Monday, November 23, 2015

Istanbul Marathon 2015...

Event: Istanbul Marathon 2015
Venue: Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey
Date: 15 November 2015
Time: 9.00AM
Distance: 42.195KM (42.51KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

Though it’s a distance that needs to be respected utmost, the 42.195KM marathon distance is no longer a distance I favour the most as it requires too much speed and strength, 2 things that I can no longer find balance in me. But come every year, I just need to run a good marathon at the fourth quarter of the year to get myself qualify for the Comrades Marathon the following year. With my first marathon of the year back in August 2015, the Kuching Marathon 2015 which can’t be used due to the change of qualification date, I had only Istanbul Marathon. Many will have said that this will be the better choice as the weather is much better. But I actually have earlier the Jedburgh Dirty Double and Glen Ogle Ultra to tackle for in a span of 23 days. Therefore, I had to go easy on both the earlier event especially the Glen Ogle Ultra to take care of both legs and also cardio.

The Istanbul Marathon came into view when Chee Kong spotted it in the running calendar. Once identifying it as a potential fast course and a city worth visiting, we confirmed our participation in it. However, it was almost a no go for me as my Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt where I was to transit after flying from Aberdeen to Istanbul was cancelled a day before due to the cabin crew strike. I was really disappointed as I wanted to qualify early no matter the seeding so that I can start focusing on training. I started searching for alternative races to use as a qualification race, but then, Chee Kong tried really hard to call Lufthansa help line hoping for a change of flight and after holding on near to 90 minutes, he got through. And within minutes, we managed to switch flights to Turkish Airlines and in an even more convenient time schedule too. Problem solved and it was game on!

Flight cancelled!

Turkish Airlines to the rescue!

We flew in arriving on Thursday evening and after a horrifying taxi ride, we checked into Peyk Hotel at Sultanahmet which is near to the finish line. It was a nice hotel and I am expecting proper rest here before the race. However, due to the change of time zone of 2 hours earlier compared to Aberdeen, I kept waking up pretty early at around 4AM.

Race bib pick up.

Nevertheless, it was Turkish dinner at Sultnahmet on the first night before proceeding to collect our race pack on the second day at the expo which is rather disappointing. From there, we visited the Grand Bazaar and Taksim square. On the third day, we took the ferry ride along the Bosphorus chanel crossing from Europe into Asia and back. A walk around Sultanahmet and I was back at the hotel to freshen up. I had a simple dinner of kebab, kestane (baked chestnut), simit (sesame bun) and fresh pomegranate juice alone at a park near Sultanahmet to calm some nerves before heading back to the hotel to call it a night as early as 9PM.

The Istanbul Marathon race course.

Race day morning, I found myself awake at 3AM despite setting my alarm at 5AM. Went back sleep and woke up again. Didn’t have the feel good feeling though but the show had to go on. Pre-race ritual went smoothly and at 6.40AM, I checked out of my room and left my luggage at Chee Kong’s room as we were allowed an extension of 2 hours for one room for us to clean up after the race. Proceeded to Sultanahmet to catch the shuttle bus at 7AM which was actually very well organised!

Long but fast queue for the shuttle bus.

The shuttle bus took the runners across to the Asia side via the Bosphorus Bridge where the start is. A smooth ride and within 30 minutes or so, we arrived! The place was rather congested though and we had a little difficulty locating the luggage bus and also the toilet. But well done to the organisers for providing overhead plastic covers to keep runners warm while waiting. But what amused us were the numerous coffee, tea and simit carts trying to earn a living. I lost touch with Chee Kong while queuing for the toilet though which was a long queue despite having lots of them. But after relieving myself, I just proceeded to the start and tried to squeeze in as front as possible. Made it to about one quarter of the crowd and just waited for the start at 9AM.

"High-end" mobile coffee machine on the go!

Fresh yummy simit!

Ready for haircut, I mean race.

With the sun blazing at full force from the clear sky without any clouds, I was expecting it to be a hot and cool race. I took off my overhead plastic and within minutes, the 37th edition of the Istanbul Marathon got underway at 9.02AM alongside the 15KM category which I do not know the reason why as it added congestion. With minimal training back home due to air pollution, only to clock in some fruitful last minute mileage which includes races and drills the pass 3 weeks, I wasn't expecting much from this race. I will be happy to settle for anything that can get me qualified for next year's Comrades which is a sub 5 hours finish. And with some fine tuning to the yet to be launched all new Saucony Kinvara 7 as my race shoe, I was just hoping for the best. I didn't wear my regular Saucony Type A6 as I thought my legs will require more protection and also to test out the new ride as part of the test team.

My race strategy was simple. To run with the flow and follow the pace where my heart brings. I've learnt a lot from Amsterdam Marathon last year, and the experience back then will certainly come into good use. Trying to stay constantly in aerobic metabolic zone where body fat is used as my primary fuel instead of my glycogen level. And once again, I am not relying on any energy supplements such as gels. Am only going in with water and just water.

Anyway, back to the race where I will try to recall as many places I ran pass as this is after all Turkey, a foreign land to me. It only took me less than 2 minutes to cross the start gantry. The atmosphere was good with local Turkish musics being played and supporters cheering by the side. The Bosphorus Bridge wasn't entirely flat as seen on photos but yet there were a slight incline towards the center of it. The crowd of runners prevented me from going out too fast on the bridge which really helped and although the tarmac surface was pretty smooth, one need to watch out for gaps and joints along the way, with some of them having tiny holes that look all the way down the straits of Bosphorus. 2 flags were hung along the bridge, with the white being the Asia side and red on the European side. A third French flag were also hung at the center portion to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack.

Preparing to cross the start gantry with the Bosphorus Bridge awaiting ahead.

Bird's eye view of the Bosphorus Bridge.

With less than 2KM into the race, I exited Asia and was back into Europe. Exiting the bridge, the crowd slowly broke up and I began to find my rhythm as I ran along the freeway keeping myself from the main crowd running at the left most side. There was still some ascending involved before arriving at Besiktas some 4KM into the race where the Vodafone supporters were. From here, it was a decent drop to the flats ahead and I made sure I made good use of the opportunity.

Somewhere in Besiktas. Try spotting me.

Ran into or rather passed the town of Dolmabahce and Kabatas where supporters was still aplenty before I cross the Galata Bridge at Eminonu into the Golden Horn area. Once exiting the bridge, I spotted the 10KM champion being directed into the finish line. That was fast! Anyhow, my direction now is toward Feshane towards Eyup. It was rather flattish here but I kept my composure keeping to my pace, not letting any hasty decision come my way, even when a fellow barefoot Malaysian runner Tan Wah Sing passed me swiftly only to do disappear soon after. I reminded myself that this is my race, and not his.

14KM in and 4KM along the Golden Horn, I arrived at the first u-turn as I made my way to the Ataturk Bridge which was just before the Galata Bridge where the 15KM runners were diverted off to their finishing line leaving a clear road ahead for the marathon runners.

I was almost caught off guard somewhere at the 16KM mark when I trip over a pavement. A silly mistake where I would have risk pulling my hamstring but I was lucky to escape with no mishaps as I continued on.

After a pretty long flat along the Golden Horn earlier, it is time to put some climbing muscle to good use as the course started rolling a little pass some underpass with one being rather memorable as it was filled with bicycles. Then as I approach the 18KM mark near Yenikapi, here comes the biggest climb of the race! An almost 800M long climb with around 32M elevation gained, some runners were reduced to walking it. Besides, the weather has really gotten hot at this stage. I continued on, climbing it slowly cheering and clapping for the wheelchair participant as he struggled up the slope till the top where some palace gates or ruins awaits. He eventually conquered it as I looked back a little while later. WELL DONE!

Let's climb!

What goes up, will go down as I ran comfortably along Ataturk Boulevard before arriving at the half way point at Kennedy Cd. in 1:50:35 hours still feeling great though leg muscles has already started twitching a little. And to make matters more interesting, the top 3 runners were already making their return on the opposite side which is some 36KM for them.

Kennedy Cd. is another long straight along the coastal road at about 8KM long heading towards Rauf Orbay Cd. There were less supporters here and it all plays down to the runner's mental strength now as we grin our teeth to push on as the heat rises. Sounds of ambulance sirens came and went as medics and volunteers on the bicycles were seen riding up and down the roads. Some runners were reduced to walking, some sitting by the pavement and some others succumbing to cramps.

With rising temperatures and an open space along the coastal road, I began splashing myself with water to keep my core temperature at bay and was glad nothing happen including my pace which was still pretty constant. Phew... The 3:45 hours pacer also passed me where he went really fast! Perhaps catching up with some negatives splits?

I finally caught a glimpse of Chee Kong some 26KM into the race where he should be at 31KM. Gave him a thumbs up as we both carried on. And later at 28KM nearing the second u-turn, I caught up with Tan Wah Sing who was struggling. I guess he must have went out too fast earlier when I met him. Called out to him for some motivational support before I moved on myself making the turn ahead.

Another 14KM to go, I reminded myself as I started thinking on when to make my move. Though my cardio can probably withstand the remaining distance, I don't think my legs can. With that, I carried on, on the same pace as I pass Aytekin Kotil Park on the seaside. Besides temperatures on the rise, tempers were also flaring up as I saw and heard an elderly age runner cursing in local language at the volunteer on the bicycle. I assume he was blaming him for being a nuisance on the runner's path which I don't think he was, as he was basically doing his job keeping on the left most inner lane trying to help or signal out for any runners face with trouble. Oh well...

I did pretty find the cursing elderly runner a nuisance as he kept cursing along the way. I really wanted to run away from him but as much as I would like to, I fear it will jeopardized my race later. I kept my cool and waited for him to drop off, which he did soon later. Phew...

Towards Koca Mustafa Pasa Park, a fellow runner was happily running before a sudden cramp hit him hard on his hamstring as he fell to ground. I signaled out to medic ahead who was smoking outside his ambulance to my disgust! His reaction was certainly slow but what really disgusted me was smoking while being a medic downing your uniform on duty! I hope the runner was ok to continue.

Arriving at 36KM where I earlier saw the top 3 runners blaze pass, I again thought to myself if I can withstand the remaining 6KM if I were to go anaerobic? "It was like my daily treadmill training or like my run at Duthie Park, Aberdeen", I told myself, but I guess the difference between tired and fresh legs told me to be patient as I continued on without haste. Besides, some minor issues with tummy kept me cautious too, as it felt a little "windy" in there.

Still on Kennedy Cd. but on a new coastal road now heading back towards Sultanahmet, the afternoon sun was blazing at full force. Despite some coastal breeze, the burning sensation to the skin can be felt and sweat slowly flowing down the skin. I continued pouring water over myself as I passed the water stations here. There weren't many runners around me at this stage and all I could do is to hang on to myself and decide on my very own, on when to make my move.

When my Suunto beeped at 39KM, I was still awaiting the sights of the mosque that surrounds Sultanahmet and also Galata Tower at Taksim where it will give the signs of my approach to the finish. Though it did not come into view, I still decided to slowly up my pace and into the anaerobic zone.  I passed the final water station at the 40KM mark with one final gulp of water and also wetting myself before being directed into a park which I think is the Gulhane Park. I had to watch where I ran as the park was covered with cobblestone which was rather uneven. Don't want to trip after coming so far.

I exited the park with 1KM to go on to the Sirkeci's main street of Divan Yolu Cd. where although it's back onto the tarmac, involves tram tracks. And to makes matter even more interesting, it was an uphill to the finish straight! Despite the uphill, I went for it letting out all the remaining energy and strength I had with "BRAVO, BRAVO" cheers from the local supporters with a sudden"JIA YOU" from a Chinese tourist!

And finally, I saw it. the finish straight in between the Blue Mosque and Egypt Obelisk with the gantry ahead with the timer hanging from the top of it showing 3:54:xx hours! I was home with my 5th sub 4 hours marathon finish and my career second best timing as I crossed the finish line with a nett time of 3:52:29 hours! And with that, it's a passport to a D seeding for next year's Comrades Marathon!

My passport to Comrades Marathon 2016.

My gun time splits. Didn't pick up 5KM and 21KM though.

Finisher's cert.

Despite feeling sore, I was feeling great and of course happy as I proceeded to collect my finisher's pack before exiting the area to meet up with Chee Kong at the agreed place. And while waiting, I met up with a Swede and chatted with him before Chee Kong and Mei-Ee arrived. Apparently there were some issues with the baggage collection which was really slow. Anyhow, a quick photo session and we are off back to the hotel for a quick shower. Once we are done, we checked out and went for a quick lunch a nearby Chinese restaurant before heading off to the airport for a long haul back home via Frankfurt. Thankfully, the Lufthansa strike was already over!

We did it!

Flight was almost full and though my seated co-passenger beside me was a pleasant one, the Lufthansa cabin crew wasn't really friendly and attentive unlike those from my flight to Aberdeen 3 weeks ago. Probably they didn't have the mood to work after the strike. And not to mention the lousy food. But still, shame on you Lufthansa!

Nevertheless, I touched down safely back in a wet but haze clear Malaysia 30 minutes earlier. And not forgetting that I collected my checked in luggage in record time before taking a taxi home which ended my 26 days of my adventure and holiday, a smashing one of course!

To recap, the Istanbul Marathon is overall a wonderful marathon and deserves to be on of IAAF's Gold Label Race. The scenery of Istanbul was great and to top it off, it's one of a kind and only running event that takes you from one continent to another, being Asia to Europe. And I am glad the race course isn't exactly pancake flat cause flat is boring (pun intended). And despite minimal training and with some last minute effort being done in Scotland, I am absolutely delighted with my performance and result. Race strategy worked well taking in small sips of approximately 150ML of water at the very evenly spaced out water station at every 2.5KM while splashing myself with the given 200ML bottled water to keep my core temperature in control. Sponges was also given out too at certain stations. And yes, I only consume water and nothing else throughout the entire race. But if there is two things I would like to highlight will be the smoking medic which was really an eye sore. Perhaps the authorities and organisers should take a look into this should they read this or rather find out. Or is it a norm there? Culture perhaps? And the other will be the communication between organisers and runners where I find it lacking and also the use of language, where English is not the main language used which is rather unfriendly for international runners.

Anyhow, I highly recommend the Istanbul Marathon for it's a beautiful fast course that isn't exactly flat. With the cheers and support you get form the locals, it will be an unforgettable experience! And not forgetting, it's great for travel and food too! Finally before signing off from this entry, many thanks to Saucony Malaysia for putting me in as part of the test team for the yet to be launch Saucony Kinvara 7 where I raced and made good used of it at Istanbul.

* All photos here credited to Chee Kong and other respective photographers. Thank you.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Glen Ogle 33 Miles Ultramarathon 2015...

Event: Glen Ogle 33 Miles Ultramarathon 2015
Venue: Killin, Strathyre, Scotland
Date: 7 November 2015
Time: 8.00AM
Distance: 52.8KM
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 5
By Frank

Another Scottish running event that is close to my heart, not only because it offers spectacular scenery, but instead the warm friendship I have with the organisers Mike and Catriona is the Glen Ogle 33 Miler at Killin. Organised by the BAM group which stands for Bill and Mike, where Bill is one of the partners too, they are also the organisers for the Great Glen Ultra and Glenmore 24 too. And not to mention the Scottish Saltire Buff which I have been wearing for it has come a long way since last year where it was a gift from Mike and Catriona.

To be flagged off from the quite town of Killin, I left Aberdeen with Chee Kong and family on a late Friday evening only to arrive at about 8.30PM. Dinner was pre-packed earlier from McDonalds. The journey wasn't entirely smooth as 7KM from the Killin Hotel, our car ran over and knock some animal which we thought was a water badger. None of us saw it crossing the road as it was pitch dark along the loch’s road until it turned his head around and that’s when we saw its eyes. But by then, it was too late as Chee Kong could not brake in time or risk avoiding it with the car plunging into the loch. We hope it just went under the car after knocking the bumper which cracked upon checking and not getting squashed like other road kills.

Back after a year!

Anyway, we arrived safely and checked into a huge room before proceeding to the hotel’s café to meet up with Alan, Andrew, Jeni and some others for a drink before calling it a night.

However, I did not sleep well as Xi-Ning was hyper active at night and I woke up not feeling good and with a headache. I think I only managed 4 hours of sleep. Nevertheless, the show must go on and I proceeded to the café for breakfast with Jeni and Andrew. Was a simple one with coffee, cereals and some fruits before I returned to the room to freshen and gear up. Race bib collection and drop bag deposit was just across the road at the town hall and was just as smooth like Jedburgh as I met up with Catriona there.

Managed to catch a very busy Mike.

Finally meeting Ruth in person after all our Facebook chat.

The usual photo with Chee Kong at the start.

Hung area the race site to catch up with friends while awaiting Bill and Mike for the race briefing which was short and straight to the point. The weather forecast of rain seems to be happening with rain clouds seen hovering over the gloomy sky awaiting for runners to start the race perhaps before it unleashes itself. The race got underway at 8AM as 330 runners started charging out of the field.

Runners getting ready to run with Ben Lawers looking from behind.

My plan for this race was a simple one. With the important race just next week, I am going to go easy to take care of myself especially the legs and to enjoy the scenery with my GoPro, this time armed with 2 batteries! I did not put on my Saucony Razer jacket though I had it in my backpack which was an OK choice but not putting on the glove at the start was perhaps a mistake. It was in my backpack too though.

The first Kilometer was a warm up towards the trail passed the beautiful Falls Of Dorchart. Upon arrival at the trail head, everyone was already separated apart hence no back log here like last year. Everyone was running freely as I tackle the gentle climb up the valley. As the climb got steeper, the mist also got thicker as it was like running into the clouds. Despite still climbing, I was constantly passed by runners, some familiar faces includes Alan Cormack, Wullie Bishop and Ruth Howie. All were flying!

5KM into the race at about half an hour gone, the first drop of rain was felt. I didn't bother to put any extra layers on and just continued and soon got to trail exit where I was welcomed by a group of people manning a food stall there. Oooh… The smell of coffee and bacon as I ran passed was just plain heavenly but make no mistake, I did not stop as the first checkpoint was just across the street at about 10KM into the race, the glen itself.

Food stall with lovely people here and the first check point just after it.

Received my drop bag from the volunteers which consisted of Lucozade and a banana. As I wasn't hungry, I stuffed the banana into my backpack and held on to the Lucozade to slowly sip on it later while I ran. I left the checkpoint with Jeni who was a really fast runner. She invited me to stick with her but knowing I can’t, I politely told her to push on herself. I knew the next section within the glen is going to be tough as it was on tarmac and having a trail shoe on will not help. I just have to shoulder on and hope I will re-enter the trail after the next 16KM.

Jeni before she sped off into the glen.

Try spotting the banana!

Scenery worth slowing down for. The beautiful Loch Earn.

The beautiful Loch Earn soon came into sight. Smack between 2 hills, the scenery with the clouds over it was just jaw dropping as I tackled a winding road down into village and soon the second check point appeared. It was located a bit earlier compared to last year but it was no problem at all as I was looking forward to my chocolate waffle deposited here. Helen and Amanda was manning the station here with their team. As the rain go heavier here, my fingers were feeling cold as I tried to open the waffle’s packaging with some issues. But I still didn't wear the gloves I had with me and carried on running.

CP crew of the day goes to Helen at CP2/CP4!

The next section along the countryside is still going to be tough for my legs as it was still on tarmac. The good thing was, it now includes some climb which will take some toll off certain muscle groups. I walked up the climb which I didn't remember it being so long. Felt tired and heavy here probably due to lack of sleep but was glad the headache is now gone. I only to resume running and walking upon arriving at the bridge after all the climbing and it was into the woods next which now includes some rolling hills.

After falling twice off my backpack, I decided to chomp it down while walking up the hill.

Halfway through, I had to change the batteries on my GoPro as it went flat. Took me a while to change it though as my fingers were trembling under the rain. Couldn't aim the battery into its compartment is one issue, and to put back the camera into its housing without the housing getting fog up is another. I was constantly wiping water off it before it all fall into place.

The face says it all. Struggling!

George, a volunteer from Jedburgh 2 weeks ago passed me as we chatted briefly. Later, another familiar face came which was Alan Stewart as we ran together chatting till we passed the shoogly bridge and safely arriving at the third check point within a park of some sort. There wasn't a check point here last year though. Another chocolate waffle awaits here as I chomped it down together with the bottle of Lucozade I deposited here. Despite feeling cold on the fingers, I really wonder what was I thinking that time for not wearing my gloves when I had the opportunity? Now that I am blogging about it, I know it was silly mistake.

Glad to be running with Alan Stewart.

Super simple and tasty chocolate waffle from Asda. I wish I could have this at all my ultras.

I looked around for Alan who was nowhere to be seen. He must have taken off earlier. Made my way and soon bump into John Munro all wrapped in high-viz yellow armed holding a traffic stopper sign with a skull hanging on it. No idea what the sign meant though with the alphabets “MTFU” on it. Hmmm… Nevertheless, all runners crossed the street safely with his assistance and was glad the skull did not become a runner stopper instead.

Cross the road safely wih Big John else "MTFU"!

Earlier at the first check point, I mentioned the next 16KM, and this is where it ends as I re-enter the trail climbing up a hill here. As I ran and climb higher, I felt even colder and decided to put on my gloves. It was really late into the race as my fingers were almost numb. I felt they were “fatter” too as I struggled to put on the gloves. I really wasted a lot of time here as many runners passed me even when walking. But once I had the gloves on, my “engines” restarted and I powered up the hill. It was really a nice climb with rocky and grassy trails which suited my Saucony Peregrine 5 as I slowly regain temperature on my fingers. The surroundings here was really cool and misty as the rain had already stop.

Up the hill and into the clouds.

What goes up, will go down and I took it easy while descending from the hill as I made my way around it and soon arrived back at the junction earlier leading towards the fourth check point which was the second earlier. Upon arrival, Amanda had my deposited banana ready for me as I burst into laughter receiving it, as she went "Here's Frank's banana!". What an efficient volunteer! Hehehe… Chomped it down and went on, returning the way I came from earlier within the glen.

Conquered the winding ascent and back into the view of Loch Earn. Soon later, a familiar voice called out to me from behind. It was Ian Minty! Really glad to meet him again after our adventure at Tyndrum and the West Highland Way a week ago. We ran together and with him around, it made me run further without walk breaks in between though a little painful as we both arrived the fifth and bonus check point which was the first earlier. It was a “scavenger’s” check point as all the left overs from the faster runners were moved here together with water. I had nothing here as I swiftly continued after thanking Bill who was there too.

The home stretch of about 9KM or so but it wasn't really from where we came from earlier. There was still some tarmac to run on, at least 3KM or so before hitting the trails. Eventually, one of us will be the stronger runner to go ahead as Ian isn't the type that stops and wait for you, or wanting you to do so. Despite re-entering the trail, Ian found another gear and went for it. I could not keep up as I thought just to happily cruise to the finish line.

Alan Stewart who was nowhere to be seen after the third checkpoint came into view again. His calf cramped up as he tried to shake it off. Although he asked me to continue on, he still managed to catch up as we exited back into the town at the Falls Of Dorchart and ran together.

“The final mile felt so long”, I told Alan as we both re-entered the field together. To my horror, instead of running straight towards the finish gantry like last year, we had to run around the field this time! Well, I guess that gives us a little of the Olympic field as I ran side by side with Alan and eventually crossing the finish line together with him in 6:23:41 hours in position 239, a satisfying 5 minutes improvement over last year. Gave Alan a hug as we congratulate each other and also the others who came back safely too.

AYE! The finish!

Mingled around, caught up with Catriona, took some funny photos and went into the town hall to meet up with Angela to collect my finisher entitlements. In the hall, had a hot cup of tea to warm myself up as I bid farewell to some of my friends like Ian, Jeni, Andrew, Ross, Amanda, Colleen and some others as this is probably where our meeting this year ends as I am scheduled to leave Scotland the coming Thursday.

Caught up with Cat just at the finish line.

Hilarious photo with John's traffic stopper where I was photo bombed by Lorna and the skull.

More than just volunteers, they are my Scottish family. Angela, John, Elaine and Amanda.

Friendships are made on the West Highland Way, Ian whom I befriended there on a strong finish today.

Gonna miss them at least for a year. Thanks everyone!

With our Jalur Gemilang.

Returned to the hotel, cleaned up and went walking around town as a form of recovery walk before returning to the town hall for the post race celebration, ceilidh they called it. It was really a fun and smashing celebration the Scottish way and myself was caught by surprised when team BAM presented me with a gift for returning for the second year flying all over from Malaysia. Thanks Bill, Mike and Cat!

Awesome and funtastic ceilidh!

Finally a proper photo with the Falls Of Dorchart.

Thank you Killin, Thank you Glen Ogle, Thank you BAM!

We left Killin the next morning heading towards the Highland Safari at the town of Dull to see some red deer. On our way there, we couldn't see any corpse of the suspected badger we ran over 2 nights ago as we concluded that it may have survived! From Dull, it was to Pitlochry for a quick stop as we witness the Remembrance Day parade before heading back to Aberdeen for a well deserve rest. 

I term this year's Glen Ogle 33 as run into the clouds and is yet another run away success. The event was marvellous with spectacular scenery, the volunteers was friendly, and not to mention the fun filled ceilidh! It's not only a race to remember, but a moment indeed to be treasured for. Thank you team BAM!

Friday, November 06, 2015

Jedburgh Running Festival 2015...

By Frank

The Jedburgh Running Festival consist of numerous events being the wheelchair challenge, canicross (dog cross country), quarter marathon, half marathon and of course the Three Peaks 38 miles ultramarathon. This year also saw the introduction of the relay for the ultramarathon. The event holds close to my heart as it was the first Scottish running event that I participated in last year when I first visit this lovely country. I knew no one and that time but it’s through this, that I have befriended many Scottish friends such as Helen, Mike, Alan, Wullie, just to name a few. And of course not forgeting the 2 lady race directors Angela and Noanie who had been very supportive and that we had become close friends now. And that was the main reason I flew once again across the continents to participate again in this year’s edition. I signed up for the dirty double again, a back to back event which consisted of the ultramarathon and half marathon.

First, the Three Peaks Ultramarathon which is a 38 miles (60.8KM) long trail ultramarathon near the Scottish borders which takes runners along the St. Cuthbert’s Way following the old Roman Road of Dere Street and along the River Tweed before hitting the Three Peaks of Eildons.

Despite going into this race with fresh legs, I was under trained for it due to the very bad haze situation back home. However, I am definitely more prepared especially in the clothing department where I’ve prepared thermal and water proof gears. Besides, my aim is just to enjoy it and to snap photos along the way as the beautiful scenery wasn't captured last year. This time, I had my GoPro!

Myself with Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and little Xi Ning departed Aberdeen by train to Edinburgh on Friday afternoon. Arrived a couple of hours later, picked up our rented car, picked up our take-away Kampung Ah Lee Malaysian food for dinner and off we drove for an hour before finally arriving at Jedburgh. The place hasn't changed and everything was just so familiar. Made our way to our self catering cottage at Larkhall Burn which was very nice. The only main problem was it was located up a hill and the main access was blocked off due to some construction.  Quick dinner, unpacked, gear up, clean up and it was bed time for it will be a long cold day tomorrow.

Event: Three Peaks Ultramarathon 2015
Venue: Jed Thistle Rugby Club, Jedburgh, Scotland
Date: 24 October 2015
Time: 8.00AM
Distance: 60.8KM
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 5

The weather forecast was showers till late morning hence I know that it would not only be cold, but a muddy and slippery race. With a thermal baselayer, a Saucony RunWarm long sleeve mid layer and my trustworthy Saucony RunShield waterproof Razer jacket and Saucony RunWarm thermal long tights, I was ready. And not forgetting the Saucony Peregrine 5. After an all Scottish breakfast which consisted of bread, bacon and black pudding, we left the cottage.

AYE! I am back and thanks for the warm welcome!

Angela doing the briefing.

The race was to start at 8AM and we found ourselves at the race briefing venue Jed Thistle Rugby Club 45 minutes early. Proceeded to collect my race bib and soon met up with Angela and Noanie who both despite being very busy, still had a smile on their face. With everything checked, it was a little wee briefing by Angela before we proceeded to the field across the road where the race is to be flag off. Some photos around as the rest of the runners were busy doing warm up with the squirrel mascot doing the YMCA dance.

Better have a selfie with Chee Kong first as he will not be seen during the race at all!

The race was flagged off a few minutes passed 8AM and while all the runners were busy crossing the start gantry, I took the opportunity to have a wefie with Noanie who was standing by the side. And then, it’s off I went under the rain. The first 2KM or so was on the streets, or rather pavement. While the fast runners are making their way to lead the pack and I believe Chee Kong was one of them, the rest was just starting to warm up trying to settle down into their comfortable position. I was one of them.

Zooming into the trails.

Although it’s the end of autumn now, the view was still magnificent with brown leaves covering the running path and trails. However, one needs to be careful not to slip on those leaves especially when it’s wet. Covered some light trails before entering the countryside via some back roads and then crossing the A68 freeway which then brings runners down along the banks of River Tweed. The misty view with the sound from the river was certainly peaceful and calm to my ears. As it was still early, not many animals can be seen though one may spot some sheep in the distance up early munching on the grassy breakfast. It was all single track here although one can overtake using the grass path to the side. And as I ran, I met Kirsty Archbold here. She was a strong runner and she kept going and going while I was still enjoying the all rather familiar but yet still beautiful to my eyes view. Soon, it was the Monteviot Bridge or rather known as the shoogly bridge which takes runners across the River Tweed. Was taking photos from it before a group of cheeky runners started jumping on it causing the bridge to become very “SHOOGLY”. I zoomed off from it holding tight to my GoPro as I did not want to donate it to the river.

The shoogly Monteviot Bridge.

Across the Monteviot Bridge, the running path started to become more trail and with my body now warmed up, I was starting to enjoy.  And soon part of running in Scotland where we started climbing over steps, ladders and also opening gates which is erected to keep sheep and cattle from escaping. A gentle ascend as I ran through farms after farms along the grassy single track which was tricky with the rain as it made the path slippery with a few muddy patches along the way. And I don’t remember the grass being so long this year where it covers almost the running path.

My face says it all. I was having fun.

After exiting the farms, the muddiest single track came as almost all runners here were running or shall I shall trying to walk sideways. With the mud on the centre part of the path, I ran and tackled along the side with legs on the left and right. It worked pretty well and I was glad I didn't fall.

Anyhow, I made it out safely and was back on the road alongside the farm where I met George who remember me from last year. Had a chat as we ran as I shared my upcoming adventure with him. And soon, we arrived at the town of Maxton where the first checkpoint at 16KM into the race with the squirrel mascot welcoming us. Had a quick wefie with him before I proceed to the checkpoint where I arrived in just about 1.44 hours. I was caught by surprised as I was expecting 2 hours or so as I was busy photographing along the way. Nevertheless, my drop bag was quickly retrieved by the friendly volunteers as I met Lorna Maclean here. And while helping myself with the dried fruits I left here, I was interviewed by the TV crew. It took a while but I was in no hurry hence not a problem at all.

George had already left when I was ready to go with the rain coming to a halt. And almost instantly, I was back into the woods with beautiful trails to follow along the banks of River Tweed. Not forgetting the Neptune Staircase too as it gave the run a whole new dimension. Almost got lost for a moment at a junction with a wooden bridge as there was no directional markers. Took the gamble with other runners who were just as confused themselves to cross the bridge and we were lucky it was the right one. And just after it, we met John Duncan who was part of the organising committee and informed him on the issue. Then came the familiar St. Boswell golf course where I passed by Sandra who was dressed partly in a bride’s dress!

Neptune Staircase along the River Tweed.

Fast forwarding to the second checkpoint at Rhymer’s Stone at 32KM into the race, I met Steve Legge and his friend James Murray here as we shared some of our snacks we left in our drop bag. Also met Helen Munro who is volunteering here. After refuelling and relieving myself, it was time to tackle the peaks of Eildons. And this is where I started to miss Mike Adams whom I ran with last year beginning from here.

Time to scale the peaks of Eildons.

I started the first peak with Steven McKillop and gently made my way up. It was steep and technical but the experience from last year helped a lot. And with a lighter backpack this time, it was easier. But what slowed me down was the spectacular views of the Scottish borders. I was constantly stopping  and taking photos of it. And I was glad I didn't get blown off by the strong wind while doing so.

I was on cloud 9 when I got to the top of the first peak and spent a little time there before making the descent. Unlike the clumsy me last year where I took steps by steps, this time, I literally glided down which makes things much faster and smoother.

First peak conquered!

Soon, I was on the foot of the second peak. A little more technical, a little more steep, but shorter. And just like the earlier peak, I was constantly taking photos before arriving at the top where a TV crew was waiting. No interview this time and yet again, I spent a little time here. It was calm and peaceful with only the wind blowing.

Feeling cold on the second peak.

The third peak which was a little further away was the easiest of the three. With only the descent from the second which was rocky, the journey to the third was mainly grassy single paths. Nothing spectacular happened here as arrived at the top with Steven before he zoomed off heading into Bowden. Katie Hall and Graham Kelly soon followed and I knew I had to move on despite having to bid farewell to the peaks once again.

Third peak done!

Zooming down on the rocky single track and into the brown leaves covered trail, a group of us which includes Mike and Katie got lost here last year. However this time, markers where present and a group of people was there cheering for us. I finally get to run on the correct trails trailing Katie and Graham.

Time to bid farewell to Eildons.

Passing through farms and small villages around Bowden, I found myself back into the St. Boswell golf course. It was getting warm and I took off my outer shell before continuing on. Although I still had the energy to carry on running, my legs were showing some strain. As expected, I lack the leg strength. Therefore, to keep myself safe from tripping over or spraining an ankle, I used the run walk strategy, while still photographing away.

I soon found myself back at the earlier first checkpoint which is now the third at Maxton. Everyone I met earlier from Steven, Scott and James was there. Even Lorna was still there marshalling. However, Scott wasn't in a good shape as his legs were hurting. He was given care by a marshal who gave him some spray to ease the pain. I gave him some words of encouragement before I went off myself, returning from where I came from much earlier.

With Lorna and her team at CP3.

Remember the very muddy single track I mentioned earlier before arriving at the first checkpoint? Well, I am back here again and yes, it was still muddy. And while tackling it halfway, a familiar voice called out to me from behind. It was Scott, and am glad he found strength to continue. Apparently, the spray he had earlier was “magical” as he zoomed away ahead!

With Scott before he zoomed away.

Back at the farms, there were lots of sheep around and it was certainly a welcoming sight. I was still being careful with the single tracks here as most were covered by long grass. Don’t want to risk tripping over a rock or root.

Fast forwarding, I was back at the Monteviot Bridge overlooking the River Tweed. Almost there I told myself as I ran along the banks and finally a flight of stairs which brought me up to the A68 freeway where Helen was there marshalling. Continued on where it’s all tarmac now cruising along the countryside. Took a  glimpse of my watch and quickly noticed that it’s going to be very tight if I wanted to hit a sub 9 hours. Well, I did not have a targeted finishing time as long I complete within the cut off, but heck, I thought I may just give it a go here. Therefore, I ran!

Out of the countryside and back on to the home stretch. I was all alone here but there were cheers from the faster runners driving home. The cheers made me run and soon, I saw the Jedburgh Abbey which then the little hill on the open field where flags and the finish gantry came into view. I was “home” as Angela, Noanie and the rest of the teams were there to welcome me as I crossed the finish line in 8.56.16 hours . I made a sub 9 hours and hack last year’s time by slightly more than half an hour! AYE! But what’s more surprising is that I came in at position 156 out of 201. Those Scottish are really fast!

Chee Kong was nowhere to be seen and I was freezing. Took me a while to contact him as he was watching the rugby game between South Africa and New Zealand, before he came to drive me back to the cottage. Cleaned up, and it was to Belter’s Bar for the post race dinner. The place was packed with runners and it a while for our meal to be served. Also managed to catch up with Angela and Noanie, and also to discuss a little on the West Highland Way before I headed back for some well deserved rest as a half marathon awaits the next day.

Beef burger with haggis for the recovery.

Event: Jedburgh Half Marathon 2015
Venue: Townhall, Jedburgh, Scotland
Date: 25 October 2015
Time: 11.00AM
Distance: 21.1KM
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7

Was lucky I had a good rest. Sleep was deep and I managed to recover, well at least not limping too much nor feeling too tired. And as per any other Scottish race, a hearty Scottish breakfast is a must. It was more or less the same as yesterday but with the addition of mushrooms and some burnt black pudding. Haha… With the half marathon only starting at 11AM, we had plenty of time although we had to check out of the cottage by 10AM.

Anyway, fast forwarding to the race bib and timing chip collection at the town hall where it was swarmed by runners and supporters. Everything went smoothly and we went on to see some performance by the Scottish bag pipers along the streets with the Jedburgh Abbey overlooking everyone. We then proceeded to the start line just ahead and after some really brief briefing, the half marathon was underway.
Scottish bag pipers!

This is my Saucony Kinvara 7’s first race and although I was armed with my GoPro to snap photos along the way, I wanted to find out what this new kicks could do. The start was a little wee climb out of town as I spotted Angela and Noanie by the side of the abbey cheering for runners. I've lost touch of Chee Kong but I am enjoying myself nevertheless.

Upon arrival on the main street, Chee Kong came from behind as we took a wefie together before he zoomed off. And not only him, other runners too seem to be zooming pass me. As we exited the main street, there was a climb welcoming the runners as I took advantage of it passing those who passed me earlier. I was better at climbs you see but remembering my experience from last year where I suffered side stitches here, I went with caution before arriving at the beautiful countryside overlooking the farms with sheep and cattle.

Wefie with Chee Kong before he zoomed off.

I was happily cruising as my leg were working just fine. As I exited on to the main street approaching Kelso, the lead runners from the 10KM distance were already making their way back. The weather was cold but manageable as per my standards as I skipped the first water station.

Cheerful volunteers at the water station.

Took a left turn towards Nisbet later on before heading towards Eckford where the wind was horrendous last year. There seems to be a slight route change here compared to last year though, but I can’t make out of it. However, I still returned to the familiar long straight. And just before the climb into the Eckford loop, I saw Alan making his return. No sign of Chee Kong this year though but I guess he should be just right behind Alan.

The entrance to the Eckford loop was a climb which my legs welcome. It needed some gradient change after the flats earlier. The halfway point was smack in the middle of the loop and I made a decision which will determine my finishing time later. I took a turn back to the halfway point marker to snap a photo of it which I didn't do so earlier. It was a few seconds wasted though but no regrets on doing so. Further down, 2 sweet elderly couples were giving out sweet and oranges to the runners. Took some sweets from them before I moved on to exit the loop.

Ran back to photograph this!

Lovely elderly couple giving out sweets at the halfway mark.

Looking at my watch as I make my return to Nisbet, it looks like I may actually run a sub 2 hours or close to it. But with the head wind now, it’s going to make things a little tougher. It may not be as strong as last year, but it did slow me down a couple of seconds per Kilometer.

Thanks Steven for capturing me while I exited from Eckford.

I was glad I survived the head wind it as the next straight was towards Bonjenward as I tried to recover those lost seconds earlier. At the end of it, was the long climb before the downhill into the A68 freeway where the home stretch was just beside the Riverside.

It was about 3KM to the finish I guess as I ran hard on this section. But as we needed to run on the pavement, I needed to be careful as it wasn't even on certain sections. But those obstructions cleared up later as the town became visible and my watch was showing that I was tight on time. I didn't give up though and eventually saw the finish gantry with Angela announcing my name and Noanie presenting me with the medal and the Dirty Double bonus as I crossed the finish line in 2.00.31, just 31 seconds shy of the sub 2. But I was still one happy lad!

Approaching the finish line.

Just before making my way to clean up at the Leisure Centre, I caught up with some Dirty Doublers such as Alan, Wullie and Jeni for a group photo. There were actually 28 of us this year but some have left. And not forgetting to bid farewell to Angela and Noanie too and to thank them for a job well done once more in organising this very nice event.

With the Dirty Doublers.

With Angela.

With Noanie.

For 2 years in a row, it has been an amazing time at Jedburgh meeting friends and making new ones. The distance was just nice, and to add some salsa to it, just joined the half marathon the next day for some back to back Dirty Double action. If you are not into timing though you still can for it’s a fast course, this is certainly one event to consider as the scenery is just simply awesome. It’s just so worth to simply slow down to enjoy it. Not forgetting the fresh countryside air too.

Thank you Jedburgh. Thank you Eildons.

And from there on, we all left for Edinburgh before I took the train to Liverpool for my next adventure around Anfield and the rest of Scotland.

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