Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nuking March...

By Frank

Those who grew up as gaming teenagers in the late 90s will mostly have played and remember the game Command and Conquer: Red Alert. And if so, you would have remember the awesome theme from the game,  Hell March. As March nears each year since I began running the Comrades Marathon in 2012, I will always listen to it via YouTube to get the mood ready cause that is what March is all about!

With March 2015 over now, so is the tough training. I was worried that I may not be able to meet training expectations for this month as the total time and distance required to be spent on the road and legs are just too demanding this time round. Besides, like last year too, this month proof to be an emotional ride for me. Feeling dejected, I was confused. And even a friend mention that this month brought the "monster" out of me too by training till I lost my self consciousness. I am not sure if that happened to me and hence leave it to you all to judge me. And I guess it's through this that I went running to cast things aside. And traditionally, Twilight Ultra Challenge at the last weekend of the month will help with this, but this year saw the addition of the Gunung Nuang Ultra in my regime. And thus, things were made just a little easier.

Unlike last year, was pretty lucky that the haze did not return and there was no water rationing. I managed scored a perfect 100KM or above weekly mileage for this month too with the help from Zijill and the the Malaysian Gold Coast Marathon (GC group) group led by Jamie and Nick for training, just like last year. With my speed and tempo being done during the weekdays, I needed the long distance on weekends. However, unlike last year, the GC group were not entirely into long runs on the weekends for this month and the route chosen wasn't exactly favorable due to the terrain factor. Despite still joining them, I had to find an alternative to this and am glad Zijill who is going to run her first Comrades came into the picture. We both needed the distance and of course the hills, and hence we supported and help each other by going for our runs together, at places with a lot of hills!

In terms of running, March was in fact not a tiring month but instead a time consuming one. Weekends saw me lose my sleep to awake early for my runs. And I am still very grateful to the GC group for without them, things will be absolutely be very tough and I will continue to seek their assistance for the month of April.  For now, I am glad that yet another month of March is finally over. All I have to do now for the month of April is just to carry on with the momentum with a slight reduce in intensity and to improve on the areas I can improve on. Oh and yes, it's a total of 453KM covered for this month of March with a perfect week of 100KM or above per week giving a total combined distance of 1,013KM since the start! Nuked it for the fourth year in a row!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Twilight Ultra Challenge 2015...

Event: Twilight Ultra Challenge 2015
Venue: East Coast Park, Singapore
Date: 28 March 2015
Time: 7PM
Distance: 10KM per loop (maximum distance in 16 hours)
Shoe: Saucony Zealot ISO
By Frank

The illusive 100KM at Twilight Ultra Challenge (TUC). For 4 years in a row, I've failed to manage that distance. I came close last year managing 90KM throughout the entire 16 hours but was left in a slow recovery state that derailed last year's April training off in the early stages. Therefore, for this fifth edition, despite all the irritating reminders, I went into this run with one aim in mind, to run it as my last long run no matter the distance and time as part of my Comrades training.

It all sets to be a good trip with me staying with Ken this time at the plush hotel at Park Royal, Beach Road courtesy of his company. I flew down via JetStar on Friday morning while Ken was already there a day earlier. Everything went smoothly and I traveled to Novena to meet up with Ken there for lunch before adjourning back to the hotel for rest before dinner at Bugis.

I turned in at midnight after watching Man of Steel and on the comfy bed, I slept through the night and morning too, a total of almost 11 hours! The bed was just too comfy and Ken was kind enough to let me rest through without turning on the lights. Everything seems to be going well for a good night later. We managed to delay our checkout by 2 hours and so it was lunch nearby before hanging out at a Swedish Cafe for coffee and cake. Then it was at the hotel lobby for some last minute preparation before we made ourselves to East Coast Park 2 hours before the start of this year's run.

Race pack collection was the usual smooth process by Ben and his group, Yee Hua, Phil, Yek Bun and Tee Lee. Prepared my run essentials before friends like Junie, Hong Lan, Hong Chew, Carin and some others slowly arrived.

Fellow Malaysians.

Fast forwarding to 7PM, the run started after a 91 seconds moment of silence to remember and respect the late Lee Kuan Yew who recently passed away. At the signal of the start, I let the main group go first. No point in squeezing through with everyone trying to find space as eventually, there will be one as it's after all a 16 hours run.

Once I found my space, I also ran my intended race pace at 6.30 per Kilometer. It was going well with the excellent breezy conditions except for one thing, I didn't had the mood to run. The legs didn't seem to show interest too. And I know that time that this is just one of those days. No matter the feeling, I was determine to carry on running at least at the early stages of the run. And I did just that for the first 2 loops before I started to slow down though not much.

Took in some coffee hoping it will help to boost some mentality and the mood but to no avail. And upon completing the third loop, I was already feeling sleepy. Gulp down the remaining coffee and carried on. There were already some walks in between but it was fine cause after all, walking is part of the training regime too.

Upon completing 4 loops, I was surprised to see Nelly there. She bought some canned coconut juice for the Malaysian runners and we had a chat before I resumed my run. I took a can with me and slowly sip from it. It was certainly refreshing but as I made my turn at the 2.5KM point, my stomach felt uncomfortable as I detoured into the loo. My first big business in 5 years of TUC!

No big damage from the loo visit but I was feeling really sleepy already. Legs despite not wanting to move felt fine though except from the usual soreness. I continued with my run walk strategy till I hit 50KM and it's from here, that together with Hong Lan, we walked together. She needs 1 more loop to complete her intended 50KM and I thought it will be a good idea to walk with her hoping that I can recoup some strength and hopefully mood by catching up with this friends of mine.

We chatted and gossiped throughout the entire 10KM loop and was glad with that, time quickly passed. She stopped upon meeting her intended target while myself, drank my final can of caffeine, Red Bull hoping that it will help kick start me. And while it didn't help at all, I still managed to complete my 7th loop and thus made some calculation myself here. I needed half a loop more to complete a 100KM weekly mileage, which so far I am hitting throughout the month of March. And thus, I went for it.

And after 11.28 hours, I finally managed to complete 75KM and that was where I decided to call it a night. Not my best performance at TUC but I will take it with arms wide open. After all, it has been a tough month of March and what important is, I stood with my training regime and not getting injured in the process.

Enough for me.

It was a little too cold for me to have my shower and hence I took in some hot food and beverage while waiting for day to break. Hong Lan too awoke from her sleep and we accompanied each other while cheering for our friends who are still out there like Ken, Hong Chew, Phang and Poh Chye. I managed to shower up shortly later and just hung out till the event ended with the sky opening up. The record was broken too with 160KM coming from the champion. Amazing run!

Myself and Ken was the last among the runners to leave the run site as the rain came down furiously and we couldn't get a taxi. But in the, we still managed after the rain came to a halt and with 4 hours to spare, we hung out and rested at Changi Airport while waiting for our flight at 6PM which was delayed almost an hour. 

Anyway, yet another successful TUC by the team at Running Guild. Good job guys! Despite feeling a little bored of it already after 5 years of participation in it, I will still return for the sixth edition next year, that's if everything still goes well for me. It's no longer about the distance in this 16 hours of run, but rather as a gesture of supporting a friend's event, my Comrades training and also an annual meet up with my Singaporean running mates.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Halfway Through...

By Frank

The blog title is indeed misleading. No, we are not halfway into 2015. In fact, I am referring to my Comrades Marathon training for this year. In a blink of an eye, on 15 March 2015, 74 days has passed by since official training started on the first day of the year. With 795KM in the bag as of this morning having run back to back weekend long runs with one fellow Comrades novice runner, running across approximately 80 hours or so in training (varieties of recovery, tempo, long and time trials), the attempt to try to run the sweet distance of 1,500KM for the training is going smoothly as planned.

With 2 events done being the Hong Kong 100 and also The Gunung Nuang Ultra, everything seems to be falling into place. I've not fallen sick nor getting injured from training too and I hope to remain that way, though some have said that I've lost my soul in training. With the entire team qualified now, I can rest my mind for most of the logistics too are starting to fall into place now. Flight has been booked and hotels secured. What is left now is our transportation which should not be a problem.

My gears has been holding up well too with the Saucony Ride 7 and Zealot ISO being the workhorse this time with the Kinvara 5 occasionally seeing some action in between.  And I can't wait for my race shoe to be delivered soon too. The next generation of "Fast" will be continuing the tradition of my Comrades race shoe since year 2013 for it has proven through the last 2 editions that this is indeed the shoe for me. I will also need to sort my race apparels out. Not sure what to wear this time round but for sure it will be tights again, a style I trust for its functionality.

As for the team, I foresee some exceptionally AWESOME result (you know it yourself) on race day for some of them. A few has been training pretty hard while I do see some slacking away. Nevertheless, there is still some time to turn it around so hopefully those slacking will be able to pick themselves back up again.

With 78 days to go till race day, I hope everything will turn out smoothly for not only myself but for everyone else. It ain't going to get easier from here for the anxiety builds up, but I am certainly looking forward to it. A journey of self discovery for this route to Comrades will certainly define all of us.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Saucony Type A6...

By Frank

The Type A series by Saucony is highly regarded as one of the most explosive racing flats in the market. My first pair was the Type A5 which I managed to purchase during my visit at South Africa back in end year 2012. The shoe has remained faithful to me and am still on active duty, although only in marathon distances and it scored me my second sub 4 hours marathon time at last year's Kuching Marathon.

The Type A5 (in green) with it's successor Type A6 (in orange).

A year half later during last year's Comrades Marathon 2014, I managed to find myself the Type A6 from Fourway's Sweat Shop, the same place I bought the Type A5. Without any hesitation and despite knowing the steep price there, I quickly bought it as at that time., I was assuming that it will not be officially available locally, and because I thought so that way, I never really had the intention of reviewing it here only after I found out last week that the Type A6 will finally and officially enter the Malaysian market brought to us by the folks at Saucony Malaysia.

A handsome Saucony Type A6.

And so, here's my take on the Type A6. It's a no frills shoe which has undergone a big change from the A5 and no doubt, it's a change for the positive. Build from scratch with ideas input from Saucony's elite athletes such as Linsey Corbin, the A6 has all the characteristics of a racing flat. Weighting in at just 147 Grams in size US9.0 with a 16mm heel stack and 12mm forefoot stack which gives a 4mm off-set, this is the sweetest spot a shoe of this caliber can get. Highly responsive build on Saucony's GRID EVA with SSL midsole rubber, the firmness and bounce of this shoe is much superior to the one found on the A5. On high wear and tear area such as the heel and forefoot area, the XT900 carbon rubber should do the job in protecting the rubbers.

Type A6's outsole.

The plastic shank on the medial arch area has also been removed. This allows the shoe to be lighter, feel more naturally and flex better, and no doubt to give the wearer a full ground contact feel.

The outsole of the Type A5 (above) as compared to the Type A6 (bottom), both after hitting 160KM in them.

Near the mid span of the lateral side travelling to the ball of the feet is where you find Saucony's IBR+ rubber, the rubber that gives you the cushion protection and also the bonce for lift off, Oh and yes, there are drainage holes on the outsole too to to drain those moisture out. But do remember, it also allows water to get into the shoe should you step on those puddle of water. Though the number has lessen, the size grew just a bit bigger. I am fine with the holes and though the last one near the heel do tend to pick up tin rocks, it is certainly not as bad as the A5 where all holes tend to be stuck with something. Oh and yes, I absolutely love the quotes printed on heel area, "Life's Hard" and "Run Harder".

Love these quotes.

Next the upper construction. Once I put those shoe on, I felt awesome in it. True to size, the shoe basically just wrapped around my feet and the lock down was good. Though toe-box is slightly more roomier and stretchy compared to the Type A5, I still foresee that this will be an issue for those with wide feet as racing flats generally does not come in width. With no seams in it, the inner felt smooth and I did not had to worry about hot spots at all.

Closeup on the mesh and notice the FlexFilm.

Am not sure what material was used but the upper does look like the mono mesh used in the original Virrata. Only difference was the FlexFilm over it. I've no issue with the ventilation as it was superior. When I was running in the cool Amsterdam Marathon, cool air can be felt and the inner dries quickly.

A nifty trick will be the backtab loop at the collar. It's elastic and will stay flat around the collar until you pull it when you are wearing the shoe. Excellent idea for triathletes. As for the lace, it's a stretchy flat lace that I did not had any problems of it coming undone. Hope this will be used in future Kinvara's too as the latter always suffer from lace coming undone.

Backtab loop staying flat just above the "Saucony" word on the heel counter.

My review so far seems to be too good. In fact, it is and I can't find fault in this shoe. After all, it has accompany me through 3 times out of 3 attempts at a sub 4 hours marathon last year. However, you will need to be a sucker of firmness to be enjoying this shoe, as it will not be suitable for those who will like the cushy plush feel. And the good news, the local pricing will be an affordable one for a shoe so light and yet so durable. Yes, it is very durable!

The Saucony Type A6 will officially be available in Malaysia with a retail price of RM379 (much affordable to how much I bought in South Africa). They will be exclusively available at Running Lab, Tropicana City Mall in very limited numbers, hopefully by the end of March 2015.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Gunung Nuang Ultra 2015...

Event: Gunung Nuang Ultra 2015
Venue: Gunung Nuang, Pangsun, Hulu Langat
Date: 1 March 2015
Time: 6.30am
Distance: 12 hours looping on 10KM loop
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 4.0
By Frank

My second event of the year and coincidentally, like last month's adventure at Hong Kong 100, it's a trail run again and this time at our very own Gunung Nuang. Despite moving up to Selangor some 18 years ago, I've never actually been to Selangor's highest point. And since mid last year, I been wanting to try new challenges and thus, the Gunung Nuang Ultra fits the bill. Besides, it's an event organised by a fellow friend, Jeff who has been organizing this event for the past 2 years. And without hesitation, I page Jeff over social media indicating my interest in the third edition and in an instant, I was in. The format was simple. 5KM into the halfway point before turning back to the start giving a total distance of 10KM per loop. And we have 12 hours to cover as many loops possible. The challenge, climbs climbs and climbs.

As the Comrades training for March has always been the longest and toughest, Gunung Nuang Ultra will really help. And thus, I kept in mind that I will run this as part of training rather than a race, remembering not to fall, sprain or break some bones in me. CAREFUL was the key word.

However, I wasn't careful with my sleep and woke up with a mild headache which I believe was due to my sleeping posture. Was hoping some sugar and my morning cup of coffee will help but instead, it gave me another problem. While the morning rituals back home was well, I decided to make myself a cup of hot Americano to sip during my long drive to Pangsun, about close to an hour. And while doing so, the urge to visit the potty came again. Ergh...

My last visit to Hulu Langat was like a year ago for the Titi 100 back then. And while driving through the roads there, I can't help but to think of those moments back then. Moments that I enjoyed and cherished.

Anyhow, I arrived at Pangsun around 5.45AM and the place was already filled with runners. I parked outside which was about 300M away from the race site. Had to power on my headlamp as it was pitch black but I was glad that I had my gears all packed up in my bag. Made my way for registration and although the urge to make my "deposit" was still around, the mood was cancelled out due to the toilet's cleanliness status and the number of people using it. I decided to hold on but was glad to have bump into Ken later who told me to use the chalet's one instead. Much cleaner with nobody in it, I left my mark, I mean deposit at Gunung Nuang. Feeling much better and of course lighter, I was ready to go.

And while waiting for the start, I met Daniel Chow, a reader of my blog and we chatted away even after the race started at 6.30AM. It was an immediate climb at the start and this caused some human traffic, like the start at Hong Kong 100. Despite feeling frustrated, I wasn't in a rush and hence continued my chat with Daniel. Despite having my LED Lenser lighting at 300 Lumens on me, it was still dark so it may be a good idea to go slowly with the other runners as I am not sure what to expect along the way since it's my first visit here.

The start area which due to corrosion is now being cemented. Though not entirely completed yet, certain parts were already done. And it was like a Kilometer long with patches in between still not cemented yet. Not so "trail" anymore and it can be dangerous on the descend.

Anyhow, once I found the space, I started my runs and broke free from the main crowd. Despite the climb, I attacked. Probably too "gungho" as it was just the start of the event, I was like a terrier wanting to go. With the headlamp lighting the way and with the sun slowly rising, the path was slowly visible to the eyes soon. And the environment at that time was cooling too. Pretty spectacular I will say since it's my first visit here.

Up up and up.

The climbs were pretty steep and tough with technical terrains at certain parts of the route. And the turning point is located some close to 500M above sea level! Soon, the leading runners was already making the return and I hope the turn was not far. And the sounds of water flowing from the stream on the right indicates that. Made my turn and with mostly descend now, I increase my pace.

I literary dashed down to the starting point and completed my first loop in about 73 minutes. Removed my headlamp, took a sip of water and off I went for my second loop, this time in broad day light. And the best part was that I was still having fun.

Nice bamboo formation.

With the crowd now broken up, I literary have lots of space to run around. With the path clearly lighted now, I can see clearly the terrain now. However, as much as I was enjoying running, the thing that got me worried was the insects, particularly the bees. Some can be seen hovering around the u-turn point area, and one little fellow came exploring of all places, my arm pit! I let it there for it to roam around for fears of it stinging me if I shooeed him away.

Continued my run and soon my second loop was in the bag. Took some Cola and a tiny peanut butter sandwich as I was beginning to feel hungry. Chatted with Jason and I joked to him that I wanted ChaTime when I next come back.

As my upper body felt a little sore, I brought along my trekking pole for the third loop. Though I began by running, it was at a reduce pace especially with the pole around. I felt a little clumsy with it but it did help with supporting my upper body as I pushed myself up certain slopes. I managed to reach the turning point in not a too shabby time but had to clumsily make the return trip. Legs were really sore and I was really hungry too! I was really hoping that food will already be serve when I get back down.

And yes, on the way down, I was told that lunch is served with fried rice and fried chicken on the menu. Any edible food will do for me as I made my way down. It was hot when I completed my third loop so I guess it will be a good time to stop for lunch. The fried rice was actually pretty good though was a little on the spicy side. Fried chicken was also very tasty. I guess I was just hungry. And while enjoying my meal, I chatted away with friends around. I spent about half an hour before resuming my run.

For my fourth loop, I ditched my trekking pole and armed myself with my GoPro camera. First time snapping photos while running, Gunung Nuang was the perfect place to start.I walked all the way to the turning point as I was just too heavy to run with the rice and chicken in my tummy. And therefore along the way, managed to snap some photos of the surroundings and also selfies with fellow friends. Selfies, yes I can imagine myself doing that!

Took me about an hour to reach the turning point. I was sweaty and it attracted the bees again with one of them checking out my arm this time! I waited for it to fly off before I started my run as I felt better with the food settling down. Managed to run walk back down and while doing so, saw Hazel who delivered a message from Jason saying something special is awaiting for me below. I thought it was Pokka coffee but upon arriving, it was bubble tea from Share Tea! I was just joking about the ChaTime earlier but really appreciate Jason and Hazel for buying this cup of tea for me.

With Jason, Khairi, Jeff and the guys from CompresSport Malaysia.

I rested while sipping the tea together with Jeff, Jason and Colin and Egeune from CompresSport. And when I decided to resume my run, my tummy once again was heavy due to the tea. Had to walk again but this quickly settled down. Nothing much happened along my fifth loop as I completed the minimum requirements in about 10.5 hours. Not too bad I guess with the stops in between. And I still had plenty of time for one more loop.

With Ken on my 6th and his 5th loop together.

And so my sixth loop, was literally done to catch up and to support Ken who is doing his fifth. Besides, it was also to morally support Zijill who was running at the Beaufort 60K at the same time. A little miscommunication with Ken though as I waited for him to return from his toilet break at the support station. I was happily eating oranges there when I thought the time taken was too long already. Apparently Ken took off from the toilet but glad he wasn't too far ahead as I managed to catch up to him. And from there, we just chatted along the way which really time passes faster. Soon, we arrived at the turning point, thank the volunteers there and made our return trip by walking all the way down.

Looks like I am finishing it off here but this isn't my last loop. Just like this photo very much.

And just after the last bend, we ran a little just to make sure we ran to the finish line side by side together in 11.01.00 hours with a position of 20. A good last loop with Ken here as we are travelling together this month end to the Twilight Ultra Challenge.

I truly really enjoyed my time at the Gunung Nuang Ultra. Many thanks to Jeff and his crew for organising this. Overall support and service was excellent but if there is one thing that I may suggest will be a 2.5KM/7.5KM marker along the way. I guess it will really help the runners know the distance they are at rather to keep relying on their GPS which may sometime be inaccurate or by remembering the environment around.

As for Comrades training wise, it's good to have 60KM in the bag on the first day of the toughest month of training. However, this is also a wake up call that I have still much to do especially in the strength department.

Now I am looking forward to visit this place more frequent now. But it's so darn far! :(