Saturday, June 20, 2015

Comrades Marathon 2015...

Event: Comrades Marathon 2015
Venue: Durban, South Africa
Date: 31 May 2015
Time: 5.30AM (South Africa time) / 11.30AM (Malaysian time)
Distance: 87.72KM (88.8KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 6
By Frank

As usual, I will jump straight into my Comrades Marathon race report and save my holiday adventures in a separate entry. And the following are links too, to relive my past 3 Comrades Marathon experience:


Comrades Marathon 2015 is the 90th edition of The Ultimate Human Race. With a tagline of Bamba Iqhaza which meant Be Part Of It, in the Zulu language, runners can expect a huge field this year. Besides that, with an addition of 877M giving a total of 87.72KM, it’s also one of the longest “Up” run in history due to roadworks at Pinetown. 12 Malaysians signed up for this year’s edition but sadly only 7 started which was myself, Chee Kong, Zijill, Selva, Shanaz, Dr. Jagjit and Dr.Yani.



Myself flying alone this time, arrived in Durban 4 days prior to my fourth Comrades so everything should be more or less in place for the big race. Flight was smooth, race pack collection swift and meals were eaten heartily. But come race day morning, I did not wake up with the feeling I had last year. I wasn’t unwell, just that I didn’t have the kick for the race. I had 2 hours to prepare before our shuttle ride to the race start at 4AM. I skipped the breakfast prepared by Belaire Suites and took my own Clif Mojo bar and a soft panini bread bought by Zijill the day before from Checkers. Washed it down with a cup of Starbucks VIA coffee and the other all race rituals went on smoothly.

Team Saucony ready to rock and roll!

At 4AM, myself with Zijill were down at the lobby with Chee Kong, Selva and Shanaz. A last minute visit to the toilet almost caused us to miss the first shuttle though but glad they waited. The ride to the race start at Town Hall was like about 5 minutes or so only. It was to be taken as we did not want to disturb Mei-Ee and Xi Ning, and besides, to reserve the leg strength for the race later. Baggage deposit was smooth and soon enough after a group photo together, we checked into our respective seeding pent.

We are ready!

I checked into the D pent with my qualifier from last year’s Amsterdam Marathon, which was my best effort so far. It was my best chance to cross the start gantry as soon as possible to try run my best and targeted time. Not sure if I am able to start from this front in the future hence telling myself “One shot at glory, make full use of it”! It was about a 45 minutes wait and was glad the weather was good. About 18c and not chilly. It’s Durban after all. I look around to try to spot for friends like David and Bruce but to no avail. However, runners were entertained by the light shows lighting the tall buildings in the business district as runners continued to wish everyone around them regardless of nationally and skin colour. That’s the spirit of Comrades! Soon came the National Anthem of South Africa to mark the countdown followed by Shosholoza, Chariots of Fire, Max Trimborn cock’s crow and finally, the cannon went BOOM!

At 5.30AM (11.30AM Malaysian time) 16,993 runners took on the 90 edition of the Comrades Marathon that will go down into the history books. It took me exactly 3 minutes to cross the start gantry this time and everybody just started running. However, it came to a walk shortly in front when runners slowed down to high-fived the cheering supporters by the side. Really unnecessary but that’s just part of Comrades. About a minute wasted there but was glad to find my rhythm as I find my way into the highway leading to Berea. And speaking about rhythm, it was my first time wearing a heart rate monitor for this race and I used it as a guide.  As the roads leading out from Durban is wider compared to the one at Pietermaritzburg, I found no problem navigating through the sea of runners. However, there were some incident around me where runners tried to overtake from the curb causing them to trip over. One trip over and managed to pull the runner in front of him together too, and it all happened just beside me. But both escape with minor bruises and carried on. Other than that, it was an uneventful start.

With David at Berea. blur shot but truly memorable.

About close to half an hour into the race, I heard a voice from behind saying “Inchanga came early this year” and immediately I knew that my Singaporean fellow Comrades David is right behind me! Short chat plus some photos before we carried on. Running on the N3 highway was just the warm up. A few mild uphill’s and downhills are just appetizers on what lies ahead. There were no supporters beside the roads as there is almost no space for them. But they can be found at the top of the flyovers, pedestrian bridges and along the shop rows. That’s how these South Africans will come out to cheer for the runners! Amazing stuff!

About 7KM later, I found myself exiting the highway and into Mayville. Crowded with supporters and with the dawn slowly approaching, everything seems to brighten up another level too, from energy levels to noises. My heart rate was still good as I maintained a reasonable pace as I headed towards the Durban Boundary where I met John from Scotland in person for the first time after numerous contacts over Facebook. Short chat and we are off towards first big hill, Cowie’s Hill.

Passing the first Big hill at Cowie's Hill.

I was still on a very good pace upon arriving at Cowie’s Hill in 1:48:03 hours. Descend from it and into Pinetown where the extra 877M diversion was which was actually refreshing as I ran through a small business area with supermarkets and other retail shops in the area. And with half marathon done, I thought it’s better to down an energy gel to ensure the body gets all the nutrients required. However, as it has been so long since I took them, I was so not used to it and instantly spitted it out and took half a tablet of Hammer Perpeteum Solids instead and carried on.

Next of the Big 5 hills list will be the treacherous Fields Hill. A steep climb on the open highway, I remembered attacking it back in year 2013 which may have caused my left calf cramping at the later stages. Therefore, a revised strategy this year for I think it will be safer to run walk it, as after all, I need to prevent my heart rate from spiking. But I guess I took it too safe which depleted some buffer time I made.

Assaulting Fields Hill.

Arriving at the top of Fields Hill isn’t the end of the nightmare as we still needed to climb, though not as steep. As I arrived at Winston Park at about the 30KM mark, my body started to show signs of giving way. I kind of expected this but was just hoping that it will not happen. Sadly it did. I took walk breaks in between and ate some potatoes along the way hoping to regain some momentum. I also made my first toilet pee stop here and was glad to have found a mobile version unoccupied. With the discomfort I am facing, I was losing time but I kept attacking the climbs as I knew forward was the only way. And I needed to get to Drummond by 10.30AM (5 hours into the race) if I were to stand a chance to run the target set.

Third of the Big 5 hills, Botha’s Hill was next on the list. Short but steep climb, crowd support was superb as we headed towards it and it kept me going. The day also started to warm up as I stared pouring water over my arms to keep my core temperature down. And with Botha’s Hill conquered, the landscapes of highways and small towns began to change into valley rods as it marks the fast descend into the Valley of 1,000 Hills, into the valley of Drummond.

Descending into Drummond.

It was a fast descend into Drummond with only minor climbs. I had to take full advantage of it for the climb out later will be tough. And I know my friend Manette will be waiting just before the Wall of Honour at the Rooderport tent, the same spot where she has been supporting me the past 2 years! I was extremely delighted to see her where she poured me a cup of ice water. This time round though, I did not stop for long as I moved on after 2 cups of drinks and thanking this dear friend of mine.

Catching up with Manette at the Rooderport tent.

Passed the Wall of Honour on my right, and soon Arthur’s Seat on my left where I gave the plaque a tap while greeting it “Good Morning Sir!”, hoping I will be blessed a stronger half, or will it be?! And soon, the halfway point at Drummond came into sight as I crossed the halfway gantry in 4:59:06 hours. Though it was under 5 hours, I knew it wasn’t an ideal time cause I know my second half will not be faster.

Through the halfway point.

The atmosphere at Drummond was electrifying with supporters pouring out on the road to cheer for runners. With no barricades, they took up most of the roads leaving us runners with almost less than a lane to run on. Nevertheless, runners around me myself included still managed to “escape” and make our way to our next challenge.

Exiting Drummond has and will always be a daunting task on the “Up” run. The fourth of the Big 5 hills and also the longest climb of the Comrades Marathon at close to 4KM in total, was next as Inchanga awaits my already weaken body. With the length of this “serpent” and the steepness of it,  I spent most of the time walking to the summit and without David here since we met earlier this year, it’s really a tough one. Though still manageable, the weather began to heat up. With some water sachets I’ve gotten from Drummond, I wet myself. Arriving at the summit, I resume my running and soon arrived at the Ethembeni School for the underprivileged children who some are albino, wheelchair bound or with impaired vision. The basically just stick out their hands for runners to high five them and I did just that. And during the process, I spotted 2 kids holding the Malaysian national flag. Truly a spirit lifter when I saw it!

As I continued moving forward along Harrisons Flat which was a roller coaster ride despite the word “flat” towards Cato Ridge, my body also sinks into deeper pain. There is no denial that my legs were sore but the main issue was on my core area. “I needed to go” I told myself and started searching for a toilet along the way. Most stops have 2 or maximum 3 and they are most often occupied. I didn’t want to wait and thus move on whenever I find the door lock. But soon, I managed to find one which was partially hidden behind a deejay tent just beside a slope. Slightly slanted, it didn’t look very secure especially when loud music is playing where the sound waves may shake it. And the last thing on news that people will laugh off is a Malaysian Comrades runner roll off the slope in a toilet! But I went ahead still in the generally clean toilet until I saw the wall in detail. Urm… Use your imagination here.

I suffered a cramp on my left soleus in the toilet and wasted exactly 10 minutes in there. Once out from there, I walked, and then jogged before slowly regaining the momentum to run. But despite the visit, I was still unwell. But then, the moment that I have been waiting for came. Zijill finally caught up. I knew she will for I’ve seen her train and was hoping that she did not pass me while I was in the toilet earlier. But here she is, as she called out to me when I was feeling “Alien-ish”. From here, we moved together as her company too help me divert my attention away from my core.

Cato Ridge was next for us and my mind also started calculating. No longer I am aiming for my target as I know it’s no longer within my reach, but I knew at that time that I can help Zijill achieve what she is capable of. And thus off we went together and with my 3 years of experience, I tried to remember on which stretch to run and which to walk to bring her to The Oval within a bronze cut-off time.

We arrived at Cato Ridge just under 7 hours giving us about 4 hours to run the remaining 30KM or so. “Less than 2 Bukit Tunkus now” (referring to our training route back home) I told Zijill as we tried to make up time heading towards Camperdown as it was fast stretch with only mild climbs. She also has her own strategy here which was to run from point to point using structures along the way as guidelines.

With some houses slowly appearing and as the crowd grew larger and, I know Camperdown was near.  And after exiting the housing area, The NedBank Green Mile welcomed us! And boy, this year’s edition was really good with cheerleaders, bag pipe blowers, deejays and even characters from Marvel’s Avenger cheering the runners along the green highlighted area of 1.6KM. Crowd numbers was at its best too! And with all these to divert my attention away from my core, I also slowly regained some strength.

Though Camperdown was great, the route ahead was tough as we headed next to Lion Park. 3 short but yet energy sapping climbs under the scorching sun awaits us. And just before reaching the top of Lion Park, I spotted a TV crew and told Zijill to run. We can walk after passing it. Hahaha…

We "ran" when we saw the camera at Lion Park.

70KM in the bag leaving us just 1 more Bukit Tunku. 2.15 hours was what is left for us to meet the bronze cut-off time. We needed to keep moving. And though she told me to go ahead, I was not to make the same mistake I made before. I will run ahead, but will wait upon her to catch up shortly ahead. That’s the best I could do I thought.

Arriving at the foot of Little Polly.

Ashburton or more commonly known as Little Polly was the teaser to the final big hill ahead. I waited for Zijill at the foot of it and signal to her to walk it to save the legs. She asked if this was it but it was not as the “bigger’ one awaits ahead. Once we arrive at the top, we restarted our run dashing downwards till we arrive at a yellow structure on our left which marks the start of the final Big 5 hill, Polly Shortts!  9KM to the finish, but almost 2KM of treacherous climb awaits us here. We walk it together!

Almost in silence and with 3 bends along Polly Shortts, most runners were walking. I was waiting to hear some sound as it will mean the top is near. But it came very slowly and I was almost in denial. But once the area started opening up, too came the sound and we started running to the top as there will be a TV crew there filming again.

From the top of Polly Shortts, another 7KM was what is remained for us and we have about an hour to finish it off. But it wasn’t to be an easy ride here for a remaining few climbs await. Once again she ask me to go ahead, telling me this time to run my fastest to the finish. I replied her that our fastest will come at the final 3KM, a  reference to my 2 other “Down” runs fastest split which was at the final 3KM.

Once exiting R103 (Polly Shortts stretch) and into Alexandra Road, I began to increase my pace and tried to pull Zijill along. But a mistake I did was to inform her that there will be no longer any climbs ahead for there is actually one more as we approach The Oval, along the housing area of Princess Margaret Drive. A bad slip of mind by myself which could cause some severe damage to the final result. But luckily we have created some time buffer for ourselves. And from here, we could finally see it, The Oval!

Into The Oval via the Toyota Mile.

Flying our Jalur Gemilang!

Took out the national flag as we ran down the final stretch of Toyota Mile before entering the stadium with a final 300M or so remaining. We held the flag together and ran along with loud cheers from the crowd and with about 100M to go, suddenly the familiar voice I heard during the early stages of the race came in between me and Zijill. It was David again running in between us just behind our national flag. With virtually neither pain nor soreness, only the runner’s high and the joy of seeing the finish gantry, all 3 of us in the spirit of Comrades ran together and completed the The Ultimate Human Race with 9 minutes to spare till the bronze cut off. My official time, 10:50:51 hours, my best achieved!

We finished it together!

An awesome job well done to Zijill for running the bronze medal on her first attempt as we gave each other a victory hug. And as usual, I took time to give the Comrades grass a tap as part of my respect to this great race. Tried to look for Sian but I guess she was busy walking around attending to tasks. Proceed to collect our medals and badge from the very friendly and supportive marshals as everyone congratulate us and each other on our runs before the people at Jetline took some photos of us. And although the runner’s high are still within us, the body soon began to shut down with core temperatures and heart rate dropping, not to mention muscles tightening up. Quickly, with Zijill and David, we dragged ourselves to the international tent to rest up and hopefully to get some food and drinks. On the way in, we spotted Dr. Yani and learnt that he was cut-off at Cato Ridge. Nevertheless, am still very proud of him for the brave effort in his very first ultra-marathon.

Found a spot to rest on, collected my baggage to put on some clothing before congratulating people around us. I found Bruce “Digger” and went over to him. Soon later, I spotted Kai Yuan too and went over to congratulate him on his awesome back to back achievement only to find both my calves giving way where I fell on him, before collapsing backwards. Was lucky I did not knock my head though as Bruce “Digger” was fast enough to grab me and lay me down on the grass while helping me out with my very painful calves. And it was an embarrassing moment when he introduced to his Australian runners the Malaysian Comrades Ambassador is now laying on the grass cramping! But it’s all for the fun of it.

With Zijill, David and Kai Yuan (seated).

Soon, Selva and Shanaz completed their respective runs too earning their back to back medals. All that is left is Dr. Jagjit. And while we waited, we were also reunited with Chee Kong who although did not run a Bill Rowan time, still managed his best “Up” run effort. You will get there my friend, I am sure you will. And as the 12 hour cut-off nears, we also learnt that Dr. Jagjit finally managed to compete his run too earning his back to back! Well done!

We are Team Malaysia!

Indeed I did not meet my targeted time of 10 hours. Indeed I did not meet my secondary targeted time of 10.30 hours. I knew I tried and overall it was still my best time for all 4 editions I ran in. However, all these are no longer important as instead, this run will go down as the most memorable and priceless to date as I crossed the finish line holding our national flag together with Zijill, a friend, a team mate and training partner. I THANK you for this Zijill!

And a little post mortem on myself for my fourth Comrades:

- I carried 3 energy gels with me as backup but I relied on none of it taking one sachet only to spit everything out during the first quarter of the race. Took a tablet of Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum Solids instead.

- Water was my primary hydration fuel with Energade and Coca-Cola being my secondary to satisfy some sugar craving. Accidentally took into some green soft drink once.

- Took 3 baby potatoes along the way.

- Overall satisfied with my heart rate readings as was trying to keep in range of 140 to 150 beats per minute. Average was at 138bpm. Did spike after Botha’s Hill but probably due to the tough climbs there. Also spike after Drummond probably caused by discomfort on the core area. Chee Kong also mentioned that the spikes may be caused by dehydration (will look into this area).

- Average cadence at 86rpm with highest at 137rpm at closing stages probably due to the anxiety of reaching The Oval.

- Starting temperature at Durban was 18C while 28.8C was detected by my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak as the highest reading during the entire race.

My splits.

The 90th edition of the Comrades Marathon saw 13006 runners finishing the 87.72KM epic race. That’s about 77% from the field, not exactly a great number though. Was glad the weather held up with 28.8C detected as the highest reading on my watch. But what I nearly forgot was how tough the hills were. Anyhow, still a very WELL DONE to all starters of the Comrades Marathon 2015. Regardless of results, each and every one of you are a true Comrades!



And to close off my fourth Comrades Marathon, I would like to thank the following for everything they have done in helping me achieve success in this edition of The Ultimate Human Race:

- My parents for putting up with my training for all the past few months leading up to the race.

- Zijill for the company through the hard training days and for not grumbling through it. Thanks a lot too for making my fourth Comrades a super meaningful and memorable one where we tackled the remaining 30KM or so together and in running through the finishing chute holding together our national flag and crossing the finish gantry side by side.

- Team Malaysia of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon which includes Jamie, Nick, Kew, Choon Yuen, Julia, Yan Leng and Jeanie for the training times, support and laughter together .

- Chee Kong and Mei-Ee for once again planning most of the overall trip to South Africa.

- The rest of Team Malaysia of the Comrades Marathon from Susanah, CP, Cham, Selva, Dr. Wong, Selva, Dr. Jagjit, Dr. Yani, Shanaz and Roy.

- The team behind CARIF and Be Frank for the awesome support all these years in making my run even more special.

- To the Comrades King himself, Bruce Fordyce  and to coach Lindsey Parry for the valuable advice and training programs.

- Team Saucony Malaysia for more than the morale and gear support all these years. And to Glynn, Ali and Mia from Saucony South Africa for the wonderful annual reunion each year.

- Sian, Thami and the rest from the Comrades Marathon Association for the assistance provided in helping me in the role as an ambassador.

- My South African friends from Caroline, Anthony, Susan Bold, Claudia, Pierre, Willie, Brad, Ric, Philip, Steve, Dave, Manette and Johann for the friendship across the miles together. It was great to see you guys again! And not forgetting Susan Hui too from Canada (always a Comrades).

- My friends from Scotland from Chun Hock, Jack, Edmund, Luke, Hong Jie and Serene for the support and company during this year’s build up and post Comrades trip.

- The rest of my international friends and colleagues from David, Kai Yuan, Bruce “Digger”, Amit, John, Sasie and Mikkel.

- Friends back home for supporting and tracking us!

29 May 2016 awaits next!


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

7 comments:

Kevin Siah said...

Solid run and another Comrades finish to your cap, well done Frank! Congrats on nailing a PB too!

Nick Phillips said...

Great stuff, Frank. Excited just reading this report! Would love to experience this in real life but I just don't have the legs for it.

Congrats to you and also to Zijill on a job well done!

Siew Eng Lee said...

Hi Frank, can I check whether there's any coca-cola bottles given to you guys for the 2015 marathon? Thanks!

Frank Chong said...

Yes, there was a metal bottle of Coca-Cola in the race pack.

Siew Eng Lee said...

Hi Frank, thanks for your prompt reply. Are you willing to sell it? I would like to buy if you are willing to sell it. Thanks!

Frank Chong said...

Sorry but this is a priceless memento.

Siew Eng Lee said...

Ok no problem, do let me know if any of your friends who have taken part is willing to sell. Thanks!