Friday, June 20, 2014

Comrades Marathon 2014...

Event: Comrades Marathon 2014
Venue: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Date: 01 June 2014
Time: 5.30am (South Africa time) / 11.30am (Malaysia time)
Distance: 89.28KM (90.28KM by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 5
By Frank

Before getting started, here's the link to my previous 2 Comrades Marathon :
Comrades Marathon 2012 "Down" run
Comrades Marathon 2013 "Up" run

My fourth visit to South Africa, my second year as the Malaysia Comrades Marathon ambassador, my third Comrades Marathon and also second "Down" run saw 9 Malaysian standing in the chilly temperatures of 10c at the start at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall on 1 June 2014. But before getting into the race, here's a recap to how it all began. Won't be blogging about my South African holidays as usual as it will be in another entry.

I was battling cough and phlegm since the day of arrival almost a week ago. Been whacking Vitamin C to hopefully get rid of it though I failed to do so. However, I myself thought it was manageable at least from my own perspective and hence I told myself that I was good to go. And I slept through the morning before race day as for the past 2 years, I participated in the Youth Run. This year, I would think a change might be good to rest those legs.

Pre-race day dinner was early at 6.30pm and simple one at Cafe Jiran, Belaire Suites just at the lobby. Unlike last year, this time round, all ate together and was just a simple dinner of chicken chop. Not too much,not too filling, it was just all right and safe. By around 8.30pm, everyone was back in their room trying to sleep. I had my race gears all laid out the day before and so is Susanah's. Went through a little about the race course and it was lights out for the both of us.

Sleep was critical and just like last year, I woke up feeling good with about 5 hours sleep despite suffering cramps on my right calf. Just my bad habit of stretching after waking up. Must remember not to do it anymore. Susanah was still asleep as I started to prepare myself breakfast which consist of Old Town Coffee, Nakd Bars and "bak kwa". I also tried to clear my airway of phlegm as much as I could while cleaning and freshening myself up. Bowel movement was good and by 3am, together with Susanah, we were good to go as we were all scheduled to meet the others at the lobby at 3.15am. Group picture and off to Pietermaritzburg with Chee Kong driving and Mei-Ee taking over later to support along the race course at the Fourways tent.

A group photo just outside Belaire before leaving for Pietermaritzburg.

We arrived an hour later at Pietermaritzburg and there was a slight hiccup upon disembarking from our vehicle. Everyone was trying to hard to put in last minutes gear check. Mine was literary all ready hence I helped out to tear open the hand warmers as the temperature was chilly about 10c and also took in a GU Roctane gel to give myself a jump start. Myself and Susanah lost touch with the others as we approach the starting coral but were soon reunited for a group photo together. And once all wishes were made, we headed to our respective starting pent. I was with Susanah at the G coral.

Before entering our seeding pent.

I remained calm though I can see from Susanah's expression that she was nervous. And with the clock ticking away till the start at 5.30am, I just hope that she will be able to embrace into the start atmosphere which was magnificent as I wished her the best in her run. And then, it finally started with the South Africa national anthem Nkosi Sikelel Afrika being played followed by Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire. I sang along and then, it was silence for a moment before the cock's crow from Max Trimborn. I told Susanah to start her chrono and soon, the cannon went off to signal the start at 5.30am sharp! The crowd went crazy as we started to move.

As the start at Pietermaritzburg is narrower than Durban, it took us 7 minutes to cross the start gantry. That was about a minute faster compared to year 2012 when I was seeded H. We both started our run together as I removed my t-shirt which kept me warm earlier. My gloves remained on with the warmers in them. A Kilometer in,  I had the urged to pee and off I went to the side where many runners were as well. It must have been the cold start that caused the urge. Once done, I tried to look for Susanah as we agreed to meet back somewhere in the middle of the crowd. I spotted her easily and we continued on. However shortly later after the first junction, she asked me to go ahead. I knew at that time her foot was starting to hurt already. I would have continue with her but knowing her that when she asked me to go ahead, I had to go ahead. And at that time, a decision had to be made and hence I surged forward after wishing her a safe and good run, telling and keep reminding myself that this isn't only for the Be Frank campaign only, but also for my dear friend.

Surging ahead through the crowd along the narrow path, I caught up with Susan and exchanged a couple of words before I surged ahead again. The locals were already out cheering and supporting the runners while some poor villagers were asking for our unwanted tops. The urge to pee once again came at about 6KM and this time it happened near Polly Shortts, the place where I stepped on "human land mine" back in year 2012. I chose my spot wisely this time as I did not want to soil my spanking new Kinvara 5 and relieve myself. There weren't a lot of pee actually, just that the cold weather kept weakening my bladder.

Day breaking at Polly Shortts.

The descend at Polly Shortts and Little Polly didn't bother me much as day began to break. And before it got too bright, I went again to relieve myself at 14KM. And it was here that I finally finished my tiny 300ML bottle of GU Roctane Brew I had from the start. I been sipping small amounts in at every 20 minutes interval to keep the nutrients flowing in my system and also to avoid the human traffic at the earlier water stations. Soon I've arrived at Lion Park, where the first timing mat was. I knew there was a video cam somewhere hence I continued running. Hahaha... Here, I've managed to passed a pretty huge number of runners already and hence has broken free from the main crowd. I've also passed all the 11 hours bus (pacer) and hence will be building buffer to ensure that all of them or at least one of them will stay behind me.

Next was the approach towards Camperdown and when the smell of chicken which was pretty nasty came, I knew I was near. I spotted Johan Grassman and took the opportunity to have a short break while catching up with him before resuming my run. Then I spotted the lady in pink wig and tutu, Caroline. Johan too caught up and we had some photos and chat together before I went ahead. As I arrived at Camperdown, I tried spotting to Mei-Ee but like year 2012, I failed to do so. I wanted the sun block lotion to apply on my shoulders. I even missed my first salty potato here as I went ahead too fast. No point turning back, I took my first pack of GU Roctane gel here.

Local supports were just as amazing.

"Bumpy" ride at the not so flat Harrisons Flats.

So far so good on the legs and energy level, next to tackle was Cato Ridge, a pretty mild area before arriving at Harrison Flats. And if I remember correctly, this is where I cross path with Kai Yuan. Both areas are filled with supporters and this kept runners going. However not entirely to be confused with the word "flat", this part has actually pretty small nasty climbs, bumps I will say. The weather was slowly getting warmer as I hope that it will not be a repeat of last year. Took in in my first pack of "bak kwa"  here and although I made sure I chewed properly before swallowing, it resulted in stomach cramps. Trust me it did not happen when I tried it back home. And with the constant coughing since the start, it made matters more uncomfortable. Sigh... But Ethembeni School came into view  shortly after completing Harrison Flats as I began to high five the underprivileged kids. I believe that not only they felt good, I personally felt great and honoured too for it gave a little energy to withstand the pain as I rain. And at the end of this stretch, a major nightmare awaits, Inchanga, the descend into Drummond.

For the "Up" run, Inchanga is a long winding climb and hence I knew it will be painful and demoralising to run down. I took walk breaks in between my runs and had my second GU Energy Gel here hoping to recuperate. And while my legs and body does the job of making a single step at a time to get closer to Kingsmead, my mind was fix else where. What is happening back home? Where is my friend?

Drummond, the half way point.

And like last year, I once again bump into David from Singapore here. It seems like we just like to meet at Inchanga and snap a selfie of ourselves. We ran together for a while though sometimes we are just not able to keep up with another. I finally arrived at the halfway point at Drummond in 5:11:42 hours. I arrived on time as I've told Manette that I shall be there between 10.30am to 11.00am. And yes, she was there at the same spot as last year and she offered me a can of Coke and bottle of water. Am really thankful for her kind gestures as we chatted a little and had a photo together before I continue on after spotting David. DANKIE Manette!

Approaching the Wall of Honour just after the halfway point.

Next was Arthur's Seat and I was surprised that no flowers was given out this year as back then, each runner will get a flower to wish Arthur Newton a "Good Morning Sir" by throwing flowers into the seat as the saying says that we will enjoy a stronger second half of the race. I however, gave the plaque a tap and said the message. Whether a stronger half, that depends for as long I did the tradition, that was the important part.

Arthur's Seat.

Drummond is located in a valley and hence climbing out will be a real challenge. And the route to take us was via Alverstone. A 11 hours bus came and both myself and David was following it. However, the driver was going to fast and at one point even climb 2 hills consecutively. David managed to stay with him but I played safe and held back as I felt he was certainly going too fast. Even a fellow runner was cursing him and told other to hold back and not to be suck in. I am pretty sure I am still well below the 11 hours finishing time and hence played on my own strategy.

I spotted Willie on a climb and caught up with this friend of mine. He was having difficulty with one of his foot and hence was walking. Although it was nice to have chatted, I couldn't stick with him for too long and hence carried on with my journey passed Kearnsey College with the students coming to cheer for us before I entered Botha's Hill. At this point, I would have conquered 50KM or so and my legs were starting to give way. Though I managed both my calves well as these are the 2 muscles that normally cramp first, both my adductors and right piriformis was in a sorry state. They were not only sore but painful with every steps.

I took my third GU Energy Gel while trying to shake off the pain at Botha's Hill hoping the nutrients will do some good to the tired muscles. This area is once again filled with supporters and the climbs were all right. I've managed to grab some ice cubes from the locals supporting from the side which I am really grateful as I massaged them into my adductors and piriformis. It helped sooth the pain for a while to allow me to run, but not for long and hence I kept looking for ice cubes.

Exiting Botha's Hill and into Hillcrest, yet another area filled with huge number of supporters, I spotted a familiar back. It was Selva and I ran beside him. We paced each other for a while before eventually one of us drop back. It was not easy for us to follow each other at this point when the legs were thrashed so badly already. We both however had a funny moment when we crossed the Winston Park timing mat. I spotted it from afar and told Selva that there will be a video cam there, hence we needed to run. And run we did and made funny gestures and eventually we were caught on camera. That's one for the album! Hahaha...

Try spotting myself and Selva at Winston Park.

Next was the long stretch beside the N3 Highway as we ran towards Kloof. It was pretty hot here as there were minimal coverage of trees as I took my fourth energy gel to ensure replenishment of electrolytes I've lost. But as we entered Kloof, things changed when the Nedbank Green Mile came into view. Everything was green here with plenty of tress. Even the Energade served here was green in colour, apple I assume. Cheerleaders welcomed the runners while some were dressed in Scottish bagpipe blowers kept us entertained. Some puppeteers were there too. This is one place where I find it hard to walk as the supporters just kept asking us to keep running! But at certain stretch, I still walked and was caught on camera! Yikes!

Entering the Nedbank Green Mile.

Into The Green Mile.

Giant puppeteers cheering runners on.

A gigantic South African flag to signal the almost end of the mile.

At the end of the Nedbank Green Mile, I was once again back on the open highway. And this will probably be the toughest descend into Durban for the winding Fields Hill awaits. The descend was so steep that I had difficulty running straight and hence went zig zagging. I stopped numerous times and I recalled cramping at a certain spot back in year 2012. And if that is the spot, yes I did stop once again to stretch by the wall as others bombarded down Fields!

After conquering Fields Hill safely, I arrived in Pinetown at about 66KM into the race. Like Botha's Hill and Hillcrest, this town is filled with supporters. And with my adductors and piriformis still acting up, I've asked for ice cubes numerous times from the supporters and they were kind enough to provide me. It was pretty obscene when I started rubbing my right glutes and both my upper adductors with the ice cubes. But at this point of time, it didn't really matter already. And as I approached the fourth cut-off point at St John's Avenue, a group of people called out tome. It was the folks from Saucony South Africa! WOOHOOoo... Thanks guys for the support!

Next up,the final tough climb at Cowies Hill. To protect my legs, I used the run walk strategy and successfully conquered it. And at the top of Cowies, to my surprise, I spotted CP and ran to him. He was struggling with cramps and I notice he was only wearing a pair of socks. We ran together for a moment passing ice cubes to each other to ease our discomfort. I slowly pushed forward as we approached Westville, yet another open area on the highway. It was hot and dry, and I took in small sips of water as I did not want to cause my stomach to bloat. The remaining water, I used it to wet myself. The roller coaster terrain here was still madness but the supporters kept cheering on us which kept us going.

Conquering Cowie's Hill!

Finally, I arrived at the final cut-off point 45th Cutting at Mayville. I had 49 minutes till the bronze cut-off time with 7KM to go. With the legs thrashed, it's going to be a very tight battle for it. But as the saying goes, "It ain't over after it's over", and hence I battle forward after taking in my final fifth energy gel. It was smooth sailing till the final 4KM where my right calf locked up and cramped! Not sure if it was the after effects from the cramp I suffered in the morning but as I had 4 water sachets with me, I quickly punctured each of them and watered my calf hoping the coldness will help ease the pain. My world came into daze when it all happened as I hop to the side to support myself on the highway barrier. I looked at my watch and it was 27 minutes till the bronze cut-off. The bronze is slipping away as I quickly try to shake the cramp off. I did a quick massage and immediately started walking away, limping more like it. A local runner came along side me telling me that I needed to run a 6 minutes pace should I really want the bronze. At that moment, I told myself that I WANT IT and for the sake of my dear friend, friends and supporters back home, I will try.

With the near cut-off experience back in year 2012, I used it once again this year to run my fastest final 4KM on the N3 Highway at Berea before entering Durban city. It was all done below a 6 minutes pace. I took one final sachet of Energade followed by water sachets to wash myself up as I finally entered the city. It was a flat final 2KM stretch into Sahara Stadium Kingsmead. Then the final turn into the Toyota Mile and that certainly felt the longest stretch before entering the stadium.

Entering the Sahara Stadium Kingsmead. Can you see me?

And as I entered the Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, I had 4 more minutes and I knew I will make it should no drama of cramping or crawling happens. Out came the Jalur Gemilang as usual and like many would say, the pain and tiredness will disappear once stepping on the grass of Kingsmead. This time, I agree as I approach the finish line. I spotted Manette by the spectator stands and pointed out to her as a gesture of appreciation! And finally, the finish gantry as I raised my Jalur Gemilang and successfully completed my third Comrades Marathon with a time of 10:57:34 hours shattering my year 2012 "Down" run's time by an hour and last year's 2013 "Up" run's time by 27 minutes and earning finally the bronze medal!

Completing my 3rd Comrades.

With Sian at the finish line and this time, I remember to have a photo with her!

Sian was as usual at the finish point and this time, I remembered to have a photo with her. A quick tap on the Comrades grass before approaching to collect my medal and have my photo taken. Took in some fluids while congratulating other runners too. However, the show isn't over yet as I continue to worry for my other friends who were still out there particularly Susanah. I wonder where she was and how she was doing. I exited the finish area and waited just outside hoping to see her soon.

Oops... Flag the other way round.

With my first ever bronze medal. Try spotting it.

I stood and waited paying attention to the big screen and also the exit point and saw Selva coming through. He ran a good run and earned his first ever Vic Clapham medal. Well done to him! And as the time ticks away, everyone shouted and started banging the metal sheet barricade to urge runners to hasten up. And at 5.30pm, the gun went off to signal the cut-off for Comrades Marathon 2014. My hopes for Susanah to complete her run were dashed but I still had my fingers cross that I was somehow wrong. I waited for an extra 15 minutes before heading to the international tent. Everyone from CP, Cham, Selva, Chee Kong, Kai Yuan and David was there with their medals. Susanah was not in sight! I kept waiting till both my calves cramped up and in agony, I screamed as Chee Kong and David came to my assistance.

And finally, we spotted Susanah walking down the final stretch. It was painful to see her and I dashed to the finish point hoping to catch her there. However, I missed her as apparently there was another exit point. We were all reunited back at the international tent. We rested, took some photos before we left. Honestly at that point of time, I did not know what to do except to keep talking to her. I knew she was trying to stay strong but deep within, I do not know what is going through her. I wish I could...

One for the album. Comrades Marathon Team Malaysia 2014.

With David from Singapore.

Fast forwarding to the post run dinner at Cafe Jiran, it was simple one to celebrate our runs. Susanah did not join in as room service was called, though I wasn't too happy with them as they sent the food to the room instead telling them that I will do so myself as I had the key card to the room. She needed to rest and eat which I was glad she did just that. And by the time I got back to the room, she was almost asleep.

The next day will be better for Susanah, I hope. I am very proud of her for making the entire race course. Yes, she may not have finish it within the cut-off time, but to experience it while carrying an injury and missing it by just 26 minutes is something to be proud of. Not everyone can do it and I certainly hope she will bounce back stronger. She is certainly a warrior and a true Comrades that fights till the end! All I can say is WELL DONE SUSANAH!

A small dedication to the many in this cause against cancer.

And to others from Team Malaysia from Chee Kong, CP, Cham, Selva, Shanaz and Jagjit for successfully completing the gruelling race, congratulations to everyone! And not forgetting to Mei-Ee and Xi Ning too for the awesome support once again from hoping from town to town. And to my South African and international friends, well done too to you all and it was a pleasure running alongside you. To those who did not make the cut-off, try again as Comrades will always be there for you to run.

So yes, 1,508KM in total training mileage for that just 89.28KM, a successful outing again but in tough conditions as the weather was once again warm where it hit 32.8c as recorded by my watch. To have started the run with cough and phlegm was not the ideal choice but it had to be done. To have train so much, it will be a shame not to run a better race and I am glad that I did. Twitching and cramps came, but they were put to bay. And with my third Comrades Marathon in the bag, here comes a closure to this year's chapter as I would like to thank the following people (in no particular order) for helping, supporting and providing me with all the strength and support throughout my journey:

- Susanah for the care, motivation and moments of laughter together

- Team Malaysia consisting of Susanah, Chee Kong, Mei-Ee, Xi Ning, Cham, CP and Selva who has made the trip together in making it a memorable one

- The rest of Team Malaysia of Dr. Jagjit, Shanaz, Jason and Yik Yee whether making the trip or not for the camaraderie shown in this year's race

- Professor Dr. Teo, Jane, Sook Yee, Sook Huey, Hadi and the folks at CARIF who has been supporting my cause together with them since my first Comrades Marathon 3 years ago.

- Sian and Thami from the Comrades Marathon Association for helping sort out issues faced by the Malaysian runners

- Lindsey Parry, the official coach for the Comrades Marathon for his guidance

- My South African and international Comrades family of Susan Hui, Caroline, Anthony, Susan Bold, Pierre Jordan, Willie, Johan Grassman, Johann Pierre Jonck, Phillip Nell, Eric, Mannette, Bruce Hargreaves, David Wong, Kai Yuan, Renee, Berlinda, Allan, Spike, Tobie, Wayne, Mark, Trevor, Andrew and many more whom I met along the way

- Alicia and the rest from Saucony Malaysia for not only in sponsors of gears and the support given

- My friends back home from Zijill, Hong Lan, Yim, Khim, Alvin, Boon Keat, Chee Hon, Soon Chung, Tey, Jagdeep and many others for the support given

- The GC group from Jamie, Nick, Julia, Choon Yuen, Kew and Richi for helping me through my training for this

- To those who have donated, supported and ran the Frankathon event as part of the Be Frank campaign for their sweat, effort and contribution to the cause

- Last but not least to both dad and mum for once again supporting and making sacrifices to allow me to train till the race day

Till the 90th anniversary at the Comrades Marathon 2015, here's HARD IS WHAT MAKES IT GREAT for you are all ULTRAORDINARY, a true Comrades! #Shosholoza

My splits at the 5 checkpoints.

Statistics for Comrades Marathon 2014 as follows:
Starters: 14,620
Finishers - 11,984
Lowest temperature - 10c
Highest temperature - 32.8c

* My run data recorded by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire can be seen HERE.

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


Nick Phillips said...

Well done, Frank.

Kevin Siah said...

Well done Frank! Another amazing Comrades finish to add to your cap, with Bronze medal too! Congrats!