Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fulfilling A Dream...

By Frank

"I run not because I am a runner. I run because I love to run."

The West Highland Way, a 95 Miles (152KM) scenic but yet rugged highland trekking route across the mountains of Scotland from Milngavie to Fort William. The race, a to do on my bucket list, this is my long one. And being my 10 year of running, this race came in time as I close off an amazing chapter to my running career. No, am not retiring but it’s just that I will be done with the distance that I would like to accomplish, that’s if I can complete this. And from there, I would really like to take a step back and just enjoy my runs.

I always wanted to do a 100 Miler (160KM). Having successfully tackled that distance on the road at Craze Ultra 2014, I wanted to run that distance on the trails next. I started studying the events around the world for one shot at it. However, due to time and financial constraints, it makes things a little difficult. But the main issue was that most races of this distance requires some sort of qualification or to accumulate points and also subject to ballot.

Then almost a couple of months later at the same year after completing Craze Ultra 2014, I traveled to Scotland to write my memoirs, a moment in time when I crashed. Though I didn’t travel much back then, I was introduced to the West Highland Way and did some homework on it. Yes, it may be 5 Miles short of 100 Miles, but the challenge of it caught my attention and instantly, I knew that I had to run this when I can, especially having receive a "not so favourable" medical report. I really need to do this fast when my body is still able to take the punishment. And with the decision made, no longer I have thought of other 100 Miles races anymore. This, I had to do for not only the challenge, but also knowing that Scotland is part of me.

However, there was one problem. Not just anyone can enter this race by just registering away. One needs to qualify for it with some background in at least 100KM of trail running and that just a little of luck due to the fact that participants are selected based on a ballot system as only about 230 runners are allowed to run in this race. With Vibram Hong Kong 100KM 2015 still “freshly” ran by my legs, I’ve used that and also the Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015 as my qualifiers. And way before registration was open, I’ve started looking for my support crew, taking me back to October 2015 when I first spoke to Angela about this. And through her, I met Ian Beattie, the race director at Belter's Bar during the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra post race party and spoke to him.

Little did I know back then at Jedburgh Three Peak's Ultra 2015, that this "squirrel" is actually the Race Director of the West Highland Way Race and also the chairman to Scottish Athletics.

The opportunity came for me to visit part of the West Highland Way came in October 2015 when I paid a visit to Tyndrum, located along the highlands at somewhere near the halfway point. The owner of the hostel I was staying at, By The Way was Kirsty and she her own self is an avid trail runner who has been training around the area. She has given me some pretty good advice and recommended that I run part of it from Glencoe to Bridge of Orchy and back Tyndrum, a good 26KM or so. And with the guidance of Ian Minty, a stranger turned close friend I met at By The Way who had continue to advise me as the race approaches which I’m really appreciative of, I ran it! And with the first hands on or rather legs on experience, it has reassured me that this was the final race I need to do to complete my running career.

With Kirsty at By The Way, Tyndrum.

With Ian and Ian Minty (in green) at Glencoe in October 2015.

I continued with my training not knowing if I will be selected for the race. Then came December 2015 when the ballot was announced. I was asleep when it did due to the time zone difference and when I woke up, I’ve received messaged from Angela and Ian Minty mentioning “The Long One”. I was selected! And within a few good minutes of waking up, I was registered! I was in! I am going for an adventure of a lifetime! And with that, I confirmed Angela as part of my crew and also Chee Kong as well.

With the confirmation, I pushed hard and smart for it with a training plan combined together with Comrades which is based on Dr. Phil Maffetone's MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) method and LCHF (Low Carbs High Fat) diet. Reducing my intake of dairy and sugary product helps a lot too. The usual road training was done and visits to the trails with the help of some friends like Yan Leng, Piew and Choon Yuen helped. Shoes from the Kinvaras to the Peregrines and Nomad TR were fully utilised and race gears not only provided by Saucony Malaysia but also friends from the UK and South Africa divisions too, which I am really lost for words for. Many thanks guys!

Race shoe of choice for the West Highland Way Race, the Saucony Peregrine 6.

Training wasn’t easy due to work commitments and the handover process. But with some sacrifices from myself and family including my dear Bailey the Westie, everything went pretty smoothly. Yes there were rough patches, but there were tackled successfully and soon was forgotten. However, there will be an unforgotten one as throughout the journey, I lost some friends and patients to cancer which made my days gloomy. As I run, I will have them in my thoughts, as this run will be dedicated to them and those affected with this disease.

With a month to go, Edmund has also confirmed his part as my crew and also Alexa coming forward to give a helping hand. As the race approaches day by day, more homework was done including the food and drinks I would like to have at the checkpoints, the logistics and accommodation not only for myself but crew members too and also my estimated running pace. However, I was deeply disappointed that a dear friend couldn’t make it, someone who will help make a huge difference to the team and my race.

The West Highland Way markers.

Comrades Marathon 2016 came and it was dusted with a new personal best despite holding back to care for the legs and to minimise injuries risk. It was done as part of training and my last long run before the West Highland Way Race and the results were certainly positive. Felt good and was glad the legs wasn’t badly thrashed at the “down” run and within a couple of days later upon arriving at Aberdeen, I was back running again despite only short distances. I covered lots of walking between Chee Kong’s house to town daily at about 10KM out and back and this allowed the legs to keep moving.

At the Clianlarich Crossing.

A week later, I was back at Tyndrum to do a little recce and also training there as it was located somewhere at the halfway point of the race. Covered a pretty huge amount of ground there touring Auchtertyre, Strathfillan, Clianlarich, Bridge of Orchy and Ben Lui (off course) on low intensity to keep the cardio going. Everything was good albeit the weather being rather hot. Hope it will cool down as race day approaches. And from there, it was back to Glasgow for a short meet up with Angela and to Aberdeen for a week of rest and recovery before heading back to Glasgow for race day.

View from Conic Hill. The wooden plaque in memory of Dario Melaragni, previous race director for the West Highland Way Race. Photo courtesy of Chuck Gordon.

Angela, a dear Scottish friend who had been welcoming me back to Scotland everytime.

With my dream to do this, I told myself that I do not need the UTMB, UTMF, UTHK, H1, Leaville or any others. All I need to do is to touch that blue door at Lochaber Leisure Centre, Fort William and go through it to tap the card on my lanyard at the reception before 12.00PM of 19 June 2016. And hopefully if I can do just that, it will be my dream come true!

Training log on my road to the highlands.

So with the West Highland Way Race just only 2 more sleeps away, I guess all the work is finally done. With a total of 1,925KM covered by the legs including Comrades in the bag and some final touches being done here at Scotland, all I can say and assure my crew is that I am ready. To Angela, Alexa, Chee Kong and Edmund, THANK YOU for agreeing to crew for me. It's going to hurt as I know that I sign up for this knowing it's not a walk in the park. I may not be fast. I may not be an able body athlete. I may not be the strongest. But I can assure all of you and promise that I will try my very best and dig the very deepest out of me to complete the West Highland Way Race in the shortest possible time I can achieve.

18 June 2016. 1AM Scottish time or 8AM Malaysian time. I will set off together with 201 other runners from Milngavie to the Scottish highlands to #FindMyStrong and to fulfill a dream while taking on the mighty Drymen, Balmaha, Rowardennan, Inversnaid, Beinglas Farm, Auchtertyre, Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe, Devil Staircase, Kinlochleven, Lundavra and many others more through a total ascent of 4096M and 4130M of descent before finishing it at Fort William. So here’s to a decade of running and thank you to everyone who had supported, blessed and inspired me all these while on my journey to the start line. Like all Scottish, AYE!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Comrades Marathon 2016...

Event: Comrades Marathon 2016
Venue: Pietermaritzburgh, South Africa
Date: 29 May 2016
Time: 5.30AM (South Africa time), 11.30AM (Malaysia time)
Distance: 89.208KM (90.2KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

Comrades Marathon 2016, my fifth has come and gone. In a blink of an eye, I have done 5 of it consecutively marking my half decade. On 29 May 2016, it happened with close to 17,000 runners running the “Down” route from Pietermaritzburg to Durban finishing at the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium over a distance of 89.208KM. My training went well and though it isn’t my focus this year, Comrades Marathon will always be important for me. And here’s my story to my fifth.

On the morning of Tuesday, 24 May 2016, I began my travel to South Africa. As Emirates was charging a premium, my flight this time will be Turkish Airlines and the transit was at Istanbul. Despite 100 minutes of delay at Kuala Lumpur, I was actually happy with it as it will mean less transit time at Istanbul which was supposed to be 7 hours. The flight began close to 1.30PM and I treated myself to movies and also the good food provided by the airlines which put Emirates to shame.

My "flying turkey" to South Africa and Scotland.

After close to 10 hours of flight time, I arrived at Istanbul before waiting 5 hours for my next flight to Durban. It was a tiring wait and upon settling into the aircraft, I closed my eyes and rested. Was lucky too that the seat next to me was unoccupied hence I was able to lay down. And after another close to 10 hours of flight time, I finally touched down safely at Durban’s King Shaka Airport at 10.10AM, South African time. That’s almost 1 whole day of travel time. Immigration was smooth and after settling my telco services, it was first thing first at Mugg & Bean for South African breakfast to recharge before collecting my car at Thrifty which was upgraded to a Volkswagen Polo Sedan.

My "sport car" around South Africa this time.

Made my way to my hotel at Blue Waters which was next to Belaire Suites and managed to check in early to a very comfortable room on the 14 floor. After unpacking the essentials, I went out for quick 6KM run along the beach to get the legs moving and hoping to get rid of the jet lag. Dinner later was at John Dory’s at Suncoast Casino before calling it a night.

My cozy room at Blue Waters Hotel.

26 May 2016. Woke up early at 6AM and was glad that I had a good sleep. Another 6KM for the legs to close up my training where I bumped into Willie and it was breakfast which was good but Belaire Suites was way much better. Made my way to the ICC Exhibition Centre where the Comrades Expo was held. Collected my race pack which went smoothly and went to walking around hoping to meet some friends including Glynn, Anthony, Brad, Sean and of course my coach, Lindsay. I even met Ryan Sandes too! Prices of the merchandise has gone up ridiculously and I ended up only buying 2 shirts, a pair of socks and a South Africa Buff before heading back to the hotel for a little rest before dinner at Jiran Café and it’s light off for today.

Bumped into Willie at the North beach.

My friends at Saucony South Africa.

With Brad. 

With ohm Anthony and Carin.

Was lucky to catch Ryan Sandes.

With Allan.

And of course, with my coach Lindsay Parry for some last minute advice (and warnings).

27 May 2016. A quick breakfast and I was off to the airport to pick up Chee Kong. He arrived on time and we made our way to Belaire Suites where he was staying. A simple lunch at Jiran Café and we were off to the expo to collect his race pack. With nothing much to do there, we returned to the hotel to rest up before a wonderful catch up and dinner with Caroline, Pete and Mylene.

We are ready!

28 May 2016. With the 5KM Park Run being held just next door at Suncoast Casino at 8AM, I went to meet up some friends there while Chee Kong ran it. An interesting and fun event, I thought it will be best I rest my legs as per previous years. With Chee Kong finishing his run, we had breakfast at Belaire Suites before going over to Gateway Shopping Centre for lunch at Ocean Basket. With nothing much to do, we returned to the hotel to rest up while awaiting for dinner time at 7PM where we had ours at Jiran Café again for their meals were affordable and good. Took a while for the food to arrive but before 9PM, we were back at our rooms for that important rest before the big race tomorrow.

29 May 2016. Comrades Marathon Race Day.
I didn’t manage to get a good sleep due to the fact that a concert was being held at the open field just next to the hotel. Considering that the hotel management has spoken to them, I find the organisers to be inconsiderate for jamming the volume up especially the bass. I managed an hour or maybe 2 hours of sleep only and by 12.30AM, I was already awake preparing myself. “Not a good start”, I told myself, but I had to be positive. Breakfast was naan buns and a cup of black coffee, and was glad all the pre-race rituals went smoothly before I made my way to Belaire Suites to meet up with Chee Kong where we drove to Hilton Hotel to catch our bus to Pietermaritzburg.

The journey to Pietermaritzburg was smooth on the highway where I managed to catch a few minutes of power sleep. However, upon entering the town, traffic was bad as we were stuck in a pretty bad traffic jam. I had to relieve myself and just had to go and hence it’s off to the bushes before hopping back on to the bus. With about1KM plus to go from the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall where the start is located and with the start time nearing, most from the bus including myself and Chee Kong disembark and ran there, treating it as our warm up. And to me, I felt this personally help as it help me raise my core temperature which is helpful for the cold start. It was about 10C at that time. Arriving at the town hall, I parted ways with Chee Kong as both our seeding pens being C and D respectively were located at different locations.

And upon arriving at pen D where I was seeded, I quickly deposited my tog bag and entered my pens just when they started to move closer to the front. Then my race number came undone from the magnet I was using and had to readjust. All these came pretty close to the start but I still managed to sing along with the other the national anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of Fire while awaiting from Max Trimborn’s cockcrow and finally the cannon to signal the start at 5.30AM. All these still give me goosebumps till today. With the temperature bearable, I removed my t-shirt and gloves toss it over the fence.  It was a retro Comrades t-shirt and the person receiving it was really thankful of it.

It took me about 4 minutes to cross the start gantry, pretty similar to last year’s “Up” run and it was game time as I began my run slowly and carefully. Being still in the city and pretty dark at certain parts with lots of runners around me, I had to be careful not to trip over reflectors, uneven roads or simply stepping on someone’s else shoe. It was also a good idea to slowly up my pace to desired pace I was looking for, within a heart rate of not more than 150 beats per minute (BPM). It should be something pretty similar I experienced during the Route 68 Challenge back in April 2016. I intend to use the similar strategy for it worked well back then at high temperatures and thus should allow me to hold back a gear or maybe 2, to save the legs from any potential damage or overuse which may mess up my West Highland Way Race in 3 weeks time. This after all should be like my last long run before the long one. However, Comrades Marathon should still be respected upmost in the highest order for it reward to those who are, and not the over confident.

The gentle downhill straight out of Pietermaritzburg was a great place to raise the heart rate at a steady pace. With the cool start, it wasn’t spiking and hence my pace was really good. As most runners were moving along, there was no issue trying to pass some slower ones. A Kilometer in or so, came the first mild climb as we turned right up the slope. Most locals were already up cheering for the runners and the atmosphere was indeed great. Slowly I made my way and was glad my heart rate was hovering at about 130 to 140 BPM.

As we moved longer into the race, some faster runners from the back seeding started to pass me. However, I resisted to follow them as I had my own pace. And as we moved into the Polly Shortts stretch, it became a little tough to pass and I didn’t want to risk going to the side due my first year experience of stepping on human poop there. Eish… 6KM into the race, I had to answer the call of nature and I found a spot beside a tree and “flowered” it before the descend down Polly Shortts. Oops… 3KM later, the urge came again and I did the same thing and was hoping that it will the final call, at least till halfway or so.

Without any urge standing in the way, my pace began to increase as I made my way to the highest point of the race route at Umlaas Road pass Lion Park at the 16KM mark where the first cut-off was. As it was a little climb towards the first cut-off point, I took a breather by walking up the small hill. However, I forgot that at the cut-off point will always have official photographers stationed there shooting away. And I fell prey to it when one of them shot me while I was walking. When I resumed, running, it was already too late. The race route now began to roll like a dragon’s back and there were some pretty tough climbs. But with the loud cries and singing of Shosholoza from the locals, it helps runners push ahead with much ease. As I near the highest point, Willie called out to me from behind and I was caught by surprised. He was already struggling a little as I took a breather with him as I made him promise that he will bring himself to the finish line before I went ahead.

Next was Camperdown and I was already feeling hungry. Looking forward to some potatoes being served there but sadly upon arriving, I didn’t spot any. However, to make it up, the cheers from the supporters there was just as satisfying, if not better than the potatoes. Weather was still fine as I slowly sip from the water bottle I carried with me before finally disposing it away as I made my way out from this happening “chicken town”.

Coming up next was Cato Ridge where the second cut-off is. As I made my way there, finally some potatoes being served by the friendly supporters. Was glad they were plain ones too minus the salt and just one was already enough for now as I didn’t want my tummy to accept to heavy loads at once. Upon arrival at Cato Ridge where the 30KM mark is, some runners were already seen struggling. I guess the 30KM myth where runners begin to “hit the wall” is happening here for quite a number. Am glad I was still doing fine both physically and mentally. In fact, I was enjoying every moment of it! Weee…

The halfway point where Drummond is located at, is actually within a valley. And before dropping into it, runners must make themselves up the dreaded Inchanga. But before that, we passed by the Ethembeni school for the less fortunate children. Over here, we cheered for each other by touching each of their hands as we ran pass them. Some runners believe that these simple gestures gave them strength to attack Inchanga.

The climb then came as I bumped into Bruce "Digger", Australia's Comrades ambassador and had a  brief handshake and chat with him before Mark from the Netherlands called out to me as he recognised me as the Malaysian ambassador from the print on the official guide. Had quite an exchange of our culture and we even spoke of the Amsterdam Marathon. And while chatting, a familiar frame appeared in front of me. It was David from Singapore. And for the fifth year in a row, we met at Inchanga! There must be something here, I guess. Although he was struggling according to him, I believe he will finish strong later, especially when we have pass the halfway point later. But that didn’t stop us from having our annual Inchanga selfie. Hehe…

We marched ahead together before I restarted my run. But just a Kilometer or so before arriving at Drummond, a novice was seen struggling with his left hamstring which is cramping. Told him to keep moving to shake it off, but seeing him struggling, I turned back to help him. Gave him a gentle rub to help ease his pain as he slowly limp as I didn’t want him to stop. And when he got better, we introduced ourselves and found his name was Greg from Australia and we moved ahead.

Passing Drummond in 5:06:03 hours was indeed a surprise for me. I did not expect to pass it here within this time and was delighted. As I started my climb out of the valley, I remember the Rooderport support tent just after the bridge as Manette has always been there. And indeed she was as we have each other a hug before I continued on. It was nice to see you again Manette!

Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and I gave it a tap on the plate with a “Good Morning Sir” greeting as legend has it that one that does that which includes giving him a stalk of flower will enjoy a stronger second half of the race. Sadly, as tradition starts to fade, no more flowers was given. It was given during my first Comrades back in year 2012 though. Passed the Wall of Honour and it was the start of the climb out of Drummond. With a marathon distance covered, my legs are starting to ache and hence I took the opportunity to give them a rest by walking out Drummond before tackling Botha’s Hill.

The students from Kearsney College came out to cheers us on as we arrived at Botha’s Hill. Greg’s hamstring was giving him problems and I did the same giving him a gentle rub as we move along. With the pain subside, we moved along together and exited Botha’s Hill together with the “first” steep drop to Winston Park welcoming us. With tired and sore legs, the second half for me is about managing it and making my descend to Durban with care. Although I did improve on my downhill running, I am still not good and clumsy with it hence it wasn’t worth any risk and hence only ran at certain parts. I did reduce myself to walking whenever the legs, particularly my thighs signalled me to stop.

Almost 7 hours into the race as I’ve covered almost 60KM as I arrived at Winston Park where the fourth cut-off was, the weather was getting warmer and my heart rate began to spike. I drank more water and also took more sachets to splash on myself to cool myself down, especially on my arms and neck. Also took in some crackers which was rather tasty and a little more potatoes to keep myself away from going metabolic. With the rest of the race route going through town and highways, keeping the core temperature in control will be critical as these are open areas with minimal shades. And suddenly, a familiar voice called out to me at Gillits and I recognised that it was Susan Bold. Very nice of her to be there again supporting. Thank you!

Next up, Kloof where the happening Nedbank’s Green Mile is located within Old Main Road. There was a nice touch of motivational messages in the form of Tweets being labelled on the tarmac on the left side. After exiting Kloof, came the most dreaded downhill of all, the long drop at Fields Hill. Not only it’s long, it’s winding too with the road tilted to a side making it pretty uncomfortable for weak downhill runners like myself. I only managed to bombard it halfway before decided that the thighs had enough of it. Greg seems to be better in this as he disappeared into the distance before I caught up with him again at Pinetown.

Pinetown was a happening place to be and I arrived there in 8:07:02, faster than my pace at Route 68 Challenge. I am once again delighted with it. Lots of supporters there and some were giving out food and drinks as well. These little kind gestures help us keep our mind away from the scorching heat as we continued our journey as one last climb awaits ahead, Cowie’s Hill. And just before that, a gentleman was giving our borewors and I helped myself to it. Absolutely delicious and I think that gave me strength to attach Cowie’s Hill, at least I think that was some placebo effect. But ran up I did with the borewors bouncing in my tummy! And halfway up, I bumped into John Sneddon. Tried to pull him along but he was already puffed and hence I moved on myself to the top knowing it will be another 10 Miles or so more only to go and with no more steep climbs.

Munching on borewors.

But I was wrong. Westville awaits next and it was rather hot affair along the highway there with a gradual climb out of it. Supporters were lined beside the highway and a couple of kids were spraying water on the runners. “GO AMBASSADOR” was what I heard as I near the top and that was indeed a motivational push despite being a little shy about it with people recognising me from the magazine.

As the route being detoured down a ramp, I know I was nearing Sherwood. That will be less than 5 Miles to go, 7KM to be exact. Then a short ramp up to the highway, and it was all 4 lanes down and up to the final 3KM before the home stretch. At the final refreshment station at about 84KM, I took 4 water sachets, 2 being drank and splash on the spot while the other 2 to hold on for later.

The final 3KM marker came into view and I remembered that I always tell my friends that my fastest pace will be the final 3KM. But that magic did not happen this time as I held back as it was a mild drop to the final 2KM in the city. As I moved along the ramp, a runner Daleon who once worked in Kuala Lumpur chatted with me as he again recognised me as the ambassador. But as we chatted, I soon realised that time is running a little tight if I wanted to run a certain sub timing. Slowly easing out of the chat, I resume my run and this time the magic happened. The final 2KM on the flat home stretch.

Not monitoring on my heart rate anymore, it was time to engage the additional “gear” as I ran towards the Sahara Kingsmead. And with a Kilometer to go, out came the Jalur Gemilang (Malaysia national flag), the same that has travelled and crossed the Comrades finish for the past 4 years. Into the magical Sahara Kingsmead Stadium, supporters were cheering all the runners on with their voices and also banging on the side panels. The “Down” run finish segment is certainly something to behold and when I finally saw the finish gantry, it was the flag raised up high as per tradition, as I crossed the finish line and completed my half decade of Comrades with a new personal best of 10:27:07 hours! And per my tradition, I gave the Comrades grass a tap as a mark of respect.

I waited for Greg at the finish and he soon crossed the gantry successfully as we gave each other a hug. Collected our medals and posed for some photos before making our way to the international tent to rest up while enjoying our Castle Lite and congratulating the other runners too, particularly the novices and back to backs.

Chilling at the international tent with Greg from Australia.

Chee Kong came by later and I found out that he managed to run a Bill Rowan timing despite minimal training. Superbly done! I then bid farewell to Greg as we made our way to the Fourways lounge located in the stadium’s stand but that was before we bumped into Chris, novice from Malaysia who ran 10.13 hours for his first and David who came in just in time for the bronze. Wonderfully done to both!

The man behind my taining. Lindsay Parry. Comrades Marathon and South Africa triathlon coach.

Rested in the Fourways lounge and with the legs stiffening up, I was trying my very best not cramp, especially on my inner thighs which was feeling it. Managed to do so and for the first time ever, I did not suffer any cramps in the Comrades Marathon, whether during or after. Well done to me! Hahaha… Lindsay came over to congratulate me later which was a moment of joy for me. Many thanks to him for guiding me here, as I have improved from year to year. Race report as of yesteryears and results as per below:

Comrades Marathon 2012 - 11:53:49 (“Down” run)
Comrades Marathon 2013 - 11:30:08 (“Up” run)
Comrades Marathon 2014 - 10:57:34 (“Down” run. -56:15 minutes compared year 2012)
Comrades Marathon 2015 - 10:50:51 (“Up” run. -20:43 minutes compared year 2013)
Comrades Marathon 2016 - 10:27:07 (“Down” run. -30:27 minutes compared year 2014)

As we waited for the final 12 hour cut- off, the atmosphere at the stadium became tense and loud. It’s not a moment that one will like to go through, but it had to be done. As the sun began to set, so does the sound of the trumpet being blown to signal the countdown. And when it finally stop, that was it. The race was over, and the first runner to have miss it was for his green number missing by a second. Indeed cruel, but this is Comrades.

5 successful Comrades each for the both of us.

As the curtain began to close at the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium, both myself and Chee Kong made our way to our car and headed back to the hotel to clean up before our victory dinner at Jiran Café, where I struggled to finish my meal. Tried my best though to take in whatever I can as I know it will be important for recovery. Then it’s back to the room for some painful packing as we are leaving for Scotland tomorrow before ending the day and night with a well deserve sleep, though I find it a little difficult as my body was still pretty “active” or “high” from the adrenaline at Comrades.

Half a decade in the bag.

Waking up the next day refresh, to my surprise, my legs didn’t feel as thrashed as compared to the years before. Indeed a good sign though I believe the real DOMS (Delay Onset Muscle Soreness) will come on the second or maybe third day). A well deserved breakfast at Belaire Suites with lots of limping Comrades runners before we checked out of our hotels at 11AM making or way to Umhlanga Rocks for second breakfast and then Hooters there for our third. As we simply had too much time to kill before our flight at 6PM later, we returned to Gateway for some quick shopping before arriving at the airport do settle our VAT claims before our fight to Istanbul and then Edinburgh.

My splits for 2016. My Suunto Moves on this LINK.

With Comrades Marathon 2016 successfully in the bag, I would like to thank my parents, Susanah, Bailey my dear Westie, Yan Leng, Piew and Choon Yuen for the positive motivation given and also being part of my training, Not forgetting the rest from the Gold Coast Training Group too. And to my coach, Lindsay Parry, thank you for all the tips and advice given through these 3 years as I inch ahead and improve over the years. My sincere thanks to my sponsors Saucony for the training and race gears provided throughout the past 42 months. To my South African, Scottish and the rest of my international friends like Caroline, Anthony, Pierre, Willie, Allan, Brad, Susan, Angela and Alexa, many thanks for the wishes and annual meet-ups for some, for it really helps. And finally of course to the rest of the “family” from Comrades Team Malaysia for cheering for myself, Chee Kong and Chris this year back home.

This year, the strategy worked well. Holding back a little using the heart rate monitor was definitely useful. And hydrating well using water as my primary fluid was fine too. But without the other necessary nutrients, how did I do it, you may ask. Well, it came from the food I consumed along the way such as potatoes, crackers and borewors. And I counted that I only drank 5 cups of Coke and at about 12 sachets of Energade only and hence no sugar rush or bloating. Definitely feeling that the body has successfully or close enough to adapt to this method which I’ve tried since 2 years ago.

All in all, Comrades Marathon 2016 which marks my half a decade of running The Ultimate Human Race consecutively was a success. Not only that I ran my best time despite holding back which was a positive sign for all the training and sacrifices I’ve made, I befriended some new friends and even helped them during the race. Comrades Marathon certainly isn’t any ordinary race for it’s a race that defines one. It’s a race of champions and on 29 May 2016, close to 17,000 runners were champions. Till 4 June 2017 for the next edition for I now turn my focus to my main event of the year at the 152KM long one at the West Highland Way Race at Scotland on 18 June 2016.

* All photos here credited to their respective photographers. Thank you.
* More photos from official photographers will be uploaded in due time.

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.