Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016, Rewind Of My 10th Year...

By Frank

Another year came, another year passes. It sounds so familiar and as we aged, this phrase seems to come faster too. And with year 2016 coming to an end in a few hours time, here's again to reflect back on the year it has been. Will only touch on running here this year round as honestly, the first 9 month's of the year has been pretty emotionally tough with passing of friends and patients to cancer.

2016 was meant to be my 10th year of running. To be precise, it will only start in the month of March 2016. But celebration can't come sooner that December 2015, when I was successful in my ballot for the West Highland Way Race in Scotland, the final race that was in my to do list. Building on a strong 2015 I had and continuing my momentum from there, all my resources was concentrated into this race as well as Comrades Marathon, as I continue into the new year. 

January 2016
Swinging into the new year in high momentum with a new mission in hand, my training plan as given by coach was all laid out together with my diet plan under the "Low Carbs High Fat" plan. With an unsuccessful ballot for the Vibram Hong Kong 100, my first race for the year was the Watergate 16 Hours. Didn't do well there though only managing 60KM in close to 10 hours due to my usual sleep factor but it did "wake me up" to try rectify this problem which I normally have to face during long distance races over the night. Nevertheless, I was in no panic mode and carried on with my regime and eventually finding myself at the Cyberjaya Twincity Marathon which I enjoyed very much with Soon Chung.

February 2016
The second month of the year was just to continue and improve on from the first. And with the Chinese New Year celebration, it may sound like a derailment for me. But what actually that derailed my training was due to an unfortunate accident that involved mum and Bailey. But was glad nothing much more serious happened and that everything was back to normal for them and me as we head towards the end of the month where I paid a visit to Gunung Nuang, for the 12 hours ultra there. My second attempt here and there were already positive results being shown which boosted my confidence.

March 2016
The third month came, and besides the month that marks my 10th year of running, it's also the month where I remember all of the 24 months of cancer fighting. In terms of training, it wasn't easy and I had to readjust as I soon notice that my usual group's training regime isn't helping at all. I had to improvised quickly for this is a critical month and managed to do just that with Twilight Ultra Challenge taking place in mid month covering 80KM in 13 hours. Not exactly ideal but was certainly productive as the month concluded with really positive results.

April 2016
All the first 3 months of training and sacrifices began to show here. I felt stronger and fresher during my training and with all the energy and strength gained, Route 68 Challenge was like an early trial for me. However, had a scare during the start of the month when I experienced the "dead leg syndrome", probably due to over used of it. But glad there was nothing about it, and my legs was performing as it's best when I ran a pretty good Route 68 Challenge. From there, I knew I was ready for both my big races ahead. What I had to do is to maintain on it and to avoid any potential injuries.

May 2016
It's all about getting ready here. Despite leaving my job at Running Lab (yes I resigned!) late last month, I was actually pretty busy with other stuff such as photo-shoots and product launches, both associated with Saucony. And yes, this is also the month that I parted ways with Saucony as their athlete to give way for new blood to join the team.

As for my 5th Comrades, for the first time, I am not raising funds for Cancer Research Malaysia this time round due to personal reasons and I am glad that they understood and stood by my decision. There were no races this month as I slowly tapered off my training before eventually flying off to South Africa on 25 May, 4 days before my first big race, the Comrades Marathon.

Half a decade of Comrades.

An accidental personal best of 10:27:07 hours at my 5th Comrades Marathon was achieved and was glad everything was good despite being my weaker "Down" run. That certainly boosted my confidence as all the sacrifices are showing results. Nevertheless, it was just a short stay at South Africa this time before I flew over to Scotland to recover and prepare myself for the West Highland Way Race 3 weeks later.

June 2016
The main highlight of my running career took place in this month, some halfway around where I came from. Running 152KM across the iconic Scottish highlands, the West Highland Way, a completion of this race will make my running achievement come full circle. Wasn't an easy race for I ran, walk, limp, struggled, slept and even pooped during my entire journey from Milngavie to Fort William. But I had a strong and supportive crew of Angela, Alexa, Chee Kong and Edmund who take care of me as I successfully finish off the race in a much faster time than estimated. And not only them, my "warm Scottish family" who were out there in full force were also there when I tackled through the trails. Indeed, everything of my running career came full circle here as I crossed the finish line at Lochaber Leisure Centre. My race report to my West Highland Way Race 2016 HERE.

My amazing WHWR team.

My moment of truth.

July and August 2016
After achieving what I set out to do, I began my totally deserved rest and also started a new career. Runs were kept to a minimal as I started to enjoy myself on the weekend. Nothing much happened for these 2 months as life was carefree and good.

September 2016
First race since West Highland Way Race, I know myself I was up for trouble at my third attempt at Back 2 Endurance. All I wanted was a Comrades distance in 12 hours and though I only managed the "Up' run distance, I was content with my performance. After all, it was my "downtime". And also, that it was after this race, that I needed to get my tooth fix. I was referring to my problematic left lower wisdom tooth which had been disturbing me for a couple of years already. And hence I had it removed through a very scary surgery procedure which left me out of action from physical activities for almost 3 weeks. And it was after that it had all settled down, that an "emergency trip" with Yang Leng and Piew to Gunung Nuang was done traversing through it, to prepare ourselves for the upcoming Cameron Ultra-Trail.

October 2016
Looking forward to get back into a little running at a brand new local event at the Cameron Ultra-Trail. Not for the faint hearted, this event was tough as I suffered badly at the final quarter of the run heading up and down the 2 peaks. But it was through this event, that my friendship with Wai Hong grew stronger when the both of us made our journey back together from halfway point. There is too much to say about my experience with him so I suggest you click on my race report link to read more on what we both went through together. Thanks Wai Hong for being that friend that stood by me at the peaks of Cameron Highlands. And indeed, this event was an eye opener to many and it will be an important preparation to what lies ahead next month.

Tasty oranges at Cameron Ultra-Trail.

Completing the Cameron Ultra-Trail with Wai Hong.

November 2016
November seems to be an important month.  With 3 weekly back to back events, I had to be careful with my expectations as it involves my Comrades qualifier for next year's edition. With almost no runs since the Cameron Ultra Trail last month and with my return to Running Lab (yes, I made a u-turn), I faced the Bromo Tengger Semeru (BTS) Ultra like a rookie runner. Yes, the BTS Ultra will mark my step forward into my next chapter of running, towards the "unexplored territory" beyond my comfort zone. I may not have complete my 10th year of running but since the opportunity came, I guess I might as well grab it and give myself  a head start. Besides I had no expectations from it and even before the race, I knew my chances of suffering a DNF (Did Not Finish) will be high.

And so, it happened. With barely any experience running on volcanic terrain and a fall I suffered 3 quarter distance into the race, I threw in the flag and earned my 3rd DNF of my running career. I may have plenty of time to make the distance, but with risky conditions, I did not want to risk it. I wasn't sore at all with my decision but was glad that I actually was brave enough to take up the challenge. And after all, I had a memorable holiday too.

Next to Mount Bromo's crater.

The week later, was my Comrades qualifier at the Putrajaya Night Marathon. Again, very low expectations for this and I only hope to complete it within 5 hours. Jut slightly below 5 hours I did, suffering from halfway distance. But most importantly, my ticket to Comrades is secured.

Then my final event for this triple weekend back to back and also my final race for the year. A downgrade from the previous 2 editions, I opt for the 78KM distance at this year's Putrajaya Ultra, running together with Jeannie, Jamie and Nick. A steady run which not I only felt good, but somehow satisfied to help them through the distance. And with that, my running for this year came to an early "end", as I took a long rest in trying to rebuild my career and my hope to spend time with someone important.

December 2016
Things didn't go pretty well in life here. Struck down my migraine in the early days of the month that prolonged till the end of the year, everything that I hope for was derailed. I was supposed to even jump start my training for next year with the Vibram Hong Kong 100 fast approaching on the 3rd Sunday of January 2017, but I guess I have to lower my expectations for that race now. Guess this is the result from taking a too long break from running. 3 years of improving from strength to strength, this is where I am going back to square 1 again.

And with all that from above, a total of 3,128KM was ran in the entire 2016 with more than 2,000KM coming from the first half of the year.

As most welcome the new year for a much welcome change and a renew hope, it won't be particular easy for me as 2017 will be the year I start to seek out new frontiers. Call it my second chapter of my running career and with my failed attempt at BTS 2016, I know that the new "adventures" and "challenges" I seek will not be an easy one. I expect lots of DNFs (Did Not Finish), but without trying, I will not know. After all, it's this that makes one look further.

Won't touch further on things here, but all I can say is that I foresee 2017 to be a really difficult for me. Building on a new career, getting into my second chapter of running, juggling time for personal matters and also trying to come to terms with other things, 2017 might just not be the year that will be smooth for me. But since I was given the opportunity for yet another year, I will embrace it for all I can since moving forward is the only option. So AYE, Happy New Year to everyone!

Coming full circle in my first 10 years of running.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Putrajaya 78KM 2016...

Event: Putrajaya 78KM 2016
Venue: Taman Sri Empangan, Putrajaya
Date: 19 November 2016
Time: 9.00PM
Distance: 78KM (78.1KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7 RunShield
By Frank

Despite getting lost on the first edition of the Putarjaya 100KM 2 years back, this event has proven to be a pretty good "hunting" ground for me. Organised by the friendly people at Team Pacat, the same organiser as Cameron Ultra, this event is a very friendly and community based non-competitive one. With last year surprisingly emerging as the men's champion for the 100KM distance, only to be out-ran by Siaw Hua, the heart and legs wanted to return for a third 100KM here. However, with Nick and Jamie registering themselves in the 78KM distance, I thought that it will be a good idea to be running with them. Besides, it's not always that we get to see these 2 fellows running beyond the marathon distance. And with that, 78KM it is then, a downgrade for me.

However, during my trip to Bromo, I was informed by Jeannie that she too had register herself for the 78KM distance. I am glad she did, upgrading herself and rising to the challenge as she successfully completed the 52KM last year. With her participation in this, I decided to lend her my support in helping her get through it.

I decided to lay back on Saturday in trying to get the most sleep and rest I could. However, things didn't turn out as planned as I was awaken and disturbed big time as early as at 6.30AM. I managed to sleep back in though it wasn't a smooth one as phone messages were still coming in. I finally gave up and woke up at 10AM. Coffee was my best fix for the long night ahead later as most of you know, that although I can go pretty long till I eat something, I normally will crash early due to sleepiness.

I left home at 3.30PM picking Jeannie up from Bandar Utama before Jamie at Puchong. We then proceeded to Seri Kembangan for an early dinner and I was glad there was beetroot juice offered at the place we dine. Though slightly diluted,  I was rather happy with it as it help wash down the "pan mee" I had.

Dark rain clouds were hovering over the sky everywhere from Seri Kembangan to Putrajaya, a sign of a very wet race later, or will it? Arrived at Taman Seri Empangan at about 6.30PM I think and proceeded to collect our race pack. I was rather surprised that the volunteers did not check through my mandatory gear though despite me reminding them twice if they are sure. This is so wrong, as should anything happen to me or other runners due to lack of gear, who is to be blamed? Hope the organisers will constantly remind volunteers of this important procedure for their other races cause it can help make a difference between life and death. Like mandatory gears, this is a mandatory check!

With 2 more hours till the race gets underway, we just hung around the area doing what most people do best nowadays, playing around with our phone. Nick who booked himself a room at Dorsett is happily resting there. Leong joined us a while later who came to lend us some support.

With the Saucony ambassadors ready to rock Putrajaya.

Anyway, fast forwarding ahead, Arman the race director gave us some last minute race briefing before singing our national anthem. And at 9PM sharp, some 40 of us started our journey. We slowly made our way to the Gemilang Bridge and even joked among all of us on why is nobody running yet? Hahaha... However, the pace started to slowly pick up as we approached Dataran Gemilang. Nick was setting the pace while I was with Jeannie and Jamie following him slightly behind. Cheryl and Lum are also running and it was their fast time and they settled with us too with Leong supporting.

With Jeannie and Cheryl on their first 78KM.

And just before arriving at the Palace of Justice, I was glad that everyone noticed that the pace was a little to fast to begin with. Everyone slowed down and regroup as we saw a few familiar faces making their return trip from their 100KM adventure. Some of them were Budiman and Ben. They were fast, much faster than my winning time of last year. And I can't say how much I am happy for Budiman who took on a more realistic distance after 2 failed attempts at the 160KM.

As I slowed to chat with my friends, Jeannie had went ahead with Nick. No worries though as I slowly made my way heading towards the Prime Minister's office where I caught up with the rest, up the steps before heading to to the first check point just beside the lake, below the Gemilang Bridge. Leong bid farewell to us here after running 10KM with us.

There was water aplenty at the first check point ranging from mineral water to isotonic. However, sad to find out that there weren't' much food here except for some kaya sandwich and watermelons which was running low and the cuts were rather small. Indeed not a good sign and was way below standard compared to last year. Oh and yes, even timing was manually recorded as they had some issues with the timing provider.

Nick and Jamie had continued on while I waited for Jeannie and Cheryl before we took off together to round the core island of Putrajaya. I allowed both of them to set the pace while I followed. While the rest had taken off, we were then joined by Choon Yuen, Richi, Zijill and Julia who came to support on their bikes. At McDonalds just down the road, we all regroup once more before deciding that Nick, Jamie and Lum will go ahead, while I stayed back with the 2 ladies.

The 4 on their bicycles were constantly cycling ahead and back to us to check on both groups. About halfway around the core island, I noticed that our elapsed time wasn't exactly very favourable and hence suggested to the ladies that we should start counting the streetlamps where we will run for 10 of them before walking 5 of them. It started well but we eventually lost count. Hahaha... But it still got us back to the first check point below the Gemilang Bridge which is now acting as the second check point. As we arrived, Nick and Jamie with few other runners already started making their way to the third check point at Taman Cabaran.

After refueling, we headed our way towards Pullman Hotel around the lake before heading towards Putrajaya International Convention Centre where we will turn right into Taman Cabaran. Along the way, there were more 100KM runners making their return trip and one of them was Kim Song where we stopped to have a brief chat. And just before arriving at the check point, we once again saw Nick and Jamie making their way.

Had a pretty lengthy stop at Taman Cabaran as I was told to go ahead by Jeannie. I was reluctant to do so but she assured me that both herself and Cheryl will know the way and will make it to the finish. After hesitating for a while, I agreed and gear up myself to chase down Nick and Jamie. And with everything in place and a pair of still pretty fresh legs, I zoomed off feeling rather fresh after a spray of bio water and managed to maintain myself at about 160 beats per minute heart rate at about 5.30 minutes pace.

I managed to pass a few runners en route to Persiaran Selatan as I soon arrived at the long miserable stretch of the rolling highway. Was glad that most street lamps were operational as I ran on the motorcycle lanes though certain stretch was pitch black like the underpasses. But as my headlmap was on full power mode, I navigated with ease as I try to spot a green blinking light (Nick's blinker) and a blue one (Jamie's blinker).

I think it was almost 5KM since I left the check point before I finally spotted 2 headlamps seated by the roadside. Yes, it was both Nick and Jamie and it appears that Nick was struggling with his knee which has swelled up. He asked the both of us to go ahead as he needed some time to relieve the discomfort but we did not want to leave him behind. We needed to get him at least to the check point at Taman Rimba Alam for safety concerns and will let him decide there if he should continue on. We weren't in a hurry and just took the opportunity to rest up a for a while before he finally got back up and resume the journey, slowly walking into it.

When 2 78KM runners meets the 100 Miles runner.

It wasn't long again before we stopped by for a chat, but this time with the leading 100 Miler runner, A familiar face. It was our friend Jeff! Good for him for he was leading by a huge distance. We pushed on after wishing Jeff the best of luck as we started to climb a little towards the mid span of the highway. Jamie pulled ahead when I noticed that Nick was struggling with the climb and decided to slow down to regroup with him. And when we got to the top, Nick managed to find some momentum and strength to run a little down hill before exiting the highway into the Lebuh Perdana Timur before finally turning uphill towards the check point. And there will always be a hill for us to conquer before the check point, huh! Was taking my time and hence gulp down a can of black coffee I had with me before finally arriving to a very dark check point with only a single light bulb lighting the area. Shame on the municipal!

All 3 of took our own sweet time to recompose. As my head was itchy, I took a bottle of ice cold water and rinse it while scrubbing my scalp. It felt really good but could been better if I had some shampoo with me. Haha... While doing so, I heard someone snoring which at first I thought was a 100 Miles runner. But apparently, it was one of the volunteers. Volunteering can be tiring, so respect the volunteers ya!

With myself and Jamie ready to go, we gave Nick some words of encouragement and let him decide whether to push on or call it a night. Both of us slowly restarted our journey back and just before the turn-off back into Persiarang Selatan, we saw 2 ladies making their way to Taman Rimba Alam. It was Jeannie and Cheryl! I am so glad to be seeing both of them here and that lifted all our mood. AM sure they will do just fine as after all, they aren't very far apart from us. And with Nick still resting at the check point, they may just help each other.

We started to run a little once we re-entered the highway but soon realised that we needed to climb a little. We were about a marathon into the run already and surprisingly, I was still feeling rather good. Must been the earlier coffee and my hair wash! We power walked up the slope into darkness before soon spotting 2 headlamps heading our way. We at first was surprised to see that there were more runners heading towards Taman Rimba Alam but soon, we realised that they were actually Yan Leng and Piew who came to lend us support.! Many thanks! And with them, we managed to find our groove too as our pace increased tremendously, like say marathon pace! We were heading back fast, and managed to passed some other runners. Good on you legs!

With companionship, the supposedly long torturous stretch of Persiaran Selatan was soon behind us as we arrived at Taman Cabaran feeling still pretty awake. Despite that, Piew offered me a can of black coffee that he had with him since he started running with us. He had 5 cans with him and with all 5 distributed among ourselves, he mentioned he felt much lighter. Haha...

It was only less than 7KM to the next check point by the lake side via Pullman Hotel. But with one whole can of black coffee just going into my tummy, I needed some time for it to settle down as I slowly walk it off. The gap within myself and the trio was getting bigger but I needn't panic for I slowly resume my run and finally managed to catch them up just before arriving at the check point.

There were signs of sun rise as we refueled ourselves. It's not going to be another mentally torturous section around the core island and I hope to get by it with ease like the earlier highway section. We resume our journey by walking and it was a rather lengthy one. And for those who know, my walking speed is pretty miserable. I was loosing sights of them but I knew they were just ahead. And when the sun is finally up, I removed my reflective vest and also my headlamp which was a much relieve to me, especially my head.

Feeling "lighter" on my head, I began to play catch up to the trio ahead and caught up just before arriving at the park near the Prime Minister's office. And just ahead, we bid farewell to Yan Leng and Piew as they needed to head home for family duties awaits. Thank you for coming and supporting us through the night.

I continued on with Jamie, walking for most of the journey here. At this point of time, despite still feeling rather awake, my foot bed of my right foot is actually aching and I can't wait to reach the check point to have my shoes and socks removed. That I did when I arrived there and gave a good massage to my poor foot before lacing up for the final 10KM.

The final 7KM.

The final 10KM will bring us through all the administrative offices within the core island. The exact same way where we first started our race yesterday night. First we needed to head towards the Prime Minister's office some 5KM away. We started with a 100KM runner who was on sandals and went towards the wrong way. I gave him a good shout to bring him back to the race route and he remained with us for a while as he was just too out of focus at that time. He joined up with his friends later as I continued with Jamie till the park just next to the Prime Minister's office where we rested for a moment. It was also here where we learnt that Nick has call it quits back at Taman Cabaran after about 54KM while Jeannie and Cheryl was still moving forward.

Hanging on.

We pushed for our final 5KM using markers such as street lamps, bus stops and dustbins to allow our legs to run and also to rest. It worked well and after 12:55 hours and through the Gemilang Bridge one more time, we soon arrived back at Taman Sri Empangan completing the third edition of this Putrajaya ultra race with a distance of 78KM.

Glad to have made it without any "tire puncture".

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my performance at Putrajaya 78KM, definitely better than last weekend's Putrajaya Night Marathon. Legs was feeling rather good and surprisingly, I managed to stay awake. I had 7 cups or cans of coffee since yesterday morning till during the race and that kept me going I think. Talk about caffeine overdose!

We ran Putrajaya 78KM! We didn't drive ya. 

After hanging around and cleaning up, together with Jeff who eventually won the 100 Miles category (WELL DONE JEFF!), we headed to the newly open McDonald's for a quick meal and also some over ordering of french fries, and also catching up before driving them home respectively.

With Jeff, the 100 Miles champion holding our ticket to our cheat, I mean recovery meal.

As for the event itself, although I did enjoyed it, I personally felt it was downgrade in terms of quality compared to last year's edition especially in the food department where lesser varieties was served. As for the directional markers, there were hit and misses but the organisers did provide the GPX files for reference so that is actually pretty acceptable, at least for me. But I was glad that Saucony managed to be able to sponsor this event as the official shoe and had sponsored 12 pairs of shoes to the 12 finisher's of the 100 Miles category. I am just glad that my suggestion did somehow managed to pull through at the final hour. Phew...

For what Putrajaya 78KM is to me this year which I enjoyed very much once again, it was my final race for this year as I decided to give myself a lengthy break before resuming with Comrades training. And it was also a fruitful one as both Jeannie and Cheryl ran their furthest when they successfully completed the 78KM distance. Well done ladies! But for many others, I believe we all will miss this run as according to Team Pacat, this third edition will probably be the final one as the authorities has decided to increased the rentals and charges for not only the venues, but also the check points. What a shame but I do hope something can be done else, we might just see Team Pacat moving this event to another place which may also be favourable to us runners.

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