Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Comrades Marathon 2012...

Event: Comrades Marathon 2012 (Down run)
Venue: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Date: 3 June 2012
Time: 5.30am (South Africa time) / 11.30am (Malaysia time)
Distance: 89.28KM (90.89KM by Polar RCX5 G5)
Shoe: K-Swiss Blade Foot Run
By Frank



This entry was first drafted out while on the flight back home on 11 June 2012. It was further fine tuned before it was officially published. Apologies it took so long to have it published as this epic journey is just truly EPIC!

Blogging on board Singapore Airline SQ479...

To be honest, I really do not know where to start? If I were to start the day I left for South Africa till the final day, this entry is going to be a thesis! And I do not have the habit to actually break down my event report to several entries. Therefore, I guess I just pay attention to the Comrades Marathon itself on this entry while summarising off my road trip in another entry later. I will try to recap as much as I can remember for the journey was really long.

Comrades Marathon 2012 route profile...

Waking up at 1am with about slightly more than 5 hours of sleep, I did my usual pre-race rituals. Plain water this time instead of coffee couple with 2 waffles and an energy bar was on the breakfast menu. We left for an “89.28KM Up” drive from Durban to Pietermaritzburg at about 3am. It was a really cold and to my surprised, the hotel actually pre-packed breakfast for each of us to be taken during our journey before the race start. They really treated the Comrades runners like their idols and heros. I did not take the breakfast though for fears of stomach discomfort. And during the drive, I closed my eyes to get extra rest and also to concentrate. 

Malaysian contingent before leaving for Pietermaritzburg...

The journey was smooth albeit fears of delays due to road works near Pietermaritzburg.  Upon arrival, we disembark just outside the town hall and my worst fear came true. The temperature was really cold. It was about 8 Celsius plus the wind. I was shivering even by putting the Grabber Warmers on and both Chee Kong and Wong came to my assistance by providing me an extra pair of gloves and also to help me put on the black garbage bag to keep me warm. It helped and I began to jump and jog around to bring my body temperature up. It wasn’t an easy task but at least it kept my mind off the cold.

Yeap, it was cold. Wong helping me putting on the black garbage plastic bag...

Garbage plastic bag runners ready to run...

Coincidently, all 3 of us felt the urge to visit the potty loo. I’m glad I brought along some tissues and the “honour “ was to share the small pack with Chee Kong. The loo we visited was dirty and smelly but when we have to go, we just have to. After making our deposit, we made ourselves to the legendary starting line where the original and first run was held back in year 1921 just outside the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall. The atmosphere was unbelievable with runners especially the South Africans dancing and singing away. We took some photos for ourselves and wishing each other before myself and Wong parted ways with Chee Kong who is seeded at Pent C. We both later spent some time outside Pent E trying to warm ourselves up and to stretch. At 5am, Wong checked into his Pent F while I visited the loo again before checking into the last final Pent H.

Race start atmosphere just outside Pietermaritzburg Town Hall...

I loitered around in my pent and saw the many expression of the runners. The joy, fears and dreams were written all over. At 5.20am, runners were then grouped together and from Pent H, we all squeezed into Pent F. I was lined up alongside some HIV positive runners judging from the race gear. The national anthem was soon played followed by ShoShoLoza and finally the official song that gave Goosebumps to all, Chariots of Fire. And finally, the sound of the cockerel and the gun went off. Both was so loud that everyone heard it loud and clear, and we all cheered for it. For me, I actually shed some tears of joys for being able to stand on this legendary starting line. I told myself, “This is it. This is what I came here for, for a cancer free tomorrow”. I started my chrono immediately as this is a gun-to-gun race and 12 hours is all I have to get myself back to Durban.

As time goes by, the crowd began to move and in 8 minutes 32 seconds, I arrived at the start gantry. And just before arriving there, I took of my poncho, black plastic bag and gloves. It was a cold especially on my fingers but I do not want to cross the start gantry looking like a running garbage bin in this historic race.

I started pretty well trying to navigate through the many runners. It was rather smooth sailing here but I kept to my pace. But at about 2KM later, the urge to pee came again and I had to do it by the roadside for no mobile toilet was present. There were a lot of other runners doing that too including the women runners. I guess the cold weather is taking the toll on our bladders. Resuming the run after reliving myself, I soon paid attention to the supporters lined along the streets shouting and cheering. Not hired by the organisers but rather citizens of South Africa, they were wrap in jackets and blankets taking to the streets in the early cold morning to cheer on the runners. They sang, danced and saluted us. Truly amazing!

The first major climb soon came at Polly Shorts but I managed it well. At 10.5KM, my first and a different kind of disaster struck here for I needed to pee again. With no choice, I ran to the road side only to step on POO! Do not ask me where did it come from, human or animal, but just darn it for being there! GROSS!

The journey along the early stages...

I then continued my run hoping with every step, the gooey substance on my right shoe will slowly go away especially running through wet surfaces around the refreshment statin which came into the picture shortly. Took my first water sachet here together with my first GU Roctane. The plan was to have about 100ML sips of water at every 5KM and energy supplement at every 10KM.

The journey along Polly Shorts to Camperdown  was rather “village-like” with long grasses, plantations, mountain views and industrial factories forming the sceneries. However, I just do not understand where the supporters came from? They all lined up beside the roadsides and cheered for us. And it isn’t just about 10 supporters, we are talking hundreds of them! Some brought chairs, radios and even preparing braai (barbeque in South Africa). We runners can actually just ask them for it and they will welcome us to just take it.

Supporters along the route. AMAZING!

Just after passing the highest point at Umlaas Road at 810m above sea level, greeting runners just before Camperdown was a little sandstorm which caused some flying debris and also some smell from the chicken farms. Inside the town itself, again hundreds of supporters were out to support. The first Fourway Runners support crew is supposed to be here at Camperdown town some 30KM from the start but I couldn’t locate them as Mei-Ee was on duty here. She was holding on to my 2 extra GU Roctane but luckily it wasn’t important as I had more with me. It was like a backup. Instead, I had my first taste of salty potatoes that were served here. I took half of the baby potato and tried it. I first though it was at least warm but I was wrong. It was cold but rather tasty with quite a lot of salt added to it which actually burn through my ulcer on my lips which was resulted from the cold weather the past few days back in Johannesburg. And it was here that my legs began to tire and soon came my first walk.

Cheers for us the supporters did, in the spirits of Comrades...

From Camperdown, it was Cato Ridge next, another scenic run along the mountain roads before hitting the second big hill at Inchanga. I do not know how many times I’ve walked as my legs wasn’t feeling good anymore especially my left I.T. Band. It was not just sore, it was painful. The sub-11 hour bus (pacer) soon passed and I knew my buffer was gone. Then came an elderly 7 times Comrades runner (4 times finisher) name Joey. He saw me limping around and offered to pace together which I gladly welcomed. We pushed together positively and he kept reminding me that we will get to the finish in time.

Wind is so strong that the distance marker took a tumble despite having sand bags on it...

I ran together with Joey till about the halfway point at Drummond before I lost him while we both rehydrated ourselves. The place was packed with runners and supporters and despite my effort to slow down and stop to try spot him, I failed to. From here, I again was running on my own pace again. Ran pass the Wall Of Honour as I have already visited it 2 days earlier. Then it was Arthur’s Seat where I quickly grab a stalk of flower nearby and threw it in hoping to get a blessing for stronger second half of the race, as said by the legend.

The Wall of Honour...

Arthur's Seat...

Next major climb was Botha’s Hill. The sub -12 hour bus passed me here. I tried to hold on to the group but they were just moving too fast. With my left I.T. Band hurting like there is no tomorrow and to make matters worst, my left knee was showing signs of discomfort too.  I was limp walking-running and the buffer I built is slowly fading away. And once I arrived at Bothas’s Hill, the route became unknown to me as this was where we turned off into the freeway 2 days ago during our drive to Durban and I was glad with it. Sometimes, not knowing the route will be indeed an advantage to me. I just ran, ran and walk at times.

The bus is the one with the flag. The rest were following...

Soon, another blessing in the disguise of a 9 times Comrades finisher from Johannesburg name Morne who offered to assist me. Like Joey earlier, I gladly welcomed his offer with open arms. We ran and walked together and we kept chatting to motivate each other. We exchanged the culture of our countries and this felt like education on the road. And when I got worried, he assured me that we will get to the finish in time. I trusted him for he is after all a 9 times finisher with none failures. We ran!

Together with Morne, we push forward beyond our pain barrier. When I stop, he stops. When he stops, I stop too. When supporters called me Jackie Chan, Chinaman, Hongki,  Japanese or even greeted me “Konichiwa”, we laughed. And when supporters called him an OZ (South African and Australia sports colour is similar green and yellow), we both laughed. It was pure entertainment in sportsmanship spirit for the both of us. However, things went down at about 68KM. Morne’s stomach was giving him problems. He was slowing down and he wanted me to go ahead. I told him that we came so far together and we should finish it together. He disagreed and urged me to go. With a heavy heart, I finally obliged. We gave each other a hug and we both pushed on with me surging forward first. I was sad, but there is no turning back now. It’s all down to me now.

From here, it all began to go downwards. The actual “down” run begins here and the descend was so steep that even my right legs including my knee began to feel. I ran and walk holding back the pain on both legs for as much as I could. Both my groins especially my right was in pain and it felt like cramping. I remembered Luc’s advice to run faster which I did, to shake it off and it helped a little.

The descend into Durban...

Entering the fourth climb at Field’s Hill, I was just glad that I made the cut-off time here. I had no idea on my time there but was just glad. I continued pushing and soon was running on the freeway. I was still amazingly impressed with the number of supporters lining up by the roadside. With 15KM to go, I was hoping that there was none of them in sight as I needed to pee again! Finally, it was all clear and into the bushes I went.

Down, down and down, I soon arrived at Cowie’s Hill, the last major climb of the race. Morne’s advice earlier was to walk the entire stretch off but knowing my strength of going upwards, I ran. Even my legs felt better this way. And when it was over, it was down again.

The final cut-off point at 45th Cutting and with the final 7KM to go, against all odds and defying the pain, I began to BELIEVE. In goes my final GU Energy Gel for the extra boost. Time is there although not entirely “healthy” but with positive thoughts and believing hope will always be there, I pushed with all that is left in me. I ran for as far and fast as I could even breaking the sub 4 minute per kilometre pace at times. It was the run of my life, whether ascending or descending into Durban.

The final 3KM was a flyover that welcomed me into the city. Into the city and I know I just have to recompose myself and save my legs for the ultimate assault to the finish. My legs were a goner but I knew at that time that all I had to do was to bear with it for like another 20 minutes or so. And so I did reminding myself that what hurts now is nothing compared with having a needle buried in my bone marrow while I was awake! With my energy level still pretty good, I surged forward through the street of Durban before all the inflatable sponsor gantries of sponsors greeted the runners. 1KM TO GO!!!

Into the city of Durban...

Into the Sahara Stadium, Kingsmead...

Supporters were lining along the streets cheering for us. And finally, I saw it. The Sahara Stadium, Kingsmead. Step by step, I was nearing it and finally as I entered the stadium, I finally took out the Malaysian flag stored in my rear pocket for the entire journey and wrap myself with it. The green grass welcomed us and the final run towards the finish line was a three quarter around the stadium. Names and country of origin of each runner were announced as we ran pass the final timing mat. And soon after, I saw it. The FINISH LINE. Flying the Malaysia flag with both arms and with a pink ribbon pin onto my race bib in support for breast cancer awareness, I proudly cross the finish line with a time of 11:53:49! I DID IT!!!

The Comrades Marathon finish line in Durban...
Time shown here is of Chee Kong...

Tears began to flow as I fell to the ground where the Comrades grass (the shape of Comrades Marathon logo) is and gave it a kiss. As soon as I stood back up with my lips covered with a few strands of grass, Mr. Peter Proctor, the president of the Comrades Marathon Association came over to congratulate me and shook my hand. I was really honoured!

Into the medal collection tent I walked with tears still flowing, all runners congratulated each other for a job well done. A kind lady volunteer congratulated me and hung the copper made Vic Clapham medal over my head and gave me my estimated finishing time card. “I DID IT”, I told myself again but at the same time had my eyes glued on to the big LCD screen of the stadium. I have yet to forget about the other runners out there especially both Joey and Morne. With barely 5 minutes to spare, I really hope both of them and as many other runners will make it.

I DID IT!

And finally at 5.30pm South Africa time, Mr. Peter Proctor shot the gun at the finish line to signal that the race is over. A human barricade was then immediately formed at the finish line preventing runners from running pass and I could see the dismay of the runners that came so close especially the first runner who happened to be a lady from Singapore. It was just so close and it was certainly cruel to end the race this way.

With nothing I can do, I continued walking to the exit trying to spot Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and Wong. And once I spotted them, I quickly walked over and gave Chee Kong and Wong a huge hug for all 3 of us made the cut. It was a major accomplishment for us no matter the timing. Most important is that we finished and all of them supported my cause for a cancer free tomorrow.

Trying to control my tears as Chee Kong congratulated me...

The Malaysian contingent DID IT and proudly with our national flag...

We rested, chatted and took some photos together. And with Chee Kong’s iPad, we posted live updates on Facebook on our achievements for we are sure that our friends back home in Malaysia and Singapore are cheering and rooting for us and anxiously waiting for updates.

The climb out of the stadium wasn’t an easy task. A series of stairs was needed to be overcome and all 3 of us were limping like penguins. A long walk to the car as we met other runners like Caroline congratulating each other before we make our short drive back to the hotel.

The Malaysia contingent results as follows:

Chen Chee Kong – 08:55:53 (Bill Rowan medal)...

Wong Fook Seong – 10:50:15 (Bronze medal)...

Chong Wei Siong, Frank – 11:53:49 (Vic Clapham medal)...

After cleaning ourselves, we proceeded to the nearby Ocean Basket for some fish and chips. Although appetite isn’t really there yet, we forced ourselves to eat as it was essential for recovery. And once all done, we returned to the hotel for a good night’s rest for a long drive back to Johannesburg beckons us the next morning.

The Comrades Marathon Vic Clapham medal...

Medal haul from the Malaysian contingent at Comrades Marathon 2012...
From Left to Right
Bill Rowan (7:30 - Sub 9 hours), Bronze (9 hours - Sub 11 hours) and Vic Clapham (11 hours - Sub 12 hours)

And so, the Comrades Marathon 2012 and my first ever joint project with CARIF under The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research finally comes to a close successfully. With my deepest and sincere gratitude, I would like to thank the following people and company (in no particular order) for supporting and believing in my cause:

- My parents for supporting and caring for me since I arrived in this world and also taking time to run the show of the store while I was away.

- Professor Teo Soo Hwang, Yoon Sook Yee, Katrina Low, Peter Kang and the entire team over at CARIF for making The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research a reality.

- Comrades Marathon Association and the people of South Africa for not only making the Comrades Marathon happen but also in making the race experience truly something beyond words. I am still IMPRESSED and AWED!

- Walter Tan, Marc Pereira, Karen Chua, Carey Ooi and everyone at Outdoor Venture Pte Ltd and Running Lab Pte Ltd for the support given.

- Running Lab, K-Swiss, GU Energy Labs, Runners Malaysia and 2ndskin for their support.

- Chee Kong and Mei-Ee for their excellent planning and hospitality for this trip.

- Wong Fook Seong for the new friendship and company together and all assistance given before and after the race.

- Joey, Morne, all runners and friends I came to know about before, during and after the race.

- Kelly Lim and Christopher Koh from Singapore who helped with the TURCR project over there.

- To everyone who have donated, pledged, supported and believe in myself and my cause.

- All supporters back home who were constantly updating themselves on my race progress.

The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research may have come to a closure this year. However, the race for a cancer free tomorrow still rages on and much is still left to do. Donations and supports are still most welcome and more info can still be gotten from myself or from CARIF at Sime Darby Medical Centre, Subang Jaya.

Dedicated to CARIF on their 10th Anniversary and everyone who experienced cancer...

Here are some facts about my run at Comrades Marathon 2012:

- Thoughts of my parents, love one, dear friends, those life affected with cancer and my cause during my run. Did not actually thought too much of the route itself. I just run, and walk when I couldn’t run any longer.

- 19,547 (15199 men / 4348 women) signed up for Comrades Marathon 2012 with 11,952 of them completing the run successfully within the 12 hours cut off time.

- Consumed 4 sachets of GU Roctane, 2 servings of GU Chomps, 2 sachets of GU Energy Gel.

- Consumed 4 half servings of salted potatoes.

- Drank 9 cups of Pepsi, 1 cup each of Mountain Dew and Mirinda Orange. Yeap, I took the risk and gladly no stomach discomfort.

- Drank about half sachet (130ml) from each pack of plain water and Energade isotonic drinks taken. Did not count how many sachets taken.

- No actual cramps experienced during the run although the sensation was felt around the calves, hamstrings and groin regions.

- Ran 90.89KM instead of the official 89.28KM as couldn’t run in tangent resulted from the huge number of runners. 

- Temperature varies from 8 to 15 degree Celsius throughout the run.

- Was called numerous times Jackie Chan, Chinaman, Chinese, Japanese, HongKi, and even greeted "Konichiwa" by supporters cheering for us. Replied twice saying I am from MALAYSIA!

Till Comrades Marathon 2013...

Till 2 June 2013 for the Comrades Marathon 2013 and also the second edition of The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research, here’s signing off from Singapore Airline SQ479 flying over the Indian Ocean on the way back home.

* Photos used are part from myself while others credited to Chee Kong. 

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once again, Congrats.
Once again, if one set his mind to conquer, he will succeed.
Keep running strong

rgds
shine

Jamie Pang said...

Ok lah not that long but I consumed 2 gels while reading it. Congrats!

Alvin Ang said...

Congrats once again. I was eagerly loking forward to this post. Thank you.

K3vski said...

Well done Frank! Such an epic race!

Sue's Ramblings said...

Congrats Frank! And shout out to Chee Kong and Wong as well. Awesome!

lina said...

Congrats! It sure is indeed an epic race. :)

Boone said...

It's truly a remarkable achievement Frank...well done and congratulations on the awesome effort. All that training and proper diet has paid off handsomely. All the best for your next big race.

Rurousha said...

Hallo, Frank! Lina told me about this post, because I'm South African (though I live in Japan).

CONGRATULATIONS! Or in Afrikaans, one of South Africa's 11 languages: VEELS GELUK!

I'm so glad that you had so much support from bystanders. South Africa is famous for its hospitality, and it's good to hear that you were cheered along every step of the way. :)

Frank@Runnerz said...

Thanks everyone for the wishes! Reading my entry and running/visiting South Africa is truly a different experience and I hope on 1 fine day, you all can try the latter.

Ruruosha: Indeed South Africa is such a friendly country and I can't wait to get back there next year for the next Comrades Marathon.

Kai said...

Hi Frank, I'm was watching the live feed over the net. Amazing race, I'm going to do it in 2014. I remember a person holding up the Malaysian flag around the end of the race, so it must be you. I even took a snapshot of the screen and posted it on Tey Eng Tiong's facebook wall. Congratulations on completing Comrades, I'm looking forward to the day I run Comrades.
Cheers,
Kai
(Singaporean living in Melbourne)

Frank Chong said...

Hello Kai. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, that person holding the Malaysian flag was me. I hope to see you in 2014 and hopefully for the many many years to come to. :D

Unknown said...

I read your report with interest and admiration. I plan on running the race in 2014 from Canada... a down year as well. Thank you for a most excellent summary. I could feel your pain, and your joy. Be proud!

NHK said...

I was a customer in your shop and you gave me a Comrades Marathon brochure. I am not a good distance runner yet, I've won a few local 5Ks, and was top 10 in some 10k races. Beyond the 42k, I don't think I'm ready. Yet, somehow meeting you that day was inspirational I might actually run a Comrades one day.