Monday, August 18, 2014

Kuching Marathon 2014...

Event: Kuching Marathon 2014
Venue: Padang Merdeka, Kuching, Sarawak
Date: 17 August 2014
Time: 3.00am
Distance: 42.195KM (42.25KM by Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Type A5
By Frank

As planned, the inaugural Kuching Marathon will be my first trial to get back to my marathon form found in year 2009. A mission to try to run my second sub 4 hours marathon starts with this. And with the campaign launch for next year's Comrades Marathon just few days ago stating that all runners will have to re-qualify again, including all finisher's of the 2014 edition, there was an extra twist to this run. though not important for me at all as I am pretty confident that a sub 5 hours marathon is achievable and that seeding is not a priority for me anymore.

I flew Malaysia Airlines and am proud of it.

I registered for the Kuching Marathon together with the accommodation at Merdeka Palace Hotel and Suites pretty early. However, I forgotten about my flight and only managed to purchase it with less than 2 months to go albeit expensive it was. I flew Malaysia Airlines on Saturday early noon and got to Kuching at mid noon. Upon landing, the MAS stewardess said "Welcome to Kota Kinabalu" which shocked everyone! But she quickly apologize where everyone then burst into laughter. There was a huge welcome banner for the runners and that was a nice touch coming from the organisers. This was my second time visiting Kuching (the first about 10 years back for Andersen's system migration) and the city was still a clean one. I proceed to the hotel immediately and upon checking in, walked to Plaza Merdeka which was nearby to collect my race pack which was a ll done within 5 minutes. For those who came earlier wasn't so lucky as I've heard of the chaotic collection. Met up with Mohan, Foo, Vivien and some other friends before I went to have my very late lunch at Secret Recipe. Yeaps, all the way to Kuching and I was eating shepherds pie here!

Welcome to Kuching!

Returned to the hotel to have my gears sorted out and to rest a little while waiting for Wong to arrive. Yes, we are sharing the room together and will be good to catch up with a fellow Comrades runner. He arrived just before 6pm, and we soon return back to Plaza Merdeka for a simple dinner at the food court before adjourning back to the hotel for rest.

I had a pretty miserable 4 hours or so sleep as I kept waking up in the middle due to noise coming from the field as the race organisers were playing movies on the big screen into the night. I personally find that this was inconsiderate considering knowing that many runners will be staying around the area. At least, keep the volume to a minimal! Not a good start to the morning as I felt tired and my left trapezius is still pretty uncomfortable. However, all my pre-race rituals went smoothly and my meal was a cup of soy coffee, Energade bar from Comrades this year and 2 vegetarian "foo chow" biscuit. Together with Wong, we only left our room at 2.30am as the race start is just below. Managed to find a good spot among the approximately 1,400 starters for the full marathon. And at 3am sharp, we were flagged off!

For this race, I was training under the Phil Maffetone method and hence this will be my first time implementing it in a race. My job is to maintain myself under the aerobic mode with a heart rate of about 145bpm to 150bpm for  as long as I can before going into anaerobic. And to help achieve this, even my diet changed.

I settled into my race pace shortly after starting which was a little humid from the earlier drizzle. It was easy to navigate as the roads were wide enough to accommodate the number of runners. Tony spotted me and we chatted a little before we went at our own pace. And as usual, I had my bottle of GU Roctane Brew with me to hydrate me during the early stages. As we exited the city into the village area, the path grew a bit darker as the lamp post were erected further apart from each other but I was relief that the road conditions were fine. And the good thing about running in the village at the wee hours is the fresh air and not to mention that  was surprised that the villagers are awake to cheer us on!

My heart rate was good and that eventually contributed to my pace. I was "auto cruising" well and my strides and cadence was consistent. Indeed a good sign from my training and I eventually arrived at the 10KM mark just under 52 minutes. I continued with my rhythm slowly sipping on my own drink at every 2KM till I finally finish it at the 15KM mark.

I started taking only water from the stations before downing my first GU Roctane gel upon arriving at the 21KM halfway point which I arrived in about 1.50 hours. Still in aerobic mode, I caught up with Lai Ling and we moved together at certain stretches. It was also here that a few but very mild climbs welcomed the runners which was rather a welcome sight for me. The urge to pee came at about 25KM. That's also when Jessica came into the picture and was hammering the pace. I told myself not be distracted by others and carried on till the 27KM mark when I went to use the portable toilet to relieve myself. I wasted a minute or 2 in there and found difficulty in resuming my pace later. It was here that I started to struggle and by the time I hit 30KM, I finally entered the anaerobic mode.

I took my second GU Roctane gel here and also increased slightly my intake of isotonic drinks at each water station. My pace dropped hovering just slightly above 6 minutes pace as I shouldered on passing Raymond at the 32KM mark. At this point, some runner which I do not want to mention the name started with his fartlek session with me slowing down just ahead of me. Just like driving, he can actually just slow down at the "slower" lane instead of the "faster" lane. Feeling annoyed by his actions, I just waited patiently for him to take off or slow down. He eventually took off.

Dawn began to break and I was loosing time slowly. But I kept running and eventually heard a familiar voice. It was Yim and he mentioned a sub 4 is doable at this pace. Yes, I know but I need to keep it at the current pace to do so. As we were pacing each other, a short but steep climb appeared at 37.5KM. Although I was caught by surprise, I still attacked it well only to watch it out a little on the other side going down. But it was here that I passed the "fartleker".

It was soon into the city again and Yim broke free. I grabbed a Red Bull energy drink at 38KM and was hoping the effects of it will kick in as soon as possible. Soon it did and I found my rhythm again as I chased my time down. I was reunited with Yim and a quick glance at my watch says it all, we are both under the 4 hours window. However at the final Kilometer, Yim gave a wake-up call to go for it fearing that the distance may be longer. It made sense to me and thus went for it like a rhino charging. The final turn appeared and the finish arch was there to greet and I eventually crossed it in 3:57:25 hours, my first local sub 4 hours marathon, and a second in my running career.

With Yim after the finish. Pic courtesy of Zas.

My second sub 4 hours marathon. Can't ask for more.

Waited for Yim to arrive and to thank him personally as I hung out at the finish area and took some photos with friends before returning to the hotel to clean up before proceeding to the airport. The legs feels ok and I am certainly convinced now that the Phil Maffetone method that I was following certainly does work. All I have to do now is to improve on it for the long term. But all in all, I would still like to thank my friends who have been supporting and training together with me and also to Yim for the push at the final 5KM.

My race gear that got me through. And a South African Buff.

The Kuching Marathon is certainly a run away success for its inaugural event. Distance marker at every Kilometer, ample water stations, the cheers from the locals and supporters and good traffic control (except for the final 2 Kilometers or so) were good for a local event. The only downside was probably the news that a runner passed away, the chaotic race pack collection and the RM5 luggage deposit charges apparently for some charity cause (note: charity is not something about forcing people to give).

Overall, I am happy and satisfied with my result as I thought it was over even before starting upon waking up feeling tired. Honestly, it came a bit unexpected to achieve a sub 4 hours timing by turning the focus from ultra marathon to marathon distance with only just 6 weeks of training. And also, this has earned me a D seeding for next year's Comrades Marathon hence it's a double joy indeed! Till my next trial...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Be Part of 90 Years of History. Bamba Iqhaza!

For immediate release 
The Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) launched its campaign for the 90th Comrades Marathon today (Thursday, 14 August 2014). Members of the media along with South Africa’s top runners, sporting personalities and stakeholders converged on Johannesburg to be part of the celebratory launch of the world’s biggest and oldest ultra-marathon.

The 2015 campaign is centered on the CMA’s vision of an all-inclusive Comrades Marathon, with the slogan: ‘Be Part of It - Bamba Iqhaza’. CMA General Manager, Chris Bruwer who unveiled the campaign says, ‘We invite every Comrades runner, stakeholder, volunteer and supporter to be a part of this iconic race in one way or another.’

Bruwer adds, ‘There are numerous ways to get involved and participate in the camaraderie while uniting the nation through this iconic event. Please visit our website to see how you can be a part of it.’

The 90th edition of the race will be run on Sunday, 31 May 2015. The ‘up-run’ will start at the Durban City Hall at 05h30 and end 12 hours later at the Oval Cricket Stadium in Pietermaritzburg, covering a distance of 87km.
1 September 2014 is the opening date for entries into the 2015 Comrades Marathon. The entry period will close on 30 November 2014 or as soon as the special entry cap of 23,000 has been reached. Prospective entrants are encouraged to get their entries in early so as to avoid disappointment.

Entry fees for the 2015 Comrades Marathon are as follows:

• Local Entries : R 380.00
• Rest of Africa : R 600.00
• International : R2000.00

South African runners will be eligible for the ‘early bird’ entry fee of R350 if their entry is received before 30 September 2014. The regular South African entry fee of R380 will kick in on 1 October 2014 until the entry process is closed.

Runners can enter as follows:

• online via the Comrades Marathon website:;
• by posting their completed entry form with proof of payment to the CMA Office in Pietermaritzburg:
P.O. Box 100621, Scottsville, 3209;
• by handing in their completed entry form together with payment at the CMA office in Pietermaritzburg.

Entry forms will be available at local running clubs, provincial sporting federations and the CMA; as well as selected qualifying races which the Comrades Team will be attending from September to November.

Qualifying for the 2015 Comrades Marathon will be applicable from 1 August 2014 till 4 May 2015. Runners are advised that the 2014 Comrades Marathon will not be an automatic qualifier for next year’s race.

Race Director Rowyn James says, ‘The reason for this is two-fold. We want to encourage runners to be fit and healthy for Race Day. Further, we want to support all other road-running races in the country, especially the Comrades Marathon qualifying races by driving Comrades runners to participate in those running events.’

The Substitution window period will be from 1 – 21 April 2015.

In a first for South African road-running, R1.5-million is up for grabs to the First Man and Woman respectively who break the current male and female up-run records thereby making the Comrades Marathon by far the most lucrative race on the local athletics scene. Leonid Shvetsov holds the male up-run record of 5:24:47 for his 2008 win while Elena Nurgalieva’s 2006 victory in a time of 6:09:24 stands as the female up-run record.

The first man and woman to cross the finish line will receive R375,000 each. The total prize money for the 2015 Comrades Marathon is R2.600,000; in addition to the respective R1.5-million incentives for the man and woman should they break the record.

CMA Chairman, Macdonald Chitja says: ‘We are pleased to unveil our 2015 Comrades Marathon campaign and invite the nation to be a part of it. The 90th edition of this world-famous ultra-marathon promises to be the best one yet.’

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Return To 4 - First Trial...

By Frank

It's been 2 months since my major race of the year at the Comrades Marathon. While I did not slow down from there unlike previous years, I continued from where I left off, but instead focused on speed and strength.

My next focus will not be ultra distance but instead reverting back to the marathon distance where like the entry's title suggest, am trying to get back to my best back in year 2009. I clocked my best and only sub 4 hours marathon back then before getting injured and then moving to longer distances.

First trial at Kuching Marathon 2014.

Training has been good but I don't think it will be enough to get me through this weekend at the Kuching Marathon in achieving a sub 4 hours timing. Perhaps close to it will be realistic but I will still definitely give it a shot. As long I don't get injured, I've nothing to lose and this will only be my first trial of a total 3. I will have other chances coming up which are more important so this will be good to see where I stand now, like a benchmark.

Training for this for the past 2 month with speed being gained at the MPSJ track through intervals and also some tempo runs with Jamie, Nic and the rest at the USJ route. As for strength, it was built at the trails of FRIM which I really enjoyed with Jason and occasionally Hong Lan, Renee, Yik Yee and Wai Hong. On average, I am running at about 55KM a week, a much reduced distance compared to my Comrades training. And not forgetting the resistance weight training at the gym too. I do feel good from all the training but I am hoping my slightly swollen left trapezius will subside in time or at least a little.

This weekend will see the Saucony Type A5 summoned back for active duty. My current fastest shoe in the Saucony stable, hope it will somehow, in a way help me achieve what I set out to do. I am not thinking much on the Comrades seeding for next year too, but should I managed to run a good time in improving the seeding, it will be a bonus.

Come "Get Some" at Kuching!

And yes, I know I've the Penang Ultra 100KM and Craze Ultra 161KM coming up in the next 2 and 4 weeks time. Though my current focus is on speed, I am banking on my fitness gained during the Comrades Marathon to lift and get me through these 2 runs. And I guess there will be a lot in my head to help me too. Gotta sort out my life!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saucony Virrata 2...

By Frank

The Saucony Virrata 2 (V2), the only zero drop shoes from Saucony after the discontinuation of the Saucony Hattori continues to do what it does best, to perform and to help strengthen the feet. My longest run in the first generation was a good 77KM while it also help me achieve some pretty good timings at certain runs. As the second generation did not change much from the first, it's better to go back in time to have a read on the first generation first over HERE.

The Saucony Virrata 2.

My first Virrata lasted me 488KM worth of running while the second pair at about 400KM (some uneven wear and tear on my right pair). Pretty good when comparing value versus cost. With the same outsole on the V2, the durability should be the same. 24 EVA+ pods build on a 18mm GRID midsole foam, the V2 retains the same build and ride over its predecessor, something which I am glad Saucony did. And yes, it maintained at the same weight of 184 grams too . A "barefoot" ride with just enough cushioning and protection is how I describe it. Deep flex grooves allows super flexibility and giving freedom of movement to the feet. The only downside probably from all these goodness is that the grooves tent to pick up small pebbles along the run, probably also caused by our dirty roads!

Comparing my second pair worn out Virrata compared to the Virrata 2.

The upper is where the V2 sees most the changes from the the first. But luckily, only minor tweaks
 which "almost" did not affect anything at all. The upper is now replaced with a new mono mesh. I did not experience any problems at all with original Virrata, no tearing what so ever, but Saucony chose to replace it with an entirely new one which they claim is stronger and more breathable. Frankly speaking, I do not feel any difference and I do personally feel that the original does look nicer and "neater" as the newer mesh looks a bit rough in appearance. The internal bootie remains which give a sock like feel to the feet and besides it, hold the tongue together.

One major aspect I noticed is that there is additional seams not seen on the original. Don't be mistaken though as the internal is still seamless. It just makes me wonder the purpose of it on both lateral and middle side at the mid span of the shoe. Not that I can feel any purpose of it as there was no structural feel added to it. Perhaps FlexFilm can help in this department and save weight at the same time?

Unnecessary seams.

Close up on the Virrata and Virrata 2 mesh. Notice the difference in eyelets too.

The next minor change will be the eyelets. The eyelets of the original Virrata is built as individual knots which on top of it, acts as a reflective too. Saucony chose to revert back to normal eyelets design found on general shoes like the Kinvara which sacrifices the reflective. Perhaps not as important as reflective on the back of the shoe, but it does help in a way to have reflective at the front to have incoming vehicles see the runner under low light conditions and hence this will be sorely miss. 

And finally, the biggest change or shall I just say an additional feature will be the inclusion of a plastic heel counter to support the Achilles region. The original heel counter on the Virrata was soft which I kind of like it. However, there were feedback saying that it causes Achilles discomfort. Therefore, the new TPU heel counter is a nice touch for those affected by the original and I welcome it for it may help in going the distance.

The new TPU plastic heel counter in grey.

And  as usual, the V2 comes available in a wide array of colours, most of them absolutely stunning to look at which gives the shoe its fast looks. And  foresee that I will continue to enjoy this shoe very much like its predecessor especially in fast runs whether during trainings or races.

The Saucony Virrata 2 is now available at Running Lab, Stadium and selected RSH and Studio R stores nationwide retailing at a recommending selling price of RM299.00.

Disclaimer. The Saucony Virrata 2 reviewed here is given as part of my sponsorship program with Saucony Malaysia.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Saucony Kinvara 5...

By Frank

The Saucony Kinvara 3 (K3) propelled me to my second Comrades finish in year 2013 and the adventure did not stop there. The Kinvara 4 (K4) then quickly become my training shoe for my third Comrades and also at the same time bringing me to the finish line at the Titi 100KM 2014 and also 90KM at the Twilight Ultra Challenge 2014.

The Saucony Kinvara 5 with my Comrades bronze medal.

My "love" affair with the Saucony Kinvara series became stronger over the two years and now the relationship continues with the fifth generation, and it became stronger than ever when it helped me to my third and best Comrades finish ever! And 2 weeks later, helped me to complete yet another 90KM at the Back 2 Endurance 2014 earning a third placing! All in the same shoe, the Saucony Kinvara 5 (K5)!

Lateral view of the Kinvara 5.

Medial view of the Kinvara 5.

The Kinvara series has retain much of its DNA since the first generation. Still at 4mm heel to toe drop with stack height of 22mm versus 18mm while retaining the same weight of 216 grams for size US8.5, minor tweaks has been made to make turn the good shoe into a great shoe. While many agreed that the K3 was the best among all with the K4 suffered some durability problem on the mesh, I must say that it isn't what you think until you try the K5!

I personally enjoyed the K3 very much with the first pair enjoying approximately 700KM running distance before I retired it. The second pair which was my race shoe for Comrades Marathon 2013 went through about 300KM before I decided to immortalise it due to the contribution it made towards my big race. No tearing issue and wear and tear of the outsole was reasonably good. The K4 however, though as enjoyable and performed pretty similarly to the K3, yes suffered from some tearing issues on the toe box's mesh. Mine started to show after hitting 400KM.

Across the generations. The fifth, fourth and the third.

Saucony was quick to respond to the problem with the K4 and that gave birth to the K5. The mono mesh used in previous generations is now replaced by a new stronger but yet light and flexible mesh. And yes, it is very breathable too and one does not need to touch it to know its new. It looks different too and in a good way as it gave the shoe a very clean look. Some minor re-positioning of the FlexFilm material is made to strengthen certain high wear and tear areas without making any sacrifices in weight and flexibility too.

Closer look at the new mono mesh and the re-positioning of the FlexFilm.

Hidden under the new mesh at the mid foot region is a new system call the Pro-Lock which is made by some plasticity spandex material, first introduced in Saucony's track and field footwear. As the name suggest, it's a system that runs at the sides of the internal bootie of the tongue to lock the foot down in the shoe while we run. And instead of going across the foot, it goes under it and it felt good as it dynamically move with the foot's movement secured by the laces.

The Pro-Lock system.

Next, the minimal collar is now plush with memory foam padding call RunDry all around it. Gone are the days when I had to take precaution in wearing mini crew socks to minimise the chances of chaffing at the Achilles region, The plushness of the new material is soft to the touch and grabs my ankle gently without any irritating issues. And I must say, this is probably the best upgrade in the "Feel" department!

RunDry pampers the Achilles.

Now with the upper and cosmetic department heading towards a positive change, next will be the outsole. The top of the range PowerGrid foam continues to cushion off the impact. And while I had no durability issues on the K3 and K4's outsole, Saucony decided to add additional rubbers on the lateral side of the mid foot area. Not that I can feel any difference but perhaps the outsole can last longer. One thing that I do feel or rather say hear the difference will be the suction sound from K3 and K4 whenever I walk on mosaic tiles. Gone is the sound from K5 and I suspect is due from the tread design of the rubbers which literary gives more traction especially on tile pavements.

The Kinvara 5 outsole (bottom) compared to the Kinvara 3 and 4 (top).

Many including Peter Larson aka RunBlogger has said that the K5 is the best Kinvara ever made. While I've not worn the K1 and K2 before as I find them too soft, I do believe Saucony is heading at the right direction with the K5 and it is much a superior shoe over the K3 and K4 and I am starting to see that some changes are made based on the racing heritage especially the Type A series. Hey.. After all it's the shoe that smashed by Comrades time!

The Saucony Kinvara 5 in a wide arrays of colours should be available nationwide at authorised Saucony dealers such as Running Lab, Stadium, Studio R and Royal Sporting House beginning September 2014 and will retail at a recommended selling price off RM399.00. And there may be even a special water resistant version call the RunShield series coming to our shores too.

Disclaimer - The pair of Saucony Kinvara 5 reviewed here is a complimentary media sample pair given as part of my sponsorship program with Saucony Malaysia.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Why Run the 90th Comrades...

By Frank

It's been 2 months since the Comrades Marathon 2014, and now we are just another month away before registration opens on 1 September 2014 for next year's edition. And to make things even more interesting and perhaps more memorable when the day comes, the Comrades Marathon 2015 will mark the 90th edition of this great run.

The 90th edition of The Ultimate Human Race will take place on 31 May 2015. It will be an "Up' run after many speculations that it will be a "Down" due to the anniversary factor. Therefore, it will be run from Durban to Pietermartizburg with an official distance of 87.96KM.

While most of my friends do prefer the "Down" run, I personally favour the "Up" run instead for it's my strength. Not being light weight or what so ever, but my legs and running style are more accustom to it. I don't generally run faster, but I am able to last longer on it compared to the opposite direction where I am needed to take extra care of my legs when descending.  However not to be confused with the word "Up", the run does consist of a lot of descends too and it will be a rolling affair. Not forgetting the climb at Inchanga and the notorious Polly Shortts.

So what is so special about the 90th edition? Honestly speaking, I do not have the details just yet. I've receive no marketing materials yet but knowing that it is the Comrades Marathon which is already special and with its rich history, the 90th edition is going to be a blast. With 18,000 caps each year, we may see an increase to over 20,000 this time. A run being a run, there is nothing much it can be done but perhaps special performances and extra cheers and supports along the race course will be implemented to commemorate this anniversary run. Then there will be definitely other specials events prior and after the race itself like perhaps a bigger expo, pasta parties, after parties and so on.

The 90th edition will also mark the third year I am taking the role of the international ambassador for my home country, Malaysia. Though my ambassadorship for the past 2 years has been a roller coaster ride especially where I had to witness 2 very close friends of mine not able finish the race, I still somehow manage to pick up my pieces and pull it through to share the story of this amazing run. Personally I do feel the amazing sense of achievement whenever I see my fellow countrymen stand on the start line of the race each year, and even though my 2 close friends did not finish their respective race, I am still VERY PROUD of them for taking up the challenge. They tried, and I know they did and that certainly shows the true Comrades spirit within them. I do not know if they will attempt the race again next year as I leave it to their own hands, but for sure, I do hope they will and that I will be there (I hope) to guide them together with coach yet again.

Anyhow, although it may sound too fast, but myself and Chee Kong are already planning our itinerary for next year's trip. We do have a few plans in mind but nothing is firm yet. But at least the mains are being finalized as I wrote this entry.

Therefore, get your credit card ready, mark down the date and time of 1 September 2015, 6am local Malaysian time and head on to when the registration opens for the 90th edition for the Comrades Marathon. Will we see a double digit figure from Team Malaysia standing on the race start line on 2015? I do hope so. And to those who have been asking and showing interest (you know who you are), think no further for I personally think that you are ready for this!