Monday, June 13, 2016

Comrades Marathon 2016...

Event: Comrades Marathon 2016
Venue: Pietermaritzburgh, South Africa
Date: 29 May 2016
Time: 5.30AM (South Africa time), 11.30AM (Malaysia time)
Distance: 89.208KM (90.2KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

Comrades Marathon 2016, my fifth has come and gone. In a blink of an eye, I have done 5 of it consecutively marking my half decade. On 29 May 2016, it happened with close to 17,000 runners running the “Down” route from Pietermaritzburg to Durban finishing at the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium over a distance of 89.208KM. My training went well and though it isn’t my focus this year, Comrades Marathon will always be important for me. And here’s my story to my fifth.

On the morning of Tuesday, 24 May 2016, I began my travel to South Africa. As Emirates was charging a premium, my flight this time will be Turkish Airlines and the transit was at Istanbul. Despite 100 minutes of delay at Kuala Lumpur, I was actually happy with it as it will mean less transit time at Istanbul which was supposed to be 7 hours. The flight began close to 1.30PM and I treated myself to movies and also the good food provided by the airlines which put Emirates to shame.

My "flying turkey" to South Africa and Scotland.

After close to 10 hours of flight time, I arrived at Istanbul before waiting 5 hours for my next flight to Durban. It was a tiring wait and upon settling into the aircraft, I closed my eyes and rested. Was lucky too that the seat next to me was unoccupied hence I was able to lay down. And after another close to 10 hours of flight time, I finally touched down safely at Durban’s King Shaka Airport at 10.10AM, South African time. That’s almost 1 whole day of travel time. Immigration was smooth and after settling my telco services, it was first thing first at Mugg & Bean for South African breakfast to recharge before collecting my car at Thrifty which was upgraded to a Volkswagen Polo Sedan.

My "sport car" around South Africa this time.

Made my way to my hotel at Blue Waters which was next to Belaire Suites and managed to check in early to a very comfortable room on the 14 floor. After unpacking the essentials, I went out for quick 6KM run along the beach to get the legs moving and hoping to get rid of the jet lag. Dinner later was at John Dory’s at Suncoast Casino before calling it a night.

My cozy room at Blue Waters Hotel.

26 May 2016. Woke up early at 6AM and was glad that I had a good sleep. Another 6KM for the legs to close up my training where I bumped into Willie and it was breakfast which was good but Belaire Suites was way much better. Made my way to the ICC Exhibition Centre where the Comrades Expo was held. Collected my race pack which went smoothly and went to walking around hoping to meet some friends including Glynn, Anthony, Brad, Sean and of course my coach, Lindsay. I even met Ryan Sandes too! Prices of the merchandise has gone up ridiculously and I ended up only buying 2 shirts, a pair of socks and a South Africa Buff before heading back to the hotel for a little rest before dinner at Jiran Café and it’s light off for today.

Bumped into Willie at the North beach.

My friends at Saucony South Africa.

With Brad. 

With ohm Anthony and Carin.

Was lucky to catch Ryan Sandes.

With Allan.

And of course, with my coach Lindsay Parry for some last minute advice (and warnings).

27 May 2016. A quick breakfast and I was off to the airport to pick up Chee Kong. He arrived on time and we made our way to Belaire Suites where he was staying. A simple lunch at Jiran Café and we were off to the expo to collect his race pack. With nothing much to do there, we returned to the hotel to rest up before a wonderful catch up and dinner with Caroline, Pete and Mylene.

We are ready!

28 May 2016. With the 5KM Park Run being held just next door at Suncoast Casino at 8AM, I went to meet up some friends there while Chee Kong ran it. An interesting and fun event, I thought it will be best I rest my legs as per previous years. With Chee Kong finishing his run, we had breakfast at Belaire Suites before going over to Gateway Shopping Centre for lunch at Ocean Basket. With nothing much to do, we returned to the hotel to rest up while awaiting for dinner time at 7PM where we had ours at Jiran Café again for their meals were affordable and good. Took a while for the food to arrive but before 9PM, we were back at our rooms for that important rest before the big race tomorrow.

29 May 2016. Comrades Marathon Race Day.
I didn’t manage to get a good sleep due to the fact that a concert was being held at the open field just next to the hotel. Considering that the hotel management has spoken to them, I find the organisers to be inconsiderate for jamming the volume up especially the bass. I managed an hour or maybe 2 hours of sleep only and by 12.30AM, I was already awake preparing myself. “Not a good start”, I told myself, but I had to be positive. Breakfast was naan buns and a cup of black coffee, and was glad all the pre-race rituals went smoothly before I made my way to Belaire Suites to meet up with Chee Kong where we drove to Hilton Hotel to catch our bus to Pietermaritzburg.

The journey to Pietermaritzburg was smooth on the highway where I managed to catch a few minutes of power sleep. However, upon entering the town, traffic was bad as we were stuck in a pretty bad traffic jam. I had to relieve myself and just had to go and hence it’s off to the bushes before hopping back on to the bus. With about1KM plus to go from the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall where the start is located and with the start time nearing, most from the bus including myself and Chee Kong disembark and ran there, treating it as our warm up. And to me, I felt this personally help as it help me raise my core temperature which is helpful for the cold start. It was about 10C at that time. Arriving at the town hall, I parted ways with Chee Kong as both our seeding pens being C and D respectively were located at different locations.

And upon arriving at pen D where I was seeded, I quickly deposited my tog bag and entered my pens just when they started to move closer to the front. Then my race number came undone from the magnet I was using and had to readjust. All these came pretty close to the start but I still managed to sing along with the other the national anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of Fire while awaiting from Max Trimborn’s cockcrow and finally the cannon to signal the start at 5.30AM. All these still give me goosebumps till today. With the temperature bearable, I removed my t-shirt and gloves toss it over the fence.  It was a retro Comrades t-shirt and the person receiving it was really thankful of it.

It took me about 4 minutes to cross the start gantry, pretty similar to last year’s “Up” run and it was game time as I began my run slowly and carefully. Being still in the city and pretty dark at certain parts with lots of runners around me, I had to be careful not to trip over reflectors, uneven roads or simply stepping on someone’s else shoe. It was also a good idea to slowly up my pace to desired pace I was looking for, within a heart rate of not more than 150 beats per minute (BPM). It should be something pretty similar I experienced during the Route 68 Challenge back in April 2016. I intend to use the similar strategy for it worked well back then at high temperatures and thus should allow me to hold back a gear or maybe 2, to save the legs from any potential damage or overuse which may mess up my West Highland Way Race in 3 weeks time. This after all should be like my last long run before the long one. However, Comrades Marathon should still be respected upmost in the highest order for it reward to those who are, and not the over confident.

The gentle downhill straight out of Pietermaritzburg was a great place to raise the heart rate at a steady pace. With the cool start, it wasn’t spiking and hence my pace was really good. As most runners were moving along, there was no issue trying to pass some slower ones. A Kilometer in or so, came the first mild climb as we turned right up the slope. Most locals were already up cheering for the runners and the atmosphere was indeed great. Slowly I made my way and was glad my heart rate was hovering at about 130 to 140 BPM.

As we moved longer into the race, some faster runners from the back seeding started to pass me. However, I resisted to follow them as I had my own pace. And as we moved into the Polly Shortts stretch, it became a little tough to pass and I didn’t want to risk going to the side due my first year experience of stepping on human poop there. Eish… 6KM into the race, I had to answer the call of nature and I found a spot beside a tree and “flowered” it before the descend down Polly Shortts. Oops… 3KM later, the urge came again and I did the same thing and was hoping that it will the final call, at least till halfway or so.

Without any urge standing in the way, my pace began to increase as I made my way to the highest point of the race route at Umlaas Road pass Lion Park at the 16KM mark where the first cut-off was. As it was a little climb towards the first cut-off point, I took a breather by walking up the small hill. However, I forgot that at the cut-off point will always have official photographers stationed there shooting away. And I fell prey to it when one of them shot me while I was walking. When I resumed, running, it was already too late. The race route now began to roll like a dragon’s back and there were some pretty tough climbs. But with the loud cries and singing of Shosholoza from the locals, it helps runners push ahead with much ease. As I near the highest point, Willie called out to me from behind and I was caught by surprised. He was already struggling a little as I took a breather with him as I made him promise that he will bring himself to the finish line before I went ahead.

Next was Camperdown and I was already feeling hungry. Looking forward to some potatoes being served there but sadly upon arriving, I didn’t spot any. However, to make it up, the cheers from the supporters there was just as satisfying, if not better than the potatoes. Weather was still fine as I slowly sip from the water bottle I carried with me before finally disposing it away as I made my way out from this happening “chicken town”.

Coming up next was Cato Ridge where the second cut-off is. As I made my way there, finally some potatoes being served by the friendly supporters. Was glad they were plain ones too minus the salt and just one was already enough for now as I didn’t want my tummy to accept to heavy loads at once. Upon arrival at Cato Ridge where the 30KM mark is, some runners were already seen struggling. I guess the 30KM myth where runners begin to “hit the wall” is happening here for quite a number. Am glad I was still doing fine both physically and mentally. In fact, I was enjoying every moment of it! Weee…

The halfway point where Drummond is located at, is actually within a valley. And before dropping into it, runners must make themselves up the dreaded Inchanga. But before that, we passed by the Ethembeni school for the less fortunate children. Over here, we cheered for each other by touching each of their hands as we ran pass them. Some runners believe that these simple gestures gave them strength to attack Inchanga.

The climb then came as I bumped into Bruce "Digger", Australia's Comrades ambassador and had a  brief handshake and chat with him before Mark from the Netherlands called out to me as he recognised me as the Malaysian ambassador from the print on the official guide. Had quite an exchange of our culture and we even spoke of the Amsterdam Marathon. And while chatting, a familiar frame appeared in front of me. It was David from Singapore. And for the fifth year in a row, we met at Inchanga! There must be something here, I guess. Although he was struggling according to him, I believe he will finish strong later, especially when we have pass the halfway point later. But that didn’t stop us from having our annual Inchanga selfie. Hehe…

We marched ahead together before I restarted my run. But just a Kilometer or so before arriving at Drummond, a novice was seen struggling with his left hamstring which is cramping. Told him to keep moving to shake it off, but seeing him struggling, I turned back to help him. Gave him a gentle rub to help ease his pain as he slowly limp as I didn’t want him to stop. And when he got better, we introduced ourselves and found his name was Greg from Australia and we moved ahead.

Passing Drummond in 5:06:03 hours was indeed a surprise for me. I did not expect to pass it here within this time and was delighted. As I started my climb out of the valley, I remember the Rooderport support tent just after the bridge as Manette has always been there. And indeed she was as we have each other a hug before I continued on. It was nice to see you again Manette!

Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and I gave it a tap on the plate with a “Good Morning Sir” greeting as legend has it that one that does that which includes giving him a stalk of flower will enjoy a stronger second half of the race. Sadly, as tradition starts to fade, no more flowers was given. It was given during my first Comrades back in year 2012 though. Passed the Wall of Honour and it was the start of the climb out of Drummond. With a marathon distance covered, my legs are starting to ache and hence I took the opportunity to give them a rest by walking out Drummond before tackling Botha’s Hill.

The students from Kearsney College came out to cheers us on as we arrived at Botha’s Hill. Greg’s hamstring was giving him problems and I did the same giving him a gentle rub as we move along. With the pain subside, we moved along together and exited Botha’s Hill together with the “first” steep drop to Winston Park welcoming us. With tired and sore legs, the second half for me is about managing it and making my descend to Durban with care. Although I did improve on my downhill running, I am still not good and clumsy with it hence it wasn’t worth any risk and hence only ran at certain parts. I did reduce myself to walking whenever the legs, particularly my thighs signalled me to stop.

Almost 7 hours into the race as I’ve covered almost 60KM as I arrived at Winston Park where the fourth cut-off was, the weather was getting warmer and my heart rate began to spike. I drank more water and also took more sachets to splash on myself to cool myself down, especially on my arms and neck. Also took in some crackers which was rather tasty and a little more potatoes to keep myself away from going metabolic. With the rest of the race route going through town and highways, keeping the core temperature in control will be critical as these are open areas with minimal shades. And suddenly, a familiar voice called out to me at Gillits and I recognised that it was Susan Bold. Very nice of her to be there again supporting. Thank you!

Next up, Kloof where the happening Nedbank’s Green Mile is located within Old Main Road. There was a nice touch of motivational messages in the form of Tweets being labelled on the tarmac on the left side. After exiting Kloof, came the most dreaded downhill of all, the long drop at Fields Hill. Not only it’s long, it’s winding too with the road tilted to a side making it pretty uncomfortable for weak downhill runners like myself. I only managed to bombard it halfway before decided that the thighs had enough of it. Greg seems to be better in this as he disappeared into the distance before I caught up with him again at Pinetown.

Pinetown was a happening place to be and I arrived there in 8:07:02, faster than my pace at Route 68 Challenge. I am once again delighted with it. Lots of supporters there and some were giving out food and drinks as well. These little kind gestures help us keep our mind away from the scorching heat as we continued our journey as one last climb awaits ahead, Cowie’s Hill. And just before that, a gentleman was giving our borewors and I helped myself to it. Absolutely delicious and I think that gave me strength to attach Cowie’s Hill, at least I think that was some placebo effect. But ran up I did with the borewors bouncing in my tummy! And halfway up, I bumped into John Sneddon. Tried to pull him along but he was already puffed and hence I moved on myself to the top knowing it will be another 10 Miles or so more only to go and with no more steep climbs.

Munching on borewors.

But I was wrong. Westville awaits next and it was rather hot affair along the highway there with a gradual climb out of it. Supporters were lined beside the highway and a couple of kids were spraying water on the runners. “GO AMBASSADOR” was what I heard as I near the top and that was indeed a motivational push despite being a little shy about it with people recognising me from the magazine.

As the route being detoured down a ramp, I know I was nearing Sherwood. That will be less than 5 Miles to go, 7KM to be exact. Then a short ramp up to the highway, and it was all 4 lanes down and up to the final 3KM before the home stretch. At the final refreshment station at about 84KM, I took 4 water sachets, 2 being drank and splash on the spot while the other 2 to hold on for later.

The final 3KM marker came into view and I remembered that I always tell my friends that my fastest pace will be the final 3KM. But that magic did not happen this time as I held back as it was a mild drop to the final 2KM in the city. As I moved along the ramp, a runner Daleon who once worked in Kuala Lumpur chatted with me as he again recognised me as the ambassador. But as we chatted, I soon realised that time is running a little tight if I wanted to run a certain sub timing. Slowly easing out of the chat, I resume my run and this time the magic happened. The final 2KM on the flat home stretch.

Not monitoring on my heart rate anymore, it was time to engage the additional “gear” as I ran towards the Sahara Kingsmead. And with a Kilometer to go, out came the Jalur Gemilang (Malaysia national flag), the same that has travelled and crossed the Comrades finish for the past 4 years. Into the magical Sahara Kingsmead Stadium, supporters were cheering all the runners on with their voices and also banging on the side panels. The “Down” run finish segment is certainly something to behold and when I finally saw the finish gantry, it was the flag raised up high as per tradition, as I crossed the finish line and completed my half decade of Comrades with a new personal best of 10:27:07 hours! And per my tradition, I gave the Comrades grass a tap as a mark of respect.

I waited for Greg at the finish and he soon crossed the gantry successfully as we gave each other a hug. Collected our medals and posed for some photos before making our way to the international tent to rest up while enjoying our Castle Lite and congratulating the other runners too, particularly the novices and back to backs.

Chilling at the international tent with Greg from Australia.

Chee Kong came by later and I found out that he managed to run a Bill Rowan timing despite minimal training. Superbly done! I then bid farewell to Greg as we made our way to the Fourways lounge located in the stadium’s stand but that was before we bumped into Chris, novice from Malaysia who ran 10.13 hours for his first and David who came in just in time for the bronze. Wonderfully done to both!

The man behind my taining. Lindsay Parry. Comrades Marathon and South Africa triathlon coach.

Rested in the Fourways lounge and with the legs stiffening up, I was trying my very best not cramp, especially on my inner thighs which was feeling it. Managed to do so and for the first time ever, I did not suffer any cramps in the Comrades Marathon, whether during or after. Well done to me! Hahaha… Lindsay came over to congratulate me later which was a moment of joy for me. Many thanks to him for guiding me here, as I have improved from year to year. Race report as of yesteryears and results as per below:

Comrades Marathon 2012 - 11:53:49 (“Down” run)
Comrades Marathon 2013 - 11:30:08 (“Up” run)
Comrades Marathon 2014 - 10:57:34 (“Down” run. -56:15 minutes compared year 2012)
Comrades Marathon 2015 - 10:50:51 (“Up” run. -20:43 minutes compared year 2013)
Comrades Marathon 2016 - 10:27:07 (“Down” run. -30:27 minutes compared year 2014)

As we waited for the final 12 hour cut- off, the atmosphere at the stadium became tense and loud. It’s not a moment that one will like to go through, but it had to be done. As the sun began to set, so does the sound of the trumpet being blown to signal the countdown. And when it finally stop, that was it. The race was over, and the first runner to have miss it was for his green number missing by a second. Indeed cruel, but this is Comrades.

5 successful Comrades each for the both of us.

As the curtain began to close at the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium, both myself and Chee Kong made our way to our car and headed back to the hotel to clean up before our victory dinner at Jiran Café, where I struggled to finish my meal. Tried my best though to take in whatever I can as I know it will be important for recovery. Then it’s back to the room for some painful packing as we are leaving for Scotland tomorrow before ending the day and night with a well deserve sleep, though I find it a little difficult as my body was still pretty “active” or “high” from the adrenaline at Comrades.

Half a decade in the bag.

Waking up the next day refresh, to my surprise, my legs didn’t feel as thrashed as compared to the years before. Indeed a good sign though I believe the real DOMS (Delay Onset Muscle Soreness) will come on the second or maybe third day). A well deserved breakfast at Belaire Suites with lots of limping Comrades runners before we checked out of our hotels at 11AM making or way to Umhlanga Rocks for second breakfast and then Hooters there for our third. As we simply had too much time to kill before our flight at 6PM later, we returned to Gateway for some quick shopping before arriving at the airport do settle our VAT claims before our fight to Istanbul and then Edinburgh.

My splits for 2016. My Suunto Moves on this LINK.

With Comrades Marathon 2016 successfully in the bag, I would like to thank my parents, Susanah, Bailey my dear Westie, Yan Leng, Piew and Choon Yuen for the positive motivation given and also being part of my training, Not forgetting the rest from the Gold Coast Training Group too. And to my coach, Lindsay Parry, thank you for all the tips and advice given through these 3 years as I inch ahead and improve over the years. My sincere thanks to my sponsors Saucony for the training and race gears provided throughout the past 42 months. To my South African, Scottish and the rest of my international friends like Caroline, Anthony, Pierre, Willie, Allan, Brad, Susan, Angela and Alexa, many thanks for the wishes and annual meet-ups for some, for it really helps. And finally of course to the rest of the “family” from Comrades Team Malaysia for cheering for myself, Chee Kong and Chris this year back home.

This year, the strategy worked well. Holding back a little using the heart rate monitor was definitely useful. And hydrating well using water as my primary fluid was fine too. But without the other necessary nutrients, how did I do it, you may ask. Well, it came from the food I consumed along the way such as potatoes, crackers and borewors. And I counted that I only drank 5 cups of Coke and at about 12 sachets of Energade only and hence no sugar rush or bloating. Definitely feeling that the body has successfully or close enough to adapt to this method which I’ve tried since 2 years ago.

All in all, Comrades Marathon 2016 which marks my half a decade of running The Ultimate Human Race consecutively was a success. Not only that I ran my best time despite holding back which was a positive sign for all the training and sacrifices I’ve made, I befriended some new friends and even helped them during the race. Comrades Marathon certainly isn’t any ordinary race for it’s a race that defines one. It’s a race of champions and on 29 May 2016, close to 17,000 runners were champions. Till 4 June 2017 for the next edition for I now turn my focus to my main event of the year at the 152KM long one at the West Highland Way Race at Scotland on 18 June 2016.

* All photos here credited to their respective photographers. Thank you.
* More photos from official photographers will be uploaded in due time.

1 comment:

Kevin Siah said...

Well done Frank! On another Comrades and new PB!