Friday, October 31, 2014

TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2014...

Event: TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2014
Venue: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: 19 October 2014
Time: 9.30AM
Distance: 42.195KM (42.54KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Type A6
By Frank

The trip to Amsterdam was a personal one for me. And the decision was made with haste out of no where. I needed to sort out my life. I need to get away from it. It has been different and difficult since June 2014. Therefore, I apologise to everyone whom I have "lied" to. I have no intention of doing so, but everyone has a little secret to themselves. This is mine. And letting go KL Marathon wasn't because I was tired, it was something else. It was this.

En route Amsterdam on board MH16.

And when Malaysia Airlines MH17 went down and that I blogged about it, only Roy suspected something amiss. I was driving back home when Roy text me about another Malaysia Airliner going down. I was in shocked that it was the airlines that I was suppose to fly on. And although Malaysia Airlines allowed a refund, I stood with my purchase.I had faith in them, and I shall leave everything to fate. Today, it has since been replaced by MH19, my flight back home.

When I boarded MH16 on Friday morning after almost a delay of  3 hours at 2.15AM, I was feeling empty. I was going away. And only a few knows about this for the past 3 months or so till Chee Kong posted the flight path on my Facebook, when upon arrival, my phone buzz non stop with messages! The trip, it was a tough decision to be made. The past 1 week has been difficult and there has been a lot going through my mind. There was an urgency to stay back but in the end, I chose to continue with my trip to Amsterdam. A decision had to be made. I do not know if this was right or wrong, but I was unhappy with it. I am sorry, I am truly am.

The flight was a smooth one. It was almost full and most passengers was Dutch. The food served wasn't that bad either, at least it was something Malaysian. I had briyani chicken for supper while breakfast was omelette. As the seats was a little narrow, I didn't have a good rest hence was almost awake throughout the flight. I believe I did doze off, but was just for a short while. Besides, my mind was set somewhere else, somewhere back in Malaysia.

After close to 14 hours of flying non stop, I finally arrived at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam at about 8.45AM. It was a busy airport and I was really lost. Everything was in Dutch! I couldn't activate my data sim either as it was in Dutch! And with that, I was not able to navigate myself using Google Maps. I even almost got lost at the train station. As the Chinese dialect says, I was really going "Holan"! But eventually, I finally arrived at Amsterdam Centraal via the train. It was like our KL Sentral, just bigger and much nicer of course, very gothic. From there, I took Tram 16 to a canal call Keizersgracht before walking to the other one call Prinsengracht. And that's where my hotel or rather home stay is, Prinsenhuis mark by the red door and it's indeed a small nice cozy place just beside the canal.

Amsterdam Centraal.

Prinsengracht canal.

As I was early, the room was being clean up by the cleaner. Edwin, the owner drop by shortly and he introduced to me things around before I settled down to take a light breather. As I didn't want to be nuisance to the cleaner, I made myself to Sporthallen Zuid via the tram again to collect my race kit. However, as usual, I got lost again ending up this time at the museum. Well, at least this time I was lost for a good reason as this was place was indeed beautiful. After walking around, I hop on the tram again and this time I found my way, stopping first at the Olympic Stadium, the start and finish point of the marathon. And I felt proud when I saw the Malaysian flag up there!

The museum.

Sporthallen Zuid.

Collected my race pack which was swift before entering the expo, which was rather under par. Nothing much here as things was rather on the expensive side. But I had a good time catching up with the guys from Saucony Netherlands and made a huge spending here buying waterproof and warm apparels at least for this trip and also my HK 100 trail next year. Well, at least I felt satisfied and happy with my purchase.

Found the Saucony Netherlands booth!

With the good folks from Saucony Netherlands.

Took the tram back to Prinsenhuis to clean up and have a rest as it's been too long since I last slept. The room was ready and thus I managed a short sleep while waiting for Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and Xi-Ning to arrive which they did at about 9PM. Went out nearby for groceries and dinner at a rather fine Italian restaurant before back at the room for a short catch up and it's then lights off!

I woke up at about 6AM. Though still a bit dark, I guess I was still pretty much in the Malaysian time zone and can't get myself back to sleep. Cleaned up and did some packing and quickly enough, it was 9AM and Chee Kong is awake. While he went out for his short 5KM run, I stayed put back at the room with Mei-Ee and Xi Ning.

The tram at the Heineken Experience aka Brewery.

Spot the Jalur Gemilang.

Fast forwarding, I found myself back at Sporthallen Zuid. The place is now is packed as more runners especially the international ones has arrived. Was just a short stay here before we went to the museum where we snack near a stall selling exceptionally good burger and sausages. Amsterdam is famous for hot dogs and it can be bought almost everywhere. After filling up, we took a stroll along the canal pass some tourist and shoppers spot before meeting up with Chee Kong's ex-colleague Kelvin who is also a Malaysian.

Red lights in the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam.

Nam Kee in Amsterdam's Chinatown.

We adjourned back to the hotel to rest and to clean up before meting up for dinner again at Chinatown which is actually within the famous Red Light District. We had Chinese Hong Kong cuisine at a very famous restaurant call Nam Kee. And yes, the food did not disappoint as I had my fill before going over to a pub and later back at the hotel to rest up for the big day is on the itinerary next.

Amsterdam Marathon route map.

AMSTERDAM MARATHON RACE DAY! I was up early again at 6AM. I had plenty of time to prepare myself and all from breakfast to post race ritual was done without any major hiccups. Even the bowels cooperated. And by 8AM, myself and Chee Kong left for the race site via Tram 16. The tram was packed with runners but not till sardine like back at home. Guess the people here are rather more patience with things. We soon arrive 1KM from the Olympic Stadium due to road closures. The walking distance is good for a warm up under cold conditions.

We eventually made ourselves to the race venue and deposited our luggage. As Chee Kong had to answer the call to nature, I entered the stadium by myself and did my warming up and stretch there before entering my starting pent indicated by the colour orange, a  4 hours to 3.30 hours time.

From Comrades to Amsterdam.

The start was at 9.30AM local time. There were 12,212 in total and I was among the middle pack. As I await for the start, I tried to keep calm to myself. All the training, it all boils down to one decision. The decision not to wear my heart rate monitor and hope to run within the zone of 155 to 160 beats per minute based on my own feeling, slightly more than what I was training on, the 150 beats per minute zone. The hope that I will be able to emulate my performance back in Macau Marathon 2009 will also be dependent on my pain tolerance level.

At 9.30AM sharp, the gun went off. The start was very well executed as runners were let off in waves. It took me about 9 minutes to arrive at the start gantry as I push START on my chrono to signal my start, my first ever IAAF Gold Label Marathon, and more importantly, to run something out of me, into the emptiness.

The start!

I ran halfway around the Olympic Stadium's track before exiting to the main streets of Amstelveenseweg,  a straight 2KM or so stretch before entering Vondelpark, a nice park with people strolling with their dogs of all sizes there. Though runners a plenty, I did not have any issues passing the slower ones. I need not panic as I punish the surface. And since the start, there were countless supporters line up by the streets to cheer the runners on! The surface was a little wet as I make sure that I do not slip on it. And while on the streets, I paid attention to the tram tracks and tried to run on the tarmac whenever I can.

"Into" the museum.

I felt strong and good albeit a little cold as I pass the museum under pass, a sight to behold. And from there, it was a long stretch along a canal no short of supporters too. Surprisingly, not many runners passed me nor did I pass any of them. Everyone of us was on a constant pace of about average 5 minutes per Kilometer. The question in me at that time "Was I too fast?". But at that time, I didn't think so as I was really feeling good albeit heart rate beating slightly faster.

Stadionweg followed by a u-turn at Marathonweg and Olypmpiaweg where we caught a view of the Olympic Stadium again, I made my way to where I came from and soon arrived at the 10KM mark at Churchillaan with a time of 49:14 minutes. I was 46 seconds on time! I had been sipping slowly my bottle of of GU Roctane Brew since the start at every 2KM intervals. And it was here that I finally finish it as I took the opportunity to down my first pack of gel at the nearby water station. The water station was well organised and I did not have to stop to grab my cup of water. I just had to watch the slippery surface there.

As I make my way to Amstelpark at the 15KM mark, I could already see the front runners making their way back at around 10KM ahead. The wind also got stronger here and it was assaulting me from the front including a light drizzle. I needed extra effort to move forward and this caused some discomfort on my left shoulders. Breathing began tougher as I navigated through the route along side the Amstel River. I was even thrown balance a few times when the strong wind tried to knock me off my feet and while I was till running at the same pace but at a different heart rate.

At about 17KM into the race and halfway through the Amstel River, the sponsors Mizuno had a boat on the river playing out music with supporters on it cheering. Indeed a nice gesture to keep the runners going. And towards the end of the river at Oostermeer somewhere around the 19KM mark, a performance of some soft of water jet with a person hovering on air with it kept us entertain. And it was here that I made my turn and into the 20KM mark where I took my second pack of gel and also stop for toilet break. I made a quick stop as the 4 sided urinal bowl was really convenient for the gentleman. Only a minute spent and off I went again and am glad that no momentum was wasted.

The Mizuno boat.

Hovering water stunt man?

I was hoping that the return trip along the Amstel River will be easier with tail wind assisting. However, I was wrong as it continued to be head wind as I began to struggle a little upon arriving at the halfway point in 1:46:12 hours. It's going to be tight and I needed to increase back to my normal pace. I grind my teeth, dug deep and continued pushing through the lush greenery with cows munching on the greens by the side and also windmills at the background. Even small toy dogs with their owners were there cheering for runners.

Cruising along, a runner suddenly trip and fell just slight ahead of me. He rolled to the side and was glad that he did not roll into the river. Quickly, messages was passed on from runner to runner ahead to signal to the ambulance stationed just in front. Soon, both the paramedics was on their way to help the runner. A simple yet efficient way in asking for assistance where both paramedics should be given credits too for standing by at their fullest attention at all times.

Volkstuinen Amstelglorie is where the 25KM stood. Shortly ahead, I entered Rijksweg which marks the exit from Amstel River as I made a turn around the Overamstel. Still flat as pancake, I managed to regain some lost time earlier and entered Spaklerweg and hammered it till I arrived at the 30KM mark at Amstel Tower in 2:33:54 hours.

Both my quads and my right hamstrings started to hurt a lot and I began to slow down here. Was it the extra effort running against the wind or was the pancake flat surface contributed to this? My weaker side began to take over and I knew I was in trouble here. I had to hang on to complete what I started out to do. I tried to as I pass Frankendael along Hugo De Vrieslaan.

The right hamstring began to twitch and I took my first walk hoping that it will go off. Sadly it did not as I remember what Luc told me. "Go faster when you feel like cramping", he once told me and it did work back in Macau 5 years ago. I tried it once again and yes it work but not for long as I believe it has been a while since my body and legs in particular has moved in such fast pace.

The course was pancake flat from here. I had another 10KM to go and the rain came again. Just drizzling but I was feeling cold. I remember slapping on my own forehead to remind myself that it's just another quarter marathon go and it's all over. Got to to dig deep. However, miracles did not happen this time as I struggled with pain on my right hamstring. I ran, walk and limp as time slowly ticks away.

Destroyed and shattered to pieces.

Supporters were cheering my name as it was written on my bib and even runners who passed me tried to pull me with them. I really tried to tag along but the legs just didn't want to cooperate. I was deeply disappointed as I look into my chrono and it told me that it was all dashed. With 4KM to go just before entering Vondepark, I was ripped apart from within. All I had to do now is just to bring myself back to the Olympic Stadium in the fastest time possible now.

A painful run to the finish.

Exiting Vondelpark and back onto Amstelveenseweg, it was another 2KM to go. Supporters and some who had already completed their run was lined up at the side cheering the runners on. I hobbled and ran and the final 1KM came into sight and soon the entrance to the Olympic Stadium. The final 200M or so was around the stadium's track and I eventually and finally cross the finish line with a time of 3:55:14, a time that I was not hoping for in position 767 of my age group and 4,778 of the total field.

Bird's eye view of my finish.

Having cross the finish line in my third sub 4 hours marathon, I felt horrible. My legs were in a lot of pain as I hobble to the nearest fence to lean on. As the weather was still cold, I was shivering and my legs slowly began to stiffen up as I slowly make my way out of the stadium collecting my medal and a piece of plastic blanket along the way to keep me warm. A lady called me from the back and apparently she is from Durban. She spotted my South African headwear and though I was South African. Nevertheless, we still chatted a bit before continuing making our way out where drinks and bananas are served along they exit chute.

I was finally united with Chee Kong at the spot we agreed to meet at. Mei-Ee has started her half marathon and that leave the both of us and Xi Ning to hang around the race village. The pain set in as I sat down and I was in cold, lots of it. As we were short on time, I pick myself up and limped very slowly to Sportshallen Zuid to shower up before returning better and fresher to the race village to take in some bacon roll and to drown my sorrows with beer, mind still thinking about my performance.

A marathon to forget.

The view of the Olympic Stadium.

Fast forwarding ahead, Mei-Ee too successfully completed her run. We slowly limped ourselves to the nearest tram station and we were grateful that it had resume full service for earlier, it all came to a halt which rumuors circulating that there was a bomb hoax. Glad it didn't happen. We made our way back to tho Prinsenhuis, grab our luggage and its off to Amsterdam Centraal to meet up with Kelvin for coffee before heading to Schipol Airport via the train. And from there, it's onward to my next destination, Edinburgh, Scotland on board the 9.10PM KLM flight!

The Amsterdam Marathon finisher's medal.

My marathon splits as follows:

5KM - 0:24:40
10KM - 0:49:14
15KM - 1:13:54
20KM - 1:39:48
21KM - 1:46:12
25KM - 2:06:43
30KM - 2:33:54
35KM - 3:04:57
40KM - 3:40:32
Finish - 3:55:14 (4:04:04 gun time)

My run statistics.

The Amsterdam Marathon truly deserved the IAAF God Label certification for it's a very well organised marathon, the best I ever ran in. The route may not be exceptionally scenic for it only takes the runners through 2 of the iconic places such as the museum and also the Amstel River, but the supporters make that up for their warm hospitality and cheers. And for those who are good and used to running on a pancake course, this may be a fast one for you. Just make sure you are train for the wind.

Despite achieving my third sub 4 hours marathon, I was utterly disappointed. This event taught me the lesson that I am no longer the runner I was back in year 2009. I am no longer young and neither near my best. I've already past my prime in marathon running. And unlike Macau Marathon 2009, I was still standing albeit in a lot of pain after completing the Amsterdam Marathon. Did I give my all? Did I really wanted the result I was aiming for that much? Did I have enough rest from the travelling? Did the head wind and the decision to raise my heart rate mess it all up? Was my leg "damaged" from the recent 100KM and 161KM? All these remains something unanswered.

With the conclusion of the Amsterdam Marathon, a race to be forgotten about, I would like to express my thanks to the following:

- My parents for holding up the store while I was away
- Chee Kong and Mei-Ee for planning and hosting me this trip
- Roy for helping out with certain issues and for the concern shown
- Jason and Elvin for helping out during my absence
- Team Saucony Malaysia for keeping the running clinic ongoing during my absence
- CompresSport Malaysia for providing me with the race gears
- Friends back home who have cheered and supported when my Facebook was auto updating with my progress. And thanks for the concern!

And my sincere apologies to everyone for keeping this trip and race a secret and for not replying any of your messages as I needed some time to myself. I was a lost soul in a foreign country.

* All photos here credited to Chee Kong and Marathon Photos.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Craze Ultra 2014...

Event: Craze Ultra 2014
Venue: MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore
Date: 20 September 2014
Time: 7.00am
Distance: 161KM (164.1KM by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 5
By Frank

After 2 back to back failure's, I am back for my third attempt at Craze Ultra. Though not a priority nor important run to me, I still went back to the drawing block to see what went wrong the past 2 years hence this time round, I was more well prepared. The strength and fitness gained and carried on from Comrades Marathon till my 7 weeks slam of 42KM Kuching Marathon and 100KM Penang Ultra before ending it with this run, it's going to be a real sense of achievement should I am able to complete it this time round.

As I am not going into each stretches details this time as I have more or less cover them in my past 2 runs, if you are interested, you may read up on my experience at Craze Ultra 2012 and Craze 2013.

So the travel down to Singapore was on Friday morning with Jason on board First Coach from Bandar Utama. Journey though felt slow was actually on time as we arrived at Novena at close to 2PM where we then continued to lunch. We soon found our way to where we will put up a night at Classique Hotel near to Lavender. We rested for a while before joining Zhen Yang and Junie for dinner. A simple dinner of noodles before we proceeded to MacRitchie Reservoir to collect our race pack and to deposit our special needs bag. This time round, I made use of all 8 check points as I will run as light as possible. Back at the hotel. a quick final check on the race gear as it was bed time.

Dinner selfie?

I had a reasonable 5 hours or so sleep though I woke up a couple of times in mid sleep. I do not think it will be sufficient to keep me awake through the distance but I kept positive. Coffee with a small pack of jerky and 2 packs of Meiji biscuits was enough I guess. And once all pre-race ritual was done, we checked out and departed to the race site.

Jason and myself are nuts.

Arriving at MacRitchie Reservoir half an hour from the start was all that was required. Deposited my luggage and lingered around with friends. I made sure I warmed up and stretch too. Unlike previous years, there was no research by Phil this time round. No urine and blood taking. But there were not on my mind this time as I've been unlucky the past 2 years by doing so. Perhaps a change of luck by not doing it this year? And before the start, I made sure my phone was put to silent mode as I just want to purely concentrate on the run.

A new bib, a new refresh strength and motivation. 11 is the number this time.

My bib was A11, a difference from  the past 2 edition of A4. Perhaps another sign here. I was among the first 28 to be flag off at 7AM. As simple flag off by Ben and off I went. As usual, I settled into my very comfortable pace based on the MAF method.  Runners were one after another passing me but I did not care much. To go the distance is to conserve as much as possible especially during this early stages. Half an hour through, my tummy began to rumble. I was hungry as I took out my energy bar and munch a quarter of it. Soon later, the urge to pee came as I quickly arrived at a coffee-shop to relieve myself. Upon exiting, I was joined by Renee and Barkley who was the among the second wave. We ran together till the first checkpoint at Mandai, 12KM from the start just below 90 minutes. All system was still good for me as I down a sachet of GU Roctane gel here and munch on a few slices of watermelon slices before continuing on.

The second checkpoint was located about 10KM away at Woodlands hence the journey there was a rather familiar for me. It was hot too as the sun began to show its strength.  Though I started off with Renee and Barkley, they soon fell back as I arrived at Woodland town. The stretch along the town here reminds me when I was travelling between Singapore and my hometown of Johor Bahru during my treatment days. Much has changed though some landmarks remained. Soon, I arrived at Check Point 2 which oversees my hometown of Johor Bahru on the opposite side. I was again hungry here and took a slice of Nutella sandwich which proof to be a game changer. It was not only delicious but it did not cause any tummy upset. David joined in and after mixing my Roctane Brew and munching a few slices of watermelon, we set out together.

It was good to have the company of a fellow Comrades runner as we set out to the third checkpoint at about 8KM to 9KM away. But unlike the previous journey, this was a shady one as we ran below the MRT tracks shading us from the ferocious sun. With multiple traffic lights junctions, we also had the opportunity to rest whenever the lights turn red. I also took the opportunity to mail Yik Yee's letter at Yishun MRT station if not mistaken. Yes, I was a delivery runner. Haha... Just doing a favour for my friend here. David was setting a good comfy pace here as we were joined by Hendra. My legs were still fine and honestly speaking, I am kind of enjoying myself here as soon we arrived at the revised location of Check Point 3, which is just behind the familiar Crab Village restaurant at Sembawang, a much better location.

A longer break at the third check point where a cup of cold refreshing Coke awaits. I had another slice of Nutella sandwich, a jerky and watermelon slices here before settling out again slowly with David. Next stretch takes us pass the Yishun township for about 9KM or so and we really have to enjoy as much here as possible for the next stretch after the fourth Check Point will be a hot affair! Some runners join in but I can only recognized Deborah who completed her 100 miles last year This year, she was running the 101KM distance instead. Halfway through the journey, I slowed down to munch on the balance of my earlier energy bar and this is where I lost David. Nevertheless, I continued on and soon arrived at the fourth check point where Yishun Dam is.

Lowering down the body temperature with mist spray at Check Point 4.

Check Point 4 was all about hydrating and keeping our temperatures down for it will be a long and hot journey to the next. Watermelon, Nuttela sandwich and cold HTwoO isotonic was what I had here before picking up a wet and cold "Good Morning" towel wrap with ice cubes. With that I started my journey only to realized shortly later that my wrist suffered a cut from my Suunto Ambit. A small piece of skin peeled off but the damage wasn't as bad yet. I used the towel given to wrap my wrist up with my watch sitting on it to prevent any further cuts. That solved the problem. All the ice cubes I've taken with me was inserted into my top at the back to keep my body temperature down.

Leaving Check Point 4 with ice cubes in hand.

Surprisingly, it wasn't as hot and sunny compared to the previous 2 years, Rain clouds was seen hovering up in the sky. However, don't be mistaken by my words here as it was still a temperature not to be taken lightly. There were small drops of rain coming down but it was the mini "sand storm" that was the main highlight this time. A ship, pumping sand from the sea bed to the land sent sand flying all over. I used my headwear and convert it into a mask covering my nose and mouth as I pass that stretch. Survived that and it was into Punggol where I met with Seah who was running the 100KM distance. We chatted for a while before he parted ways. The stretch here was better this time as the pavement was even this time. There was also a new row of shops with 7-11 near the mid span where I stop to buy myself a bottle of ice cold green tea. Needed a change of flavour as the HTwoO was not to my taste anymore.

On Halus Bridge into Check Point 5.

Fast forwarding ahead, I arrived at Check Point 5 at Punggol Wetland Visitor Centre feeling awesome this time round. Barkley's mum was there as we chatted for a while before I went to hydrate myself and take in some food which include half a cup of noodles and a cup of ice cold fruit cocktail. I thin I spent a pretty long 20 to 30 minutes here before setting out again and the mentally stretching 15KM round back to Check Point 6 which is actually the same Check Point 5.

With Seah at Check Point 5.

I started my journey with Gan who was wearing the bib A1. We chatted for about 2KM or so as I wanted my food to settle down well in my tummy before resuming my run. We had a good one. This stretch now is all about my mental strength as I try to conquer it alone. I did not had Jason with me this time so my main aim was to keep moving to avoid any negative thoughts of being alone. But all I can say that this time round, my mindset was a strong one. Though my friends are not physically with me, they are all in my mind and that kept me going.

There was an unofficial support by Marcus at the swimming pool area about halfway through the stretch. He gave me a packet drink which I think was mango flavour. It was really nice as my taste bud is craving for some sweet drinks now. I befriended 2 runners here, Eric and Ping running the same distance as me too. As I arrived at Buongkok neighbourhood, I befriended Alistair, an English residing at Jakarta and we kept each other company for a while till we arrived at Punggol Promenade before going our own way. And finally, the sight of Halus Bridge came into view and Junie was on the bridge supporting. I updated myself with the status of others from her and was glad everyone was doing fine before checking into Check Point 6.

With Eugene at Check Point 6.

An achievement for me here as it was I arrived earlier than expected and that sunset was still about 2 hours away.  A quick one and I was on the road again for Check Point 7 was just about 7KM away. And if can get quick enough before sunset, all I can say is that my buffer will be great. Into Pasir Ris township and the initial plan was to have my dinner here with McDonalds nuggets in mind. But as Nuttela sandiwches and jerkies was working great for me, I went ahead without it and soon arrived at the check point.

With 80KM conquered in day light, I was feeling confident already.The sun began setting as I started my journey to Check Point 8. Took out my headlamp and lighted the road ahead with my rear blinker signalling to others. I was running and fast walking as I pound the pavement in reducing the distance as I arrived at Loyang, the familiar sight of the last stretch of the original Sundown Marathon route. Halfway point was near now, with just about 3KM or so through the Coastal Park along Changi Beach. There were already runners making their return which includes David. But I kept my focus telling myself not to chase them for preserving my legs was up most important. It was a dark stretch here and with only my headlamp lightening the road ahead, it was sure a lonely stretch. The sight of a white tent with lights brighten up my mood as it signals the half way point where Check Point 8 was.

The volunteers at Check Point 8 was great as this is where I had my so call light dinner. Nuttella sandwich, jerky, watermelon and a cup of ice cold longan was enough to fill me as I will try push to where I had not been in Craze, the return journey. After walking the entire Coastal Park stretch to have my food settle down in my tummy, I began running into Loyang. There were still other runners coming in, but not many and I fear for Jason. The journey out of Loyang was not easy as it involves some mild rolling climbs.I walk the descend and jog the ascend. Sounds weird but that's what I do to protect my legs. And with that, it was into Pasir Ris and back at Check Point 7.

Phil was at Check Point 7 as I spent a little longer here chatting with him and also to check if Jason did arrive here. Sadly, he did not check in and I knew it was over for him. Took in some watermelon and filled half of my bottles only here to lighten my backpack for the next check point isn't far. And with the "not too far" distance in mind, I ran. As I closed in back at the Punggol Wetland Visitor Centre, there were volunteers on the bicycle cycling around to welcome us back and also perhaps to keep an eyes on stray dogs around the area. A nice touch by them. And when the area began to light up, I knew I was back.

The sky began to rumble as I arrived at Check Point 6 as news that certain areas are experiencing heavy rain came. I drank some Red Bull here for I needed the caffeine to keep me awake. The rest, I diluted it and stored it in a bottle for me to sip along the way. Poh Chye arrived shortly and asked if he can pace me. At first, I was reluctant as I fear being paced will mess up my rhythm. But I gave in at the end and allowed him. However, as he was still having his food and drinks, I started my journey first telling him to catch up. Most were using the anti clockwise direction, but I opt for the clockwise instead as I wanted to experience the so call original route back using the opposite direction from where I came from. There isn't any right or wrong, it's just me. But as I began my journey out, the rain arrived and it was heavy. It was so heavy that my shoe was soaked up quickly as there were many water puddles. Poh Chye indeed caught up soon as I was struggling in the rain. I asked him to go ahead if he can.

My pain was coming from in between my legs at my crotch area. The rain caused chaffing and it was a fiery pain with every step I take. I tried various ways to ease the pain but to no avail. I was in a miserable state as I exited Punggol Promenade and into the Buongkok neighbourhood. I told Poh Chye to go ahead giving him directions before I stopped by at a HDB flat and just sat there. In a sorry state I took off my shoes for the first time hoping to dry both shoes and socks as much as possible. And while doing so, I was surprised that Poh Chye returned to me. He was lost. Told him to turn on his headlamp and pay attention to the reflectors on the markers as I know it was there. He continued later.

After sitting down for close to half an hour, I restarted my journey. I believe I've stop for too long as my legs was stiff and my body temperature has drop too much. I was trembling in the cold night. I went off the run path and walk through the HDB flat sheltering me from the rain. However, the wind was channeled through here and it was really cold. When I was about to cross the street at the mental hospital junction, I spotted David at the opposite side and shouted before running over to him. He was going the opposite direction and after a short chat, we parted ways. As I was still navigating through the HDB flats, there was a point till I hit a dead end on the 2nd floor and had to take the lift down to the ground floor. A funny moment for me before I was back in the rain though I was glad it was reduced to drizzle. It was back into the Punggol connector and it was really dark albeit street lamps along the way.

I've already ran the longest distance of my running career here breaching the 105KM mark  I ran  recently at Penang Ultra. I had to shoulder on into the darkness and hope to find light at the end of the connector as soon as possible. Though there were no blisters on my feet, I needed a change of socks and of course my attire especially my shorts hoping a dry one will help with my chaffing at the southern region. I ran and walk and finally, I arrived at Sunshine Bridge where I bump into Alistair and David making their return trip to the fourth check point. And from there, it was Halus Bridg and into Check Point 5 again. In a miserable state, I asked for a hot cup of noodles before dragging a chair into the toilet to have shorts change. Yes, I needed the chair to sit down. And while doing so, I found the cause of my chaffing. My 4 year old BV Sport Anatomical Tights decided to tear on this very long distance race. What a time to tear! But I still thank it for the services it game. 4 years is indeed a long time.

After changing into dry attire, the hot cup of noodles was very welcome as I try to raise my body temperature up. My legs are starting to itch really badly and I believe are from the sand flies bites. I lowered down my calf sleeve before continuing and it brought some relief. Before leaving, I received a request from a pacer to would like to help me. However, I decline his help for I know that I am not in a state to be accepting pacers. I ran walk and managed to conquer the Punggol Promenade till the Marina Country Club without any much discomfort.

The next stretch along the 2 reclaim Punggol island was tough though. It was really dark and the amount of sand flies here is a huge problem. I could see them from my head lamps and I knew they were stinging me like no tomorrow. I needed to get out of this area as fast as possible and I can't wait to see the overhead bridge which was really far. I know it was my mental strength weakening here but when I saw the lights at the Selatar Airport where the bridge was, I was back in groove as I push towards Check Point 4.

Very helpful volunteers at Check Point 4 as they helped me with all my request as I swallowed in some jerky before continuing on. The drizzle has stop which was a good thing but my biological clock is also taking its toll. I am feeling really sleepy. I slept ran walk along the Yishun neighborhood before finally arriving at the Khatib connector where I found a bench and simply just sat down without realizing that I actually doze off for a few minutes. After 10 minutes or so, I know I can't keep doing this and had to carry on. Dawn came and soon twilight as I arrived at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and the streets were starting to buzz with people.

At Yishun MRT station, I spotted a Starbucks and need my caffeine boost. However, I ended up at 7-11 instead fot the coffee here was much cheaper, and probably the worst tasting cappucino I had. Probably it was due to my ailing taste bud. However, the caffeine did help a little as I felt more awake before Adam tap me from behind. He was on his morning run and cheered me on. He even volunteer to pace me but like earlier at Check Point 5, I politely decline as I am not in the state to run long. I will just probably ruin his morning run. Nevertheless, Adam if you are reading this, you have my sincere THANKS!

Completing Yishun Connector and arriving at Simpang Kiri Connector, I thought I've arrived at Check Point 3. I was wrong as the path kept getting longer. But still, I arrived at Check Point 3 at Canberra Sembawang Connector shortly later. Did a quick check on the status of runners behind and apparently, not may were left. Loaded my backpack with all the food I've stored in my special needs bag here, took a gulp of Coke and off I went without spending too much time here.

It was morning and my biological clock is some what back to normal. Or was it the effects from the coffee I had earlier? I was a little on a roll here as I began running a little longer. The chaffing is kept at bay too. There were lots of traffic junctions pass Canberra Sembawang, Sembawang and Woodlands Connector. I set my plan here to run each stretch and to take  a breather at the junction while waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. A strategy that definitely works for me.

Arriving at Admiralty Connector, Boon Heng and his pacers came from behind. I thought they should be way ahead but it seems that they took a rest somewhere behind. But I could not keep up with his pace and thus ran walk alone till hitting Woodland Waterfront. A big turn around the park here and there was it, Check Point 2, where Sarah and her team was there. Here, I finally took out my phone to and 140 WhatsApp messages caused my phone to hang here but still managed to update my status for the first time to my friends. I loaded empty all my special needs into my backpack before deciding to have another shot at coffee from the dispense. It was a risk to gulp in the Pokka Premium Cappucino, but it was a risk I am willing to take at this stage of the race. Besides, I've taken this coffee before and I hope my tummy will recognize it. And it did!

Oun from Thailand arrived and we exited together. Our pace was different but we could still spot each other. I gave him some guidance whenever we are together for he was not familiar with the route especially with the junctions around Woodlands town. A half marathon was what stand in the way now and it was getting really HOT! The stretch was Marsiling and Woodlands Connector was really bad as there was no shades here. The major climb was at the Singapore Sports School and from there, it was all the way to Sembawang Connector before entering Mandai Connector.

Long but rolling stretch at Mandai Connector and I finally arrived at Check Point 1. 3 helpful lady volunteers helped me to my drinks and watermelon as I thank and apologize to them. Apology as because I can hardly move to bring over my stuff and needed them to help me do so. I am grateful for their help.  A quick look at my watch and it shows I've 3 hours to complete the remaining 12KM. It was doable even by walking and I know I was already safe. A quick check with the volunteers to know how many more behind and it seems there was about 3 more. And with that, I resume my journey.

I did not entirely walk back. I did some running too, but at a rather slow pace just to avoid any unwanted mishap along the way. Besides, I needed to protect those legs. I also began emptying my backpack eating up the food I had with me. I even detoured to a petrol kiosk to buy myself a bottle of herbal drink which was ice cold refreshing. It was for recovery too as my body was already overheating. The journey back took longer than expected though and it was a climb back into MacRitchie Reservoir. Not steep, but definitely can be felt by the tired legs. Thomsom Plaza and Upper Thomsom Road, it was getting nearer with every step I made.

The moment of truth came when I saw the huge traffic lights junction at Thomson Road which I remember. A familiar face suddenly appear as the sight of Jason running to me was really a happy one. I know I was near. Both of us chatted and shared our horror story as we walked together to the finish. Jason' completed only 75KM of his run due to a swollen arch. It was still a good effort though as myself took 3 attempts to get to where I am today. And as I entered MacRitchie Reservoir, Ben and Yee Hua was there to welcome me home. And on my third attempt, after spending on foot for 31:41:43 hours on the road, I am finally a certified nut! A Craze Nut that is! I AM A 100 MILER! (*pun intended. Jason will get this)

I am finally home!

A certified nut finally!

Some say this year's edition of the Craze Ultra is easier compared to the previous 2. At first I agreed but upon completion, I though it was just a s tough. Yes, the weather during noon was a little more forgiving, but this year's edition threw rain at the runners during the wee hours which turned the temperature so cold that I felt so miserable. Hot, cold, dryness, loneliness, swelling, chaffing, blisters, shivers, itchiness, soreness, pain and many more were thrown at us runners this year. And with only 16 certified finisher's in total for the 100 miles category out of 54, this is certainly one tough nut to crack.

Big to small nuts, peanuts to macadamia nuts, we are all nuts.

Conquering 100 miles isn't any easy feat for my frail body. In all, The entire distance and at all the time spent on the run course, besides my legs, my mind was working just as hard too. Yes, I've improved on the art of eating during long distance runs but its the thoughts of many people that help me through the distance and to endure the pain. Positive vibes and memorable moments from the past spent together drive me through as I am glad to have good people who have supported this journey of mine, be it this year, or the last 3 years or so. My sincere THANKS to them which includes, in no particular order:

- Jason, a travel companion, team mate and sidekick in Team Saucony Malaysia and for accompanying my final Kilometer walk back to the finish. And most importantly, a good friend!
- Ben , Yee Hua, Phil, Yek Bun, Tee Lee and the entire team at Running Guild for putting their effortless working spirit together in making this event a success for 3 years in a row
- Alicia, Zijill and the rest from Saucony Malaysia for the support and progress tracking back home
- Susanah, Roy, Hong Lan, Cham, Yen Erl, Ian, Teck Sim, Soon Chung, Alvin and the friends back home for the moral support and advice given. *am glad that Roy didn't scold me :p
- Runners from the Malaysian contingent, Zhen Yang, Karen, Jimmy May, Elgy, Nizar, Poh Chye, Bryan, Renee, Barkley and not forgetting Junie for her support crew role in driving around to catch us
- Friends I met along the way, whether runners, support crew and even strangers. Some of whom I remember the names were David, Alistair, Oun, Hendra, Deborah, Eugene, Gan, Eric, Ping, Marcus, Jennifer, Ngah Ling, Boon Heng, Seah and others.
- Last but not least my parents for helping me back while I train and also to oversee the operation at work while I am away

Dedicated to everyone for help make this journey a dream come true!

With my success in conquering the 100 miles distance and a 7 weeks slam of 42KM, 100KM and 161KM , my road running cycle can be considered completed. The sense of achievement is finally fulfilled as I don't think I can run any further. For now, it's time to switch back to my next focus which will be a marathon, one that will define a lot of things for me be it my life, running career and important people in my life.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Penang Ultra 100...

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Zijill who will embark on her first ultra distance.

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

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

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

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

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

With Foo climbing towards Kampung Genting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painful descend.

At the final stretch with Yen Erl.

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

Finishing it together with Chee Kin and Yen Erl!

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

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

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

A nice touch. Finisher's belt buckle.

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

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

But on the positive side:

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kuching Marathon 2014...

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

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

I flew Malaysia Airlines and am proud of it.

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

Welcome to Kuching!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Yim after the finish. Pic courtesy of Zas.

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

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

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

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

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