Thursday, September 29, 2016

Go West...

By Frank

Since 2015, the word “West” has played a part in my running career. The decision to enter myself into the West Highland Way Race 2016 and missing the opportunity to qualify for the world prestigious and oldest 100 mile trail race, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (WS100) by 5 minutes 8 seconds at HK100. A couple of weeks back, the word returned into my head in trying to persuade me to “Go West” again, and thus, there has been a little brainstorming for me since then as I found out that through the West Highland Way Race 2016, I have finally qualified myself for WS100.

Regarded by many runners as the “Must” run or their bucket list run, I don’t deny that I would really like to run it myself though it isn’t on my to do list. In fact, all the runs that I wanted to run has now been ran and that I have nothing left for. From road to trail and mountain, the marathon distance, to 100KM to 160KM, Comrades Marathon and the West Highland Way Race, I am happy with what I have achieved myself and where I am today. In fact, I have slowed down a lot since returning from Scotland this year and have just gained that little weight in me as I took some time off from running.

I knew that the WS100 is always held in the month of June meaning that it will be really close to Comrades Marathon. The concern isn’t about being able to run it or not after the demanding Comrades as I have done it this year with the West Highland Way Race which was 3 weeks apart, but rather the hassle in travelling to the United States since there is a need of Visa application for Malaysian passport holders and also the logistics for the entire travel itinerary.

Then of course, the West Highland Way Race which falls on the same exact date as WS100 next year. Yes, I have successfully done it but that doesn’t mean that I will not be making a return (*hint hint) for a second time as Scotland is just so worth my time. My friends, the highlands, loch, food, etc…, they are all worth it. Nuff said. Besides, the goblet is feeling lonely and may be a good idea to find it a companion.

And so yes, it’s not a difficult decision after all as I decided not to enter myself into WS100, at least for now. Yes, it may be a chance wasted but again, it’s not exactly important to me. And of course, Scotland is just too way hard to resist and I rather be there surrounded with good vibes (not midges).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back 2 Endurance 2016...

Event: Back 2 Endurance 2016
Venue: Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur
Date: 04 September 2016
Time: 6.30AM
Distance: 2.3KM per loop. To run as many in 12 hours.
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

The 4th edition of Back 2 Endurance, my third since I missed the first 3 years back saw a shift of month from the usual June to September this time round due to the fasting period and probably risk of haze. I was quite happy to learn about this cause if it remained in the month of June, I will have probably missed it since I probably be still at Scotland back then.

Despite being a tough event, it's one that I do enjoy as a looping race brings together the running community. And being my third in a row, Jeff, the race director told me that I had a shot to be included into their "Hall of Fame" should I managed a gold award again by running at least 37 loops which will total up to 85.1KM in distance. Though I wasn't in pursuit for that famed title or race positions, I had my own goal in running 39 loops which will total up to the Comrades "Down" distance of 89.7KM. This I had done the previous 2 years with last year a loop less due to the "Up" run being shorter. And it will be a “sending off “ run for my Comrades race shoe each year and this time will be my Kinvara 7.

My third year in a row Back 2 Endurance.

With triple issues of a bad shoulder blade, tummy and tooth gum the past few days, I got to bed pretty early the night before hoping to get at least 6 hours of quality sleep. However, that did not happen as my phone's LED was flashing with WhatsApp messages despite putting it on silent mode. WhatsApp can be useful but at the same time damn irritating too. Anyhow, I managed about 4 hours sleep and woke up at 2AM to prepare myself. Everything went smoothly and by 5.00AM, I arrived at Perdana Botanical Gardens to find some runners had already arrived! I wanted to arrive early to secure a good parking spot near the race site as there had been issues with car break ins there. And I managed just that, parking next to Roy, which was just beside the race site.

With my left gum near my wisdom tooth was still irritating me, I rested in the car for a while before realising that I needed some activity to distract me from the pain. Therefore, I geared up and headed to the race site to mingle with the crowd when suddenly, a lady name Carolyn Hare came to me and asked about my Scottish Saltire Buff. By asking, I instantly knew that she was a Scot and not only that, she was a support runner at this year's West Highland Way Race!

Fast forwarding ahead, it was a shot briefing by Jason and at 6.30AM sharp, the event started. I started in mid pack and went off slowly, slowly bringing up my core temperature and settle into my pace. Knowing that my fitness level and strength has dropped a lot since 2 months back, it will take some effort this time in trying to hit my desired distance. Once settled into pace, I was averaging my heart rate at around 135 beats per minute which was very comfortable. But what surprised me was that I was still managing a 6 minutes pace with that heart rate. Definitely am very happy with that but the question is, how long will I last as the heat will soon rise and my legs will soon tire. Not wanting to think too much about that, I continue on with my aim.

Nothing much happened on my first 5 loops or so and everything went well without much distraction. Most of the faster runners were already way ahead with the rest settling into their own rhythm, some of them just wanting to have fun while others challenging themselves to try hit a new personal distance. I only started my hydration on my 6 loop drinking from a provided polycarbonate mug from the organisers. A pretty good green gesture from them to reduce wastage but I question the reason behind the plastic and papers cups that was used as a backup. I personally think that the rules should be firm on this when it was already stated down clearly and runners should not take advantage of this especially when the runners here don’t seem to learn.

Anyway, the half marathon distance was achieved without much unfortunate events. Legs were fine and heart rate was still stable. However I began to felt hungry and was craving for some fruits especially watermelons. However to my horror, all the food served was pretty dry like biscuits (not crackers) and cakes. Way too sugary for me as I starred at the volunteers in charge of this which of no surprise, it wasn’t their first time. There were lots of watermelons and oranges being unloaded before the start and what was the reason behind not serving them? Temperature not hot enough? Not time yet? Forgotten? I was lazy to argue or even to ask and kept going hoping that it will be served upon completing the next loop.

A mental game of going through loops over 12 hours.

Loops after loops, no fruits were served as my heart rate began to spike as the temperature sets in. And it was still not noon yet. I kept my tri top’s zipper down to allow maximum airflow and also began to pour water over my head to keep my temperature down. It slowed me down a little as after pouring, I had to refill my mug with ice for it to cool when I return the next loop. However, I had a trick which was that I left a spare bottle on the next table which allowed me to save a little time as I can grab that and run with it. And by saving that little time, means saving my legs from “stiffening” during my stops.

Yew Khuay who was ahead of me by 1 loop caught up with me and we did a few loops together. Great to have him for company again as we continuously push each other, like the experience we had back at last year’s Putrajaya 100. The difference this time is that he had his phone with him and he was hunting Pokemon! With him, I hit the marathon distance just 3 minutes below 5 hours. Legs were feeling sore and tired, with some pain coming from the top of my left foot, I took the opportunity rest and to have my lunch which was being served. A variety of fried rice and noodles were served but what important was that the fruits were finally out now!

15 minutes was used for lunch as I had an enjoyable time chatting with Jason and Wai Hong at the same time too. And when I resume, I had to walk 2 loops to digest off my lunch. That wasn’t in my plans but it had to be done.  My left foot felt a little better but the afternoon heat has arrived and I was really surprised to see Carolyn for the first time since the start and that she was handling the heat pretty well. We did a few loops together and found out that she has been staying at Brunei for the past few years. That explains the reason. She was a strong runner and I had a good time chatting with her everything Scottish related before I myself had a shocked when she told me that she had my book!

Pushing through in the heat with Carolyn.

Carolyn’s was a “touch and go” runner and she didn’t stop very long at the end of each loop. And that was when I lost touch with her as I kept cooling myself down by pouring water over my head. Apparently she was handling the heat better than this Malaysian! Although it was hot, the humidity was acceptable as I kept shouldering on, one loop at a time, and soon it was 6 hours and we changed direction.

When things started to get really tough for me, I started with a new strategy which was to walk the first 300M stretch from the start of the loop which was of pavement before running till the end of the lake. Walking the short stretch around the lake before running all the way to complete the loop. It worked pretty well as it gave my legs some time to recover but as my pace wasn’t there, I was slowly losing time to complete my desired distance. Realistically still able to hit 37 loops and hence with that, I downgraded my expectations.

I began to think about my first attempt at this event 2 years back where I had Susanah paced me during the fourth quarter of the run. She helped me achieved the Comrades distance that year with a further push from Wai Hong for the final loop. It’s those memories that give me some motivational push and strength as I slowly dig deeper into myself.

With some new found strength, I managed to cut back a little deficit and made up some time. And realistically now, I am able to push for 38 loops which will give me the Comrades “Up” run distance of 87KM. It won’t be easy but I will definitely give it a go. I reduced my stops as I grab and ran with my bottle drinking and pouring water over myself with it. The momentum swung back to me and with 37 loops down, I just had 1 more to go.

Slightly less than 40 minutes left before the 12 hours cut off. Realistically, 90KM can be done, but the risk will be high. Not wanting to risk any injuries, my mind was set to do 1 final loop to achieve 87KM. And that final loop, I had the privilege to run it together with Yew Khuay and we made it back safely with 19 minutes to go. It was certainly enough to do 1 more loop but enough was enough. I am happy with 87KM and after all, it’s still a Comrades distance, a “Up” run distance and all done in 11:40:10 crawling back from position 20, 14 to 11, 8 and finally 7.

Completing my final loop with Yew Khuay. 
Not posing but rather pointing to Yew Khuay as a mark of respect.

Chilling out with Yew Khuay and Kelvin.

I stayed back to rest up while cheering for other runners. And one runner that I was cheering for was no other than Carolyn who was out doing her final 39 loop. And when she returned, I notice that she was running barefoot as her shoe’s midsole had come undone.  But the important thing I noticed was that she had her Scottish Saltire Buff on, the same as mine as I welcomed her “home” as champion of the women’s category. AYE!

A WeFie with the women's champion, Carolyn from Scotland! AYE!

Generally speaking, this was my poorest performance of my 3 runs at Back 2 Endurance. But looking at how things went after deciding to slow down after West Highland Way Race, I was happy after all. I knew at the start that it was going to be tough, but as the Comrades saying goes, “Hard is what makes it great” and I am glad I decided to give it a go after all.

Got toasted under the sun.

Overall, another well done to Jeff and Jason for yet another event especially when Jeff just returned from UTMB a few days ago. Despite some similar hiccups like the serving of fruits mentioned earlier, it was still an enjoyable no frills event. Will I be back the next year? If the event date is right, I might just will, but don’t think there will be any more pressure in trying to hit that Comrades distance. 3 times is already enough and with this done, I need to get some dental issue done over with and it will be an extremely painful one. Gulps…

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