Monday, January 28, 2013

Festival of Running - Year to Year 6 Days Circuit Race 2012...

Event: Festival of Running - Year to Year 6 Days Circuit Race 2012
Venue: PHSOB Club, Queen's Crescent, Lynwood, Pretoria, South Africa
Date: 26 December 2012
Time: 12.30pm (South Africa time, GMT +2)
Distance: 500M per lap (to run as many laps in 6 days/ / 144 hours)
Shoe: Saucony Hattori, Saucony Kinvara TR and Saucony Kinvara 3
By Frank

Sorry it took so long for this entry to be posted up, exactly a month after the event. Was so very tied down with work and other stuff after returning. So many to catch up, so little time. Nevertheless, it's finally up so hope you enjoy my write-up.

The Festival of Running Year to Year 6 Days Circuit Race is a running event held at Pretoria from 26 December 2012 to 1 January 2013. It’s being run on a 500M IAAF certified track field within a cricket stadium. 2 stretches consist of a field track while another 2 is made up of dirt track.  As the event starts at 12pm on 26 December 2012, I will blog and name each day entry base on the 12pm time as each days conclude after 24 hours. The direction of the run alternates every 8 hours being clockwise and anti-clockwise hence giving us the runners varieties of ups and downs.

Day 1 – 26 December 2012
The morning started not too shabby despite a tiring day of travel yesterday. And I was glad that Chee Kong has most of the essential stuff for the race sorted out and ready for transport. And once everything is loaded into both the cars (Volkswagen Jetta and GMW Hover), we were ready to leave for Pretoria which is about 30KM away. But before doing so, a quick breakfast at Fourways McDonald’s outlet.

By about 9.30am if not mistaken, we arrived at the race venue, the Phobians Club. After searching around and meeting up with new friend courtesy of Chee Kong’s introduction, we found a spot for ourselves which is next to Team New Balance, a group of people that Chee Kong is close with and also in front of Ric Marini’s camp. It isn’t too far away from the start/finish gantry which makes shower and potty loo needs much easier. Besides, it’s somewhere halfway around the 500m track race course hence it’s a perfect location for resting and also motivational push.

We quickly got started with building up our camp site. However, due to poor planning, we started off shabbily. And with my almost zero experience in building camp sites, I appear to be no help at all. Mei-Ee who was 5 to 6 months carrying a little baby inside her, even helped me build my little camp. Hats off to her and shame to me!

At 10.30am, we were required to attend the race briefing which takes place at the cafeteria nearby. It was chaired by Eric Frank Wright the race director, his wife Marlene and a few other referees. Honestly speaking, I couldn't quite understand his English ascent at first. But information was passed down very straight forward and with Chee Kong’s help, I got the info into my head. And apparently, the direction of the run will alternate between clockwise and anti-clockwise at every 8 hours. This will make things really interesting and will certainly give variety. Once everything is done, I collected my race pack which consist of a track top, track bottom and also my race number which is 77. Chee Kong’s number was 78.

A quick check on the race course before heading back to build the camp shows that although it is relatively flat, it has 2 slopes which one of them is made of a wooden bridge which may slowly kill off the legs if not tackle properly. And once we had an idea on how the race is going to be like, we headed back to camp site to continue with our setup and also preparation with our race gear. The race was to start at 12pm sharp and time was running out.

Our camp was not to be ready on time. With no choice, myself and Chee Kong headed off to the starting line. Mei-Ee continued with the building on her own. There were 40 of us running the 6 days event and as each name is being called out, a simple applause to honour the runners was done. My first shoe of choice was the Saucony Hattori coupled with the Drymax Hyper Thin Running socks. Excellent combination I will say which I will mention about it later into the run.

Flying the Jalur Gemilang...

At 12pm, the run was started. All of us were still fresh and has chatting and laughing as we started our run. Chee Kong ran 2 laps before heading off to continue with camp building while myself 4 laps before going to help him out. And during so, I met even more friends like Anthony, Renee, Malcolm, Eric Economo, K-G Nylstrom, Thea Wilkins, Shaun, Moosa and many more, just to name a few.

Purple ribbon for cancer research awareness accompanying me for the run

After about an hour’s time, our camp was finally set up albeit still a bit messy. We even had our notebook set up and it looks like some timing or marshaling site for the race. Chee Kong was next busy setting up his mobile TV connection as it was the 3rd day for the T20 cricket match between South Africa (Protea) and New Zealand (Black Caps) and every South African runners there will be interested to know how the game goes.

"Control centre" aka chill out corner of our camp site

Run or walk, you decide

Once I settled everything down, I continued on running. The race course on the field is tricky to tackle with. It was uneven on the field and certain sites were dirt roads which may be rocky. However, I was glad the low profile Hattori performed well in providing me stability on the grass and feedback on the dirt track. Oh, and did I mention that we were running clockwise first which we call it the “down” run, referring to the fact that we had to run down the wooden bridge. “Up” will be the opposite of course. It’s tough to say which is easier or tougher, but I kind of prefer the “up” anytime.

Going "down" the wooden bridge

And so I kept going till and by around 3pm, a late lunch was served which was sausage burger. Took a break at the bar watching cricket there with Chee Kong and Mei-Ee and by the time I was done, the Protea was already hammering the Black Caps. I resumed my run while they continued and judging from the formation of clouds, we are expecting rain anytime soon.

Food and refreshment are all served from here

The rain came in early evening and it messed up my run. I am not a rain person and went into hiding when it came. We packed all our electrical stuff up as it was a heavy downpour.  I hid in Chee Kong’s camp which is much bigger and rested for a while having dinner before deciding to continue running after seeing that the rain will not stop anytime soon. I've prepared a windbreaker and I used it to shield myself especially my head from the rain. Still recovering for sore throat and coughing, I do not want to plunge into a feverish state. And so I ran…

The race course was in a mess! Certain parts of the field became a stream as it was waterlogged and the dirt track became a mud track. It was slippery at certain spots and as most of us were running using regular road shoes, we were slipping and sliding here and there a bit. Shoes we drowned to the max and at certain spots n the field track, it was ankle deep. My poor Hattori had to go through all these but to my surprise, it was strong enough to take on the challenge. It did not store much water in the shoe and the upper has some “water repellent” shield on it. And with the Drymax Hyper Thin Running socks, my feet did not suffer from much sogginess. I did not even suffer from any form of blisters despite not having tape up my toes! Surprise indeed and I will continue with this combination for a while.

The Saucony Hattori going for a swim and they performed really well to my suprise

Dirty stinky socks after the rain. These are not mine though

I ran into the coldness of the night. Although the rain has stopped, the race course was still in a mess and will not dry up so soon. We all just had to continue running. By close to midnight, I thought that it’s enough for the day. As the shower facilities were already close, I only managed to clean myself a bit by using water before resting in the camp. YES, I was in a mess indeed!

I did not sleep well. Am just so not use to camping and I had difficulties staying inside the humid and stuffy camp. By 5am, the sun was already up and if not mistaken, I woke up at around 6am and continued running. Eric had prepared muesli and yoghurt to help kick start the day before breakfast was served an hour later which consist of the traditional bacon, eggs and toast. I continued on with my adventures going through the mess the rain had created. Just before 12pm, both my feet were starting to hurt a little due to the swelling. I shouldered on and by 12pm which is the end of Day 1, I have completed 137 laps while Chee Kong 99 laps. The latter was a bit lazy as he said but it was actually due to his involvement in setting up our camp site.

Day 2 – 27 December 2012
After lunch was served, I continued running a little. It was blazing hot as the sun was shining fiercely and this will certainly help with drying up the race course. And after running into the mid noon, Chee Kong decided that we should return home to clean ourselves up ad to get some rest. We did just that and just before heading home, we detoured into Fourways Crossing as I needed new pairs of shoes in bigger size. I bought the Saucony Kinvara TR (Trail) and also the Type A5 here before heading home. Had our dirty gears clean and boy there were dirty. The water was brown in colour!

Once we rested and freshen up a little, we headed back to the race site and continued running. From here, I have switched to the Kinvara TR and it gave some relieve to my swollen feet. I shouldered on and ran. Chee Kong is still hanging around the camp and is eating away. I guess this time he was really lazy.

Despite wearing a brand new shoe, I was still running fine. However, being a minimalist trail shoe, there were certain parts on the dirt track that I had to be extra careful of due the traction. Other than that, I was doing fine and quickly, night came and dinner was served consisting of lasagne. I took the food back to the camp and as I ran past it at each lap, I took a bite out of it. I did not want to break my running momentum. But by 11pm, I was already exhausted and my legs were not only sore, but painful now. The effects of multi stage running has begun to show.

This time before heading off to bed, I found a bathroom and managed to clean myself up. The night was cold and I was shivering. Was glad Chee Kong had his SecondSkin jacket with him and I borrowed which kept me warm.

Next morning, I was up again at around 7am. The usual muesli and yoghurt was served first before the same breakfast. I continued on running at a slower pace and as quickly reduce to walking soon. My left Achilles has started to swell up. Painful as it is, I started to limped towards the end of Day 2 which I managed a total of 103 laps while Chee Kong 61 laps.

Day 3 – 28 December 2012
Mei-Ee pop by in the early noon bring home cook lunch. Home cook lunch was certainly excellent though the same word can’t be used to describe the condition of my legs. There were sore and my left Achilles was swollen like a dumpling. I took off my shoes and walked in my slippers as I could not run anymore. Till the pain barrier was beyond control, I went to seek medical aid from Peter, the medic in charge. Cooling gel was massaged over it before bandaging it up. And with it, I continued walking in my slipper hoping to shake it off. Sadly, it didn’t and I look miserable here. Other runners came to me to help motivate me as I push on and I really appreciate their kind gesture.

My poor swollen left Achilles

Chee Kong himself has begun to pick up as he found his rhythm on this day. For me, I shouldered on by walking till about 9pm before deciding to call it an early night hoping the swelling and pain will go away the next day after a long rest. And this time, I managed to have a proper shower in the shower facilities provided in the club house. Of course not as proper as home, but it will do.

Next morning, I tried running again but failed miserably. I just could not move the Achilles properly and just had to limp it off at every lap. And by the end of Day 3, I only managed 60 laps while Chee Kong 86 laps.

Day 4 – 29 December 2012
Lunch today was passed down to Shaun as together with Chee Kong, we escape the heat of the race site early and headed back home. And after cleaning ourselves up, we ended up at Monte Casino having our lunch there at a Chinese restaurant call Lai Lai. It was by coincidence that we saw and joke about having chicken feet to have our legs “repaired”. But the joke will turn out to be some miracle later. After a hearty and filling lunch, we headed home and took about an hour’s nap. But that’s not before Chee Kong handed me a tube of Tiger Balm Active Deep Heat cream which I applied on both my Achilles and upper feet. We headed back to the race site and arrived at about 6pm.

Here comes the miracle. I am able to run! For some reason, I am able to! Was it chicken feet we had for lunch, the Tiger Balm cream or combination of both? I do not know myself. All I knew that time was that I could run and run I did. I was feeling strong and out came my current favourite pair of shoe, the Saucony Kinvara 3. I was hoping this pair will help me build up the lost laps from yesterday as I ran strongly in it. And to many who witness how miserable I was yesterday, it was a BIG SURPRISE to them to see me running yet again. Thea, Pieter and Peter were a few of them as they cheered me on. Thanks my friends!

I am just happy to be running again

I continued on till about 10pm before heading off to clean myself up at a rundown shower facilities within the squash court. I forced myself to shower cold to aid with the inflammation and by the time I was done, I was shivering cold.

An early night before an early morning the next day as I woke up early at 5am and continued on building up where I left off. The usual muesli and yoghurt but breakfast took a change for the better this time. A simple French toast was served and I just simply love it by pouring a little honey over it. Continued running in the morning heat and by the end of Day 4, I have completed 110 laps while Chee Kong at a whopping 163 laps ranking at third for the day. Now where did that came from?

Day 5 – 30 December 2012
The afternoon heat from the sun was getting to us once again as we escape back home and later to Lai Lai Restaurant at Monte Casino again. Chicken feet although in another type of preparation were ordered this time and sadly in a smaller portion. And after lunch, it was power nap again before returning to race site to build up the distance again. And I kept doing it into the night just like yesterday before cleaning and resting up at around 11pm.

The heat burning through my neck

I was up early the next morning to start building the distance again. It was rather difficult so start moving but once I found the rhythm, the running was pretty smooth. The usual breakfast was served and I took small bites at each lap and by the end of this day, I managed again 110 laps.

Today is also the day the 24 hours category started. At 12pm, the event was started for them. And while running back, I spotted Caroline who was dashing to register herself. Yeap, she was late but it was ok as the participant are allowed to start at anytime. Mei-Ee was no where to be seen. But she did come later and started walking.

Day 6 – 31 December 2012
We stayed on together with the rest of the runners. The field is now filled with 48 hours and 24 hours runners and walkers. It was like a parade. But I guess that since it was the eve of the new year, GOD decided to clean up his place and ended up pouring water on us. Yeap, it rained again. So heavy that I had no choice to go into hiding into the tent again. And when I decided to go out running again, I noticed that Chee Kong had took my Kinvara TR into the car. Without it, I am not able to run due to the condition that may not suit the other shoes. I waited for a while.

At around 5pm, the conditions became better and I went out. Took the shoes from the car and restarted my quest. But the long rest was too much and I could not move my legs. So difficult it was that I literary let it be and just walk.

The plan for this final day is actually to walk it off till 12pm the next day which is the finishing time. Therefore, I guess I had plenty of time. By around 10pm, I got my momentum back. Yeap, that's how long it took me to get back into running. I arm myself with my mp3 player and Yurbuds Inspire Duro. With music, came my strength. I tried for my fast lap. First attempt, I managed a 2:37 minutes on the "Shosoloza" song. For my second, I managed 2:17 minutes for which is fastest. And the song that played during running it was "Gangnam Style". Hahaha... Of all songs right.

As midnight draws near, everyone gathered around. As South African just love to drink, wine and beer was brought along. Eric prepared some fireworks and when the clock struck midnight, it was "AYE CELEBRATION"! We all gathered at the start/finish line wishing and hugging everyone despite our sweaty body. It was a very unique and memorable moment for me. Running from one year to another.

It took a while before everything settled down and running was back into business. I was getting a bit tired at 1.30am and decided that I should rest instead. I had clock a healthy distance and hence showered up before resting on the bench. Yeap, the bench as I though I would like to continue 2 hours later. But i just could not nap as the weather was too cold. In the end, I went into the camp and slept through.

At 6am, I was up and ready to walk. Yeap, legs just refused to run again and again I had to get it into rhythm. Changed into the Kinvara 3 and it took a while to run again. Everyone face seems to have freshen up on this final day. Weakness was not shown and everyone just ran. And as the time ticks away, some even got a little crazy by pushing tyres and balancing cones on their heads.

Gerhard pushing the huge tyre

Personally for me, I stopped at 110 laps at around 11am. My target was hit and I managed a total of 630 laps within 6 days which is 315KM. My previous best was 311KM in 7 days. I was happy with this result. Eric actually lowered the silver medal distance from 403KM to 350KM. Despite only another 35KM to go for me, I personally will not accept it as it was a last minute downgrade" due to the overall results. Yeap, not many people achieve the target set. Probably the conditions was tough or perhaps we underestimated it? Who knows.

Chee Kong stopped earlier and he managed 600 laps in total. Together, we started packing up our camps. It was not an easy job and the weather started to warm up. Once everything is done, it was prize presentation time. A low key but simple affair, we cheered for everyone for a remarkable job well done. Henk Moen was the champion at 1200 laps. Chee Kong himself won a double bottle of wine from lucky draw. And for me, I was ranked 18 out of 40. I received my trophy and medal from Eric and it was a moment I will truly remember. My first running trophy and never I had friends all around me during the presentation. On this day, I had both.

Chee Kong is feeling lucky with the wines

Receiving my award from Eric the race director

Together with my trophy and medal

Before leaving the Phobians Club, I caught up with Eric, Pieter, Peter, KG, Anthony, Willie, Caroline, Pierre, Renee, Malcolm, Eric Economon, Moosa, Marlene, Shaun, Steffan, Gerhard, Dieter, Allen, Henk, Thea, Eddie and Ric (sorry but I just got to name them all!) to bid them a temporary farewell for I know I will again see them all again, especially when the time Comrades Marathon comes. It has been my pleasure to be part of this new circle of friends from a country I heavily regard as my second home.

With my new Swedish friend KG a multiple circuit race finisher

Here are just some of the facts from my runs:
- For 6 days challenge, at 33 years old, I was the second youngest participant. Chee Kong the youngest at 29 years old. Average age is around 50 years old!
- 3 pair of shoes were used being the Saucony Hattori (68.5KM), Saucony Kinvara TR (66.5KM) and Saucony Kinvara 3 (150KM). Slippers were used during my Achilles injury walking 30KM with it.
- 6 days and I only managed to brush my teeth 3 times. That's like once every 2 days!
- Only chaffed on my abdominal area. Toes were fine despite no taping up.
- Averaged 7 hours of sleep each day diving into 2 sessions. Longer at night and short one back home.
- Temperature soared probably up to 35c and was averaging at 32c. Few days were without clouds.
- Rain heavily on first and last day.
- Lost about 3KG.
- Had a second name. For some reason, Peter the medic called me Patrick!
- We all probably ran more than 500m per lap as measurement was taken from the most inner lane.

The overall result for the 6 days challenge

The event was marvelously organised by Eric, Marlene and team. I THANK them for this and also in the bonding sessions among the runners and also those who came to support. It was an international field and who would have though 3 Malaysians will be part of it. Though I heard of some minor hiccups, personally for me, it has been a first class experience with a first class hospitality given. The amount of new South Africans and international friend I made grew upon returning back home and this is what I enjoy about running super long distances. It's the pain and soreness that we all go through together, but in return, the bonding is something we will not forget.

The haul from Team Malaysia

Will I join this event again? For sure I will but I don't think I will be travelling so far for this again. Maybe somewhere nearer. For South Africa, Comrades Marathon will always be a YES, but I will always like to try other events at least once as the flight tickets is certainly not cheap. But for those who have yet to try this, please feel free to do so as I am sure that it will only get better as each year passes for it's an event organised by runners for runners.

And before closing this entry, here's my usual thanking ceremonial speech to thank the following people:
- Chee Kong and Mei-Ee for inviting me to this crazy event which I enjoyed very much
- Eric, Marlene and team for the superb organisation
- My sponsors Saucony, Yurbuds, GU Energy, Drymax and LifeStrength for providing me with the precious gears
- 2 fellow close and good Malaysian friends back home who has been sending messages and communicating with me throughout the 6 days of running.
- Friends like Anthony, Pierre, Dieter, Malcolm, Eric, Pieter, Peter, Thea, Renee, Eddit, Ric, Moosa, KG, Steffan, Willie, Caroline, Shaun and many other who has been part of this amazing journey together.
- And to others who had played a part in all the morale support given, you know who YOU are! THANK YOU!