comrades "Down" distance of 89.7KM. This I had done the previous 2 years with last year a loop less due to the "Up" run being shorter. And it will be a “sending off “ run for my Comrades race shoe each year and this time will be my Kinvara 7.

My third year in a row Back 2 Endurance.

With triple issues of a bad shoulder blade, tummy and tooth gum the past few days, I got to bed pretty early the night before hoping to get at least 6 hours of quality sleep. However, that did not happen as my phone's LED was flashing with WhatsApp messages despite putting it on silent mode. WhatsApp can be useful but at the same time damn irritating too. Anyhow, I managed about 4 hours sleep and woke up at 2AM to prepare myself. Everything went smoothly and by 5.00AM, I arrived at Perdana Botanical Gardens to find some runners had already arrived! I wanted to arrive early to secure a good parking spot near the race site as there had been issues with car break ins there. And I managed just that, parking next to Roy, which was just beside the race site.

With my left gum near my wisdom tooth was still irritating me, I rested in the car for a while before realising that I needed some activity to distract me from the pain. Therefore, I geared up and headed to the race site to mingle with the crowd when suddenly, a lady name Carolyn Hare came to me and asked about my Scottish Saltire Buff. By asking, I instantly knew that she was a Scot and not only that, she was a support runner at this year's West Highland Way Race!

Fast forwarding ahead, it was a shot briefing by Jason and at 6.30AM sharp, the event started. I started in mid pack and went off slowly, slowly bringing up my core temperature and settle into my pace. Knowing that my fitness level and strength has dropped a lot since 2 months back, it will take some effort this time in trying to hit my desired distance. Once settled into pace, I was averaging my heart rate at around 135 beats per minute which was very comfortable. But what surprised me was that I was still managing a 6 minutes pace with that heart rate. Definitely am very happy with that but the question is, how long will I last as the heat will soon rise and my legs will soon tire. Not wanting to think too much about that, I continue on with my aim.

Nothing much happened on my first 5 loops or so and everything went well without much distraction. Most of the faster runners were already way ahead with the rest settling into their own rhythm, some of them just wanting to have fun while others challenging themselves to try hit a new personal distance. I only started my hydration on my 6 loop drinking from a provided polycarbonate mug from the organisers. A pretty good green gesture from them to reduce wastage but I question the reason behind the plastic and papers cups that was used as a backup. I personally think that the rules should be firm on this when it was already stated down clearly and runners should not take advantage of this especially when the runners here don’t seem to learn.

Anyway, the half marathon distance was achieved without much unfortunate events. Legs were fine and heart rate was still stable. However I began to felt hungry and was craving for some fruits especially watermelons. However to my horror, all the food served was pretty dry like biscuits (not crackers) and cakes. Way too sugary for me as I starred at the volunteers in charge of this which of no surprise, it wasn’t their first time. There were lots of watermelons and oranges being unloaded before the start and what was the reason behind not serving them? Temperature not hot enough? Not time yet? Forgotten? I was lazy to argue or even to ask and kept going hoping that it will be served upon completing the next loop.

A mental game of going through loops over 12 hours.

Loops after loops, no fruits were served as my heart rate began to spike as the temperature sets in. And it was still not noon yet. I kept my tri top’s zipper down to allow maximum airflow and also began to pour water over my head to keep my temperature down. It slowed me down a little as after pouring, I had to refill my mug with ice for it to cool when I return the next loop. However, I had a trick which was that I left a spare bottle on the next table which allowed me to save a little time as I can grab that and run with it. And by saving that little time, means saving my legs from “stiffening” during my stops.

Yew Khuay who was ahead of me by 1 loop caught up with me and we did a few loops together. Great to have him for company again as we continuously push each other, like the experience we had back at last year’s Putrajaya 100. The difference this time is that he had his phone with him and he was hunting Pokemon! With him, I hit the marathon distance just 3 minutes below 5 hours. Legs were feeling sore and tired, with some pain coming from the top of my left foot, I took the opportunity rest and to have my lunch which was being served. A variety of fried rice and noodles were served but what important was that the fruits were finally out now!

15 minutes was used for lunch as I had an enjoyable time chatting with Jason and Wai Hong at the same time too. And when I resume, I had to walk 2 loops to digest off my lunch. That wasn’t in my plans but it had to be done.  My left foot felt a little better but the afternoon heat has arrived and I was really surprised to see Carolyn for the first time since the start and that she was handling the heat pretty well. We did a few loops together and found out that she has been staying at Brunei for the past few years. That explains the reason. She was a strong runner and I had a good time chatting with her everything Scottish related before I myself had a shocked when she told me that she had my book!

Pushing through in the heat with Carolyn.

Carolyn’s was a “touch and go” runner and she didn’t stop very long at the end of each loop. And that was when I lost touch with her as I kept cooling myself down by pouring water over my head. Apparently she was handling the heat better than this Malaysian! Although it was hot, the humidity was acceptable as I kept shouldering on, one loop at a time, and soon it was 6 hours and we changed direction.

When things started to get really tough for me, I started with a new strategy which was to walk the first 300M stretch from the start of the loop which was of pavement before running till the end of the lake. Walking the short stretch around the lake before running all the way to complete the loop. It worked pretty well as it gave my legs some time to recover but as my pace wasn’t there, I was slowly losing time to complete my desired distance. Realistically still able to hit 37 loops and hence with that, I downgraded my expectations.

I began to think about my first attempt at this event 2 years back where I had Susanah paced me during the fourth quarter of the run. She helped me achieved the Comrades distance that year with a further push from Wai Hong for the final loop. It’s those memories that give me some motivational push and strength as I slowly dig deeper into myself.

With some new found strength, I managed to cut back a little deficit and made up some time. And realistically now, I am able to push for 38 loops which will give me the Comrades “Up” run distance of 87KM. It won’t be easy but I will definitely give it a go. I reduced my stops as I grab and ran with my bottle drinking and pouring water over myself with it. The momentum swung back to me and with 37 loops down, I just had 1 more to go.

Slightly less than 40 minutes left before the 12 hours cut off. Realistically, 90KM can be done, but the risk will be high. Not wanting to risk any injuries, my mind was set to do 1 final loop to achieve 87KM. And that final loop, I had the privilege to run it together with Yew Khuay and we made it back safely with 19 minutes to go. It was certainly enough to do 1 more loop but enough was enough. I am happy with 87KM and after all, it’s still a Comrades distance, a “Up” run distance and all done in 11:40:10 crawling back from position 20, 14 to 11, 8 and finally 7.

Completing my final loop with Yew Khuay. 
Not posing but rather pointing to Yew Khuay as a mark of respect.

Chilling out with Yew Khuay and Kelvin.

I stayed back to rest up while cheering for other runners. And one runner that I was cheering for was no other than Carolyn who was out doing her final 39 loop. And when she returned, I notice that she was running barefoot as her shoe’s midsole had come undone.  But the important thing I noticed was that she had her Scottish Saltire Buff on, the same as mine as I welcomed her “home” as champion of the women’s category. AYE!

A WeFie with the women's champion, Carolyn from Scotland! AYE!

Generally speaking, this was my poorest performance of my 3 runs at Back 2 Endurance. But looking at how things went after deciding to slow down after West Highland Way Race, I was happy after all. I knew at the start that it was going to be tough, but as the Comrades saying goes, “Hard is what makes it great” and I am glad I decided to give it a go after all.

Got toasted under the sun.

Overall, another well done to Jeff and Jason for yet another event especially when Jeff just returned from UTMB a few days ago. Despite some similar hiccups like the serving of fruits mentioned earlier, it was still an enjoyable no frills event. Will I be back the next year? If the event date is right, I might just will, but don’t think there will be any more pressure in trying to hit that Comrades distance. 3 times is already enough and with this done, I need to get some dental issue done over with and it will be an extremely painful one. Gulps…

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

Monday, August 01, 2016

Saucony Peregrine 6...

By Frank

Like the Saucony Kinvara 7 (K7) which was my “To Go” road shoe, I had the opportunity to get both my feet on my “To Go” trail shoe, the Saucony Peregrine 6 (P6) way before it was available in the market thanks to the people at Saucony Malaysia. However, I kept a low profile on it and only tested the shoe when I was all out at the trails by myself leading up my race at West Highland Way Race 2016 where the P6 was my chosen race shoe.

The Saucony Peregrine 6.

The Peregrines, from 4, 5 and now 6.

After successfully racing the West Highland Way Race 2016 in the P6 which is where this review is entirely based on, it’s now time to recap and put it into words. Built under Saucony’s RunAnyWhere line-up of trail shoes, I remember how surprised and at the same time delighted I was when I saw the P6 for its very first time about a year ago. Having trained and raced with both the Peregrine 4 and 5, I was surprised that Saucony took the risk and plunge to change its core design after 5 generations and delighted at the same time too that they did and for the better for the P6 finally “matured” into a sleek, aggressive and fast “Peregrine” (referring to the falcon). Completed redesigned from scratch, the P6 not only spots a totally new upper, but a new midsole and a totally redesigned outsole.

Lateral view of the Saucony Peregrine 6.

Medial view of the Saucony Peregrine 6.

After having spot the same last for the past 5 generations, the P6 arrived as a fresh new design. The upper now utilizes a new engineered stretch mesh which offers a smoother feel and look compared to the previous ones used which was more traditional looking. Smooth to the touch, it still retains the excellent ventilation as found in previous generations, if not an improvement over it. Being a stretchy material, one can expect a very forgiving toe box where my toes were splayed throughout my entire 28 hours out at the highlands. No hot spots, no blisters, no chaffing and very quick drying was what I can say about it. And to hold up the shoe’s upper by giving it a little structure without compromising on durability was the usage of FlexFilm, a thin but strong layer of synthetic material which offers fewer layers on the upper for a seamless and flexible feel.

A completely new engineered stretch mesh with a 
reinforced toe cap to withstand any accidental kicks..

The external heel counter has a semi rigid but yet flexible plastic cupping built into it to give better stability to the ankle. Cosmetically and personally, I find it very good looking with not only the Peregrine insignia on it, but a set of coordinates which if you are interested, will bring you the banks of Saucony Creek at Kuztown where the Saucony was first founded. The collar is then rounded off with the RunDry lining to keep sweat out of the shoe while giving a plush feel.

External heel counter with coordinates.

Padded RunDry collar.

The toe cap is reinforced by a durable and rugged looking rubber piece. Despite having trip over some rocks and also kicking my foot over it, the toe cap does it job very well, that’s it to shield and protect my toes. And not only that, it held up very well too. No chipping off or rubber coming undone especially with much exposure to different elements such as heat, water crossing and yes, even cow dung too (who wants to steal my shoe better think twice now).

With a gusseted tongue, any unwanted debris that may find its way into the shoe is minimized. And not only that, it gave a much better fit as it wraps around the feet nicely and snugly. Not as plush as the ISOFit found in the Zealot, but it does its job well here. And with a gaiter clip found at the front, a secondary protection can be added, especially when one is running through dirty terrains where debris may enter through the collar area. And the laces, unlike previous generations has been shorten which now fits better. And yes, it’s still made of the same durable material and it stays put to its place without coming undone easily. No worries about stepping over it.

The gusseted tongue.

The gaiter clip and the awesome lace.

The midsole saw some minor changes especially on the heel insert. Gone is the PowerGrid foam there being replaced with a new continuous cushioning foam call EVERUN which offers 83% energy return and 3 times the durability. It started off pretty firm but after a few runs, the foam will be “broken in” and I could feel a slight difference. Honestly speaking, not a huge world of difference compared to the already good PowerGrid in the “Feel” department, but I believe it’s for the better as Saucony continue to evolve it. Besides, I could see it holding up pretty well despite my shoe having gone through over 300KM in distance in various conditions. That’s really 2 thumbs and 2 big toes up for me!

Breakthrough in cushioning where EVERUN replaces 
PowerGrid at the heel insert of the Peregrine 6.

Most previous Peregrine users had asked for a higher stack height and Saucony had listened and responded for the next midsole upgrade saw an additional 1MM of stack height bringing the P6 up to 21.5MM on the heel and 17.5MM on the forefoot and hence still retaining the sweet 4MM offset. Although thicker now to try numb any ground feel, the P6’s ride is still pretty low to ground and hence one can still feel very stable in it.

Over at the forefoot encased within Saucony’s SSL (Saucony Super Lite) EVA is the EBO (External Bedrock Outsole), a protective rockplate made of flexible but yet strong nylon fiber to shield and protect from sharp rocks or rugged terrains. It’s generally lighter in weight compared to traditional thick rubber and more versatile compared to carbon fiber.

The EBO rockplate as seen in grey/black "zebra" line embedded into the midsole at the front.

For those who remember the outsole design of previous Peregrines where it utilizes multi directional lugs and 2 different rubber compounds to achieve excellent traction in both rocky and muddy conditions, the P6’s new outsole, achieved not only what it predecessor’s did but improves over it. Now with a 1 piece design and new carbon rubber compound call PWRTRAC offering an even tackier ride and 3 times more durable compared to traditional carbon rubber, it together with a newly redesigned multi directional thread with deep angled lugs that resembles mini falcon talons, gives the P6 an exceptional comfortable and confident ride.

The multi directional lugs of the new PWRTRAC outsole.

That’s all the positive for the P6 but what amazes me is that despite all the changes and upgrades from the above, the P6 still weighs in at 266 Grams for a men’s size US9.0. And that’s 6 Grams shaved off from the P5! Well done Saucony!

There’s many to like about the P6, but like all shoes, gadgets, accessories and others, there will be a few dislikes as none is perfect. First, the ventilation despite being top notch, the upper like P5 still allows super fine debris like sand and ash to enter the shoe. Not really a big deal in this part of the world, but I do hope that Saucony can come up with a cross between ventilation and debris protection for this part of the shoe. But do note that there is a FlexShell version of the P6 releasing soon, where it offers water repellency with a close top upper where it will solved the debris issue at the expense of a few grams and ventilation.

Next will be the EVERUN heel insert. It seems that being only inserted on the heel area, not much difference can be felt. A full length EVERUN insert will be more preferable and hopefully, this can help with impact absorption and also toe-off as footing and landing zones on trails differs much from road.

And finally, at 266 Grams, the P6 is already very light for a trail she of this class. But I believe it can go even lighter with the semi rigid plastic on the heel counter be replaced with some other lighter materials such as those found in the Kinvaras.

Outsole wear and tear of the Peregrine 5 (left) after 468KM and Peregrine 6 after 321KM (right).

I've started wearing the Saucony Peregrines since the fourth generations. It got better at the fifth but the sixth has set a new standards in my very own opinion on trail shoes. The Saucony Peregrine 6 has won numerous awards worldwide but 2 awards stands out most which is the coveted Runners World Editor’s ChoiceAward and OUTSIDE Gear of the Year 2016. Awards are definitely able to market the shoe well, but what most important is the feel and ride from the individual’s wear experience. And after more than 300KM worth of trail adventures especially in the rugged West Highland Way, all I can say here, it truly deserves its awards!

The Saucony Peregrine 6 with it's cousin, the Kinvara 7 together with the Comrades Marathon medal and the West Highland Way Race goblet. 2 amazing shoes, 2 amazing races.

The Saucony Peregrine 6 is now available at a recommended selling price of RM429.00 at all Saucony authorized dealers nationwide such as Saucony Concept Store (Queensbay Mall, Penang), Running Lab (Tropicana City Mall, Selangor), Top Man World (Kulai, Johor), Stadium and selected Royal Sport House stores.

This pair of Saucony Peregrine 6 is kindly provided by RSH (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, the sole authorised distributor of Saucony in Malaysia for test and review purposes and all opinions are based solely on personal takes.

Monday, July 18, 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016...

Event: West Highland Way Race 2016
Venue: Milngavie Railway Station, Scotland
Date: 18 June 2016
Time: 1.00AM (Scotland time), 8.00AM (Malaysia time)
Distance: 152KM
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 6
By Frank

"Let your legs do the running but let your heart and soul light your path".

Trust me, writing this entry is probably tougher than running the West Highland Way Race. And not only that, I had back luck when out of a sudden, my photos from the race which includes Comrades Marathon 2016 and also the draft to this blog which I've typed out in Word document suddenly went missing. Though I got most of my photos back through a data recovery process, the blog draft unknowingly went missing into "deep space" and was never found. A mystery that will never be solve, I was actually just content to get my photos back as after all, I can always re-write this blog as the memory was still fresh in my mind. Just hope no mistake on the route since I've not ran or hike the entire West Highland Way before, considering I flew a long way to do this race..

So to cut things short, I will leave my build up to this race out as I had already shared it on my previous entry HERE, and will begin this entry with my journey to Glasgow, a day before the big race.

The race profile, distance and cut-off time.

On the morning of Thursday, 16 June 2016, I opt to take the bus from Union Square, Aberdeen to make my way to Glasgow. It was not the ideal option for the trip was actually pretty tiring with winding roads and multiple stops. But the main thing was that I wanted to save some cash as the train ticket was doubled the price compared to the bus. But anyhow, after slightly more than 3 hours, I arrived at a wet Glasgow and made my way for some hot soup at Pret A Manger before quickly heading to Hampton Guest House, the exact place I stayed a week ago. The same receptionist greeted and handled my check-in. Knowing that I've a race, he was kind enough to allocate a room smack at the back of the building which was dark and hopefully quiet as those at the front was facing a school. Dark it was, but not exactly quiet which I will elaborate further later.

Quickly laid out my race gear to ensure nothing was left behind in Aberdeen. When everything was good to go, I packed them up in their respective bags with labels on them before heading out for a simple dinner. And when the sky opened up again, I quickly made my way back to the guest house arriving there pretty wet. A hot shower and then I laid on bed resting and watching the TV till  about midnight before calling it a night.

Laying out the gears. 3 sets of apparels were prepared.

A very handy GPS tracker for my support crew to track my location.

I woke up at about 7AM though my alarm was set at 8AM. I mentioned the room wasn't exactly quiet as the sound of footsteps from above can be heard pounding the wooden floor. Besides, the sound from housekeeping was disturbing too. I rolled on the bed before finally heading downstairs for breakfast, avoiding coffee as I intended to continue sleeping after the meal. I tried but I had difficulties due to the sound especially the vacuum cleaner as housekeeping got busier. I do not know if I manage to sleep, but quickly, it was already 2PM as I eventually gave up and made my way to town to buy a sandwich and also the much needed natural beetroot juice (non concentrated) which I have been drinking prior to my races for its benefits.

Natural beetroot juice is a must for me nowadays prior to a big race.

The weather looks good and the forecast was looking great for at least the next 24 hours. Hope it stays that way as I continue resting in my room while waiting for time to pass. And at 4PM, I finally had my first cup of coffee and started getting ready. At 6.30PM, I checked out and headed out to the nearby Banana Leaf Malaysian restaurant to meet up with Chee Kong and family for dinner. A simple dinner of chicken rice which was my most expensive ever before heading to deposit my luggage and essential gears into the car we rented, the Toyota Varso.

The Toyota Varso was a huge mistake. We initially wanted to rent the Volkswagen Transporter but due to some tight budget, we opt for the Vauxhall Zafira offered by Arnold Clark. But instead, they gave us the much smaller Toyota Varso instead and at the same price. Shame on Arnold Clark! With no choice left, we had to managed the luggage space. I left for the train station at Glasgow Central after settling my luggage and Chee Kong returned to his hotel for some rest while waiting for Edmund's arrival at 10.50PM later before driving to Milngavie.

The rather small Toyota Varso. At least I like the red colour.

4 hours before the race start, I was already nervous and made my first mistake as I took the wrong train. Blame myself for not taking note of the train's destination and instead boarded the few minutes earlier train which needed a change at Westerton and headed to Dumbarton instead! Was lucky I took note of my silly mistake and studied the Train App and made my way back to Westerton and waited for the correct train and still made it to Milngavie at 9.30PM as per intended. Phew... An early adventure for me.

I've arrived.

The starting line.

Before heading to collect my race pack, I quickly snap some photos of the surrounding especially the start area of the race. It was nice to get some pre-race feel about the place in advance as it was no rush for me. As I head towards the St. Joseph RC Church which was just next to the train station for the race pack collection, I bumped into Race Director, Ian Beattie and also John Duncan. Great to see them again.

The title on his top says it all. 
Ian Beattie, the Race Director and also the chairman of Scottish Athletics.

In the hall, Sandra Beattie welcomed me and handed over my race pack with my bib number of 10, a pre-arranged number for me which represented my 10 year of running! Thanks Ian! Next, I made myself to be handed my timing chip from SPORTident. Instead of a mini card hung over a lanyard as per indicated on the race instruction, I was given a tiny crystal looking key like thing which was strap over my right wrist and pointing towards my palm. Looks a bit awkward and my initial thoughts was that it is going to get uncomfortable during the race. But apparently, it was not.

With forever smiling Sandra Beattie (in the middle).

Lucky bib number 10 and the timing device by SPORTident.

Next was to get myself weight and Gerry Craig, who was part of Singapore's MR25 organising committee was there to assist. Great to be seeing him again as we chatted away before the crowd got a little busy and I headed to collect my race merchandise which I have pre-ordered. Angela and Alexa arrived shortly and we hung around the hall for a while more while catching up with friends like Donald Sandeman, Jeni-Rees, John Munro and Helen Munro. We then proceeded to rest my legs in Alexa's car parked within the area.

Good to catch up with Gerry Craig.

53.8KG for the start.

And by resting, time quickly passed by and soon Chee Kong and Edmund arrived. At 12.30AM, a short briefing by Ian and Sean before the exchange of well wishes from fellow runners, marshals and supporters. And it's great to meet up with old and new friends too like Alan Stewart, Lorna Maclean, David Scott, Fiona Rennie, Ruth Howie, Yi Zhang, Daniel Kershaw and of course the big guy, Ian Minty! The weather cooled and it was going to be a cold start as I pulled out my Saucony Exo Jacket and also Nomad glove to keep myself warm.

Scene at the start.

My team of support crew. Alexa, Angela, Edmund and Chee Kong.

The start at Milngavie...
As the time swiftly ticks toward 1.00AM, 198 runners line up at the start just below the underpass to get ready for the start. Keeping my nerves calm lining myself up at the front pack, I reminded myself the reason I am standing here now. All the training, sacrifices and experiences must be put to good use. It's not how fast I get myself to Fort William but rather in getting there successfully. Everything positive shrouded my mind and the thoughts of everyone gave me the confidence to do so. And with 3 very important "mementos" I had with me that will journey with me throughout the race, I will set out on my longest and toughest trail race. 95 Miles or 152KM awaits and at 1.00AM, the blow horn sounded followed by the cow bells and cheers from the people around to signal the start. And my journey started...

The start.

En route to Drymen at 12.11 Miles (19.38KM).
My first destination will be Drymen. As I started my run to exit Milngavie running pass the supporters lined up by the side cheering us on, I turned on my head torch to light the surroundings and to test out the desired brightness I needed. I spotted Angela towards the end of the line and waved to her before I entered the trails toward Mugdock ahead.

It was still easy at the start with soft ground cushioning my foot strike with mild ascent and descents along the way. Just had to pay attention to any branches, root and even puddles of water. However, my heart rate was spiking and although my pace was comfortable, I couldn't keep my heart rate down. It was averaging about 160 BPM (Beats Per Minute) and that worried me a little. I slowed down but it remained the same and I concluded that it must have been caused by myself being too nervous. With that self assumption, I continued ahead enjoying every moment.

About 3 Miles (4.8KM) in, a large fallen tree obstructed the running path and I had to run around it. This was informed earlier by Ian and all runners should be aware of this. As I arrived at some open area, some farm I assume as there were fences along the side, the sights of lights from the runner's head torch was just magical as they looked like a moving serpent from afar. I concentrated on the running path ahead as it got a little technical as it narrows down to single track. But passing slower runners and letting faster pass wasn't an issue as there will always be somewhere for us to move aside. Plus the mentality of the Scottish runners, everyone was moving smoothly and soon I arrived at the Beech Tree Inn where everything was still calm and noise level was kept to almost none as we did not want to disturb the locals.

About 10 Miles (16KM) in, I took my first bak kwa (pork jerky) and also my first stop to relieve myself. I was making sure that I needed to do that at every sector to ensure that my kidney is functioning as it is. The runners had already started to spread out and I nearly missed the turning towards an open field toward Drymen. But luckily there was a fellow runner behind me who called out to me and we made the journey to Drymen together. Can't remember his name but he was from Edinburgh.

The sights of a few people ahead signaled that I've arrived at Drymen, some 12.11 Miles (19.38KM) into the race and everything was still good for me. Not an official checkpoint and being in a small town at odd hours, it all means that runners have to keep noise level down and just to carry on to the next sector leading to the first check point at Balmaha.

En route to Balmaha at 19 Miles (30.40KM). Cut-off 6.00AM
I was looking forward to this sector as this is where the famed Conic Hill is located. And being a hill, it will mean climbing! It all started with some very mild climbs along an open field. The first sight of dawn can already be seen as Loch Lomond came into view for the very first time. Despite the low light condition, I took the opportunity to snap some shots for I do not know if I will be able to return here in the future. A little more climb on the tarmac before heading back to the trails before dropping a little to the foot of Conic Hill.

It's about 4AM and the sun begins to rise over Loch Lomond.

A little trail on the ascend before the main climb at Conic Hill.

First big climb at Conic Hill.

The surrounding of Conic Hill is definitely a view to behold but the big guy awaits for the first big climb is next. Slowly making my way up, I passed a struggling runner who was wearing the HK100 event tee. I walked with him and asked if he was all right which apparently he wasn't as his legs has taken a beating as he mentioned he was under-trained for this. It was still too early to call it quits as he did mention to throw in the towel at Balmaha. I did not have any encouraging words to tell him and just told him to let his experience get him through this and to put a foot in front each time and try to go as far into the distance. You never know that at this stage, the body is just starting to "warm up".

First clear view of Loch Lomond from Conic Hill.

Being still fresh with the earlier heart rate issue a thing of the pass, I tackled the ascent smoothly. Legs was good and although the surrounding was beautiful, I paid attention to the trails and in no time, I was up at Conic Hill rewarded by the marvelous view of Loch Lomond. And I made it just in time as day has just broke.

Next was the descent and despite manageable, this is where I slowed down. I had to tackle big rocks and steps to make the descent, a few times reducing to squatting to get myself a level down. Once at the bottom, it was to journey through the woods and in a while more, I heard some noises which can only mean that I arrived at Balmaha, the first official check-point at 19 Miles (30.40KM)! And it has been 3:47:02 hours since I started running. Pretty good pace for the start.

Exiting the woods and arriving at Balmaha, the first official check point.

Gerry Craig was there to welcome me as he helped insert my timing chip into some reader to have my time recorded. Chee Kong and Edmund then directed me to the car where Angela and Alexa were waiting. I was hungry and breakfast was minestrone soup and coffee. The minestrone soup prepared by Angela was absolutely delicious and that was something to look forward to at each check point. While having my breakfast, I saw Daniel Kershaw with quite a badly scratched shin. Apparently he fell pretty early at about 5 Miles or so after tripping over some rocks suspected to be laid out by the scouts there. Rethinking back, yes there were indeed some boy scouts back then and I even high-fived them. Shame on them! Refueled my water and also cashew nuts before I was chased off as I head towards Rowardennan next.

First hot meal since dinner yesterday. I was hungry.

En route to Rowardennan at 26.65 Miles (42.64KM).
It's going to be a while till I see my crew next as Rowardennan and next at Inversnaid like Drymen weren't official check-points and entry into there is pretty tough. Therefore, I informed the team that I do not expect to be seeing them unless they felt like trying their luck. And hence, Beinglas Farm located at 23.25 Miles (37.2KM) away from Balmaha is where I will see them next.

The restart of my adventure was along Loch Lomond. It started on the tarmac before heading towards the beach before entering some light trails. And most runners after having their breakfast was breaking wind like no tomorrow as the sound of "machine guns" sounded the beautiful peaceful morning! Honestly, I did not break ya!

Running along Loch Lomond after leaving Balmaha.

I was feeling strong after breakfast and started passing some runners. The weather got warm too as I took off my Exo Jacket and just carried on with my BV Sport base layer and Saucony Run Strong long sleeve top. With some cool breeze blowing, these 2 layers will do the trick as I continue with my run alongside the beautiful loch.

Certain sections started to become slightly technical as I went further ahead. Big rocks started to appear with some pretty huge tree roots and trunks blocking the path. However, as they weren't continuous, I tackled them pretty smoothly. Just tap and go and hold on to something when needed. It feels like an obstacle race and in fact, I was actually enjoying my moment here. Before the race, I was told that a certain section from here till Beinglas Farm will be rather technical with rocks and roots and hence I thought that this was it. Apparently I was wrong which I will further elaborate as I move on.

Obstacles heading to Rowardennan along Loch Lomond. Was having fun but this is just the appetiser.

A gentler way along the loch.

As I was beginning to enjoy even more even though that the weather began to warm up, I soon spotted little black flying objects. It became more and more and some were seen sticking on my hands and clothes. It was the midges and this is my first encounter with these little blood suckers. I didn't know how bad could they get but apparently it got pretty bad as I continue on. There were just swarm and hordes of them and they kept coming. Each time I killed and swept them off my hand, another group will come and just stick there. And they were going for my head too, in fact everywhere from neck, lips, eyes, ears and nose, as long it's exposed. They are even going for my soft flask's valve and I can't drink from it. ARGHHH...

The swarm of midges. Photo courtesy of Monument Photos.

Midges sticking to the skin. Photo courtesy of Monument Photos.

Midges on my soft flask.

Eventually, I exited the loch side and made my way to some open area and cross path with a fellow runner who was also struggling with the midges. Apparently, there weren't any other runners around us and that had been a while and hence we traveled together. Can't remember his name though but with his company, we soon arrived at Rowardennan which was swarmed by midges! Elapsed time was 5:36:21 hours. Still good!

Here's how my team tracks my movement. Here seen I just arrived at Rowardennan.

The marshals and volunteer were stationed around a black hut or cottage, a very closed area and hence caused the heavy concentration of those blood suckers. A volunteer helped spray some Smidges on me before I clocked in and proceeding to collect my drop bag which was made available here and later Inversnaid. Packed my dried fruits and Snicker bars into my backpack and continue walking away from the place while opening my waffle. And instantly, my delicious waffle was attacked my midges and it became partially black! That spoil my appetite though I carefully remove them and take a bite before another swarm sticks on it. Talk about protein loading!

En route to Inversnaid at 33.91 Miles (54.26KM).
Next was to Inversnaid and still running by Loch Lomond. As the midges were out at full force some runners were seen running with head nets or even had heir face covered in balaclava which gave me an idea to open up my Buff to protect my exposed head. That did the trick and my upper head wasn't as irritated as before. I also attached some mosquito patch with lemon grass and eucalyptus essence to my top hoping it will help repel them a bit. But apparently, it didn't work.

I was looking out for the junction that will bring me to the "low path" as per indicated by Ian in the race info. Apparently this is slightly longer in distance and a bit more technical. Soon, I spotted 2 volunteers at a junction directing runners down. Poor volunteers despite having full "body armor" had to be there till every runner had pass as that area was full of midges. Thanks guys!

The "low path" started well. A little more technical compared to the earlier Rowardennan but still run-able but these are just the appetiser. What made things tricky is actually the lower light conditions due to the very dense trees. I had my sunglasses on but if I were to remove them, my eyes will be attacked by the midges. Therefore I had to move carefully.

I successfully tackled the "low path" and was back at the main road for a moment before I was back at the trails by the loch where everything was still going well. By this time, I had already passed more than 7 runners and by the time I entered the woods again, a flight of stairs greeted me. It reminded me of Hong Kong 100 and I took a silly selfie of me as I made my climb. Managed to pass another runner in the process as the the space opened up and the view of Loch Lomond return again where I could see a white structure ahead. It's the Inversnaid Hotel where the check point is! And a magnificent waterfall welcomes the runners.

A silly selfie with the steps. So silly I can't hold my GoPro steadily.

Waterfall at Inversnaid.

Descending into Inversnaid. Check point behind the white Inversnaid Hotel.

The check point which was unofficial was manned by the kind people from mountain rescue and they had a giant industrial fan there which blew the midges away as runners sat in front of it. I took my drop bag and ate the waffle and Snickers bar. And before continuing, I made sure I sprayed myself with Smidges all over me again as I know the next sector to Beinglas Farm will be swarmed again! Onwards after a joke with the rescue team.

En route to Beinglas Farm at 42 Miles (67.20KM). Cut-off 13.00PM
Everything was normal when I started but boy, what lies ahead was probably the most difficult sector in the whole race route, in terms of terrain. This is where the game started and back then at Rowardennan was probably just the teaser. Super huge rocks with tree roots and trunks all over. And to make matters worse, it was narrow and wet with puddles of water and soft soil at various places. There is basically just almost no run-able path to go through. All reminds me of Vietnam Mountain Marathon again! Only thing different is that if I slip, off goes me tumbling into the loch or smashing myself on some huge rock.

I ran when I can. I hike when I can't run. I walk and climb when I can't perform any of those. And things got really miserable when the swarm of midges came attacking as my pace slowed down. It was one of the most miserable running moment I ever experience and in my mind, I kept asking on how long more is this sector is going to take as I heard that this very technical part is about 2 to 3 Miles long "only". However, that "only" may take up to an hour for the normal runners like myself.

With nothing much I can do and that cursing will not help, I just had to put one foot in front and to watch it hoping I don't slip or get them entangled between the rocks or tree roots. I was passed by a couple of runners who were more experienced but when the third runner came, we tackled it together and soon the sights of a few gates appeared and I remember from Patricia Carvalho's photograph, it was near the end.

And yes, I successfully exited into the open and the midges seems to almost disappeared as well. Legs took a bit of a beating but all is still fine as I continue on. The runner who  was with me earlier had took off though as I slowly made my way. There was a climb ahead and the view of Loch Lomond seems to be coming to an end. And all in my mind was that Dario's View should be on top there. That boosted my pace and morale a little as I was really looking forward to it.

I climb up the hill and as expected, I finally saw the wooden post engraved with the name Dario Melagrani. For those who are not aware, the late Dario was the previous race director for the West Highland Way Race. Otherwise known as "Mr. West Highland Way", Dario raced the route in the 90s before rescuing it from dying out. He held the helm of race director for a decade till the year 2009 where he sadly passed away due to a suspected heart attack during his run on 12 July at Lochnager, Aberdeenshire. And as my assumption, this post was erected here for this should be one of his favourite view of the the race route, if not Loch Lomond. Though I do not know him in person, I thank him sincerely for what he did and sacrifice for the West Highland Way Race in shaping to what it is today. Thank you Dario!

At Dario's View overlooking Loch Lomond.

The view was too beautiful not to stop for a photo. However, the moment I stop to take out my GoPro, the swarm of midges returned and attacked all over my head, my face to be exact. I know myself I wanted a photo badly here and with no choice, I bear with the irritation and horror, and took a few shots with the best smiling face I could make out of myself before I thank Dario again and zoomed off.

The remaining section was pretty easy. Single tracks, grassy area before some wooden planks was all that remained before the check point. However, less than a couple of miles before arriving there, I spotted a runner in trouble ahead and went over to give him a hand. He was trying to throw up but to no avail as I help to ease his back by rubbing it. It took a while but he eventually got better as I offered to accompany him till the check point. However, he thanked me and asked me to go ahead assuring that he will be all right. Taking his word for, I went ahead after seeing him run a little.

Fellow runner in trouble ahead.

Eventually, I heard some sounds and the view opened up to some cottages and also the red and white tapes to guide the runners through. Cheers from supporters and marshals brighten up my mood and I kept a look out for my crew. And yes, after 23.25 Miles (37.2KM) since I was last with them, I saw them but I could not get to them as I need to have my time check-in which was 9:36:07 in total since I left Milngavie. And John Duncan was there to supervise as I told him that I just had the most miserable 8 Miles of my running career, referring to the very technical area and the midges.

No seat so had to kneel to have my coffee.

I was looking forward to be having a seat after the beating back at the very technical part but instead, I was made to squat and kneel down to have my meal. The usual minestrone soup, coffee and a little dried fruits as I told them that I had enough of waffles. I unloaded some of my unwanted food and gears too to lighten my load before being chased off again. But that is before some power hugs from Angela, Alexa and Edmund. Chee Kong refuse to hug me though probably thinking I was full of midges!

Power hug from Angela before resuming my run.

My look after Chee Kong refuse a power hug.

En route to Auchtertyre at 51 Miles (80.13KM). Cut-off 16.30PM
The next sector which will bring me to Auchtertyre Farm will be a familiar one, for at least 3 quarters of it as that was the area I covered a week ago during my recce.  The first quarter will be unknown to me but I foresee a roller coaster ride for here starts the rolling hills and also the heat starts to rise. The plus sign was that the next few areas will be in open space with almost no midges at all. Only good view of the surrounding mountains!

I started well and was looking forward to the gate where I made my turn back to Tyndrum last week during my recce. I got there with minimal difficulties as I saw the climbs ahead. Everything was familiar from here as I thought of some strategies to tackle what lies ahead. The heat was rising and most local runners were seen strip down to their vests or tees. As for myself, I still had my long sleeve top on as the temperature was still abut 20C or so. That is considered cool for a tropical guy like me!

I shouldered on running when I can, and walking when I needed to recover. This went on pretty well till I felt a prick on my left foot and it got pretty irritating. Fearing that it may lead to a blister, I spotted a wooden log and took a seat there to remove my shoe. Apparently, the issue was not there but instead, there was a tiny thorn like debris that managed to get into my socks. Not sure how it got there, but I was glad I removed it early before any damage was done. I took the opportunity to rest up a bit as I munch down a jerky and hydrated myself while enjoying the beautiful view of Ben More. In the process, some runners passed me and one of them was John Munro who stopped for a chat before he slowly disappeared into the distance.

Bumped into some mountain coos while chasing John.

Once ready, I continued on and had my eyes on a tiny yellow dot far ahead. It was John and I gave chase as I forgot to have "runfie" (new term for photo together while running) with him earlier! Hahaha... He was pretty fast and the only chance to close the gap is when the terrain started to climb. I lost when it starts to drop. This kept going till I hit the junction at Crianlarich crossing near Ewich where I bumped into a very joyous Donald Sandeman who was supporting and locating Norma Bone.

A cheerful smile from Donald Sandeman.

Was a little hungry as I took the opportunity to give my legs a rest and walk up the hill while I munch on a waffle. And while doing so, I passed a group of hikers who were resting on a very huge rock overlooking Ben More. They cheered me on as I thanked them and heard one of them said "Are you running or eating?". My reply was " I eat so that I can run!". Hehe...

Off I went again and I spotted the yellow runner again. I was near this time and eventually I managed to close my gap and finally managed a "runfie" with John as we ran together for a moment till eventually we arrived at our destination, Auchtertyre in 12:10:52 hours. Half the day gone, but I am halfway there.

A "runfie" with John at last.

Angela and Alexa was both waiting as I needed to weight myself and clock in my time. I lost a little more weight which was a good thing to them as per compared to gaining. I told them that I was hungry as I was directed to Alexa's car and finally, a seat! Although it was sunny with the afternoon sun out at full force, I had a good rest and a very simple but yet satisfying lunch of minestrone soup, cashew nuts and coffee. The whole area was like a picnic party and it was fun too especially I had David Meldrum hiding away and snapping photos from afar. I took the opportunity to charge my Suunto Ambit 3 as it was draining battery the fastest on the best accuracy setting. When I was ready to go again, Angela got herself ready too, with Alexa texting Chee Kong who was at The Real Food Cafe, Tyndrum having his meal with Edmund about 3 Miles away for ice lollies.

Aucthtertyre with the view of the mountains at the background.


Happy to arrive at Auchtertyre as I was really hungry.

Love this photo taken by David Meldrum of me relaxing and chilling 
at Auchtertyre while having my lunch.

En route to Bridge Of Orchy at 60 Miles (96.00KM). Cut-off 19.30PM
The next sector is again very familiar to me as I had been running around it during my recent stay at Tyndrum. It was rather an easy sector but with the discomfort on my lower left shin, it make things a little difficult. Not sure where did the pain came from but apparently it was more significant during downhills.

Running, walking, chatting and joking with Angela as we head to Tyndrum.

I exited Auchtertyre by walking a little with Angela before catching up with David Kiddell where we had some chat. Then I restarted my run and told Angela that I would like to use landmarks such as bushes or large rocks to determine the distance I will run and when to walk.

I had a nice run, walk and chat with Angela and eventually greeted a tree too which was smack at the middle of the path before arriving at the Pine Tree Caravan Park where campers were at their best cheering for runners! Next up was By The Way and I look forward to be seeing Kirsty which I did when she called out my name. Apparently, she spotted me via CCTV from the reception and came out. Was really nice of her and we did a little catch up and joked that I always visited Tyndrum on train and not by foot.

Eventually, I had to move on and bid farewell to Kirsty for the rest of my crew were waiting just ahead near the Green Welly Shop. But before crossing the street, Katie Hall was there as a support crew for her brother Jonny, and we did a little catch up for this amazing lass has been passing me down the peaks of Eildons for the past 2 years during the Three Peaks Ultra!

And just across the road, my ice lollies was waiting. I can't remember the flavour Chee Kong bought for me but it was indeed refreshing. Mei-Ee and Xi Ning was there too and after a while, I continued with my journey of another 8KM or so till the Bridge Of Orchy. Angela stayed back with Alexa after sending me off for a head start.

Everything went well at the start and that may have been caused by the ice popsicle. But about a quarter of the way through, my left shin started hurting again and I was reduced to walking on this rather easy sector. I was even caught walking by Chee Kong who was driving along the road adjacent to the run route just before hitting the railway's underpass. From here onwards, I tired to resume my run. Sometimes I could, sometimes I couldn't. But what most important is that I was putting a foot in front all the time and eventually managed to catch up with some other runners including David Kiddle who disappeared into the distance earlier.

Zoomed in photo of me walking to Bridge Of Orchy from the main road by Chee Kong.

The abandon little green wagon which means the Bridge Of Orchy is nearby.

I was looking forward to the view of the abandon little green wagon on the right side as that will indicated that the Bridge Of Orchy is nearby. And soon it appeared and the first sight of the hotel across the road was beautiful one with supporters and marshals cheering for runners there. I knew there was drinking water tap there and took the opportunity to fill up my flask as the water was really cold. Also took time to wash the valve of any midges that may have been caught in between and indeed there was! Damn you midges, even when you are dead!

With John Kynaston, part of the organising committee at Bridge Of Orchy.

Once done, I made my way to the bridge where I bumped into John Kynaston. Had a chat with him before heading to the bridge where Angela and Alexa was waiting. Checked in with an elapsed time of 15:01:37 hours and took a breather by the bridge. The River Orchy was a little dry but it was still a nice sight with some supporters having their time there picnicking! But I had my own picnic with the ladies and took my time to take in some soup, extra strong coffee and also a change of socks. During the process of changing my socks, I gave my lower left shin a little massage and readjusted the position of my socks and laces. I think it did the trick as instant relief was felt.

Not sure how long did the ladies waited for me cause when I arrived, 
Bridge Of Orchy was packed with people.

River Orchy during summer.

Another lengthy rest and just before leaving, I took my first small sip of Coke. Was nice to have something different though and a small sip will do just fine now just in case the sugar decided to mess up with my sensitive tummy. And now for the next sector, to Glencoe Ski Resort where the old military roads begins!

En route to Glencoe Ski Resort at 71 Miles (113.60KM). Cut-off 0000AM
Alexa decided to support me and I was really glad she did. Before leaving and while she was getting ready, Angela shared with me how good, in fact great a walker she was. And indeed she was as I quickly notice her walking skills immediately when we restarted my journey.

At Jelly Baby Hill with Alexa.

Jelly babies!

Climbing through some woods before arriving at the open area on top of the mountains heading towards Jelly Baby Hill. It was a nice spot and 2 really nice people was there, one playing the Star Wars theme using the harmonica or was it the bagpipe I think, and the other distributing jelly babies. I took one and it was really nice. Not too sweet but just enough to tickle the taste bud. The scenery was just stunning from the top there too as we overlook Loch Tulla and from there, we drop to Inveroran, a small village where Graham Kelly and Jonny Hall passed us.

Descending into Inveroran.

Magnificent view of beautiful Loch Tulla.

My race number came loose and I asked Alexa to continue on while I pin it back before I played catch up. Trust me, I was still fine here with my legs playing the part it should. But it will quickly change later when we re-enter the trail just shortly ahead. But during the process, I witness many locals having picnic out of no where in the middle of the highlands. They seem to be enjoying the summer or rather should I say life. How I wish life is like this back home.

Re-entering the trails, this sector which are of old military roads seems to feel like the longest! Plus knowing the rocks here are as huge as tennis balls, it was time for a game of "hurt". I knew this sector well for I ran it with Minty from the opposite direction last year and had a warning from him to actually used thicker padded shoes. Well, although the Saucony Peregrine 6 is of 1MM thicker than it's predecessor which I used during last year's run, but as this stage, my legs were already weaken as they had already gone through about 75 Miles and hence it will be painful in anyway. I tried to run walk by the side where the rocks were smaller and sometimes grassy. But I tend to lose my balance there and sometimes it can be just a short distance on it. Nevertheless I kept trying.

The old military road.

I knew Minty was doing his "sweep'" from the opposite direction around this sector and I was looking forward to see him. And saw him I did when I saw a runner heading my way at the same spot I took his photo last year! Friendship are made on the West Highland Way and I don't think this is a coincidence to meet at the same place. It must have been fate, my friend! I stop for a little while to catch up with him but being tired and too engross in our chat, I forgot to take a photo with him before we departed. Argh...

Anyway, my mood started to swing later when my energy level dipped and my legs getting thrashed by the military road. It has been more than a day since I slept and I am starting to feel it. The scenery was still beautiful and I used that to keep myself motivated and going and at a point, I almost caught up to Graham and Jonny. But, that strength suddenly disappeared and I found myself to be in a very sorry state.

I told Alexa to move on. She has been a great support since the start. She didn't need to run, walk or accompany beside me. All she needed to do was to stay within a distance that I can see her whether ahead or behind and she did just that. She has been cheerful but sadly, I am the type that does't talk a lot. Sorry Alexa for this!

We bumped into Marc Cooper from Edinburgh later. It was his second race but he mentioned that it never gets easier. We journey together with Alexa leading the way. I have no idea how far are we till Glencoe as I tried looking for a big mountain on the left. That never came until we started climbing again! And from there, it was a mild drop and from afar, I saw the Black Rock Cottage where Ian (another Ian) dropped myself and Minty off last year. I knew we are getting near and told Marc that we should try to start running a little. And with Alexa shouting out to us that we are nearing it, that gave us a little jump start. And we ran and ran, and then we both arrived together at the Glencoe Ski Resort. Well done Marc as we gave each other a hug.

"Are we there yet?". The struggles of Frank and Marc.

Arriving at Glencoe with Marc behind me.

I was directed to the mountain rescue's vehicle to have my time clocked in which recorded an elapsed time of 18:26:38 hours. I was in a daze and of course both my legs were extremely sore as my entire crew directed me to where their vehicle was parked. I saw Chee Kong in his gear and knew he was going to support me for the next sector. However I took my time to rest up. I instantly gulp down a can of IrnBru as my taste bud needed something different from the regular coffee. Am not sure if I had the minestrone soup as my appetite was slowly getting rather poor.

A very dazed me being directed to the check point at Glencoe.

Angela spotted my #FTT bib flying around and was glad she did. I guess you wanted a breather and to enjoy the beautiful view of Glencoe. That is so you, Kew. But let's continue on the journey. I changed my socks and pack my Exo jacket on my backpack before resuming my journey to the next check point at Kinlochleven, some 10 MIles (16KM) away. But first, it was my date with the Devil next.

En route to Kinlochleven at 81 Miles (129.60KM). Cut-off 0500AM
Both my legs stiffen up during my rest at Glencoe due to the lactic acid building up from my inactivity there. But I didn't care that much at that time and knew that I can shake it off slowly by walking a little first before slowly running again. And that was what I did with Chee Kong who supported me for this sector.

Slowly resuming my run after leaving Glencoe.

I was in fact looking forward to this sector as I had the Devil's Staircase to tackle. Heard so much and saw many beautiful photos of it. But at this point of time, I can't say that I had the same feeling anymore. But main thing is to get there before sun sets and it kind of look realistic as I had plenty of buffer time. Made my way to Kingshouse almost missing a turn as there wasn't any indication to turn right. Even Chee Kong did not know but luckily, no damage was done as a kind local pointed us the correct way. Phew... Thanks.

Tackling the rocky path before arriving at Devil's Staircase.

Continued on passing by some camping area at Kingshouse and that was where I slowly regained my running strength. There was a cool breeze and it felt good as I entered a small section of trails before exiting it to the magnificent view of the Devil's Staircase where the steepest climb of the race awaits! After about 3 Miles from Glencoe, I am finally here and a rainbow was shining on it. Beautiful!

And the start to the Devil's Staircase begins.

The rest of my crew was waiting here to pass me my head torch. No refueling, but just a couple of power hugs and I started climbing. The view was great. The weather just right. Despite steep, the terrain wasn't exactly very technical. It wasn't as devilish as I expected. However, my legs refuse to cooperate and that was the main issue. And everything became very difficult from there.

View from the distance as I started my climb to that pointy top.

I pushed myself to make the climb but every time I look up, it kind of scare me as the distance look pretty far and high up as I could see other fellow runners up there. But Chee Kong assured me that it was just an "illusion" and with my current pace, it should be over in a while. I took his word and climb and climb taking short breaks in between to catch my breath and also to enjoy the scenery. I could see Glencoe from where I came from. And mid way during my climb, a local was seen out of nowhere enjoying his snacks and beer! I was like, "The things locals do here!".

Halfway and enjoying the view.

Fast forwarding, I eventually made my way to the top. A few pile of rocks indicated the top as I took the opportunity to have a couple of photos with it before starting the descent. And If I thought the ascent was tough, going the opposite way was even tougher, especially with the condition of both legs like jelly babies!

At the top of Devil's Staircase.

I was still running despite the baby steps. But all in my mind was that even baby steps will eventually move me forward and nearer to the finish at Fort William. Some faster runners began to pass me. Again, I didn't care. I ran when I can, and walk when I can't as I await the view of the giant water pipes to appear, as that was what I saw in the photos of Kinlochleven.

The mountain views were no doubt really beautiful and from afar, I could see a town and a giant loch. Chee Kong mentioned that we are heading to that town but what stands between me and there was the endless climbs. And I kept getting the message from Chee Kong that we are almost at the end of climb, which apparently wasn't. But eventually, I got to the top before the sun began to show signs of setting.

The drop into Kinlochleven was actually run-able if only my legs were in better conditions. It was really a demotivating journey as the trails were winding and never ending. And it didn't help much when I found out that the view of a small town from afar earlier wasn't the town I was heading to. But with each foot in front, I eventually saw the giant pipes and I felt more relieve knowing the check point is nearing.

Rushing into Kinlochleven before darkness takes over.

Eventually, we got to River Leven and entered the town. However, no runners were in sight as it was all quiet except for the presence of midges. Not a lot but enough to irritate. I continued running and eventually saw some signages especially the fish and chips restaurant which I knew from the photos I've seen. And yes, the check point finally appeared in the form of the Kinlochleven Primary School. This is the final official check point and there will not be any more cut-off time except for the finish. In other words, I am save unless my body breaks down.

I was welcomed by my crew and the volunteers as I registered my elapsed time of 21:47:56 hours before taking a seat at the very comfortable soft sofa. Despite thrashed, I was still able to joke a bit. Appetite was gone but I forced a little minestrone soup and coffee into me before I found that the grapes actually works. I started munching on them. One after another, I ate like I've not eaten for days. It's probably the sweetness and the change of something else that may have triggered my taste bud for it. I guess that was a good sign but also at the same time overdoing on it a little as my stomach got a little heavy from it.

First time running with a head net. Looks silly but necessary to keep the midges away!

I was ready to go after about a 20 minutes or so rest. But before that, Angela borrowed me her head net for the midges was out at full force again. Once done, myself and Chee Kong left the school and onward to Lundavra for Lairigmor awaits in between.

En route to Lundavra at 88.29 Miles (141.26KM).
Located some 7 Miles (10.2KM) away from Kinlochleven, it doesn't sound very far away. However, this will involve the second steepest climb of the race and that was something I was not looking forward to, at the condition I was at that time.

Like Glencoe, we started easy on the roads with our head torch lighting the way. And on our way out, I was surprised to see Graham Kelly coming in with his runner Jonny Hall. I assume he must have taken a long break back somewhere as he was running strong ahead of me earlier. Some cheers from each of us before we continued on.

I could see the midges flying around me but with the head net, it kept them out and away from my face and head. Soon, Chee Kong spotted the turning back into the trails and yes, the climb started immediately. It reminded me of the Silvermine at the Vietnam Mountain Marathon. Big rocks, big steps and big tree roots. These are the elements that tested both the mental and physical strength of a runner who had gone through some 81 Miles (130KM) of running. And for me, this is my second night out on the trails and highlands, and it has been more than 36 hours since I woke up. No doubt I was drowsy.

I needed to get this over with and like Devil Staircase, I took one step at a time and also short rest breaks in between. There were no other runners ahead or behind us as it was pitch black in there except for the lights emitted from out head torch. The weather was manageable though I already had my jacket on since starting this sector as I did not want to risk it as the forecast did mention rain.

After all the climbing, I arrived at the top with not only a weaken leg, but both body and mind too. It was an open area and I could see the long miserable straight. It was Lairigmor and the name certainly lives up for sounding like Mordor from Lord of the Rings. The sound from River Kiachnish can be heard from the left side. The old military road here was pretty similar to Glencoe with big rocks except that it was wet at certain parts with water puddles and mud around. I failed to spot one and my right foot ended up in the mud. No point sulking, I was pretty confident it will dry up pretty quickly considering the superior ventilation of the Saucony Peregrine 6 and also the Drymax socks I had on.

Feeling miserable along the long straight, like the journey to Kinlochleven, Lundavra seem to be very far away. It was all quiet and dark and all I hope was just to catch a glimpse of light to indicate that I was getting near at least to the mountain rescue team where Patricia Carvalho will be at. But the only light I saw was coming from behind as 2 runners caught up.

Fast forwarding ahead, finally the light I was looking forward to finally appeared. It was the mountain rescue team made up of Patricia and a gentleman name Jeff Smith. I took a seat and called out her name to confirm if it was her as she was wearing a head net. She acknowledged and asked who I was before I joked with her for not kicking me on my butt to chase me away, a joke we made on Facebook.

There was some sugary drinks served and I took a cup of a fizzy drink call Tropical Mix which tasted weird. Did not finish it though and opt to go for the jelly babies which Patricia had before Jeff passed me a pack of Capri-Sun blackcurrant juice which was better. Asked if the Lundavra was still far, both of them replied that it was about half a mile away which I was glad to hear.

After about 10 minutes, I bid farewell and continued on looking forward to that half a mile. However, it was't the case as it definitely felt more than a mile away. I finally saw some lights but it quickly disappeared as the terrain was rolling a little. But eventually, I heard loud musics with a huge bonfire ahead. The volunteers there were partying but I was in no mood as I need to take a short nap which I've informed Chee Kong earlier. And with that, I removed my backpack with someone's help and just entered the front seat of the Toyota Varso and just laid there.

En route to Fort William at 95.28 Miles (152.45KM). Cut-off 12.00PM
A much needed 10 minutes power nap became 20 minutes. I know I was knocked out pretty instantly upon getting into the car till I did not hear the singing and music from the bonfire. It was after all about 36 hours since I woke up. The next thing I knew was that I heard Chee Kong's voice saying "Frank, it's time to go. Let's get this done with!". And then, I had Angela and Alexa helping me out of the vehicle, and Edmund helping me put on my hydration pack. What an awesome crew I had!

I was feeling rather drowsy and moving was rather difficult especially in the dark. But with the help of Angela and Alexa supporting me from both sides, I took my first step at about 2.30AM towards the next climb. Yes, we needed to climb a little to exit Lundavra and during the process, some kind locals were asking abut my conditions. Both ladies assured that I was fine and what I needed was just to warm up a little to restart. Shivering a little, slowly but surely, I regained my strength as Angela took the lead "opening" up the path ahead with some assistance from my head torch at full power.. Alexa was still supporting me from the side just in case I take a tumble due to the lost rocks.

With some strength and alertness regained, I slowly walk on my own which was the best option at that time as the trails soon became narrower. Alexa was still keeping an eye on me from the spaces she could find though. I took a few stops as I felt like throwing up. At that time, I did not know the reason causing the bloating,but upon thinking back now, I am going to point my finger to the Tropical Mix drink I had at Lairigmor which was not only weird tasting and fizzy. I didn't throw up though and soon the forest started to open up with the sky showing signs of dawn. And that was the moment I saw moving lights up at one of the mountains ahead. I asked Angela if I needed to climb that and was glad the answer was no. And from there I found out the identity of the mountain, it was the UK's biggest "boy", Ben Nevis.

As I continued on, one of my most feared nightmare came true. My tummy started acting up. I tried to hold on, at least by getting myself to the main road where I hope there will be a public toilet. But no, it became rather uncomfortable and I knew I had to go soon. Feeling rather embarrass, I asked the ladies if there had tissues with them as I only had wet wipes which isn't very good for the environment. Sadly, they didn't have it.

I held on till we exited the woods, a point where trees were all cut down. A couple of runners passed us and they too did not have any tissues with them. And upon exiting the trails, I knew it was time to go, to let go that is. I found a spot slightly away from the race route and made my deposite before the swarm of midges started attacking me. It was rather an awkward moment to do it in the bushes, but I just had to. And I hope there will not be another time. Please tummy!

A zombified me.

Before restarting, both ladies help me put on the head net for midges are swarming in again. It was the break of dawn after all and those little fellas are out to play again. Just need to get ourselves to more open space and they should not be following us. The next sector which was a winding road down to Glen Nevis was about 3 Miles long I think, and I knew it will lead to the Braveheart car park at the end of it. And since the start from Lundavra, I have been walking with Ben Nevis overlooking all 3 of us. I am in no hurry and probably no mood to run too. A foot forward will bring me to the finish.

This way to the finish.

Space soon opened up as we slowly made our descent and the midges disappeared from our sights. Good time to remove the head net too as the fresh air welcomes us. Alexa asked if I was ready to run but I replied that this isn't the time. But instead, I shall do it upon arriving at the main road. And soon after winding through the roads, we finally arrived at the Braveheart car park and Angela introduced to me the climb which leads to the Devil o' The Highlands finishing point. We were lucky that it wasn't part of this race route though.

The finish at Lochaber Leisure Centre... 
The last mile along the main road to Lochaber Leisure Centre feels like the longest mile. I continued walking till the sights of houses came into view as I knew from there, the roundabout will be near. I started my run with both ladies ahead of me. Crossing the road at the roundabout, soon the finish came into view. I controlled my emotions as I inch closer to it. I know at that time that my task is completed. The long and tough one, the victory at the West Highland Way Race is just upon me as Edmund, Noanie, John Duncan and a few other more volunteers were there to welcome me "home". Angela and Alexa led the way as I crossed the finish gantry in position 108 out of 198 starters with a total time of 28:13:20 hours with my hands held high! I did it as my hunt for the goblet comes to an end. My simple but yet historic finish for my personal self as everything running comes full circle now.

My split times for each official sector. My Suunto moves on this LINK.

There was no blue door at the Lochaber Leisure Centre. They must have either repainted or changed it for now it is grey in colour. But that did not stop me from touching it which I did before dragging myself into the premises to have myself weight. I lost a total of 3.8KG where my finishing body weight was at 50KG on the spot. "Ungeared" myself and took a seat where I instantly was knocked off again.

"Cockerel" hairstyle upon completing the race.



Upon waking up, Chee Kong has already arrived as he brought me my luggage. Took out my fresh clothing and proceeded to have my well deserved shower. Had trouble taking and putting back my cloths though and things took a while. Everything was fine till I exited the shower room where I felt dizzy. Managed to quickly take a group photo with my crew before Angela and Alexa made their way into their camper van for a well deserved rest. Then the dizziness got into me. I asked for a flavoured drink preferably a hot beverage but none came until I got myself to the car where Edmund passed me a bottle of Lucozade. It was better than nothing and that did the trick. I guess my sugar level dip below the critical level at that time coupled with long hours of staying awake. Dropped Edmund at the nearby bus station as he needed to head back to Aberdeen before we head off to Chee Kong's hotel at Travelodge where we rested for a couple of hours before heading off for the award ceremony.

Goblet presentation
Nevis Center was the venue where the goblet is presented to each of the finishers. It was schedule to start at 12PM and I arrived on time meeting runners and other amazing people there as we congratulated each other.

Ian Beattie acknowledging the WHW family during the goblet presentation.

The West Highland Way Race goblet presentation was a special and emotional one. The 2016 Race Director, Ian Beattie addressed the crowd with Sean giving out the goblets. First to complete the race was the amazing local hero James Stewart who completed the grueling 95 Miles in 15:15:59 hours. Finally, my turn at 108 came as I made my way down to be handed my goblet from Sean with a message from him, "Do take care of this well deserved goblet. Congratulations!". I went to thank Ian and Sandra too, for the opportunity given before heading back to my seat to enjoy the rest of the presentation to the rest of the runners.

Receiving my goblet from Sean.

The West Highland Way Race goblet.

I did it!

There were some teary moments as all 159 goblets were handed out especially to Rob Reid, Norma Bone and Adrian Stott who ran into the history books. And it's all these that makes the moments exceptionally special. And when the presentation is over, I was reunited with Angela and Alexa again before proceeding for a well deserved lunch at Brewer's Fayre located just behind the center with John Duncan and Noanie. Chee Kong and family joined in later. Lunch was pretty bland for me as I had salmon salad probably due to my taste bud which has gone a little haywire. But company was good as I found out more on what had happened behind the scenes of the race.

Alexa and Angela who supported by me from the start till the finish without complaining.

Lunch with good company.

After lunch, it was back to reality as I parted ways with Angela and Alexa who are making their way back to Glencoe for Alexa's car is still parked there. Both of them are driving home to Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for coming all the way and sacrificing their weekend for doing this. Myself, I proceeded to check into Guisachan Guest House for the night at Fort William.

My poor forehead with midges bites all over.

After unpacking a little and another round of shower, I was instantly knocked out again only to wake up to a very sore body. Legs were fine though. Woke up at about 7PM which was the time the post run gathering and party started at the Great Glen. However, due to my condition where I had difficulties dragging myself out of bed due to a very "heavy" upper body and with the rain pouring down, it makes things rather difficult or close to impossible for me to drag myself alone about a mile to the venue. Feeling very sad and disappointed about it that I can't join my fellow runners and friends there for at least my first time, I had to accept the fact and sob alone in my room.

Eating and drinking was important after a long tough race like this. Was glad I found a bunch of bananas in my bag left behind by my crew and munched a couple down with a packet of leftover cranberries. And not forgetting a yummy cup of instant hot chocolate courtesy from Alexa. Yes, that was my second "proper" meal after the race which I had to accept at that point of time. And with that, it was some personal time to myself before calling it a night.

Highland lessons...
Looking back at the West Highland Way Race, I've gained new experience and also learn new things that for sch races that involves remotes area, various important things need to be taken seriously.

- The importance of the support crew. I am glad I was blessed with an amazing team of support crew. I went into the race not knowing what to expect as this is my first race with a crew. But with some last minute planning, though far from perfect, various task were assigned and that also my crew was flexible and fast thinking to adjust to their role based on the conditions. And with that, I am grateful.

- Do not save on gears and that includes the support vehicle. I prepared my race gear well, in fact buying more than enough things that I don't even know if I will be using or needing it. But I guess, it's better to be safe rather than sorry at a race course with unpredictable weather and country that I am not familiar with. But with all the careful gear planning, still a mistake was made a few days before with the decision to rent the smaller Vauxhall Zafira which was instead given a Toyota Varso. Not only it gave me the runner, gear placement issues, it also gave a headache to my crew as the guys and ladies had to split up into 2 vehicles as there was just insufficient space. Am really sorry about this especially to Angela and Alexa.

- Be committed to the race and train for it. The West Highland Way Race is indeed a tough race. With all the elements of rocks, super huge rocks, tree trunks, mud, military roads, mountains, midges, long hours and many more to test the human mental and physical strength, it's a race not to be taken granted of. I believe I trained well for it especially with the help of the Comrades training. However, if I were to identify the one thing that brought me down was my ability to stay awake which had been my Achilles heel during my long hours race. Not only it will cause me drowsiness, it also will slowly shuts down my body which was the reason I felt miserable from Glencoe onward.

- Be a roller coaster! Being a mountain trail race, obviously there will be ups and downs. I never had doubts on my uphill capabilities and hence paid a little more attention on my downhill running during my training. However, knowing that I can't do much with just 6 months of training, I had to be realistic in tackling it carefully despite improving a little on the downhill department. And yes, do not forget on the resistance training. In fact, you just got to train the whole body.

- Eating and drinking. Another one of my issue, I don't eat or drink very well during races for fears of tummy issues. But in this race, I ate and drank pretty well at least till Glencoe before I started losing my appetite. I am glad my crew constantly asked me to eat and drink. Although the minestrone soup was awesome, I guess variety especially during the second half of the race is important as the taste bud would have change. I am glad the ladies noticed it for ice lollies, Cola, Irnbru and later grapes came into the picture.

- This isn't a joke but the art to hold and poop in the open bushes requires some attention. Long hours out there, the digestive system especially those weak like mine will require some "flushing". Be ready with some toilet paper and also the necessity to do it in the open. I learnt it the hard way but it's just part of the learning process. And I wonder, despite many years, my gut is still pretty weak

- And finally, RESPECT! Like Comrades and all other races, the West Highland Way whether the race or hike through it requires much respect. The undulating race course with the unpredictable weather and of course the swarm of midges, mother nature has it's own plans for the runners who are out there to tackle it.

Aftermath...
I returned to Aberdeen the next day after a hearty breakfast. A stop over at Aviemore but as I got a little car sick during the journey, I skipped my meal till arriving back. And that basically wraps up my adventure as the next one week was all rest and easy with some walk to Aberdeen town as per my usual regime there. Only this time, I had my first Scottish cinema experience catching Independence Day: Resurgence. Hehe...

Breakfast before leaving Fort William. First proper meal that I can taste after the race.

With my dream in completing the West Highland Way Race fulfilled which marks a closure to what I needed to do and run in my running career, I look forward to some rest and personal time before rethinking again on what lies ahead. But in my journey to here today and my success at the highlands, I would like to thank the following people who have helped me achieved this victory.

- My support crew of Angela, Alexa, Edmund and Chee Kong for agreeing to be part of my team and sacrificing their weekends in helping me out through my run at the West Highland Way Race. And if I ever return to hunt for my second goblet, I will definitely be "hiring" this team again.

- My parents for their sacrifices as I trained through the long hours. And also not forgetting my pooch, Bailey the Westie for spending less time with. Will spend more time with you after these.

- Susanah or all the morale and motivational support. And not forgetting the "secret nutrition pack".

- Ian Beattie, Sandra Beattie, John Kynaston, Sean, Gerry Craig and the rest of the organising committee including the marshals, volunteers, medics and mountain rescue of the West Highland Way Race for making this race possible.

- Ian Minty and Kirsty Burnett for the advises given and also the friendship that was made on the highlands.

- All my Scottish friends and the WHW family including the runners, marshals and volunteers. John Munro, Helen Munro, Noanie, John Duncan, Amanda Hamilton, Clark Hamilton, James Stewart, Jonny Hall, Katie Hall, Graham Kelly, Norma Bone, Rob Reid, Adrian Stott, Donald Sandeman, Elaine Sandeman, Marc Cooper, Alan Stewart, Fiona Rennie, David Scott, Jeni Rees, Ruth Howie, Daniel Kershaw, Derek Fish, David Kiddell, David Meldrum, Stuart Macfarlane, Tina Mcleod, Chris Paton, Yi Zhang, Patricia Carvalho, Jeff Smith, Ross Lawrie, Ross Leslie, Lorna Maclean, Mike Adams, Catriona Adams, John Sneddon and many more that I've met and bumped into across the past 20 months. Thank you for making me feel Scottish and for the friendship across the continents.

- Yan Leng, Piew, Choon Yuen, Selin and Yee Hoo for the company during the weekends when we took to the trails of FRIM and the slopes of Genting Sempah.

- My friends at Cancer Research Malaysia especially Professor Dr. Teo and Sook Yee for understanding my situation this year but still rooting and supporting on my runs.

- My sponsor Saucony Malaysia, South Africa and Scotland for the gears and most importantly trust and morale support given through the years. It has been an honour to train and race under your brand.

- The rest of my relatives, friends and training group for helping me make this happen. You know who you are for no names are going to be mentioned!

- And to those who had been watching me from above. This is for you all!

10 years ago, I started my career as a runner when I took the initiative to enter the marathon. There were may ups and downs, but I remained injury free. From fun to charity runs, 10KMs to marathons, and moving forward to ultra marathons followed by the Comrades Marathon. And 10 years later, I successfully completed the West Highland Way Race, my final to do race. I am just humbled to be given this chance to be running, travelling and meeting great friends along the way while having fun. No doubt, running has brought out the better of me, but what is most important is that running has helped me deliver the message that there is always hope when the going gets tough and that light is always at the end of the tunnel, as I experienced it my very ownself as a cancer survivor turned runner. And as I take a step back now, I will sit back and enjoy myself while I recap on my journey back then to present time as there are just too many precious moments to go through. What lies ahead for me, I do not know. But one thing I know for sure. My role as a runner and my mission as a cancer survivor remains the same. And here's to the future. Cheers to you all! Thank you.

2 races that have my utmost respect. 
Comrades Marathon 2016 followed by West Highland Way Race 2016. All done in 3 weeks.

I returned to home to Malaysia a week after the race flying Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. I arrived home safely but the Istanbul Atatuk Aiport where I was at, suffered a terrorist bomb attack which left 40+ dead and 200+ injured. I was lucky not to be involved but my heart goes out to those there.

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