Sunday, February 01, 2015

January, A Good Start...

By Frank

"Here we go again"! That's what I told myself when the new year started on 1 January 2015. A whole 365 days  new year awaits but what beckons is 150 days throughout 5 months of training otherwise known as blood, tears and torture. The training for my fourth and "toughest" to date Comrades Marathon begins.

Why did I say that it's going to be my toughest even before the race? As mentioned before, my target for this year is set pretty high and I am not sure if I am able to do it. Outrunning last year's time seems pretty realistic though but hey, I got nothing to lose to try what has been set for me. To succeed is a bonus, to fail is to go back to the drawing board and try again. That was my mentality, that was what I told myself. And I've got 2 messages lock into my mind, "Mind Over Body" and "This Can Be Done", both given and reminded to me by a someone dear and also my coach.

January 2015 marks my 6th month of transition into the Maffetone training method. It has so far proven to be very effective and hoping that the journey ahead will be better with it. And January 2015 like my others January's' the previous years seems to be an easy month to build the foundation to the training ahead. But with the fitness gained at the final quarter of last year and with very minimal fitness loss during my down time, this month is all about maintaining and perhaps improve on it.

I stood with the program that was given to me, and didn't get over adventurous in trying out new stuff. Pretty easy runs for the first 2 weeks of the month before a 100KM race at the Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race, an eye opener for me. Took me a while to recover from that though as I went down with cold for a couple of days. I guess that's the results of defying the doctor's order. Yeap, you did not read this wrong. I didn't mention this before but I underwent a medical checkup a couple of weeks before the race and was not given the green light for the 100KM race. Then the final week of the month introduced speed session for me with time trial being the first. Speed isn't something I favour but I guess it's a necessity to improve on my timing.

And all in all, I slightly overshot my estimated targeted running distance by achieving 300KM worth of it.Certainly a nice number to start the first month of training with but as a reminder to myself, it's not about the distance, but time. And it's going to get tougher and tougher for the next 4 months as not only I train myself for this year's biggie but at the same time to look after my health. I may not be 100% but I will go on and on, till the day I can't anymore. Embrace myself I need!

Time to burn those rubbers! 
Thanks Saucony Malaysia for supporting myself, Zijill and Jason for our 
Road to Comrades 2015.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race 2015...

Event: Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race 2015
Venue: Pak Tam Chung, Hong Kong
Date: 17 January 2015
Time: 8.00AM
Distance: 100KM
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 4
By Frank

My first blog post for the year almost took a month to be published and coincidentally, it is also a report on my first ever 100KM trail run.

I personally thought to myself that I've come a long way in long distance road running. Having accomplished what's on my bucket list there, it's about time I move on seeking my next challenge. A 100KM trail run is next and after seeing my friends running it over the past 4 years and hearing stories from them, I thought the Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race (HK100) will fit my bill in my first ever attempt. It's after all, one of the milder trail race out there so not knowing what to expect, I guess this is a good call for me. The only downside for this edition is the introduction of the balloting system due to over flowing numbers of participants.

The race route profile.

Ballot was done in early September 2014 and by the end of the same month, the results were out and I was lucky enough to secure a spot. And thus, I was in. Much has been said about the number of stairs and steps in Hong Kong trails. However, till race day, I did not train any at all. In fact, I just carried on maintaining my fitness level and also used 2 trail races at Scotland to gain some trail and also cold weather experience.

Breakfast at McDonald's KLIA2.

Fast forwarding to my travel day on Thursday, I set off from 1 Utama taking the SkyBus to the new KLIA2 as early as 5AM. I bumped into Foo and Vivien there and it was certainly good to have travel companions together. I found myself at the airport an hour later and proceeded to do the necessary before Yik Yee, Gan and Kevin and many others joined in. Breakfast at McDonalds before we boarded our flight scheduled to take off at 8.45AM. However, it was delayed for a while to missing travel documents, not from the passengers but from the plane itself. Anyway, the flight was smooth and close to 4 hours later, we found ourselves at Hong Kong. Checked into our hotel at AhShan Hostel at Mong Kok where I shared the tiny room with Yik Yee.

Malaysia contingent arriving safely at Hong Kong.

Eating, walking a bit while trying to rest the legs was all we could do at Hong Kong together with Hong Lan, Hazel, Hansen, Wind,Wilson and Alan who joined the group. Race pack was picked up from Racing The Planet at Sheung Wan. Quiet a fast process but it was a tad messy and could be improve. By the way, things weren't exactly cheap here and thus resisted buying some rather tempting stuff. Dinner was simple back at Mong Kok at the nearby market before calling it a day as we all deserved some rest.

Dim sum breakfast.

Next morning started easily. Having rest up, breakfast was simple but awfully delicious at a dim sum place. Price was dirt cheap too! We then continued with shopping while making food stops in between. And of all the food I had, I just have to mention the Yi Shun milk pudding. It was rather rich and am not sure if this was the cause for things to come at the race. Anyway, dinner was early at 6PM at the same market place again as yesterday. And by 9PM, we were all back at the hotel to have some final gear check before calling it a night as a long day and night awaits the next day.

Pre-race dinner.

By the way, my gears was simple. I wanted to go as light as possible hence I started lightly with 2 X 500ML bottle on my chest, 2 X 200ML water on my waist, few small packs of nuts, 2 slices of dried meat, a jacket, phone, headlamp and emergency blanket. What I wore for the start was the CompresSport On/Off Tank as the base layer with the Trail Tank the outer layer, and also the trail short and R2 calf guard. The rest including my trekking pole and super bright LED Lenser was at my drop bag at Check Point 5 located 52KM away from the start.

My gears.

I was up early. Took some bread and a can of coffee before my normal pre-race rituals started. Everything went well and by the time I was ready, Yik Yee was awake too. I skipped breakfast with the others though hoping to get in some last minute rest as it's going to be a long night later. And by 5AM, everyone was already downstairs and some cabs were already waiting. Myself together with Gan, Kevin and Yik Yee shared a cab together and just before an hour later, we arrived at the start venue at Pak Tam Chung at Sai Kung and the place was already filled with runners and supporters.

Malaysian contingent ready to rock the trails of Hong Kong,

With Siaw Hua and Yik Yee, the 2015 Comrades bound.

The morning chill was there but it was manageable. Guess my experience at Scotland is proving to be working. Caught with some friends, took some photos and we were off to deposit our drop and finish bags. And while warming up and performing my stretch, a familiar face stood in front of me. It was my Comrades pal, Dr. Wong and we chatted till the race started at slightly passed 8AM.

With Dr. Wong at the start.

And as seen from the video, the start was a little narrow along the road. And starting from almost the back of the pack, I waited about 3 minutes before I officially cross the start gantry with Dr. Wong, Hong Lan and Warren. It was a short run along the road before all the runners were concentrated at the entrance to the Maclehose Trail, It was a very narrow single track entrance and it was pretty frustrating as I was not able to run due to the number of runners around. And this continued on for about 4KM or so before I found some space and broke free.

Upon breaking free, like a bird free from its cage, I settled soon into my race pace, a comfy one of course. I was having fun along the trails here as it's very much like the Rover Trail found in FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia). Out from the trails for a certain stretch was the magnificent view of the oceans and beaches Hong Kong has to offer. The scenery was captivating and soon, I arrived at the support station at East Dam, some 11KM into the run. I needed to pee, but as the toilet queue was rather long, I held on and moved on. I didn't take in any refreshment or snacks here as my backpack was still filled from the start. Besides, other runners was rushing to get some snacks.

Running across the dam.

A wide road and an uphill was all I need to pass as many runners as possible to make up for time lost at the start. And this climb brought us to Sai Wan Shan, another place with awesome view. Ran passed some beautiful beaches too and that caused sand to get into my shoe despite having gaiters on. But with the beautiful scenery, distance and time seems to pass by quickly as I soon arrive at Check Point 1 at Ham Tin. Found a spot to squeeze in among the runners to grab a handful of almonds and cashew nuts before I finally had the opportunity to relieve myself at the toilet here before continuing.

Ermm... My first attempt at GoPro selfie. Can't believe I am doing this!

I was having lots of fun here. So much fun that I actually passed a very prominent runner who actually took note of me and increased his pace. Nothing to care of, I let him go and enjoy my very own moment. The scenery and weather was good, and trail running is really exciting. I felt strong too with the exception of my backpack. I felt I was over packed and my left trapezius felt a little sore. A common problem though but I thought I could be lighter. Passed more beaches and some pretty steep steps as I made my way to Check Point 2 at Wong Shek which was 28KM into the race along the seaside. Beautiful place but I though the checkpoint to be a little messy. I took in quite a lot of oranges and rice ball here and thought I overate.

Not sure where is this though?

Heading out of the check point was a little slope. As my tummy was a little heavy, I took the opportunity to walk it up and at the same time to rest the legs. But despite that, I was still really feeling good. I resume my run once I got to the top and back into the trails. Most of the terrain was still manageable with some mild to tougher ascends and descends. On the rocky descends, I took it easy as knowing the clumsy me will just slip if I was too adventurous. I even let faster runners pass me. Pass a few small villages and at one of them, I stop by to clear my shoes and socks of sand that entered earlier.

Soon enough, it was Check Point 3 at Hoi Ha, 36KM into the race which was rather special where it was partially manned by visually impaired people where they cheered and served us. I skipped the rice ball here but took in again a lot of oranges. Hansen checked in as I was about to leave and he caught up when I was clearing my shoes of sand again shortly in front.

Getting ready to leave Check Point 3, Hoi Ha.

I can't really remember the route here with the exception of running along the coastal part. Passed a few small villages and farm too as I remember clearly a family of expats was having breakfast or tea at their garden and cheered the runners on. And also while on the coastal trail, despite concentrating, I still managed to knock my right knee on a boulder. It was painful as blood started oozing out. I stopped to massaged it and stop the bleeding before I carried on.  And at the end, I know I was just glad to arrive at Check Point 4 at Yung Shue O, 45KM into the race. It was within a pretty decently sized hut with tables and chairs. And seeing runners eating cup noodles, I thought that this will be a good time for me to eat something solid too. I ordered one and while waiting for it to cool down, I text my friends. It was nice to have chatted with them, at least a little time off from all the running.

I did not finish my noodles as it was pretty "rich" and hence I though it will be good to stay as clean as possible. Grabbed a few nuts and off I went again. Really looking forward to the next check point which was just 7KM away. A steep climb towards Kai Kung Shan (Cockrel Mountain) awaits but I though that it will be fun, at least for me. And when the climb came, I started attacking. Despite a tough climb, all I can say is I enjoy climbing. And out of a sudden, I heard my name being called. I looked back and it was Foo dressed up like a commando, and a very macho one too. However, it was sad and painful to see both his knee strapped up and himself struggling. I slowed down to have a chat with him and found out that his ITB flared up. What a shame indeed.

Photo-bombed at Kai Kong Shan!

I continued with my climb and successfully arrived at the peak of Kai Kong Shan. Kinda over rated though but I still took out my GoPro for a selfie. Hahaha... Leaving the top wasn't so fun as it's a steep descend with loose rocks along the way. But I told myself to at least arrive at Check Point 5 before sunset and thus I pushed on. Slowly but surely, I started hearing noises from vehicles and soon people talking. I was near and finally, an open area where the check point is at Kei Ling Ha, 52K into the race. I made it before sunset too in 9:33 hours! Not bad I told myself.

Check Point 5 was rather small and in a mess. I did not know where to go to retrieve my drop bag and had to ask around. But as the first tent was some snacks, I took the opportunity to eat some oranges first before finally manage to locate where the drop bags are. I stood there hoping to flag down one of the volunteers to help locate my bag albeit to no avail. However shortly later, a very kind local Indian volunteer spotted me and quickly retrieve my drop bag for me. I thank her for her efficiency.  I found a spot, sat down and quickly unloaded my extra gears from the bag which includes my second high powered head lamp and also my trekking pole. Loaded more snacks as I gulp down the can of Red Bull I inserted in earlier. And once everything done where I've spent almost half an hour here, I continued on.

The journey to Check Point 6 at Gilwell Camp will be a long and tough one, as of what I heard. It's 13KM in distance which is the furthest and longest of all check points. And after crossing the road with the help of traffic marshals, the journey started where runners were taken through a park of some sort with a mild climb on the road. I did not run as I believe I've stopped too long earlier which cause my legs to stiffen up. I needed to loosen up a bit through walking and as the sky grew darker, I put on my headlamp. I restarted my run when we re-entered the trails and as I powered on my 300 Lumens LED Lenser, the whole area brighten up. I could actually run, I told myself, and so I did.

Despite a drop in pace, I was glad I was still running. But the running had to stop when the trail got a bit too technical and the surroundings got too dark. Even with my very bright headlamp on, I didn't had the confidence to tackle the trails here. Besides, it was an uphill struggle to Ma On Shan (Horse Saddle Mountain). Things got nasty halfway through my journey here when I felt a sensation I've never felt for years. The hammering on the back of my head and my left eyeball. My migraine which I've managed to keep it at bay decided to return and I wonder if it was the very rich milk pudding I mentioned earlier that have caused this. The pain became very bad and I had to stop halfway into the journey at at open area to rest up. I threw up twice in the process and a very kind Chow Kean Fatt came to my assistance. Knowing nothing much he can do, I told him to carry on. I was really grateful to him though. Thanks Kean Fatt! I had a CoEnzyme10 tablet with me and I took it hoping it will help. It was a mild dosage though but I guess it's better than not having it.

Many fearless runners shouldered on as I was still resting there trying to get my pieces together. The pain was not getting any better soon but I knew I had to move on. I was in the middle of no where, in the darkness and in pain. All I had was myself, my strength and the thoughts which comes into me. I picked up my trekking pole, used it to support my already weaken body and carried on. Sounds dramatic but heck that was what happened!

I was moving slow enough  and every step was a torture. The weather was getting cold especially when the wind blows but I was lucky I already had my third layer on, the water proof and wind proof Saucony Razor Jacket. And when In finally got to the top of Ma On Shan, I could clearly see both side of Hong Kong, Sha Tin and Tai Po. It was a very open area and I can't stop due to the wind factor. I had to carry on hoping I will make it to an enclose area to shield me from the wind. Soon I did along the descend and while the pain from the migraine got better, my body has weakened.  There were a few more unnamed hills to climb, and climb I did before I finally heard some noise. The check point was near!

The path slowly cleared up and trails became tarmac. A few steps and soon Check Point 6 at Gilwell Camp, Tate's Cairn was in sight. It was pretty dark and cold. I found a spot along the railing, rested my pole there and went to refill my bottles. And while doing so, the inexperience young scout overdid it with the water pump causing overfilling of my bottle and hence my gloves was icy wet. Took some rice ball here, before I heard that the scouts did make a camp fire nearby. Pick my stuff up and headed there which was nearby along the race course. I took a long 15 minutes break here and while doing so, try to dry up my gloves. A few other skinny runners like me came by as the fire did help a little in keeping us warm in this cold night. I tore my first pack of hand warmers and stuff it into my gloves for the extra warmth.

And when I thought that rest was sufficient, I resume my journey. My head got better but my legs got worse. The muscles has stiffen up and the journey next was downhills on the road. I walk at first hoping to shake the stiffness off and I was glad a familiar face came about. It was Ping whom I met at the Craze Ultra last year. While I was tired, he was sleepy and chatting away did help us, well at least till we got to the bottom of the hill where he zoomed off into the trails. My legs was kind of glad to be back into the trails as it was easier for it. However, the darkness prevented me from running and besides, the journey to Beacon Hill was a single track pretty technical trail with loose rocks. I had to be careful for one wrong step, I will roll into the unknown. To make things worse, my headlamp gave out the low battery warning by flashing every 30 seconds halfway into my journey. I hope it will last till I get to the check point but it did not and everything just went BLACK!

I had my spare batteries with me but as the surroundings was just too dark to change into them, I took out my spare headlamp instead but the strength was just 100 Lumens. Indeed a huge difference but at least I could see the route ahead, at least a little. I just kept moving and apparently, I thought the journey was so long. I was getting a bit impatient to get to the check point, probably because of my lighting. But I finally found a spot, like a picnic spot where I sat down with a few other runners and finally changed my headlamp into new batteries. I asked one of the runners there on the distance to the check point and was delighted to know that it was about 800M above only. Yes, I said above as it was a uphill climb to it. As I continued on, I kept reminding myself that it was near. Just keep climbing and going!

Finally, I got my sorry self to Beacon Hill, some 73 KM into the race. And to welcome the runners, the scouts places light sticks all over the ground together with some motivational quotes. Certainly a nice touch from them. A young lass also gave me an "ang pau" with the Happy New Year message on it. It made my race truly more meaningful. Made my way to the camp fire and sat around it with a blanket provided by the scouts wrapped over me. Took some hot coffee and tomato pasta too to keep myself warm and filled.

And when I thought I was ready, I moved on. I felt much better as I resumed my journey though the technical downhill here was rather tricky. Was a pretty long journey down the trails but eventually I got there. The view at the bottom was familiar, it was the road towards the Golden Hill Road where the monkeys were as seen on the official video. Feeling much better on the legs, I ran crossed the road via the pedestrian bridge and slowly up the road. No monkeys around though as it was still dark here though I can here some noises from them.

Twist and bends but on tarmac, I slowly grew tired again. Looks like sleep time is almost on me but I was glad that this place was covered and there was no wind blowing around. I took a short break halfway up the climb as there was a platform to sit on which was too much to resist. Took off my shoes and massage my legs before resuming. And fast forwarding to 83KM, I arrive finally at Check Point 8, Shing Mun Dam.

I've no idea, but my body felt like shutting down upon arriving here. I felt miserable and just rested by the corner. I took in nothing too, no water, no food. 7KM to the next check point was all I need but I have to get to Needle Hill first before Grassy Hill, 2 very steep peaks to conquer. It's not an easy task.

Picked my pole up and venture off and soon, the entrance to the trails and climbs greeted. It was no doubt steep and technical. And from an enclosed area, it quickly became an open area with wind blowing again. The view from the distance was just a trail of lights in an upward manner. "Just concentrate on the road ahead", I told myself. One step at a time should get me to the top and eventually I got to Needle Hill at 532M above sea level.

The tougher one done, but from Needle Hill, I could see the peak of Grassy Hill. Though not as steep, it was higher and longer in distance to get there. A very technical descend from Needle Hill before climbing again. Oxygen was thin and I stopped a few times to catch my breath before continuing. I couldn't stop long though as it will get too cold and hence needed to push on. I got to the peak of Grassy Hill at 647M from the sea level and was glad to see lights below. It was all down hill now. It was winding but was not too technical as the descend from Needle Hill. I soon heard the sound of generators and I knew the check point was near.

However, I was wrong. Although I could hear noises, it kind of took me long enough to get to the check point at Lead Mine Pass. I needed to get there fast as I needed some hot beverages. I was glad I arrive at the bottom safely and after a few turns, I finally arrived at the 90KM mark, Check Point 9.

I felt sick though upon arriving at Lead Mine Pass. Feeling drowsy, I unloaded my backpack and just sat at one corner. The idea of having a hot beverage was soon forgotten as I just had no appetite. It has since been no intake since the previous check point and though I know it's going to spell trouble, I just didn't put anything in. A familiar voice called to me. It was Hong Lan and she asked if I was ok. Told her I was and we set out together later with her friend Teng Teng.

The last mountain and the highest in Hong Kong, Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain) is beyond us. Standing at 957M tall, it is the last obstacle that we had to go through. Not too long after resuming my journey, I suddenly had the appetite to take in something sweet like isotonic drinks. I looked back and knew it was too late to make a return to the check point. Therefore, I will only get my drink should I chase down Hong Lan. But she is a very experience and good hiker where she scaled the climbs confidently as she moved swiftly. I was loosing her and soon enough, I can't even see her headlamp. I was on my own.

I was glad despite standing tall, Tai Mo Shan was not as tough as I though it will be. It's a gradual climb and one just need to find the correct easier path.Most were big rocks or boulders, but once that area is cleared, things got easier. Ping came into the scene suddenly as his headlamp was running out of batteries. But he was moving fast while myself still struggling with drowsiness.

I exited the trails safely and it was now all tarmac to the end. But first, a second climb before I hit the top. All I can see is a giant dome there and that was my indicator. The surrounding here is pretty open and the strong winds channeling through can hit runners pretty hard. I took out my last pack of  hand warmers and stuff it into my gloves as I moved on to keep myself warm. And after winding through the road, I finally arrive at the station where the dome is. Not exactly at the top though as there was a gate that prevented us from entering the area.

The final 4KM or so through the zig zag winding road down to the finish is what stands between success and failure. And despite no intake of fluid or food since Check Point 8, I found my strength back as I started running downhill. Each of my steps were loud. But then, the sudden urge to pee came and I just had to do it at Tai Mo Shan. Sorry Hong Kong! After relieving myself, I continued my run and while doing do, started emptying my backpack of any water that may weight me down. I folded my trekking pole too hoping I can run faster. I wanted to finish this race before the sun rises. I push on and "flew" downhill.

I heard announcements from a far. It's definitely the finish. But like the earlier Lead Mine Pass, I will not let the noises deceive me again. It's an open area and noises travel well here. There should be another couple of Kilometers more I told myself. But eventually after circling around , the view came into sight and what I saw on the video came into reality. The last bend on the grass with the grave on the right was upon me as I zoom onto it, then on to the red carpet and finally crossed the finish in 23:05:08 hours earning the bronze award! My first 100KM trail completed, and one for the bucket list.

Successfully completing my first ever 100KM trail!

I hung area the finish area after collecting my finisher's items as I had to wait for the arrival of my friends, especially Yik Yee, Gan and Kevin. As I waited, had a few chats and photos with friends like Hong Lan, Alan, Hansen and few more while updating my results to my friends back home. Eventually Gan and Yik Yee return safely too, and with close to the 30 hours cut-off time, we found out that Kevin had decided to pull out from the race to help an injured runner at the halfway point. Hats off and well done to Kevin for this unselfish decision. You are a good man!

Feeling tired, sleepy and cold at the finish area.

My splits.

It was a painful journey back to the hotel. With only a single mini bus to ferry the runners from the finish area to the nearest MTR station, we decided to opt for public transport instead. We waited pretty long for the public bus to arrive to drive us to the MTR station before taking the train back. Kevin and Wilson helped a lot with our luggage as myself and Yik Yee was not feeling well. Thanks my friends.  And once back to the hotel, myself and Yik Yee had to drag our luggage to our new room which was a tad little smaller than the previous. Cleaned up and threw up again in the process to clear my air way and it was bed time for me and Yik Yee. I really had no appetite and decided to give dinner a miss while the others did. I woke up around 9PM, message some of my friends back home, had a little gastric pain but eventually fell back to sleep again.

Next day was good as I woke up feeling better though the airway still felt blocked. Had breakfast with Yik Yee before I went to explore the town of Mong Kok myself before joining Kevin for the rest of the noon. I had a great time with Kevin as he shared his stories with me. At dinner, I finally ate some solid food despite not finishing the lovely roast pork and goose rice. Rested early back in the hotel after packing up as the final day at Hong Kong beckons.

Flight was at noon and hence we had sometime to have a very delicious porridge breakfast at the market nearby. Myself, Gan and Kevin explored the city one last time while Yik Yee went to meet up with his relatives. Then an absolutely lovely lunch with Gan's friend at the Regal Hotel before we adjourned to the airport for our flight back. And thus came an end to this trip which despite my migraine, was truly memorable.

Lunch at Regal Hotel with Gan's friend.

All in all, HK100 is a very doable race. I did enjoy it though not really please with how things turn out as little did I expect that my race will be ruin by migraine. Despite not having any target beside just wanting to complete it, I don't deny that the lust for silver came into mind when Foo told me that I had the chance while we met on the way to Kai Kong Shan. At that point of time, I looked at my time and thought it was doable, at least how I felt at that time. I lost some confidence after this race though for I ask myself, how can I achieve my next on my bucket list?

One for the bucket list.

Amway, it's my first 100KM trail and I now know on what to expect from it should I get another shot at it or another event. It's a different game compared to road running as I felt miserable and sick out there. I really had no idea on how one of my friends did it with her ligament injury for 2 years in a row While I ran, walk and limp, I thought of her back then. She was certainly awesome! But thanks to her and my friends especially Roy who had given me many advises for this race for all of it did help me manage better. Else, I will certainly go into this race blindly. My Scottish and South African friends too who had been tracking me, thanks! Not forgetting my travel mates too - Yik Yee, Gan and Kevin for the time together.

Before closing off this entry, I guess there is something worth mentioning here. There were some debates over the past years comparing Comrades Marathon and the HK00. After finally having done both, I guess it's fair enough that I bring this up again. My personal take will be each has their own challenges and difficulties, and that both falls under different categories especially the running surfaces. Both races are doable, but however I guess Comrades Marathon will be tougher due to the strict cut off time at each check points. That's just my 2 cents though.

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year That Was 2014...

By Frank

Year 2014 came and instantly in a blink of an eye, we are now just 1 day away from year 2015. Time certainly moves quickly especially when we age. Year 2014 has been filled with exceptionally full of surprises for me, both good and bad, memorable and forgettable. Here's a rewind of things...

"Why are you so slow?" and "How are you going to run Comrades like this?" are 2 messages I received from 2 different runners when the year started. So instead of sulking and retaliating, I stuff it up and moved on. Besides, it was still a long way into the year at that time. And no, I didn't take it as a wake up call for me, cause it wasn't nor did I care about what others thought. These 2 fellows are just not worth my time.

To start off the new year too, I renewed my sponsorship contract with Saucony, with them remaining as my one and only sole sponsor as it has been a very happy working relation and fruitful year with them. Thanks Saucony Malaysia and not forgetting friends I made at Saucony Netherlands and Saucony South Africa. As for the rest, sorry to say it has been an awful experience, not the brand but the people, hence I rejected any contract renewal as I do not intend to be their marketing tool nor puppet.

Then for the first time in my running career and after training many others, I've engaged a coach to guide me through especially for my third Comrades Marathon. To most believes, the third run at the Comrades Marathon will be the strongest and best for each of everyone and here is where my coach comes in to guide me through. Although not physically here with me, the online guidance and analysis provided is just as good.

As per the last 2 years, the first 5 months of the year will all be focused on the Comrades Marathon. And this is where both Saucony and my coach comes in. To provide me with the most suitable training and race gears, and also a training program that will suit my needs and targets with post monthly analysis.

January started off as base building, to prepare myself both physically and mentally for the tough months ahead. Despite the Chinese New Year celebration, training went well as per scheduled. Next was February and I had the opportunity to run my second 100KM alongside with Susanah at Titi100. We ran together from the start till finish and it was a memorable run together.

March was next and personal issues came. My mind was clouded and I was somewhere else. This month was also a scary one where Comrades runners begin to pile on their running distance. Dubbed as "Hell March" and with much strength gain over the past couple of months, I survived the training given despite going off course due to personal issues. And with the turn of things towards month end, I successfully for my first time, survived 16 hours at the Twilight Ultra Challenge conquering 90KM out of looping around East Coast Park, Singapore.

April was just as tough especially when there are no events to participate in, where I can use them as long distance training. Got through it and the final month came, May where I had the whole month to taper off. Tapering off isn't something easy but as  I slowly regain strength from all the training since the beginning of the year, I was soon ready for the big race at Comrades Marathon. And also in May was the launch of this year's Be Frank campaign and the good folks at CARIF went a step further creating the Frankathon event to support me and raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

The launch of the Frankathon.

I flew off to Durban, South Africa with Susanah in the wee hours of Monday, 26 May 2014 giving us about 6 days there to prepare and acclimatize. Met up with the rest of the contingent after a few days there and soon it was race day on 1 June 2014. With the guidance and support, I ran my my best Comrades finally scoring the Bronze medal completing it just under 11 hours. However, I failed in a certain department and like the previous year, this will continue to haunt me.

Upon returning from South Africa, my life was in a total mess. Despite looking like myself, I wasn't myself. To keep myself occupied, I signed up for Back 2 Endurance 12 hours run hoping to keep my mind off things. I push myself in the run and eventually scored third placing. But it wasn't a solution and hence I wanted to escape, and hence I started searching.

July was also the month I started with the Maffetone training methods. To turn things around and to return to my best shape in running, I thought this will also help me mentally. And based on this, I started my self theme "Trial By 4" to get back into running a sub 4 hours marathon, a rather difficult task for me at that time due to lack of speed. I didn't blog about this but it's basically 3 tries to run at least one sub 4 hours marathon before year end. And thus, everything changed here from training methods to diet. This was also the month that I found my "escape route" in a very hasty and secretive decision only to find out that the flight I was suppose to board went down 2 weeks after I purchased my tickets. I stood with my purchase and left it to fate.

August came and my first trial at the Kuching Marathon. And to my surprise, I scored my second sub 4 hours marathon after my first back in 2009 at Macau. And this eventually qualified me for next year's Comrades Marathon with a D seeding. It wasn't a dream as I received 2 very encouraging messages which reads, "Itulah YB yang berpotensi!" and "You are back!", from Chee Kong and Soon Chung respectively.

September saw me entering my third 100KM race and my third attempt at the 161KM distance. Penang Ultra was 3 weeks after Kuching Marathon. Was an enjoyable event where I ran the second half of the 100KM distance with Yen Erl and Zhen Qi. Though it was tough at Penang Hill, we all completed the run comfortably. And 2 weeks later, after 2 failed attempts, I finally managed to complete the 161KM at Craze Ultra.

October finally came. This was the month I was planing my escape. And I told almost no one about it. I sold off my KL Marathon registration telling those who asked about my reason, being I was simply tired which was not the exact case. I also almost did not make the trip only to come to a decision at the final moment due to personal reasons. But on 17 October 2014, I finally took flight en route to Amsterdam. When the news finally broke thanks to Chee Kong posting my flight path, I received many messages from my good friends which I did not reply. Sorry my friends about that and thanks for your concern. Some of you will have thought that I went over to complete off the book I was writing. Some thought I escape to run in races there. Some thought that I needed a break from work. And while some close friends thought I went to discover myself and to escape reality. While the fourth is really close, the exact reason I went was more than just that. It was a personal one, to find back my pieces.

My flight path to Amsterdam on board MH16.

The canal that flows my memories, Prinsengratch at Amsterdam.

My second "Trial By 4 " and also my most important at the Amsterdam Marathon did not go down well. Though still scoring a sub 4 hours run, I did not run well and was left utterly disappointed. And with this, also began my weekly back to back running events.

Dejected after the Amsterdam Marathon.

From Amsterdam, I flew over to Scotland where I stayed most of the time indoor at Chee Kong's house. It was peace and quiet there, and my mind was relax as I wrote my book. Yes, I am writing a book, a biography about myself to be published next year. A week after the Amsterdam Marathon, I found myself at the Jedburgh Three Peaks, a 63KM trail race, my longest trail run. Then it was followed by a road half marathon the next day. Both runs I completed safely and not too shabby for a skinny tropical guy.

A week rest before I was off to Killin for the Glen Ogle 33 Miles (53KM) race. More towards mountain roads in the valley's of Scotland, it was a run that I ran happily for there are turn of events in my life. And since that day, my life had been better as I finally return home safely in early November. And it's also through this trip, that my circle of friends or rather my running family has expanded, this time across to Scotland!

Back home in November, I continued with my weekly back to back runs with the Penang Bridge International Marathon being my third trial. Another successful sub 4 hours marathon, my "Trial By 4" came to a closure with a perfect score. And by this time, I know the Maffetone method was working and I had 2 more months to give myself a total makeover before the tough training for Comrades officially begins again.

December, the final month of the year is where I ended my 8 weeks of back to back runs with the PJ Half Marathon. As I continue to train and let my body recover from the adventure I had, my life too has regain some momentum. And though my current career path is all but going down south, a new chapter may begin soon.

This year, I also saw the many faces of people. The genuine and not so genuine. The friendly and not so friendly. Those that call you friends and treated you like one, and those who call you friends but backstab you at the back. But all in all, I know and am really glad that I had a "Porcupine" a "Fish" and a "Tan Sri" whom had stood by me through my journey. Believing in me, motivating me, listening to my problems and giving me a place to stay in were just some of the very kind gestures these more than friends provided. And I THANK you all 3 of you for these!

Running distances over the 12 months of 2014.

So there, my 2014 story. In terms of my running career, with 4 shoes thrashed and 1 being "immortalized" covering a total distance of 3,222KM ran (my longest and furthest a year to date), I scored a clean sheet in completing races and am glad I am ending year 2014 on a high note and injury free though I am still troubled by my left trapezius which has been bothering me on and off since the beginning of the year. It wasn't as smooth sailing as one will expect, with harsh comments received, fatigue, personal problems and so on, but it was certainly a learning process as I continue to move on. As for my personal life, it has been a roller coaster ride. I thought I will find my answer by escaping but that wasn't the solution. It did open me up and though I returned a more jovial person, deep within me, I know my life isn't complete.

2015 will be another challenging year ahead. In terms of running, my calendar for the first half of the year has been fixed. Am starting it off with my first ever 100KM trail race at Hong Kong 100 about 2 weeks into the year followed by the Gunung Nuang Ultra and Twilight Ultra Challenge in March. And all these will pave the way to my fourth Comrades where my target has been set by coach.

My training programme for my fourth Comrades. Thanks coach!

But most importantly and above everything else, I hope it will be great year for all and that I will be able to spend more time with my love one. After all, my life isn't all focus on running. Anyway, the new year begins tomorrow and hence with this ends my 2014 blog entries. HAPPY 2015 everyone and smooth sailing ahead!

That's all for 2014!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

PJ Half Marathon 2014...

Event: PJ Half Marathon 2014
Venue: Stadium Kelana Jaya
Date: 6 December 2014
Time: 5.30AM
Distance: 21KM (21.02KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Type A5
By Frank

After 7 weeks of running weekly back to back races, the PJ Half Marathon 2014 will mark the end of my this adventure. Though I know that this event is not really well organised and won't be again this time judging from my previous experience, I still gave it a go as it's one event that I am able to run on the Federal Highway and also Subang Airport Road. This time, with a slight change to the route, I am even able to run on part of the LDP highway! And talking about not well organised, I spotted the below signage during the race pack collection. What a shame!

Being my last race of the year too, a target was also set, and this time is all about speed and holding on to it. My progress so far has been tracked and analysed by my coach, and this will eventually pave way for my Comrades training next year where my target has been set, not by me but by him judging from my performance since August 2014..

I had a good night sleep. about close to 6 hours. Everything went well and by 4.30AM, I've arrived at the venue securing a very good parking spot just next to the starting point. Soon Chung who was parked opposite me came over and we had a really short chat about the race's registration and bib number. Really short chat as this is where the drama came. I noticed that I forgot my bib number when we chatted about bibs. This was my second time forgetting my bib number after my first in Powerman 2013. Guess I am getting old. With home not too far away and with sufficient time available, I made my way back, full speed ahead. It was a "negative split" back to the race site and eventually found a parking spot just slightly further. With 10 minutes to spare, I quickly gear up and jog as part of my warm up to the starting line.

I was lined up with Zijill somewhere in the middle of the pack. And while doing so, I was very disgusted when this "person" came to me and asked about my workplace's ongoing promotion. I am here to run for GOD's sake, not to work! As time ticks away, we felt something amiss and soon the emcee announce that the start is going to be delayed as the water stations weren't ready yet. To trust them or not, that is the question, as I've heard different stories. Anyway, the whole start was delayed for about 25 minutes and with a countdown of 10, runners were let off.

I started pretty well, managing to break free from the crowd just before the first turning. My strategy will be to hold on to a 5:10 minutes per Kilometer pace. I managed to find the rhythm quickly and soon, I was on my way. On the Subang Airport road, there was a very mild climb out of it before entering Federal Highway. And I was glad that I need not run on the motor lane unlike previous years.

Next was into LDP highway via the ramp at Freescale before making a u-turn below the Western Digital flyover. I was still feeling awesome here and my pace was constant. Another mild climb to the LDP bridge before turning into the Federal Highway again, this time making the return trip to the Subang Airport road. I been giving each water station so far a miss as I've my own bottle of water with me. And while running on the highway, I was disgusted with a few drivers as they were driving at very high speed. Imagine one losing control and smashing into the side where runners are? Totally unimaginable!

Ramp from Federal Highway into Subang Airport road was the steepest of all here, but I manage it well. And after going through it, I was a little surprise that runners were told to run on the right lane of the road unlike the previous editions where we ran on the left instead. It was a scary running below the MRT construction though, as this is where some accident happened a few months ago with "big" things dropping from above.

By 13KM, my tummy started to act up. Feeling bloated and a little pain, it affected my pace where I slowed down. As the temperature was on the rise too, I took a water soaked sponge to cool down my core temperature hoping it will help with the pain too but it did not. It was not until the Citta Mall flyover that things got better when I let "bomb" away. Hope no one fainted behind me.

The pain eased as I arrived at the airport roundabout and instead of heading towards the airport, we turned into another area, the U3 industrial area I think. It was just a short stretch before we made a u-turn for the return trip. And once I've made my turn, I spotted John who was hot on my tail!

Though my pace has dropped since the discomfort, it was all smooth sailing from here onward. And yes, I've not drank from a single cup from the water stations as it was all isotonic! I wanted plain water! Sigh... And at the final sponging station at about 20KM, I took a very soaked sponge and squeeze it over my head only to be drenched from head to toe. Bad move indeed!

Almost to the finish.

Sadly unlike previous editions where the finish is inside the stadium, the finish this time is at the spot where we started. And just before crossing the finish line, John came to my side and give me tap. He caught up with me as we completed together with a  time of 1:49:18 hours.

Took a 4 cups of plain water while waiting for Zijill and Soon Chung to finish their run. More and more friends completed and even Dr. Wong ran. Chatted, snap some photos and we all then made each of our own way back.

Erm... Selfie with Dr. Wong.

With Soon Chung.

Overall, I did not hit my target. Everything was going smoothly until the tummy ache hit me and I am putting the blame on the burger I had yesterday evening. Sorry, was too hungry. But I was still satisfied with my run as the weather was rather warm and humid. As for the run itself, it was not too bad. Traffic control was actually good thus well done to the traffic police! Only downside was the choice of isotonic over plain water, delayed in start and also post run food and beverage where is was almost non existent. All in all, I completed safely without any injuries as this sums up everything of my whole weekly back to back adventure which began 8 weeks ago. Now to pamper my legs before my official Comrades training starts.

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

Thursday, December 04, 2014

OtterBox Salomon Action Asia Malaysia Trail Run 2014

Event: OtterBox Salomon Action Asia Malaysia Trail Run 2014
Venue: Frenz United Football Academy, Janda Baik
Date: 30 November 2014
Time: 7.00AM
Distance: 18KM (17.21KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 4
By Frank

Due to the venue of the this trail run (OBSTR) at Janda Baik near Genting Sempah, I initially did not have any intention of participating in it. But when Roy told me that he had signed up for it, that gave me some second thoughts as it will also allow me to continue with my weekly runs too. Besides, I needed some trail runs to prepare for the upcoming Hong Kong 100 in about 6 to 7 weeks time.

As Janda Baik is about an hour's drive from Petaling Jaya, Raymond and Roy came to pick me up from Tropicana City Mall as early as 5AM before heading to pick Si Main up. A slow drive there, and we soon arrived at the Frenz United Football Academy at about 6.15AM. It was packed with cars but we still managed to find a parking spot easily which happen to be just next to the finish area.

With Carin, Hong Lan And Xuan Lim.

Geared up and met up with friends like Yip, Raymond, Michelle, Wind, Hong Lan and many others. Though I had my hydration vest with me, I had only 2 X 500ML bottles of water with some nuts to munch on while running. Yeap, it's all about eating! The start was slightly delayed about 5 minutes which out of a sudden, runners were just flagged off. Though started from almost the back of the pack, I had a clean breakaway as the moment out of the field was already the main road which was spacious.

1KM on the road and later, we were greeted to the muddy trail. The rain from yesterday made the course challenging with some sliding actions along the way. And there is no need to wait for actions as the course was immediately undulating with both uphill and downhill. And this is only the start. I had fun attacking the climbs and managed to descent well too as most of the downhill segments here were still rocky. My heart rate though a bit high at about 160 beats per minute on average, was still acceptable due to the terrain. The first checkpoint appeared at about 5KM and I had my tag scanned before continuing forward.

The air was fresh as we are located far away from the city. Running under some ropes, climbing over tree trunks, going through barb wires and stepping and sliding through mud, we soon arrived at the first river crossing at 8KM into the run , if I remember correctly. The cold stream was really nice though there was a slight current which caused some light weight runners like me off balance. Out from it, my shoe was filled with sand and had to take them off shortly later to clear it.

With a wet shoe, the outsole started collecting more mud and soon the heel became a mudcake. Glad the front was fine and that helped with traction a little. The climbs were getting much more "fun" from here but the downhills were absolutely tough for me. Besides being clumsy, my shoe came off twice due to being stuck on mud. Nevertheless, I managed to chased up to some runners who started way ahead of me and that gave me some good indications of where I am now.

Attacking one of the smaller climbs as seen by Deo.

Deo caught up with me as we arrived at near the 14KM mark where we need to run a big loop to reach the second check point. It was really hilly as we enter the loop but once at the top, we needed to descend down on a very muddy single track. One wrong step and we may fall into the valley just on our left. I slipped a few times but managed to exit the area. And just before exiting, the front runner slipped and I told him I've got his back, indicating that should he fall backwards to him, I will support him by pushing his bum!

Out from the area, I saw Roy and Si Main who are just going to enter the loop. Warned them about the slipperiness before I continued on with Deo. A few more climbs through slippery muddy tracks and soon we found ourselves in a very narrow and muddy descend through the woods. It was so slippery that I needed to grab hold on some trees. And since being on a single track, both myself and Deo was still moving faster than some other runners ahead of us. And so in a hasty decision, Deo took a left turn somewhere along the course hoping to get ahead and I followed. But it was a wrong turn as at the end, we needed to jump down to merge back with the run path. The clumsy me hug a tree upon jumping off the small but yet steep step. What an experience!

And from there, a mud poll awaited us. As the middle part was just so muddy and gross, I ran at the side. Happily running, I suddenly found my right leg suck into the mud knee deep. Trying hard to get my leg out which I did, my shoe was stuck in there! Not going to lose my favourite trail shoe the Peregrine 4, I stuck my arm inside to locate it and pull it out. And once I found it, I look like a mud cake myself covered in brownish mud. Maybe the mud is good for facial.

Luckily there was river crossing ahead and I took the opportunity to give myself a wash. The current here was stronger than the first and the river bed was rocky hence taking a little longer than expected to cross it. But I enjoyed every bit of it as the water was just so cooling.

Towards the finish.

And from there, it was all road, about 1KM or so all the way back to the football academy. And just before entering it, I spotted Soon Chung by the roadside snapping photographs and gave him a high 5 before continuing to the finish which I crossed in 2:13:29 hours.

Hung around with friends while waiting for my 3 friends to return which they all did not long after. The post run food was kind of horrible and very limited in numbers hence we did not care about it so much. We left Janda Baik after changing into fresh clothing and headed to Bukit Tinggi for wan tan noodles breakfast. Was a satisfying one as we shared our race experience together before heading home. And during the drive back, everyone fell asleep in the car leaving poor Raymond to the driving. Thanks Raymond!

My faithful Saucony Peregrine 4 went for a mud bath.

I really enjoyed this run. The race venue and the course was beautiful and the environment was fresh and cooling. Although it was technical and really dirty but it was fun and hope this will be an annual running event.

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

CompresSport Gears...

By Frank

I've been wearing BV Sports compression gears for 4 years now and have fully rely on it for my long races. It served me really well and I trusted it over the years. However, sadly the brand did not take off in both Malaysia and Singapore, probably due to poor marketing and also the slightly steeper price compared to its competition. When my BV Sport Tights finally tore at Craze Ultra 2014 after 4 years of heavy usage, I finally open up to options and had the chance to try CompresSport,  a compression company from Switzerland where its products are all made in Europe.

I have a total of 5 CompresSport gears which were put to test at my recent trip and races at Amsterdam and Scotland. With harsh and demanding conditions, the  On/Off Tank, Trail Tank, Trail Short, Calf Sleeve R2 and also the Arm Force were fully max out in the functionality test department.

Wrapped in CompresSport at the Jedburg Half Marathon in Scotland.

The On/Off Tank is my favourite among all the 5 gears. Super comfortable, I used it as my base layer at my trail races in Scotland. Not overly tight but yet still able to compress the important parts of the body, it stretches well too. The On/Off name comes from the 42,000 alveoli, the small little openings all over the tank name after you know those small little grape looking thing in our lungs.They open up to allow air in during our workout so that we can breathe and perform better, and at the same time to lower core temperature. On the other hand, it will close up whenever we reduce our exercise intensity or stop, to maintain core temperature. Am not sure how this works and whether does it work but using this at the very cold temperature at Scotland, the On/Off tank certainly met my expectations of a base layer where it kept me warm and dry.

The trail tank is a super good looking top feels extremely comfortable. I really like the zipper which allows me to unzip when the weather gets  a little too hot, just like how I wear my tri top. However, I find them a little too thin for my liking and did not compress really well especially at the trapezius region. Some say is probably due to my small built but the size did match my measurement. And taking it off is just as tough as taking my other compression top off. So it's definitely the correct size. Probably CompresSport can look into using the On/Off material for their next generation tank series. I would think that will be awesome!

The trail shorts on the other hand when compared to the tank is a different kind of compression gear. Super comfortable as per the other CompresSport gear, the shorts does work.They are a little hard to put on, but once you get it on nicely, it holds the thighs really well. They travel little high up till the hips but they only hugs at the waist area. As this is an unisex model, I thought this to be a nifty good trick by CompresSport for the ladies as their hips generally are wider than men. And to prevent slipping, there are silicone all over it and works well especially when wet. The silicone are also all over the quads areas and besides to prevent slippage, they also work as shock absorbers though I don't really think they work. And speaking of wetness, they wick moisture really well, much more superior compared to nylon lycra materials. With a hand small little pocket at the lower back, you can put some little essentials like energy gels in there. Not perfect though as there are a few little problems. One of them, as this is  a unisex model and being made in Europe, it may not fit some locals here as the length may travel beyond the knee for some. And I wonder why is the logo stitch on the lower part of the shorts at the back of the hamstring near the end? This may cause chaffing to the hamstring area. It can be remove though. And lastly, the decals on mine started cracking and peeling after just 2 washes. Doesn't affect the performance though, just cosmetic damages. Oh... And did I mention that they look really good too! I have a red version and I guess it can make me "run" faster when a bull charges at me. ;p

The Calf Sleeve R2 is a very nice looking calf sleeve. Coming in an array of 10 of colours, one will definitely be able to find their favourite colour to suit their other race gears. And unlike the BV Sport Booster's or the CompresSport trail short's decals and prints, the R2's logo print does not crack or comes peeling off after just a few usage. It stays on solidly at least for a while, so no worries on cosmetic damages. As for compression, it does its job really well in compressing the calf though I have to say that the Booster felt better. I guess it's probably due to the design and construction of it as the R2 is just a hollow sleeve and it isn't anatomically built.

The R2 is also a recovery calf sleeve hence the number 2 on it's name (Race and Recovery). I do not trust nor favour 2-in-1 technologies when it comes to compression. And like instant coffee versus real brew, the latter taste better. I tried the R2 for recovery after my Three Peaks Ultra and while it did help a little, it wasn't superior. I always believe a compression recovery socks or sleeve will always deliver much stronger gradient and is also thicker to be warm to allow the blood to flow more efficiently hence flushing the by products.

The Arm Force are simple pairs of compression arm sleeve. They felt extremely comfortable as per the other models mentioned above and kept my arms warm though not overly suffocating throughout my race at the Jedburgh Half Marathon. Anatomically built and stitch together, it follows the anatomy of our arms. The only downside I fear with the Arm Force will be the durability of it. I really need to be careful when wearing it as a wrong pull especially by loose finger nails may pull the stitching out of its place. This goes to washing as well. However, once in, there is no need to be worry about it unless a loose branch along the woods pulled it. Taking off is a breeze too.

All CompresSports gears above are made out of polypropylene and polyamide instead of the traditional nylon lycra material hence offering much superior graduated compression, cotton-like comfort and moisture wicking properties compared to the latter. They are all also almost seamless hence reducing the chances of chaffing.

The CompresSport gears above retails at the following recommended price and comes with a 2 years warranty against manufacturing defects:

CompresSport On/Off Tank - RM339.00
CompresSport Trail Tank - RM399.00
CompresSPort Trail Short - RM499.00
CompresSport Calf Sleeve R2 - RM199.00
CompresSport Arm Force - RM149.00

* All CompresSport gears above except for the Arm Force are complimentary sets from Photon Athletics Sdn Bhd. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Putrajaya 100KM 2014...

Event: Putrajaya 100KM 2014
Venue: Taman Sri Empangan, Putrajaya
Date: 22 November 2014
Time: 7.00AM
Distance: 100KM (101.1KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 5
By Frank

The Putrajaya 100 is an event by runners for runner organised by Team Pacat consisting of friends like Arman, Zinov and Zul. Established runners themselves, I know their capabilities in organising runs judging from the portfolio and hence took the opportunity to sign up my first event by them.

I didn't want to let my mind sway back to what it was before my escape to Europe and hence running is my way of preventing that from happening. Putrajaya 100 may just be 1 week after the Penang Bridge Marathon, but I guess if I tackle it carefully, it should be fine. I wanted to keep the momentum going and since Jamie downgraded his distance to 52KM where no pacers are allowed, I registered for the 100KM distance. There's a 160KM distance but no to that for I've my own reasons.

My legs were still shaky after last week's marathon and knowing this will be a tough course to crack due to the intense heat, I needed to plan in advance. As I will be experimenting new methods too, I will be going in without any energy gels and will try to minimise on sugary drinks intake. Prepared some snacks such as macadamia, cashew, almond, raisins, dried guava and mangoes and told Roy that I may need an apple pie in the noon.  I also had one last chocolate waffle from Scotland's ASDA hypermart which I pack in my bag.

Fast forwarding to race day, I hardly had any sleep at all despite turning the lights off at 8.30PM. With the run starting at 7AM, the need to arrive before 5AM to deposit our special needs bag and to collect our bib number was too demanding in my own opinion. If trail events can collect them till the race starts, I don't see why a road event can't do the same too. Besides, the first 2 checkpoints which are the same is very near to the starting point. And the best part was, the organisers were still giving out till 6.45AM!

I arrived at about 4.45AM with Jamie coincidentally arriving too. Collected our bibs and deposited my bags while donating some tees and shoes off where some NGO's will come collect later. Hung around with Jamie, Nick, Ben, Soon Chung and Jonathon while waiting for time to tick away.

Fat forwarding to the race start at 7AM, the 100 Miles runner started off in a wave of 20 runners. About 3 waves and it was the 100KM runners turn. I was in the third and last wave, a simple "GO" by Arman, and we were off. Raymond started with me while Roy with Tick Hock. The main priority was to settle into my heart rate zone where a 140 to 150 beats per minute will be ideal. And I managed to find just that as I ran around the CBD area of Putrajaya heading towards the first check point 11KM later.

I felt good at the first checkpoint and out of a sudden, my pace increased. And this is where I lost Raymond as I ran towards Pullman Resort where I bumped into Renee. As we ran along, I was caught by surprise when I arrived at Taman Cabaran which was the third checkpoint. Despite knowing the second checkpoint was the same as the first, we still got lost and that includes the runners from the 100 Miles category, Jeff, Ben and Foo were some of them there too. Lost and bewildered, everyone started questioning each other and also the volunteers there. I was pretty disappointed with the volunteers there as they didn't know anything at all. Sigh...

Everything was in a mess at just 15KM into the run. Together with Renee and 3 other runners being Sonny, Jourgen and another expat, we asked the volunteer where to head to, to continue on the right track. They asked us to turn left which was actually wrong! And thus, all 5 of us ended up at Dengkil. However, we were lucky as there was an entrance to South Park which will eventually merged back to the correct run route, well of course with some navigation of course.

Once back on the race route, all 5 of us broke free from each other. Soon, I found myself on a highway which I think will eventually lead to Kajang. Being in an open space, it was surely hot and with temperature starting to rise, so is my heart rate. I find it difficult to continue with my pace and had to resort to walk and run strategy.

I was all alone for a moment in time though I can see runners ahead of me. My legs were stiff and hurting already and I still had 75KM to go! Too early to be experiencing this. But as I took out my phone to update Roy on my location, I managed to find some of my strength back and restarted my run and soon exiting the highway into the housing estate of Taman Bukit Rimba, a very nice place.

Though Taman Bukit Rimba is a nice place, it was certainly very hilly as we ran through the park. Shaded from the sun, I took the opportunity to go faster since finding back my strength earlier. And since it's hilly, it works to my advantage. Arriving almost to the end of the park was this junction without any signage. I took the left turn and saw the checkpoint just below and hence thought I was on the right track. However, I found myself running in circles and knew that I should have taken the other direction instead which I did after circling back to where I came from. Soon enough, Elvin and Jason Thai came into the picture and there as it, the fourth check point.

Took a short break here as the day became hotter. Took in some Cola but had an overdose of watermelon and hence found it difficult to resume my run. But as it was uphills again, this gave me an opportunity to walk fast while allowing to food to slowly settle down in my tummy. And once it did, I found myself in Precinct 14. I managed o resume my run here and was going really well till I hit a huge roundabout with multiple turnings. There wasn't any signage here and instantly, I followed the path I was running on, which is the left.

I ran for about 2KM before soon realising that I may have ran the wrong direction. I took out my phone and started comparing the map provided by the organisers and also Google Map and to my horror, it showed that I should have turn right earlier instead. With no choice, I back track to where i came from and spotted the directional marker on the other side. Sigh...

Continued on the path and soon it was another highway I entered. Ran on the motor lane and caught up with Renee, Rich, Tiru, Jerry, Leon and Eileen. We paced and kept each other company for the next stretch is long and hot. Eventually one by one, each ran out of water. I still had some and gave them but it wasn't enough and had to stop by where the municipal grass cutters were taking a break under a tree to ask for water. We resumed our run once everyone is ready and soon we exited the highway into some park of sort. A little cross country here before we saw Taman Wetlands on the opposite side. I broke away from the group and eventually arrived at the fifth checkpoint hidden well inside a park.

Ben was there resting and I took my waffle and some nuts here. The food served here was dry and spicy and hence decided to skip it. There was even no ice here despite the hot weather! Didn't stop too long and hence continued with my return trip as this was the turning point for the 100KM category.

Weather on the return trip was much better with rain clouds hovering in the sky. Saw more on more runners coming in and cheered them on. But sadly, I spotted some 100 Miles runners which includes Siaw Hua who were lost searching for their sixth checkpoint. I couldn't help much with navigation and all I could do was to offer them water, which I had 1.5L with me. The very fast Slovakian runner (9th overall at Spartathlon this year) got lost too. He couldn't speak English and I really do not know what he was saying but I believe he was cursing. He pointed to my bottle of water and so I gave him as he was without anything. A few other runners came and they left with them. As for me, I continued on.

Fast forwarding to Precinct 14, I made a quick phone call before the rain came. But the rain did not come at all, a false alarm. I took a short break at a bus stop to massage my tired feet before continuing on. And fast forwarding to the park just before the sixth checkpoint which was the earlier fourth, I cross path with Uncle Oliver, Ken, Phang a few others making their way out. Few words of motivation and water too as I know it's a long way for them.

I soon found myself back at the earlier fourth checkpoint. Hong Lan was there and she offered me a ice cold bottle of Pokka coffee which I gulped down almost instantly. Short rest here while packing up some of the dried fruits I left here and it's off on the road again with Renee and the rest from the group earlier.

Through Taman Alam Rimba which I walked all the way before arriving at the highway. While the rest has took off, I was still playing recovery. The aim now was to get to the next checkpoint before sun set. And when I felt I was ready, I resumed my run. And out of a sudden, I heard a car honking. It was Roy with Raymond in it and they were making their way to our next check point. I hasten my pace and started using markers such as bridges, trees or lamp posts to run and rest.

Soon, I exited the highway and was back at the back of Taman Cabaran where suddenly a very familiar figure appeared running towards me. It was Roy and I was glad he was there. We walked together till the rest caught up before he left to meet up with Renee and Eileen at the back. I made my way to Taman Cabaran's entrance where the check point was and took a long rest there as I feeling wonky already. The volunteers here were either really lazy or they are just unhelpful!

The sun has set and it was dark when I left for the next check point which was just 6KM away. I had my headlamp and blinker on as I tried to follow Renee and the group ahead. I eventually caught up with them at the lake side and we all together made our way to the checkpoint. Soon Chung and Jonathon was there unlike  the previous check point, I find the volunteers here very helpful and friendly indeed. Well done you all!

As the sky finally open up, I requested for a hot cup of coffee and Hong Lan made me one. Thanks a lot my friend as it help warm me up as I was feeling rather miserable already. And with it, I continued with my journey which was a 10KM out and back route. This was the route we missed earlier in the day which causes us missing the second checkpoint. And to make it up, we had to do twice here. But as I ran, I did some calculations of my own that I only needed to do 1.5 times here as I had already made up some distance from running the wrong direction at Dengkil and Precinct 14.

The first loop was done in the rain. I wasn't in the mood to talk and thus ran on my own. I hasten up on my return trip and eventually made it back with Yik Yee there waiting. Despite feverish, this friend still came all the way to support us. Thanks Yik Yee.

The half a loop was with Soon Chung. I asked if he was sure to follow me as I was already feeling tired and grumpy but he mentioned it was fine. In the end, I was glad he did as the conversations with him made my entire walk faster and less painful before arriving back at the checkpoint.

One final rest, a quick one and it's off on the final 11KM with Soon Chung. Was really glad again that he accompanied me.We walked around the CBD area before eventually entering back into the housing area. It was a slight uphill climb here and hence was till walking. But once we made the turn around, it was easier and hence I restarted my run. And soon, the Gemilang Bridge came into sight with Taman Sri Empangan next to it. Steps after steps, strides after strides, eventually I completed my run together with Soon Chung in a time of 18:05:35 hours. Though my worst 100KM run, it was still acceptable I guess since I went missing a couple of times.

But in terms of performance, I didn't think I did that well. I couldn't keep my heart rate down and my food intake was poor compared to Craze Ultra. However, I do know now that I can survived on water and also food such as nuts and waffles. No energy gels needed! Anyhow, it's all about experimenting and this run was all about it.

A few friends such as Soon Chung, Jonathon, Roy, Raymond, Hong Lan and Elvin helped me a lot. Then Jason for the "finisher's coffee". And of course, not forgetting another friend supporting me from behind the scene as mind over body it is!. I THANK you all for helping me in whichever way in my fourth 100KM run. This is for you all!

All in all, the Putrajaya 100 is a decent event. It has its flaws but knowing it's an event organised by runners themselves with minimal support and sponsors, we as runners can understand. While some say runners were to blame for not studying the race route which I tend to agree too, I personally do think that organisers have to take most of the blame here. But since the damage has been done, it's really up to them to do a post-mortem to see what went wrong and how to improve on the next edition. Am not going into too much detail on what went wrong but here in point forms is what I thought was worth looking at:

- Improvement of directional markers, and if possible for both sides of the roads whenever possible
- To inform volunteers and marshals of the run route, and also to inform them to be more pro-active in helping the tired runners
- To look into the food and drinks served. I find them too dry, spicy and insufficient at a few checkpoints. Even ice which was important for such a hot event wasn't enough especially at Checkpoint 5
- If organisers were to give out Emergency phone numbers to the runners, please do make sure to answer them when called or at least return call
- Where was the bike marshals that were suppose to be on the road looking out for runners at check point 4 and 5 as per stated on the website? I don't remember seeing any.
- Collection of race bib and drop of special needs bag at least 2 hours before the run? I don't see why can't they still be accepting till at least half an hour before the start?
- Enforcement of mandatory gear? Don't see a check and the poor Slovakian runner was left with nothing during his misadventures looking for check point 6.

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